Pakistan and China move forward on $6.76 billion railway line project amid increased security measures

A Pakistani policeman (R) washes his hands on a deserted Lahore railway station during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Lahore on April 19, 2020. (AFP/File)
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Updated 25 May 2024
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Pakistan and China move forward on $6.76 billion railway line project amid increased security measures

  • Minister Ahsan Iqbal says ML-1 project is now ready for the bidding process among eligible Chinese companies
  • PM Sharif also meets Chinese businessmen, asks them to set up industries in special economic zones under CPEC

KARACHI: With an emphasis on improving the security of Chinese workers in Pakistan, officials in Beijing and Islamabad held the 13th Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) meeting online on Friday, agreeing to proceed with the ML-1 railway project estimated to cost over $6 billion.
The JCC meeting, which focused on joint energy and infrastructure development initiatives under the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), was convened after the March 26 suicide attack that killed five Chinese engineers and their local driver en route to the under-construction Dasu dam.
Briefing the media about the decisions made during the meeting, Pakistan’s planning minister Ahsan Iqbal said Chinese security concerns were discussed during the talks.
“Security issues were discussed in the meeting and China was briefed on improving security,” he said, adding that Pakistani authorities had raised a special force to ensure the safety of CPEC projects.
The Chinese nationals in Pakistan have been targeted by various militant factions, with a significant number of attacks coming from Baloch nationalists who aim to push Beijing out of the mineral-rich Balochistan province.
Pakistan’s top economic body on Thursday approved $2.5 million in compensation for the families of the Chinese workers killed in the March 26 Dasu attack.
Iqbal mentioned that both sides decided to initiate more projects apart from those carried out under the CPEC umbrella, adding: “We will jointly improve the security for these projects.”
He also informed the two countries agreed to start the mega ML-1 railway project focusing on the dualization of the existing railway network, built in the late 19th century, and the overall upgrading of tracks connecting the port city of Karachi to Peshawar.
“I am pleased to inform you that Pakistan has made significant progress on the Pakistan Railways Mainline-1 project,” the planning minister said. “The re-modified PC-1 [project feasibility] has been approved with a cost of $6.76 billion in two phases.”
“The project is now ready for the bidding process among eligible Chinese companies,” he added. “We request that the bidding process should start immediately in view of the poor deterioration of the railway track.”
Iqbal also provided details of the CPEC projects that have been completed so far.
“It is heartening to note the steady progress CPEC has made since its inception in 2013,” he said. “In the energy sector, we have successfully completed 16 projects, with a generation capacity of 8,020 MW [megawatts], along with two coal mines and a +660 kV HVDC [Kilovolt High Voltage Direct Current] transmission line.”
He added that the 884 MV Suki Kinari hydropower project worth $1.707 billion was still under construction and expected to be commissioned by November 2024.
“Three power projects, including two hydel (Azad Pattan 700 MW and Kohala 1124 MW) and one coal-based (Gwadar) with a generation capacity of 2124.7 MW worth $4.157 billion, are at an advanced stage,” he continued.
The minister maintained concrete progress on the next CPEC phase would emerge after Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s visit to China, expected in the first week of June.
The two countries have closely collaborated since the launch of the joint corridor project. Sharif met representatives of several Chinese companies on Friday, noting that bilateral relations between the two states were further strengthening.
He urged Chinese companies to establish their industries in the special economic zones under CPEC by developing business-to-business relations, particularly inviting Chinese entrepreneurs in the textile sector to benefit from the opportunities in Pakistan.
Speaking to Arab News, Ammar Habib Khan, a senior research economist, acknowledged China’s financial assistance to Pakistan while suggesting that Islamabad wanted Beijing to soften its stance on restructuring about $15 billion in loans, mainly extended for power and other infrastructure projects.
“The debt restructuring of about $15 billion, including those of the power sector, will provide Pakistan a breathing space and could lead to a reduction in electricity prices,” he said.


Pakistan advises its nationals to take precautions amid violent student protests in Bangladesh

Updated 17 July 2024
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Pakistan advises its nationals to take precautions amid violent student protests in Bangladesh

  • Tens of thousands of students have been holding nationwide protests since early July against public sector job quotas
  • PM Hasina has labeled protesters “razakar,” term for those who allegedly collaborated with Pakistani army during 1971 war

