Forest fires on Islamabad’s Margalla Hills doused after hours-long efforts — official

A Pakistan's military helicopter carrying water try to extinguish a fire that erupted few days back in Margalla Hills forest near Faisal Mosque amid rising temperatures during a hot summer day in Islamabad on May 31, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 01 June 2024
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Forest fires on Islamabad’s Margalla Hills doused after hours-long efforts — official

  • Several firefighters and army helicopters participated in the operation to put out the raging flames
  • Incidents come at a time when Pakistan is experiencing heatwave, with temperatures soaring above 52°C

ISLAMABAD: Authorities have doused forest fires that had erupted on three different locations on Margalla Hills in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, an Islamabad district administration official said on Saturday.
The fires erupted on Friday at two different spots close to the famed Faisal Mosque and the Naval headquarters, as well as near a village within the limits of the neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, according to authorities.
Several firefighters and army helicopters participated in the hours-long operation to put out the raging flames, according to a spokesperson of the Islamabad district administration.
“The fire on Margalla Hills is controlled and extinguished after hours-long struggle,” Nasir Butt, the Islamabad district administration spokesperson, told Arab News on Saturday, without detailing the cause of the fire.
The Margalla range, part of the Himalayan foothills, has experienced bush fires relatively often in the summer months. There have also been multiple fires during this month, largely attributed to the extreme heat wave affecting the region.
Bush fires erupted at 15 different locations on Margalla Hills on Tuesday, prompting authorities to order a probe to ascertain if they were started deliberately.
On Friday, officials announced the arrest of three people as residents of the city saw plumes of smoke rising from the hills, which stretch along the northern edge of Islamabad.
“We will ensure all those responsible are held accountable,” Muhammad Ali Randhawa, chairman of the Capital Development Authority, said in a social media post.
He said the authorities would protect the beauty of the hills “at any cost.”


Pakistani minister announces plan to bear prisoner repatriation expenses from Sri Lanka

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Pakistani minister announces plan to bear prisoner repatriation expenses from Sri Lanka

  • Abdul Aleem Khan’s decision will bring back more than 40 Pakistani prisoners to the country from Sri Lankan jails
  • According to the interior ministry, their release was delayed due to difficulties in meeting the required expenses

ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Communication Abdul Aleem Khan has promised to bear the repatriation expenses of Pakistani prisoners in Sri Lankan jails, said an official statement on Friday, making it possible for them to return to their home country by removing a major obstacle.
Pakistan and Sri Lanka agreed to take immediate steps to ensure the return of 43 prisoners in a meeting held between the Sri Lankan High Commissioner, Admiral (r) Ravindra Chandra, and Federal Interior Minister, Mohsin Naqvi, in May.
However, their release had been delayed due to the financial issues.
“Federal Minister for Communications Abdul Aleem Khan has announced to bear all expenses for the repatriation of Pakistani prisoners stranded in Sri Lanka for years,” the interior ministry said in a statement. “These prisoners will now be able to return home soon after completing the necessary procedures.”
The interior minister expressed his gratitude to Khan for taking interest in the matter, applauding his gesture which he said would be “a breath of fresh air for the prisoners and their families.”
According to Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), nearly 14,000 Pakistani citizens are languishing in prisons across the world.
JPP, a local advocacy group, represents vulnerable Pakistan prisoners at home and abroad.


Six killed in suspected militant violence in Pakistan, citizens hold protest rallies demanding peace

Updated 37 min 3 sec ago
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Six killed in suspected militant violence in Pakistan, citizens hold protest rallies demanding peace

  • Policeman was among three people killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, paramilitary soldier killed in Balochistan
  • Protest rally in Bannu came under fire by unidentified suspects, killing two protesters and injuring 24 others

