Over 570,000 Afghans expelled since Pakistan deportation drive began last year — state media

Afghan refugees with their belongings loaded on vehicles gather outside a registration centre upon arriving from Pakistan near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in Spin Boldak district of Kandahar province on November 28, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 21 May 2024
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Over 570,000 Afghans expelled since Pakistan deportation drive began last year — state media

  • 9,685 Afghan nationals returned to Afghanistan in last ten days, Radio Pakistan says
  • Government says deportations not targeted at Afghans but all those living illegally in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Over half a million Afghans living in Pakistan have been repatriated to their home country since the government launched a deportation drive last year, state broadcaster Radio Pakistan said on Tuesday, with almost 10,000 returning in the last ten days.

Until November last year before it began the deportation drive, Pakistan was home to over 4 million Afghan migrants and refugees, about 1.7 million of whom were undocumented, according to the government. Afghans make up the largest portion of migrants, many of whom came after the Taliban took over Kabul in 2021, but a large number have been present since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The expulsion drive started after a spike in suicide bombings last year which the Pakistan government — without providing evidence — said mostly involves Afghans. Islamabad has also blamed them for smuggling and other militant violence and crime. At the time, cash-strapped Pakistan, navigating record inflation and a tough International Monetary Fund bailout program, also said undocumented migrants had drained its resources for decades.

At the same time, Islamabad insists the deportation drive is not aimed specifically at Afghans but at all those living illegally in Pakistan. 

“9,685 more illegal Afghan nationals returned to their country over the last ten days,” Radio Pakistan reported. “The [total] figure of illegal Afghan returnees has reached 577,239.”

In October 2023, Pakistan announced phase one of the ‘Illegal Foreigners’ Repatriation Plan’ with a 30-day deadline for “undocumented” aliens to leave the country or be subject to deportation, putting 1.4 million Afghan refugees at risk.

In phase two of the ‘repatriation plan,’ around 600,00 Afghans who hold Pakistan-issued Afghan citizenship cards (ACCs) will be expelled while phase three is expected to target those with UNHCR-issued Proof of Registration (PoR) cards.

The deportation drive has led to a spike in tensions between Pakistan and the Taliban rulers in Afghanistan. 

Islamabad accuses Afghans of being behind a spate of recent suicide attacks in the country and accuses the Taliban of harboring such militants. The Taliban deny the allegations and say Pakistan’s security issues are a domestic issue. 
 


PM Sharif expresses condolences over Pakistani Hajj pilgrims’ deaths due to extreme heat

Updated 8 sec ago
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PM Sharif expresses condolences over Pakistani Hajj pilgrims’ deaths due to extreme heat

  • Pakistani official this week confirmed nine pilgrims had died due to extreme heat in Saudi Arabia
  • Sharif directs authorities to make arrangements for pilgrims’ bodies to be brought to Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday expressed condolences over the deaths of multiple Pakistani Hajj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia due to the heat wave, his office said days after 1.5 million people performed the annual Islamic pilgrimage in the Kingdom.

A senior official of the Pakistan Hajj Mission (PHM) confirmed on Wednesday that nine Pakistani pilgrims had died in Saudi Arabia due to extreme heat as of June 18. 

“Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif expressed condolences over the martyrdom of Hajj pilgrims in Makkah,” the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said in a statement.

“The prime minister prayed for patience for the relatives of the Hajj pilgrims.”

The PMO said Sharif spoke to Pakistan’s Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar, Religious Affairs Minister Chaudhry Salik Hussain and Pakistan’s ambassador to the kingdom about the situation of the country’s Hajj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia.

“Arrangements should be made to send the bodies of the martyred pilgrims to Pakistan,” the prime minister told authorities, according to the PMO. It added that Sharif directed Pakistan’s religion ministry and consulate to provide all necessary facilities to the pilgrims.

He also directed Pakistani officials to ensure pilgrims admitted to hospitals in Saudi Arabia are provided access to every medical treatment, the PMO said.

Pakistan established two hospitals and 11 dispensaries in Makkah and Madinah to provide health care to the country’s pilgrims during the Islamic pilgrimage.

Hussain on Wednesday thanked Saudi authorities for ensuring “exemplary” arrangements for Hajj despite the sizzling heat in Saudi Arabia.

The Pakistani minister pointed out the Saudi authorities had taken several measures to mitigate the heat by setting up water sprinklers and a distribution system for cold water and beverages.

He also noted that mobile health units and dispensaries had been established in all the major areas to ensure the health of the pilgrims.
 


