Pakistan’s president advocates ‘political dialogue’ for Balochistan’s stability during Gwadar visit

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari (center) chairs a meeting on the law and order situation in Balochistan in Gwadar, Pakistan on June 20, 2024. (PID)
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Updated 21 June 2024

Pakistan’s president advocates ‘political dialogue’ for Balochistan’s stability during Gwadar visit

  • Balochistan is viewed as strategically vital for Pakistan but has witnessed separatist and militant violence for decades
  • President Asif Ali Zardari calls for improved law enforcement capacity, better prosecution system to counter violence

ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday emphasized political dialogue for peace, development and prosperity in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan region, which has been recognized as vital for the country’s strategic interests but has also witnessed prolonged militant and separatist violence.

Pakistan’s largest province by area, Balochistan holds a strategic position that borders Iran and Afghanistan, making it pivotal for regional connectivity and central to the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which aims to strengthen the ties between Pakistan, the Middle East and Central Asia. The government has also taken initiatives to tap the province’s vast mineral and natural resources that largely remain underexploited, hoping to utilize them for the country’s economic growth.

However, Balochistan has witnessed a low-level insurgency carried out by Baloch nationalist groups who have long accused Pakistani governments of profiting from the province’s natural resources while leaving the region underdeveloped for its own residents.

Zardari, who went to the region’s strategic Gwadar port city on a daylong visit, chaired a meeting on the security situation in Balochistan on Thursday.

“Political dialogue is the way forward to bring prosperity, development and peace to Balochistan,” he was quoted as saying by his office after the meeting.

However, the president also spoke about enhancing the capacity of law enforcement agencies (LEAs) in the area, emphasized the deployment of “competent officers” in the province and called for a better prosecution mechanism to counter violence in Balochistan.

“Compensation for the families of martyrs of LEAs in Balochistan should be enhanced, bringing it at par with the rest of the provinces,” he said.

He also instructed the authorities to take necessary measures for the safety of religious tourists from other province who travel to the Middle East from Balochistan.

The president also maintained it was necessary to focus on skill development of people, adding that trained human resources should be equipped with foreign language skills to help them find jobs in other countries.

“There is a need for providing financing and equipment to local fishermen, apart from promoting sustainable fishing practices and checking the production of illegal fishing nets,” he added while speaking about one of the leading livelihood sources for people in Gwadar.

The meeting was also attended by Pakistan’s interior minister Mohsin Naqvi, Balochistan’s chief minister Sarfaraz Bugti and senior military officials.

Pakistan to push Chinese utilities in Pakistan to switch to domestic coal

Updated 21 July 2024

Pakistan to push Chinese utilities in Pakistan to switch to domestic coal

  • Such a transition would benefit the Chinese-owned plants in Pakistan by reducing pressure on Islamabad’s foreign exchange reserves
  • The transition could save Pakistan over $700 million a year in imports, translating to a drop of as much as Rs2.5 in per unit electricity price