PESHAWAR: Four people, including a policeman and a paramilitary soldier, were killed in suspected militant attacks in Pakistan’s northwestern and southwestern regions on Friday, officials said, while at least two others perished in shooting at a protest rally in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province against the worsening security environment.
KP, which borders Afghanistan, has seen a surge in attacks on security forces, government officials and anti-polio vaccination teams in recent weeks. Attacks have also spiked in the southwestern Balochistan province, home to a decades-long insurgency by separatist fighters.
The shocking surge in daily attacks has unleashed protests in KP’s Bannu and Tank districts, with citizens demanding authorities ensure peace in the two districts that have been worst-hit by the militancy surge. In Bannu in particular, ten soldiers were killed earlier this week when militants attacked a military cantonment.
In a fresh attack on Friday, two people were killed and four others wounded when a bomb targeted a militant commander, Ain Ullah, associated with Mullah Nazeer group, a Pakistan Taliban (TTP) faction, in the South Waziristan tribal district, according to police.
“A bomb exploded near Maulvi Noor Muhammad mosque this morning, leaving two persons dead and four injured,” Fareed Wazir, a police officer in the town of Wana, told Arab News. “It was a planted bomb. Police are investigating the matter to identify the perpetrators.”
Separately, a policeman was killed and two others injured when unidentified gunmen opened fire on a police check-post in the Bhai area of KP’s Mardan district, rescue officials said.
Meanwhile, unidentified gunmen opened fire at a protest rally in Bannu, killing at least two protesters and injuring another two dozen, according to provincial officials.
“At least two persons died and 24 were wounded when all of a sudden firing started during a peace rally by hundreds and thousands of people in Bannu,” KP Public Health Engineering Minister Pakhtoon Yar Khan told Arab News, saying he had “narrowly escaped” the gunfire.
Khan said the recent unrest in Bannu had disrupted businesses, educational institutions and public life, and residents wanted peace “at any cost.”
Arab News tried reaching out to the Bannu district police officer, Ziauddin Ahmad, to get more details of the incident, but he did not return phone calls.
Later, commenting on the development the provincial administration’s spokesperson Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif said in a video statement people had the right to hold peaceful protests, though no one would be allowed to take law into their hands.
He said Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur had taken notice of the situation in Bannu and asked the commissioner and deputy commissioner of the region to hold negotiations with protesters.
“After negotiations with the elders, the situation is under control,” the KP spokesperson said. “The chief minister has also announced a package for those killed and injured in the incident.”
He added the incident would be investigated and those responsible for the violence would be punished.
In Tank, hundreds of people continued a two-day long sit-in over the fragile security situation in the district.
Pattu Bhittani, one of the organizers of the protest, told Arab News the residents were “fed up” of frequent militant attacks and living in a state of insecurity.
“Till the acceptance of our demands, which is restoration of peace, the entire district will boycott the polio campaign and hoist black flags on their vehicles and homes as a token of protest,” Bhittani said, warning that the protesters would also block highways if their demands were not met.
Islamabad blames the recent surge in attacks, including the July 15 attack on the army cantonment in Bannu, on militants mainly from the TTP operating out of neighboring Afghanistan. Kabul denies the allegations and says rising violence in Pakistan is a domestic issue for Islamabad.
Pakistani forces were able to effectively dismantle the TTP in a string of military operations in KP’s tribal districts from 2014 onwards, driving most of the fighters into neighboring Afghanistan, where Islamabad says they have regrouped.
Islamabad says TTP leaders have taken refuge in Afghanistan and now run camps there to train insurgents to launch attacks inside Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban rulers say Kabul does not allow militants to operate on its territory.
BALOCHISTAN
In Balochistan, one Frontier Corps (FC) paramilitary soldier was killed and four were injured in an IED blast in the Buleda area of Kech district, officials said.
The IED attack took place as an FC convoy was passing an area called ‘Gili’ some 100 kilometers away from Turbat, Insap Baloch, the head of the paramilitary Levis force in the area, said.
“The security forces have surrounded the area and injured soldiers have been shifted to hospital for medical treatment,” Baloch added.
In another attack, one soldier of the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) was injured in an explosion that targeted a CTD vehicle in the Pishin district.
With inputs from Saadullah Akhter in Quetta


Pakistan is looking for external financing avenues, finance minister says

Updated 19 July 2024
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Pakistan is looking for external financing avenues, finance minister says

  • Pakistan to meet external financing needs by speaking with foreign governments and lenders to draw foreign investment as well as seeking loan rollovers
  • Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb says government was seeking to focus on more sustainable forms such as direct investment and climate financing