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan High Commission in Dhaka on Wednesday advised Pakistani students in Bangladesh to take necessary precautions and stay away from student protests in which at least six people have been killed and scores injured in the last 24 hours. 
Tens of thousands of students have been holding nationwide protests since early July against public sector job quotas, including a 30 percent quota for family members of freedom fighters from the 1971 War of Independence, amid high youth unemployment. 
Demonstrations intensified after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who led Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan, refused to meet the protesters’ demands and labeled those opposing the quota as “razakar,” a term used for those who allegedly collaborated with the Pakistani army during the 1971 war.
“Pakistan High Commission advises students to take all possible precautions for their safety and stay away from protests,” the High Commission said in a statement. “Campus residents have been advised to stay in their hostel rooms.”
On Wednesday morning, Deputy Prime Minister Muhammad Ishaq Dar also spoke to the Pakistani High Commissioner in Bangladesh, Ambassador Syed Maruf, to inquire about the welfare of Pakistanis in Bangladesh.
“Maruf informed the Deputy Prime Minister about the security situation and the steps taken by the High Commission to ensure the welfare of Pakistanis in Bangladesh,” the statement said. “The embassy has opened a helpline for the convenience of people in distress.”
The protests turned violent this week when thousands of anti-quota protesters clashed with members of the student wing of the ruling Awami League party across the country. Six people, including at least three students, were killed during clashes on Tuesday, police said.
The protests are the first significant challenge to Hasina’s government since she secured a fourth consecutive term in January in an election boycotted by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).


Pakistan protests to Afghanistan over militant attack on cantonment, killing eight soldiers

Updated 17 July 2024
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Pakistan protests to Afghanistan over militant attack on cantonment, killing eight soldiers

  • Eight soldiers killed while blocking militants from entering military cantonment in Bannu on Monday
  • Two soldiers, five civilians killed in militant attack on Rural Health Center in Dera Ismail Khan on Tuesday

ISLAMABAD: The deputy head of mission at the embassy of Afghanistan in Islamabad was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs today, Wednesday, to deliver Pakistan’s “strong demarche” over a militant attack at an army cantonment this week in which eight soldiers were killed, the foreign office said.

Ten soldiers and five civilians were killed this week in two separate attacks in the country’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. In the first attack on Monday, militants tried to enter a cantonment in the city of Bannu and a suicide bomber rammed a vehicle loaded with explosives into a perimeter wall. Eight soldiers and ten militants were killed, the army said. 

In a second, separate, attack early Tuesday, five civilians, including two female health workers and two children, were killed in an attack on a health facility in the Dera Ismail Khan district. Two soldiers and all three militants were killed in subsequent clashes, the military said.

Pakistan has seen a surge in militancy in recent months that it blames on militants operating out of Afghanistan. Kabul denies that it allows its territory to be used by insurgents and says Pakistan’s security woes are a domestic issue.

“The terrorist attack [in Bannu] was carried out by the Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group based in Afghanistan. Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group, along with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians and law enforcement officials in multiple terrorist attacks inside Pakistan,” the foreign office said in a statement.

“The Interim Afghan Government was urged to fully investigate and take immediate, robust and effective action against the perpetrators of the Bannu attack and to prevent the recurrence of such attacks against Pakistan using the territory of Afghanistan.”

The foreign office said it had “serious concerns” about the presence of militant outfits inside Afghanistan that continued to threaten Pakistan’s security. 

“Such incidents also go against the spirit of bilateral relations between the two brotherly countries,” the foreign office added. “The Bannu Cantonment attack is yet another reminder of the serious threat posed by terrorism to regional peace and security. Pakistan reiterates the call for decisive action against terrorism and remains steadfast in its commitment to combat this menace and to uphold its security against all threats.”


Pakistan issues glacial lake flood warnings for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan regions

Updated 17 July 2024
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Pakistan issues glacial lake flood warnings for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan regions

  • Floods in 2022, brought by record monsoon rains and glacial melt, killed over 1,700 people and impacted 33 million people
  • NDMA recently launched Pak NDMA Disaster Alert application to provide timely alerts, adviseries and guidelines

ISLAMABAD: The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) on Wednesday issued a glacial lake outburst flooding (GLOF) alert for Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the mountainous northern region of Gilgit-Baltistan.

Floods in 2022, brought by record monsoon rains and glacial melt in northern mountains, killed over 1,700 people and impacted 33 million people out of a population of 220 million, sweeping away homes, vehicles, crops and livestock in damage estimated at $30 billion. 

“National Emergencies Operation Center (NEOC) has warned of possible glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF) in the mountainous regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan due to rising temperatures and expected heavy rainfall from July 17 to 23, 2024,” the NDMA said in a statement. “This may lead to increased water levels in local rivers and streams, landslides, and flash flooding.”

The disaster management authority said it had directed the Provincial Disaster Management Authority of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well as the Gilgit-Baltistan Disaster Management Authority to coordinate with relevant departments to ensure necessary preparations and emergency response measures. 

“Departments have been instructed to alert local communities, tourists, and travelers in the areas at risk and to avoid unnecessary travel. Mock drills should also be conducted in vulnerable areas to ensure timely evacuation and safety of people,” NDMA said. 

The authority recently launched the Pak NDMA Disaster Alert application, available on Google Play Store and iOS App Store, to provide timely alerts, adviseries and guidelines to the public.