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan this month will ask Chinese power plants operating in the country to shift to using coal from Pakistan’s Thar region rather than imported coal, the power minister said on Sunday.
Islamabad may also begin talks on re-profiling Pakistan’s energy sector debt during the visit to Beijing, Awais Leghari, head of the energy ministry’s Power Division, told Reuters.
Leghari will be part of the delegation to discuss structural reforms to the power sector suggested by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which last week agreed on a $7 billion bailout for the heavily indebted South Asian nation.
Neighbouring China has set up over $20 billion worth of energy projects in Pakistan.
“One of the key purposes of going along is the conversion of our imported coal units to the local coal. That would have a huge impact on the cost of energy, of power in the near future. So that is one of the biggest (items on the) agenda,” Leghari said in an interview.
Such a transition would benefit the Chinese-owned plants in Pakistan by reducing pressure on Islamabad’s foreign exchange reserves, he said, making it easier to repatriate dividends and offering a better return in dollar terms.
The transition could save Pakistan more than 200 billion Pakistani rupees ($700 million) a year in imports, translating to a decrease of as much as 2.5 Pakistani rupees per unit in the price of electricity, Leghari said.
In April a subsidiary of conglomerate Engro agreed to sell all of its thermal assets, including Pakistan’s leading coal producer, Sindh Engro Coal Mining to Pakistan’s Liberty Power. Liberty said the decision stemmed from Pakistan’s foreign exchange crunch and its indigenous coal reserve potential.
The minister declined to elaborate on the possible talks with China over re-profiling energy debt.
Pakistan’s power sector has been plagued by high rates of power theft and distribution losses, resulting in accumulating debt across the production chain — a concern raised by the IMF.
The government is implementing structural reforms to reduce “circular debt” — public liabilities that build up in the power sector due to subsidies and unpaid bills — by 100 billion Pakistani rupees ($360 million) a year, Leghari said.
Poor and middle-class households have been affected by a previous IMF bailout reached last year, which included raising power tariffs as part of the funding program that ended in April.
Annual power use in Pakistan is expected to fall consecutively for the first time in 16 years as higher tariffs curb household consumption, despite summer temperatures surging to near records, which typically boosts air conditioning and fan use.
“We have seen a shrinking demand trend in the past year or year and a half, and we are expecting this to continue unless we rationalize the price of power,” Leghari said, adding that the government’s major challenge was get demand to stop shrinking.
He said that since the per-unit tariff for power is more expensive, both urban and rural households are moving toward alternatives such as solar.
“Right now we have close to 1,000 megawatts that are on the grid itself in the form of net metering systems and others. It’s a very conservative estimate that (solar) could be five to six times more than that on the grid right now,” Leghari said.

Pakistan’s Hajj Medical Mission wraps up operations, says treated over 169,000 pilgrims 

Updated 21 July 2024

Pakistan’s Hajj Medical Mission wraps up operations, says treated over 169,000 pilgrims 

  • Pakistan Hajj Medical Mission also treated pilgrims from other countries who sought assistance, says director 
  • Over 400-member mission provided pilgrims with health care facilities in Makkah and Madinah since May 9

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Hajj Medical Mission wrapped up its operations in Saudi Arabia this week after treating over 169,000 pilgrims in the kingdom, the mission’s director confirmed on Sunday. 

Over 160,000 Pakistanis attended this year’s annual Hajj pilgrimage, which ran from June 14-19. Pakistan established two hospitals and 11 dispensaries in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah on May 9. 

“The Pakistan Hajj Medical Mission completed its operations in Saudi Arabia on July 20, and since the start of services on May 9 this year, almost 169,000 pilgrims received free health treatment,” Brig. Jamil Ahmed Lakhair, the mission’s director, told Arab News over the phone from Makkah.

Lakhair said that out of the total number of patients, at least 60 percent were male while 40 percent were women. He said the mission also provided services to pilgrims from other countries who sought medical assistance.

Lakhair said a dedicated team of over 400 members from the medical mission tirelessly performed their duties to assist Pakistani pilgrims in Saudi Arabia during the annual Islamic pilgrimage.

“More than 19000 lab tests were done on almost 4000 patients and around 5000 patients availed dental treatment facilities, including minor procedures,” he revealed. Lakhair said over 3,000 patients availed radiological facilities, including ultrasound, at the hospital.

The Pakistani official credited the Saudi government for ensuring excellent medical facilities, praising their robust patient evacuation system and well-equipped hospitals, adding that Pakistan’s medical mission helped pilgrims access these facilities.

“Two hundred and fifty patients treated in tertiary care facilities of the kingdom’s hospitals as indoor cases,” Lakhair said. 

He shared that over 12,000 pilgrims were treated as emergency cases while 188 bed-ridden patients were taken to Arafat for Hajj rituals in ambulances and buses.

