Pakistan’s parliament grants additional powers to caretaker government ahead of polls

Pakistan’s parliament grants additional powers to caretaker government ahead of polls
This file photo taken on January 12, 2018, shows Pakistan's National Assembly in Islamabad. (Photo Courtesy: Government of Pakistan/File)
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Updated 26 July 2023
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Pakistan’s parliament grants additional powers to caretaker government ahead of polls

Pakistan’s parliament grants additional powers to caretaker government ahead of polls
  • Law minister says caretaker government empowered to take decisions about ‘existing bilateral, multilateral, ongoing projects’
  • Opposition rejects move to grant additional powers to caretaker setup, terms it ‘soft coup’ and 'murder of the constitution'

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s parliament on Wednesday approved legislation that grants additional powers to any caretaker government, empowering it to take important decisions and engage with international institutions ahead of the upcoming general elections. 

The development takes place a day after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif's government introduced multiple amendments to the Election Act, 2017, days before the five-year constitutional tenure of the present National Assembly is due to expire. Section 230 of the Elections Act empowers caretaker setups to make important decisions like elected administrations of the country.

A leading coalition partner of the government, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) objected to the proposed amendments on Tuesday, stating that they put caretaker governments "on the same pedestal" as elected ones.

However, during Wednesday's parliamentary session, the government managed to allay its allies' concerns and managed to get the legislation passed by a majority vote. Former Prime Minister Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) rejected the move.  

“The caretaker government can look into urgent matters only, we have tried our best to empower the caretaker government while remaining within the framework of the constitution,” Federal Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar briefed the joint sitting of the parliament. 

Article 230 of the legislation empowers the caretaker government to take important decisions about “existing bilateral, multilateral and ongoing projects” already signed with international institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 

“The kind of economic crisis we have been passing through, it is important to empower the caretaker government to sign bilateral and multilateral agreements,” the minister explained.

He said while Pakistan was receiving some investments, other agreements worth hundreds of millions of dollars, such as the one with the World Bank, are expected to be signed in September. These agreements, the minister said, should be handled by the interim government. 

“No new authority is being awarded [to the caretaker government] …. They will take care of only day-to-day affairs,” Tarar assured the house, adding that the caretaker government would intervene only where the federal cabinet has already approved some deals which require consequential work. 

Senator Mushtaq Ahmad of the JI said empowering the caretaker setup through legislation is a “soft coup” that would make the upcoming general elections controversial. 

“I cannot support it,” he said, emphasizing that caretaker governments in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces were already working on an agenda instead of performing their duties in a neutral and unbiased manner as mandated by Pakistan's constitution. 

Ahmad said the government's move was against the “spirit of the constitution” that could be used as a pretext to extend the tenure of the interim setup. 

PTI's Senator Ali Zafar opposed the empowering the caretaker setup, describing it as a “murder of the constitution” and saying that the powers of an elected government were granted to a caretaker setup.  

“The only job of the caretaker government is to hold free and fair elections,” he said, warning that the Supreme Court would strike the amendments down for being in violation of the constitution. 

The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz's (PML-N) head of the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms, Ayaz Sadiq, clarified that the proposed legislation would not be used to delay general elections. 

“It is categorically written in the bill that they would take decisions only regarding bilateral, multilateral, and ongoing projects," he said.  
The proposed legislation would become law after President Dr Arif Alvi grants his assent to it. 


Pakistan seeks economic integration with Central Asia amid push for investment

Pakistan seeks economic integration with Central Asia amid push for investment
Updated 29 May 2024
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Pakistan seeks economic integration with Central Asia amid push for investment

Pakistan seeks economic integration with Central Asia amid push for investment
  • Pakistan’s investment minister Abdul Aleem Khan participates in regional business forum in Tajikistan 
  • Pakistan aims to enhance its role as a pivotal trade and transit hub between Central Asia and the world 

Islamabad: Pakistan’s investment minister on Wednesday reaffirmed his country’s resolve to cooperate with Central Asian states in the region, state media reported, as Islamabad pushes forward an ambitious agenda to bolster trade and economic activities while grappling with a macroeconomic crisis. 

Pakistan has aimed to enhance its role as a pivotal trade and transit hub connecting the Central Asian republics with the rest of the world, leveraging its strategic geographical position.

The South Asian country has invested in infrastructure projects like roads, railways and pipelines while seeking greater economic connectivity under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative.

“Pakistan has reaffirmed the resolve to cooperate with Central Asian countries to boost economic and trade activities in the region,” the state-run Radio Pakistan reported. 

Pakistan’s Minister for Privatization Abdul Aleem Khan made these comments while addressing a regional forum titled: “Road to Tien Shan” in Tajikistan.

Khan said international trade would ensure the entire region’s development and prosperity. 

“He said Pakistan’s Port Qasim and Gwadar port are available for Central Asia’s trade routes,” Radio Pakistan said

In April, Pakistan opened its trade gateway to Central Asia with first potato shipment to Tajikistan.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has repeatedly said Islamabad does not require loans but “mutually beneficial” economic partnerships with its allies.