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will focus on meeting its external financing needs by speaking with foreign governments and lenders to draw foreign investment as well as seeking loan rollovers, the country’s finance minister told Reuters on Friday, as his government prepares to execute its new $7 billion International Monetary Fund agreement.
Pakistan and the IMF reached an agreement for the 37-month loan program this month. Tough measures such as raising tax on agricultural incomes and lifting electricity prices have prompted concerns about poor and middle class Pakistanis grappling with rising inflation and the prospect of higher taxes.
Pakistan has relied heavily on IMF programs for years, at times nearing the brink of sovereign default and having to turn to countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to provide it with financing to meet external financing targets set by the IMF.
Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb said in an interview that external financing continued to be an important component, though the government was seeking to focus on more sustainable forms such as direct investment and climate financing.
“I think in the existing situation we can expect those (loan) rollovers to continue to take place ... we have requested extension of maturities,” Aurangzeb said.
Rollovers or disbursements on loans from Pakistan’s long-time allies Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and China, in addition to financing from the IMF, have helped Pakistan meet its external financing needs in the past.
The IMF said the new Extended Fund Facility program is subject to approval from its Executive Board and obtaining “timely confirmation of necessary financing assurances from Pakistan’s development and bilateral partners.”
Aurangzeb said that meeting the external financing gap was “very manageable and very doable.”
He said Pakistan plans to expand its strategy beyond relying heavily on rollovers and toward foreign direct investment, including in the huge copper and gold Reko Diq mine in southern Pakistan. He added his government was working on identifying “bankable and investable” projects for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have announced interest in billions of dollars in investment in Pakistan.
“That is what’s going to lead to sustainability, ” he said. “If we can’t get this executed in the next three years, we will not be able to get out of the ‘last’ program.”
Pakistan has been plagued by boom-and-bust cycles for decades, leading to more than 20 IMF bailouts since 1958. It is currently the IMF’s fifth-largest debtor, owing $6.28 billion as of July 11 according to IMF data.
Aurangzeb said the Reko Diq copper and gold mine project had drawn interest from the World Bank’s private investment arm, the International Finance Corporation(IFC), which had signalled it would invest a “large amount.”
Aurangzeb said that during a trip to China that he plans by the end of July, Islamabad will discuss power sector structural reforms with Beijing that have been suggested by the IMF. Beijing has set up over $20 billion worth of planned energy projects in Pakistan.
CLIMATE FINANCE
Pakistan has also agreed with the IMF to launch talks this year on financing under the fund’s Resilience and Sustainability Trust (RST) to draw financing for projects related to climate change.
Pakistan is one of the countries worst affected by climate change. Huge floods in 2022 killed hundreds of people and caused billions of dollars of damage in infrastructure and agriculture.
“We will start the discussions around that during this calendar year, possibly at the time of the first review, which will be in October, around the annual meetings in Washington,” said Aurangzeb, though he did not specify how much his government would request.
Pakistan has only successfully completed one long term Extended Fund Facility, in 2017. Aurangzeb said he planned to ensure Pakistan completed the current program, despite mounting political pressure and the inflationary impact of IMF-suggested reforms.
The minister, former head of Pakistan’s largest bank, also stressed that the government planned to push through the privatization of loss-making enterprises including national carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).


Pakistan condemns Israeli strikes on schools, shelters in Gaza

Updated 19 July 2024
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Pakistan condemns Israeli strikes on schools, shelters in Gaza

  • “Atrocious attack” on tents of displaced persons in Khan Yunus area had killed many Palestinian women and children, FO says
  • Over 38,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s ongoing military offensive in a war now grinding on into its tenth month

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday condemned Israeli strikes on Gaza schools and shelters, the foreign office said, adding that eight educational institutes being utilized as a shelter by Palestinians had been bombed in the last 10 days.

At least 25 people were killed and dozens more wounded earlier this week when Israeli forces targeted dozens of Palestinians gathered outside the Al-Awda school in Abasan, a city in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis governorate. Across Gaza, this was the fourth strike on as many schools used as shelters in four days, killing at least 49 people in total, according to medics and officials in the territory.

“Pakistan also condemns in the strongest terms the continued genocidal barrage by Israel on the schools and shelters in Gaza,” Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said in a weekly press briefing on Friday. “Over the last 10 days, they have attacked eight schools being used as a shelter by the displaced.”