He said respiratory tract infections and musculoskeletal problems were the most common among pilgrims, accounting for 18 percent of the total cases, followed by gastrointestinal problems at 12 percent, diabetes mellitus at 11 percent, unspecified fever at 9 percent, and cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension and ischemic heart diseases, at 5 percent

Thousands continue sit-in protest in northwestern Pakistan after shooting incident 

Updated 21 July 2024

Thousands continue sit-in protest in northwestern Pakistan after shooting incident 

  • Gunfire targeting Bannu peace rally triggered stampede that killed 2, injured over 20 on Friday
  • Protesters form 30-member committee to hold talks with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government 

PESHAWAR: Thousands of protesters continued to stage a sit-in protest for the second consecutive day in the northwestern city of Bannu on Sunday, demanding peace days after a shooting incident triggered a stampede that caused the deaths of at least two people. 
At least two persons were killed and more than 20 injured after gunfire triggered a stampede at the procession attended by tens of thousands of people in the northwestern city on Friday. The demonstration was held at a time when Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, which borders Afghanistan, has witnessed a surge in attacks on security forces, government officials and anti-polio vaccination teams in recent weeks.
The shocking increase in daily attacks led the residents of the area to demand peace only a few days after 10 soldiers were killed by militants in Bannu’s cantonment area.
Following the attack, thousands of protesters staged a sit-in protest on Saturday in Bannu, demanding peace and an end to further military operations in KP. 
“Talks are being held between the district administration and local elders to restore durable peace in the area,” KP government spokesperson Muhammad Ali Saif said in a statement. “A meeting of elders will soon be arranged with the chief minister.”
Local residents and some Pakistani politicians accused the security forces of the shooting incident, though the KP spokesperson was reticent about who was responsible.
Protesters have formed a 30-member committee to hold talks with the provincial government on the issue. 
Dil Nawaz, one of the participants of the protest, said tribes from Bannu district were represented in the 30-member committee. He said the committee was empowered to hold talks with the KP government to ensure their demands were accepted. 
“Politicians from the Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and elders from the adjacent Lakki Marwat and Karak districts have visited Bannu, are meeting protesters and assuring them of their support to achieve peace,” Nawaz said. 
He said the committee members comprised local elders, current and former lawmakers of the national and provincial assemblies of Pakistan, members of the Bannu Chamber of Commerce, religious leaders, lawyers and journalists. 
“We will continue with our protest till our demands are not met,” Nawaz vowed. “We were protesting peacefully and this [shooting] happened. This was an unjust act against us.”
A six-member opposition alliance, the Tehreek Tahafuz Ayeen-e-Pakistan (or the Movement to Protect the Constitution of Pakistan) demanded the formation of a judicial commission to probe the shooting incident on Saturday.
The demand was put forward after the alliance met on Saturday to discuss the issue. 
“They demanded that an independent judicial commission should be constituted immediately to probe into the deaths and injuries caused by the firings on Bannu Aman [Peace] March,” a press release by the alliance read.
The alliance stressed the need for a judicial commission to probe the incident, saying it should be headed by a serving judge. It said the judge should be “free from any external pressure” to ensure a transparent investigation into the Bannu incident.

The press release added the meeting criticized senior police and provincial administration officials, saying they had “miserably failed in restoring peace in the province” and must be dismissed.

Pakistan strongly condemns attack on Frankfurt consulate by ‘gang of extremists’

Updated 21 July 2024

Pakistan strongly condemns attack on Frankfurt consulate by ‘gang of extremists’

  • People carrying Afghanistan’s flag attacked Pakistan’s Frankfurt consulate on Saturday, took down country’s national flag
  • Pakistan calls on German authorities to take “immediate measures” to arrest and prosecute those involved in incident 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson on Sunday strongly condemned an attack on its Frankfurt consulate by what it described were a “gang of extremists,” urging German authorities to take action and arrest those involved in the incident. 

Footage on social media from Saturday showed a large crowd of angry people carrying Afghanistan’s national flag, jumping the fence into the Pakistan consulate in Frankfurt and taking down Pakistan’s flag.