Pakistan stocks hit record high on budget, IMF optimism

Updated 20 June 2024
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Pakistan stocks hit record high on budget, IMF optimism

  • Pakistan released tax-heavy budget last week which investors believe will strengthen case for new IMF bailout
  • Market breached 78,000 level for first time during intraday trade as it reopened after five-day break on Thursday

KARACHI: Pakistan’s benchmark share index rose 2.8 percent to a new record high on Thursday, driven by expectations last week’s budget will strengthen the case for a new bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

The government’s budget was welcomed by investors as it avoided an anticipated increase in capital gains tax, despite an ambitious tax revenue target.

The market extended its post-budget rally on Thursday when it reopened after a five-day break, which included a public holiday, and breached the key 78,000 level for the first time during intraday trade.

Foreign portfolio investment in the market is at the highest in almost ten years, with inflows of $83 million as of June 14, data compiled by Topline Securities and JS Global Capital showed.

Sohail Mohammed, CEO of Topline Securities, said that a statement from credit rating agency Fitch that the budget would strengthen the prospects for an IMF deal would help to bring more foreign inflows.

The benchmark share index is up 26.2 percent year to date and has almost doubled since Pakistan signed a nine-month standby arrangement with the IMF last summer.

“Pakistani equity investors are driving the PSX higher, continuing to unlock valuations on better sentiment, which is a trend that began when Pakistan signed its last IMF deal last summer,” said Amreen Soorani, head of research at JS Global Capital.

“The trend paused briefly on anticipation of stricter capital gains taxes, which did not materialize,” she said, adding that the index is trading at a four times price to earnings ratio despite the recent rally and offers attractive dividend yields.

The financial sector was up 4.4 percent, with banks like UBL, HBL, MCB, Bank Alfalah, Habib Metropolitan Bank, Allied Bank, up more than 4 percent.

Adnaan Sheikh, assistant vice president of research at Pak Kuwait Investment Company, said that foreign investor interest and the central bank’s decision to cut its key rate by 150 basis points last week — its first rate cut in nearly four years — had pushed the market up.

Apart from the capital gains tax, analysts said the budget and other revenue measures were in line with expectations and key to sealing a new IMF program. This will include a challenging tax target of a near-40 percent jump from the current year and a sharp drop in the fiscal deficit to 5.9 percent of GDP from 7.4 percent for the current year.

Sheikh said the strict budgetary measures to secure new IMF funding will be likely to attract more foreign investors to the market, in addition to the current inflows.

Pakistan’s lower house of parliament is set to meet later on Thursday to debate the budget that the government presented last week. 


PM Sharif hopes Pakistan’s disaster authority acts as ‘safety wall’ against climate change effects

Updated 20 June 2024
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PM Sharif hopes Pakistan’s disaster authority acts as ‘safety wall’ against climate change effects

  • Sharif visits National Emergencies Operation Center that can anticipate disasters up to three months in advance
  • Pakistan is ranked fifth most vulnerable country to climate change globally, has suffered 10,000 deaths from 1999 to 2018

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif hoped Pakistan’s disaster management authority would act as a “safety wall” against climate change effects, as he visited the revamped National Emergencies Operation Center (NEOC), a center that can predict climate disasters in advance, on Thursday. 

Set up in October last year, the NEOC is equipped with the latest tools and technologies, including real-time satellite feeds, to anticipate disasters up to three months in advance. Established at the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), its multidisciplinary team of experts harnesses the power of geographic information system (GIS), remote sensing, climatology, meteorology, seismology, hydrology, and data sciences to monitor and analyze global and local hazards.

Pakistan is ranked the fifth most vulnerable country to climate change globally, with nearly 10,000 deaths and $3.8 billion in economic losses between 1999 and 2018, according to the Global Climate Risk Index. 

Climate-induced rains and subsequent flooding in the 2022 monsoons submerged a third of the South Asian country, killing around 1,700 people and affecting more than 33 million — almost the entire population of Canada. The country is also beset by frequent heat waves and droughts.

“Due to climate change, Pakistan is in the red zone and among the top ten vulnerable countries,” Sharif said during a visit to the center with federal ministers and secretaries. 

“I have no doubt that the NDMA, in coordination with provincial PDMAs, will become a safety wall for Pakistan.”

The Pakistani prime minister asked NDMA to ensure close coordination with provinces and the Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir regions. 

“This is not an expenditure,” Sharif said. “This is an investment to save our future investments,” he remarked.”

Pakistan’s weather patterns have changed in recent years, forcing cities to strengthen their infrastructure and farmers to adapt their practices.