Islamabad Gandhara symposium, with Buddhist leaders in attendance, highlights Pakistan’s ancient heritage 

Islamabad Gandhara symposium, with Buddhist leaders in attendance, highlights Pakistan’s ancient heritage 
Updated 29 May 2024
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Islamabad Gandhara symposium, with Buddhist leaders in attendance, highlights Pakistan’s ancient heritage 

Islamabad Gandhara symposium, with Buddhist leaders in attendance, highlights Pakistan’s ancient heritage 
  • Ministerial-level participants from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam attend two-day symposium 
  • Symposium features contributions of Gandhara civilization in spread of Buddhism, discussions on inter-faith harmony

ISLAMABAD: A two-day symposium on Gandhara civilization held this week in Islamabad, attended by Buddhist leaders from several countries, put the spotlight on Pakistan’s ancient cultural roots dating back to thousands of years. 

Although Pakistan does not have a significant Buddhist population, several parts of the country were historically important centers of Buddhism during the Gandhara period, from around the 1st century BCE to the 7th century CE.

The Pakistani government has sought to develop religious tourism in these areas, mainly concentrated in the present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and northern Punjab regions, and has regularly hosted Buddhist pilgrims and religious leaders in recent years.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Wednesday met a Buddhist delegation visiting Islamabad to attend a two-day symposium on Gandhara civilization. 

“The Prime Minister highlighted that Pakistan was proud of its ancient Buddhist heritage, which flourished in northwest Pakistan in the shape of Gandhara art and culture, over two thousand years ago,” the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said in a statement.

The delegation comprised Sri Lanka’s Minister for Buddhasasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs Vidura Wikramanayaka, Vietnamese Buddhist leader Duc Tuan, Thailand’s Anil Sakya and Dr. Keshabman Shakya from Nepal, a statement from Sharif’s office said. 

The PMO said Sharif underscored the importance his government attached to interfaith harmony, adding that the Pakistani premier acknowledged Buddhist scholars’ and monks’ valuable contributions to promoting interfaith harmony.

The delegation appreciated Sharif’s commitment to fostering “a culture of inclusivity and respect for all religions,” the PMO said. It added that the Buddhist leaders commended Pakistan’s efforts to preserve and promote its Buddhist heritage sites and cultural artifacts.

The two-day symposium and exhibition titled “From Gandhara to the World,” organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, kicked off on Tuesday. The event was organized in connection with the ‘Vesak Day,’ which commemorates Gautama Buddha’s birth and enlightenment.

Islamabad-based diplomats, government functionaries, scholars, artists and art lovers attended the symposium. 

Pakistan’s foreign office said foreign delegates, including ministerial-level participants from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam attended the symposium as well.


Omani consul general, Pakistani businessmen discuss diversifying exports, enhancing bilateral trade

Omani consul general, Pakistani businessmen discuss diversifying exports, enhancing bilateral trade
Updated 29 May 2024
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Omani consul general, Pakistani businessmen discuss diversifying exports, enhancing bilateral trade

Omani consul general, Pakistani businessmen discuss diversifying exports, enhancing bilateral trade
  • Omani consul general leads delegation to Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry
  • Volume of trade between Oman and Pakistan needs to be enhanced, says KCCI president 

ISLAMABAD: Oman’s Consul General Sami Abdullah Salim Al Khanjari on Wednesday held discussions with Pakistani businessmen focused on diversifying exports from the South Asian country to the Gulf nation and increasing bilateral trade, a statement from the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) said. 

Like all Gulf countries, Pakistan enjoys cordial relations rooted in shared faith, culture and history with Oman. The South Asian country also has strong defense and economic ties with Oman. 

Khanjari led a delegation comprising the vice consul general of Oman’s consulate, Abdullah Jumah Al Harbi, and other Omani government officials from various ministries in a meeting with Pakistani businessmen and traders at the KCCI’s office on Wednesday. 

“Oman has been importing rice from Pakistan since 1982 and we highly appreciate Pakistan for providing best quality rice,” Khanjari was quoted as saying by the KCCI.

“But we would like to see more Pakistani products including several other agricultural products, sugar, textiles, towels and other good quality products being exported to Oman,” he added. 

He urged Karachi’s business community to look into exporting agricultural products to Oman such as onions, lentils, mangoes and potatoes to the Gulf country. 

Khanjari urged Karachi’s business community to highlight any obstacles that hinder smooth trade with Oman so that they could be removed. He called for holding more exhibitions in the two countries so that their business communities could interact more and explore possibilities for expanding trade.

“Keeping in view the trade potential, the Omani officials expressed the interest of regularly visiting Pakistan every year so that potential products being manufactured here could be exported to Oman,” the KCCI said. 

KCCI President Iftikhar Ahmed Sheikh noted that Pakistan’s exports to Oman totaled around $166 million during the first nine months of the current financial year while last year, Pakistan exported $193 million worth of goods to the Gulf country. 

“Despite brotherly relationships and immense bilateral trade potential, the volume of trade is low which needs to be enhanced to a reasonable level,” Sheikh said.