As per various Pakistani media reports, the people were reportedly Afghan nationals who pelted the consulate with stones during their protest. 

“Pakistan strongly condemns yesterday’s attack by a gang of extremists on its consulate in Frankfurt, Germany and the failure of the German authorities to protect the sanctity and security of the premises of its consular Mission,” Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said in a statement. 

Baloch stressed that under the Vienna Convention 1963, it is the responsibility of the host country to protect the sanctity of the consular premises and ensure the security of diplomats.

“In yesterday’s incident, the security of Pakistan’s consulate in Frankfurt was breached, endangering the lives of its consular staff,” she said. 

“We are conveying our strong protest to the German Government.”

The spokesperson urged the German government to ensure the security of Pakistan’s diplomatic missions and staff in Germany. 

“We also urge the German authorities to take immediate measures to arrest and prosecute those involved in yesterday’s incident and hold to account those responsible for the lapses in security,” she said.

In a separate message on social media platform X, Pakistan’s embassy in Germany called on the people to remain “patient and calm” after the incident. 

Tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan have steadily increased since the Afghan Taliban seized Kabul in August 2021. Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant attacks on its soil since November 2022 after a fragile truce between Islamabad and the Pakistani Taliban, or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) outfit broke down.

Pakistan blames Afghanistan for sheltering TTP militants and has asked Kabul to take action against them. However, Afghanistan denies the allegations and has warned Pakistan against carrying out its threats of conducting cross-border attacks in Afghanistan.

Tensions between both countries escalated further in March this year after Pakistan struck alleged militant targets inside Afghanistan. Kabul said the strikes killed three women and three children.

Ties between the two countries also took a hit after Pakistan last year launched a deportation drive to expel undocumented foreigners from its country, which mainly targeted Afghan nationals. 

Over 600,000 Afghan nationals have since last year left Pakistan and returned to their country, which they had left over the past couple of decades due to war and persecution.

PCB chief to attend upcoming ICC meet with spotlight on Champions Trophy hosting rights

Updated 21 July 2024

PCB chief to attend upcoming ICC meet with spotlight on Champions Trophy hosting rights

  • PCB Chairman Mohsin Naqvi to represent Pakistan at ICC’s annual conference on Monday
  • India likely to raise issues over traveling to Pakistan for next year’s Champions Trophy

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chairman Mohsin Naqvi is scheduled to arrive in Sri Lanka today, Sunday, to attend a key International Cricket Council (ICC) conference where discussions are likely to revolve around whether Pakistan will fully host the ICC Champions Trophy tournament next year or not. 

Pakistan is set to host the Champions Trophy tournament scheduled to be played in the country from February to March 2025. However, doubts have been cast on whether Pakistan will host the entire tournament on its soil with India expected to refuse to travel to its neighboring country for the event. 

No Indian cricket team has played in Pakistan since the 2008 Asia Cup. Relations between the two governments have deteriorated steadily since then, especially after the Mumbai terror attacks the same year.

Pakistan was forced to settle for a “hybrid” model last year when the Indian team refused to tour Pakistan for the Asia Cup. India played its Asia Cup matches in Sri Lanka, including the final, in Colombo. However, Pakistan’s cricket team toured India later in 2023 to take part in the 50-over World Cup. 

“PCB Chairman Mohsin Naqvi will arrive on a brief one-day tour in Sri Lanka today,” the board said in a statement. 

“Chairman PCB will take part in the important ICC meeting tomorrow [Monday].”

The conference, which commenced on Friday, has brought together over 220 delegates from 108 ICC member countries from across the world, covering regions such as Africa, the Americas, Asia, East Asia Pacific, and Europe.

The gathering of cricket administrators and stakeholders from around the globe will provide the platform for discussions on the strategic direction of the sport, governance, and the development of cricket worldwide.

While the Champions Trophy hosting is not officially part of the conference’s agenda, both PCB and BCCI are expected to collide over the matter in discussions.