52 killed in bombing in southwest Pakistan near gathering to mark Prophet’s birthday

Update 52 killed in bombing in southwest Pakistan near gathering to mark Prophet’s birthday
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A relative mourns the death of a blast victim at a hospital in Quetta on September 29, 2023, after a suicide bomber targeted a procession marking the birthday of Islam's Prophet Mohammed in Mastung district. (AFP)
Update 52 killed in bombing in southwest Pakistan near gathering to mark Prophet’s birthday
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Residents assisting in the transfer of injured individuals to an ambulance following an explosion in Mastung town, in Pakistan's Balochistan province, on September 29, 2023. (Photo courtesy: Al Khidmat Foundation)
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Updated 30 September 2023
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52 killed in bombing in southwest Pakistan near gathering to mark Prophet’s birthday

52 killed in bombing in southwest Pakistan near gathering to mark Prophet’s birthday
  • Hospital officials say 100 people injured, death toll could increase as many in critical care
  • Five killed as bomb rips through mosque in northwestern Pakistan during Friday prayers

QUETTA/PESHAWAR: At least 52 people, including a senior police official, were killed on Friday when a suicide bomber hit close to a gathering to mark the Prophet’s birthday in southwest Pakistan, a district commissioner and hospital officials said.

The attack, in which 100 people were injured, took place in Mastung city in the impoverished Balochistan province.

“Locals were gathering for an Eid Milad ul Nabi procession when a suicide bomber attacked a police van near the rally,” Assistant Commissioner Mastung Atta ul Munim told Arab News, adding that a deputy superintendent of police was among the dead.

Dr. Saeed Baloch at the Nawab Ghos Buksh Raisani Hospital said 52 had been killed and 100 were injured.

“Thirty-two dead bodies have arrived at our hospital [NGBR] and 20 were shifted to District Headquarters Hospital Mastung,” the doctor said. “The number of critical injuries is high and the death toll might increase.”




Residents assisting in the transfer of injured individuals to an ambulance following an explosion in Mastung town, in Pakistan's Balochistan province, on September 29, 2023. (Photo courtesy: Al Khidmat Foundation)

Bilal Ahmed, a local resident of city said, the rally to mark the Prophet’s birth anniversary was about to begin when he heard a powerful blast and saw people running and screaming.

“People were gathering outside the Madani Mosque at Mastung’s Golra Road when the blast hit the procession’s participants,” he told Arab News.

Rab Nawaz, another person who was injured in the attack, informed he was about 10 feet away from the spot where the suicide bomber blew his explosive vest.

“My brother was killed and I got injured,” he said.

Quetta’s Senior Superintendent Police (SSP) Tariq Jawad said the central Eid Milad ul Nabi procession had ended peacefully in the provincial capital of Balochistan, though the law enforcement agency had beefed up security in the city after the Mastung attack.

No group has as yet claimed responsibility for the attack but the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) denied it was involved.

The Daesh group is known for attacks in Pakistan and beyond on religious gatherings and on minorities.

Balochistan is also home to a decades-long insurgency by ethnic Baloch guerrillas fighting the government over accusations of exploiting the province’s rich gas and mineral resources.x




People being treated in a hospital after getting wounded in an explosion during a procession in Mastung town of Pakistan's Balochistan province on September 29, 2023. (Photo courtesy: Edhi Foundation)

HANGU ATTACK
Separately, at least five people were killed and at least 15 injured as two suicide explosions ripped through a mosque located in a police station in Hangu in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

“The death toll has risen to five,” a spokesperson for Rescue 1122 Hangu told Arab News.

The roof of the mosque had collapsed, police said, and many people were trapped inside.

Deputy Commissioner Hangu, Fazal Akbar, said two suicide blasts had occurred at the mosque at the Doaba Police Station during Friday prayers, as a mosque leader was delivering his sermon before a group of around 30 people.


Pakistan’s Punjab province gears up for inaugural legislative session following governor’s order

Pakistan’s Punjab province gears up for inaugural legislative session following governor’s order
Updated 33 sec ago
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Pakistan’s Punjab province gears up for inaugural legislative session following governor’s order

Pakistan’s Punjab province gears up for inaugural legislative session following governor’s order
  • PML-N candidate Maryam Nawaz Sharif is expected to take over as the first female chief minister of the province
  • The inaugural session has been called by the governor after Sharif’s first parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday

ISLAMABAD: The post-election wheeling-dealing in Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province reached its culmination on Thursday after Governor Muhammad Baligh-ur-Rehman summoned the inaugural session of the legislative assembly for the oath-taking ceremony tomorrow.

The governor called the session only a day after the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) held a parliamentary party meeting under the leadership of Maryam Nawaz Sharif who is expected to take charge as the first female chief minister of the province soon.

The PML-N emerged as the largest party in the Punjab Assembly in the wake of the last general elections held earlier this month. According to media analyzes, the party is in a comfortable position to form the next provincial administration after its parliamentary party meeting was attended by well over 200 newly elected lawmakers.

“In exercise of the powers conferred under Article 109 read with Article 130(2) of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, I, Muhammad Baligh-ur-Rehman, Governor of the Punjab, hereby summon the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab to meet on 23rd February 2024 (Friday) at 10:00 am, in the Provincial Assembly Chambers Lahore,” said the short order circulated by the Governor’s House.

A party requires 186 members to form the government in Punjab. The PML-N that won 137 seats has been joined by about two dozen independent members and is likely to bag a significant number of reserved seats.

Punjab holds a pivotal position in Pakistan’s politics due to its population density that gives it 141 out of 266 general seats in the National Assembly.

Historically, the party that secures a stronghold in Punjab often manages to form the government at the center.