Yaum-e-Ashura processions held across Pakistan amid heightened security

Updated 17 July 2024
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Yaum-e-Ashura processions held across Pakistan amid heightened security

  • Ashura is tenth day of Muharram when Shiite Muslims commemorate death of Imam Hussein
  • Interior ministry had approved army deployment across Pakistan to ensure peace during Muharram

ISLAMABAD: Hundreds of thousands of mourners took out processions across Pakistan on Wednesday amid heightened security measures to observe Yaum-e-Ashura, the holiest day on the Shiite Muslim calendar.

Yaum-e-Ashura is the tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram when Shiite Muslims commemorate the seventh-century battlefield death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), in Karbala, Iraq. 

“The martyrdom of Imam Hussain teaches us to stand firm against oppression,” Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said in a message to the public. “In today’s world, we witness the people of Palestine enduring immense hardships and making immense sacrifices for a great cause. Similarly people of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir are also suffering the atrocities of the oppressive forces.”

Shiite Muslims take part in a religious procession to mark Ashura on the tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram, in Lahore on July 17, 2024. (AFP)

President Asif Ali Zardari said the martyrs of Karbala had given a lesson to the Muslim Ummah “to remain steadfast in the face of all kinds of brutalities and raise their voice against all evils,” state-run Radio Pakistan reported.

The interior ministry had approved army deployment across the country to ensure peace and security during the holy month of Muharram and had banned the use of drones during processions and gatherings.

The main procession in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore set out from Nisar Haveli in the Mohalla Chillah Bibian on Wednesday morning and will culminate at the Karbala Ghamay Shah Imambargah.

In Karachi, the main procession departed from Nishtar Park and will conclude at the Hussainiya Iraniyan Imam Bargah.

Shiite Muslims shout anti-Israel slogans during a religious procession on the ninth day of the Islamic month of Muharram, in Karachi on July 16, 2024. (AFP)

In Peshawar, the main procession began from GT Road and passed through Mukri Bazaar service road and is expected to conclude at 4pm, according to the City Traffic Police.


Daesh claims responsibility for mosque attack in Oman, four Pakistanis killed

Updated 17 July 2024
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Daesh claims responsibility for mosque attack in Oman, four Pakistanis killed

  • Attack took place at Shiite mosque in Wadi Al-Kabir in Omani capital of Muscat
  • Attack raises fears that Daesh may be trying to gain a foothold in new territory

ISLAMABAD: The Daesh group claimed responsibility for an attack at a Shiite Muslim mosque in Oman, the group said on Tuesday, which left at least nine people dead, including four Pakistanis, a rare security breach in the oil-producing Gulf state.

The attack on Monday, which is unusual in the wealthy Gulf state, raises fears that Daesh may be trying to gain a foothold in new territory.

“Three suicide attackers from the Islamic State attacked last night a gathering of Shiite (Muslims) while they were practicing their annual rituals at a temple in the Wadi Al-Kabir district in the (Omani) capital,” according to the group’s statement, which cited three security sources.

The Daesh fighters fired on Shiite worshippers and exchanged gunfire with Omani security forces until morning, the statement added.

Daesh late on Tuesday published what it said was a video of the attack on its Telegram site. The group also said that the attack left more than 30 Shiite Muslims and five Omani forces, including a police officer, killed or wounded.

“According to the latest information received from the Omani authorities, four Pakistanis were martyred as a result of gunshots in the dastardly terrorist attack on the Ali bin Abi Talib mosque in Wadi Kabeer area in Muscat,” the Pakistani foreign ministry said. “Another thirty Pakistanis are under treatment in hospitals.”

Videos shared by the embassy in Oman showed Pakistan’s ambassador to Oman Imran Ali visiting the injured in hospital. 

“This is my message to the Pakistani community that in this emergency situation, please don’t go toward Wadi Al-Kabir, that area is cordoned off,” Ali said in a video message recorded at a hospital. “If anyone has injured relatives, kindly please don’t give up on your patience.”

He said he had visited up to four hospitals and the injured people he had met were in “relatively” stable condition. 

“People in their homes, please stay safe, and don’t go there [toward Wadi Al-Kabir] because our information is that the emergency situation is still ongoing,” the ambassador concluded.

A handout from the embassy said the “terrorist” attack by “unknown assailants” took place around 11pm on Monday night on the Imam Bargah Ali bin Abu Talib in Wadi Al-Kabir. Authorities evacuated people from the area following the attack and started an operation around 230am.

“Assailants have taken worshippers hostages while reportedly [there are] several casualties; authorities have cordoned off the area,” it added. “Hostage evacuation has started now. Military units have reached.”

The Pakistani embassy’s Facebook page said emergency had been imposed at the Khulla Hospital, Nahida Hospital and Royal Hospital, which Ambassador Ali had visited. 

The attack comes during the Islamic month of Muharram, when Shiite Muslims commemorate the seventh-century battlefield martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).