He said both countries need to reduce trade barriers, diversify their range of products, simplify customs procedures, promote small and medium enterprises, and foster business collaboration to give a much-needed trade boost for “economic integration.”

The KCCI president noted how the oil and gas sector was the driving force of Oman’s economy while Pakistan faces significant energy sector challenges that impact its economy adversely. 

“Importing LNG & petroleum products from Oman at discounted rates or through deferred payments, via government-to-government arrangement, could assist Pakistan in resolving its energy and industrial needs & help in reviving economic growth,” Sheikh said. 


Pakistan appoints Dubai-based climber Naila Kiani goodwill ambassador for girls education

Pakistan appoints Dubai-based climber Naila Kiani goodwill ambassador for girls education
Updated 29 May 2024
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Pakistan appoints Dubai-based climber Naila Kiani goodwill ambassador for girls education

Pakistan appoints Dubai-based climber Naila Kiani goodwill ambassador for girls education
  • Kiani is the first Pakistani woman climber to summit 11 of 14 highest peaks in the world
  • As ambassador, she will raise awareness, support government initiatives for girls education

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s education ministry has appointed prominent mountaineer Naila Kiani as its goodwill ambassador for girls education in the country, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported on Wednesday. 

Dubai-based Kiani is the first Pakistani woman and the third climber from the country to summit 11 of the 14 highest peaks in the world. She is also the first Pakistani woman to summit Nanga Parbat, Gasherbrum I (G-I), Gasherbrum II (G-II), Lhotse, Manaslu, Broad Peak, Annapurna, Makalu, and Cho Oyu mountains. 

Pakistan’s government awarded Kiani the Sitara-i-Imtiaz, the highest civilian honor in the country, earlier this year for her notable achievements. It makes Kiani the only Pakistani woman to have received the award so far. 

“I am honored to be appointed as the National Goodwill Ambassador for Girls Education,” Kiani was quoted as saying by the APP. 

“Education is the only route to women’s empowerment and success for our country. I am committed to using my platform to support and advocate for educational initiatives that ensure every girl in Pakistan has access to quality education,” she added. 

As an ambassador, Kiani will work tirelessly to raise awareness about the importance of girls education, APP said. It said Kiani would also support and promote initiatives by the federal and provincial governments aimed at improving educational opportunities for girls.

Earlier this month, she became the first Pakistani woman to summit Mount Makalu in Nepal. The imposing mountain is the fifth-highest one in the world. It stands 8,485 meters (27,838 feet) high. 


‘Missing’ poet in police custody, Pakistan attorney general says in case spotlighting enforced disappearances

‘Missing’ poet in police custody, Pakistan attorney general says in case spotlighting enforced disappearances
Updated 29 May 2024
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‘Missing’ poet in police custody, Pakistan attorney general says in case spotlighting enforced disappearances

‘Missing’ poet in police custody, Pakistan attorney general says in case spotlighting enforced disappearances
  • Ahmed Shah Farhad went “missing” from Islamabad residence on May 14 following social media posts critical of army
  • His family has accused ISI spy agency of being behind his kidnapping, army says it does not suppress critical voices 

ISLAMABAD: A Kashmiri poet and journalist who was reported “missing” by his wife earlier this month is in the custody of police in the Azad Kashmir region, Attorney-General Mansoor Usman Awan told the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday. 

Ahmed Shah Farhad went missing from his Islamabad residence on May 14, prompting his wife to accuse Pakistan’s top spy agency, the military-backed Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), of abducting him and filing a petition with the IHC for her husband to be recovered. 

The army has not commented on the development, but it has repeatedly said in the past it does not suppress critical voices. Before his abduction, Farhad had criticized Pakistan’s powerful military in social media posts regarding unprecedented protests held in Azad Kashmir earlier this month. 

During Wednesday’s hearing, Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan, Additional Attorney General (AAG) Munawar Iqbal Duggal and Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar appeared before the court to present the state’s case. 

“AGP Awan informed the court that Shah was in police custody and presented the police report to the court,” the English-language newspaper Dawn reported on comments that were widely reported in Pakistani media. 

Farhad’s case has once more put a spotlight on enforced disappearances in Pakistan in which families say people picked up by security forces often disappear for years, and are sometimes found dead, with no official explanation. Pakistani security agencies deny involvement in such disappearances.

A complaint filed by the police at the Dhirkot Police Station in Azad Kashmir and seen by Arab News said Farhad was arrested by police on Wednesday morning as he tried to leave for his ancestral village in Kashmir from Islamabad. 

The complaint said police stopped Farhad’s car at 07:00 a.m. near Kohala bridge in Azad Kashmir to ask for identification following which he misbehaved with police officers and abused them. Farhad was subsequently arrested for interfering in the government’s affairs under section 186 of the Pakistan Penal Code, the complaint said, a provision in law that deals with intentionally hampering, misleading, jeopardizing or defeating an investigation, inquiry or prosecution.

Rights organizations have frequently accused Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies of illegally detaining and torturing dissenters without any explanation or following due process of law. The military and intelligence agencies deny involvement in such acts.