The statement said the “atrocious attack” on the tents of displaced persons in the Khan Yunus area had killed many Palestinian women and children taking refuge there. Targeting a safe zone camp violated international humanitarian law, the foreign office said, condemning measures taken by Israel against the recreation of a viable Palestinian state and saying Israel had no right too decide the future of lands belonging to the Palestinians.

The statement said the only “just solution” to the Palestinian question was the creation of a sovereign state of Palestine based on 1967 borders. 

Pakistan has frequently condemned Israel’s military offensive in Palestine following the start of the war in October last year and has for decades backed the demand for an independent and contiguous Palestinian State with pre-1967 borders and Jerusalem as its capital, per United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) resolutions.

The upsurge in fighting, bombardment and displacement in Gaza takes place as talks are set to resume in Qatar toward a truce and hostage release deal in the war now grinding on into its tenth month.

Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on southern Israel sparked the war in which at least 38,295 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, have been killed, according to Palestinian authorities. Israel has also imposed a punishing siege on Gaza’s 2.4 million people, eased only by sporadic aid deliveries.
 


Pakistan offers counter-terrorism support to Oman after six killed in mosque attack

Updated 19 July 2024
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Pakistan offers counter-terrorism support to Oman after six killed in mosque attack

  • Sharif offered support in meeting with Omani ambassador hours after bodies of four Pakistanis were brought home, handed over to families
  • The Pakistan prime minister thanked the Omani envoy for encouraging a trade, investment delegation to undertake a visit to Pakistan next week

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday offered Pakistan’s support to Oman after a mosque attack in Muscat killed six people, including four Pakistanis, and injured dozens of others this week, Sharif's office said.

The statement came after Sharif's meeting with Omani Ambassador Fahad Sulaiman Khalaf Al-Kharusi that followed the arrival of bodies of Pakistanis who were killed in Monday's attack claimed by the Daesh militant group.

The attack unfolded as three gunmen, all brothers and of Omani nationality, opened fire on worshippers at a Shia Muslim mosque. Two others killed in the attack included an Indian and a police officer who responded to the attack.

"The Prime Minister strongly condemned the dastardly terrorist attack on Imam Bargah Ali bin Abu Talib in Wadi Kabir district of Muscat, which resulted in the death of six people, including four Pakistani nationals and over thirty injured, nearly all of whom were Pakistanis," Sharif's office said in a statement. 

"While appreciating Oman’s swift response and cooperation with the Pakistan Mission in repatriation of the dead bodies and treatment of the injured, the Prime Minister said Pakistan had itself been the victim of terrorism for the past several decades. He offered Pakistan’s support to Oman in dealing with the menace of terrorism, which must be eliminated in all its forms."

The statement came hours after bodies of the four Pakistani nationals killed in the Muscat mosque attack were brought back home by the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and handed over to their families.

Monday evening marked the beginning of Ashura, an annual period of mourning marked by Shia Muslims to commemorate the 7th-century death of Imam Hussain, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Daesh’s operations have indicated the group is attempting a comeback after it was crushed by a US-led coalition following its occupation of large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate. It also inspired lone-wolf attacks in the West.

Any inroads in Gulf Arab oil producers such as Oman would raise fears in Washington and the region which has long viewed militant groups as a major threat.

TRADE AND INVESTMENT

During the meeting, the prime minister conveyed his good wishes for Sultan Haitham bin Tariq and reiterated his invitation to the Omani leader to undertake an official visit to Pakistan at his earliest convenience, according to the statement.

He expressed Pakistan’s desire to further strengthen bilateral cooperation between the two countries, particularly in trade, investment, energy and defense.

"The Prime Minister thanked the Ambassador for encouraging a trade and investment delegation to undertake a visit to Pakistan next week, while assuring him that the concerned authorities would extend full cooperation to the delegation while seeking mutually beneficial outcomes," Sharif's office said.

"The Ambassador thanked the Prime Minister for receiving him and conveyed the greetings of His Majesty the Sultan of Oman. He reaffirmed his country's desire to further enhance its trade and investment relations with Pakistan."

Pakistan, which narrowly escaped a default last year, is currently navigating a tricky path to economic recovery. The South Asian country recently reached a staff-level agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $7 billion loan.

Apart from IMF deal, Islamabad has high-level exchanges with several countries, particularly the Gulf states, in a bid to boost trade and foreign investment in the country to support the $350 billion South Asian economy.