Analysts and government officials say Pakistan in recent years failed to achieve goals for economic growth because of man-made disasters, which have repeatedly hit the country in the form of droughts, heatwaves and heavy rains, which badly damaged the road network, bridges, power system and other infrastructure.
 


Unheard Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan album discovered 34 years later, set for release in September

Updated 20 June 2024
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Unheard Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan album discovered 34 years later, set for release in September

  • The Pakistani maestro died in 1997 at the age of 48, but he continues to have a wide fan base across the world
  • The lost album was discovered as Peter Gabriel’s Real World Records was relocating archives three years ago

ISLAMABAD: A new album of unheard melodies by Pakistan’s music icon Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, recorded 34 years ago, will be released on September 20, according to a statement from Real World Records issued on Wednesday.

Founded in 1989 by Peter Gabriel, the company recorded Khan’s fusion music, which blends the mystical qawwali style of the East with Western instruments and sensibilities, following a collaborative decision between the two musicians.

The Pakistani maestro’s lost album — named ‘Chain of Light’ — was discovered in the Real World Records’ tape archives.

It was produced after the label signed him in 1989 and released a series of universally acclaimed albums with him throughout the 1990s.

“I’ve had the privilege to work with a ton of different musicians from all over the world in my time, but perhaps the greatest singer of them all was Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan,” Peter Gabriel said in a statement released by the company.

“What he could do and make you feel with his voice was quite extraordinary and we were very proud to have played a role in getting him to a much wider global audience,” he added. “It was a real delight when we found out this tape had been in our library. This album really shows him at his peak. It’s a wonderful record.”

Buried deep in a warehouse storage space, the label unearthed the album while relocating its archive in 2021.

Khan tragically passed away in 1997 at the age of 48. Almost 30 years later, however, his legacy continues to attract new generations of fans, evident in the six million average monthly Spotify listeners and YouTube videos of his music racking up over 1 billion views.

Reflecting on the album’s significance, producer Michael Brook, who collaborated with Khan on the popular “Mustt Mustt” album, noted that the Pakistani singer’s voice profoundly touched listeners.

“It is a once in a lifetime experience,” he said. “Like the immanent light of the record’s title, these songs are transformative and transcendent in a way that crosses languages and cultures. It draws the listener in, no matter their expectations.”

He said he was happy that Khan’s voice had returned.


Senior Chinese Communist Party leader to arrive in Pakistan, co-chair CPEC progress talks

Updated 58 min 33 sec ago
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Senior Chinese Communist Party leader to arrive in Pakistan, co-chair CPEC progress talks

  • Senior Chinese Communist Party leader to arrive in Pakistan, co-chair CPEC progress talks
  • Work underway to implement agreements signed during Prime Minister Sharif’s recent visit to China, says information minister

ISLAMABAD: A top leader of the Chinese Communist Party, Liu Jianchao, is scheduled to arrive in Islamabad today, Thursday, to co-chair the 3rd Meeting of the Pakistan-China Joint Consultative Mechanism (JCM) to discuss progress on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, Information Minister Ataullah Tarar confirmed. 

The JCM for political parties on CPEC, established in 2019, functions as a regular consultation platform between the Communist Party of China and Pakistani political parties.

The inaugural meeting occurred in Beijing in March 2019, and the second meeting, held in August 2020, took place virtually.

Beijing is investing over $65 billion in energy and infrastructure projects in Pakistan as part of CPEC, a key element of its Belt and Road initiative. This will connect China to the Arabian Sea and help modernize Pakistan’s economy through a network of roads, railways, pipelines, and ports.

“A high-level Chinese delegation is arriving in Pakistan today (Thursday) and during the visit, the Chinese delegation will talk about upgrading CPEC,” Tarar told reporters during a news conference.

The visit by the Chinese delegation takes place days after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif traveled to China on a five-day official trip. Sharif met Chinese political and business leaders. 

Speaking about Sharif’s visit to China, Tarar said “historical agreements” were signed on the occasion.

“The work on these agreements, especially those signed in information technology, has already begun and the results will soon be visible,” he shared. 

Pakistan and China have agreed to advance CPEC into its second phase, expanding beyond infrastructure and energy to broader economic and social development, including rural revitalization, agricultural modernization, industrialization, and green development. 

This phase also emphasizes establishing Special Economic Zones to promote industrial growth and job creation.

Liu, who was invited to visit Pakistan by Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar, will also hold meetings with Pakistan’s top political and military leadership during his stay in the country.

When asked about social media rumors that claimed Pakistan and China’s ties were deteriorating, the minister brushed them aside by saying that “many powers” are unable to accept the two countries’ friendship. 

“The visit of the Chinese delegation to Pakistan is a proof of trust between the two countries,” he added.