The PML-N’s candidate for the position of chief minister, Sharif plans to set new governance benchmarks and shared her vision for the province during the parliamentary party meeting only a day earlier.
 


Pakistan’s finance ministry outlines fiscal challenges in annual risk report

Pakistan’s finance ministry outlines fiscal challenges in annual risk report
Updated 22 February 2024
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Pakistan’s finance ministry outlines fiscal challenges in annual risk report

Pakistan’s finance ministry outlines fiscal challenges in annual risk report
  • Inflation, climate change and increasing debt burden are some of the challenges to the country’s fiscal position
  • The ministry says moderation in international commodity prices is likely to contribute to a reduction in inflation

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s finance ministry released the Fiscal Risk Statement FY2023-24 on Wednesday, providing an overview of potential risks and uncertainties that could impact the country’s fiscal outlook in the coming years.
The ministry is legally bound to prepare the statement under the Public Finance Management Act, 2019, which requires the annual budget to mention fiscal risks.
Pakistan’s economy has faced multiple challenges in recent years, affecting the economic growth and fiscal deficit.
The government has implemented several economic reforms to contain fiscal deficit and make the key sectors more efficient to attract more investment in the country.
However, this has also increased the inflationary pressure in the economy, with food prices touching record high levels in recent months.
“The inflation outlook has deteriorated, and there is heightened risk to external stability,” the ministry while specifying a key macroeconomic challenge. “The uncertainty surrounding the future adjustment path in energy prices is the main upside risk to the inflation outlook.”
However, the ministry said a potential moderation in international commodity prices was expected to contribute to a reduction in inflation in the country.
It also mentioned Pakistan’s debt problem as yet another risk factor.
“External debt constitutes 40.8 percent of total public debt, which may make the Government’s fiscal position vulnerable in the face of high current account deficits, low foreign exchange reserves, and a weakening exchange rate,” it said.
“Ongoing fiscal deficits require refinancing of the Government’s maturing debt while raising additional debt to fulfill the fiscal shortfall. A high level of short-term debt creates potentially significant refinancing challenges during periods of slower economic growth, higher fiscal deficits, and/or lower investor confidence,” it added.
The report warned that climate and natural hazard events could pose challenges to the government’s fiscal risk position.
The ministry recommended a restrictive monetary policy through higher interest rates, both to reduce inflation and help address external imbalances.
It also advocated for measures to improve the business environment by creating a fair and level playing field for the organizations to increase investment and trade.


Arab Monetary Fund, Pakistan central bank in talks to integrate cross-border remittance platforms

Arab Monetary Fund, Pakistan central bank in talks to integrate cross-border remittance platforms
Updated 22 February 2024
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Arab Monetary Fund, Pakistan central bank in talks to integrate cross-border remittance platforms

Arab Monetary Fund, Pakistan central bank in talks to integrate cross-border remittance platforms
  • Buna is a cross-border payment system supported by Arab central banks and fully owned by Arab Monetary Fund
  • AMF and Pakistan’s central bank signed agreement last year to integrate Buna and Pakistani platform Raast

KARACHI: The Arab Monetary Fund (AMF) and the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) are engaged in technical level talks to integrate their payment systems and facilitate cross-border remittances between the Arab region and Pakistan, the deputy governor of the SBP said.
The chairman of AMF and the governor of Pakistan’s central bank signed an agreement last year to establish a framework of cooperation between Buna, a cross-border payment system operated by Arab Regional Payments Clearing and Settlement Organization (ARPCSO) and owned by AMF, and Raast, a Pakistani instant payment system for real-time settlement of small-value retail payments, including inter-bank peer-to-peer and person-to-merchant transactions.
Technical talks are now on to integrate the two systems and facilitate millions of Pakistanis living in the Gulf region by enabling them to send remittances in real time at a lower cost. The integration will also benefit businesses through instant, safe and cost-effective cross border payments and aims to strengthen economic, financial, and investment ties between Arab countries and Pakistan.
“After signing the MoU, the negotiations are on with the technical teams, and at the technical level, the modalities and the developments needed at the end of Buna and at the end of Raast, they are being worked out,” Saleem Ullah, the deputy governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, told Arab News on Wednesday.
After the completion of the technical level talks, details would be shared with the vendor for execution, he added.
“Fortunately, the vendor is same for Buna and Raast. Once we are able to finalize the requirements, then those would be shared with the vendor, and then the vendor would be able to give us the timeline within which that development would be possible,” he added.
He said the execution of the project would take at least a year “but it would depend on the vendor estimates with respect to the developments that are to be developed for the purpose of developing this interface.”
Financial experts believe the initiative would benefit about five million Pakistanis living in the Gulf region and help Pakistan boost its remittance inflows through legal channels.
“The benefit for 5 million plus Pakistanis living in the Gulf would be lesser hassle in remitting money to Pakistan because the dependency on other international similar platforms see longer transaction turnaround time as these platforms either exist in the US or other markets,” Danish Kazi, financial and political analyst based in UAE, told Arab News.
Kazi said both affordability and access for common Pakistanis to encourage remitting through legal channels would increase with the new initiative.
“This would also help business transactions which means more export opportunities for Pakistani goods and services in the region,” he added.
 The aim was to regulate remittances through SBP instead of them moving via non documented sectors.
“Further, these remittances through Buna to Pakistan may also assist SBP to raise funds from Gulf markets using these as collateral or toward payments of such financing via commercial or government banks,” Kazi said.


Pakistan constitutes team to investigate social media campaign against officials post-election rigging claims

Pakistan constitutes team to investigate social media campaign against officials post-election rigging claims
Updated 22 February 2024
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Pakistan constitutes team to investigate social media campaign against officials post-election rigging claims

Pakistan constitutes team to investigate social media campaign against officials post-election rigging claims
  • The JIT has been formed after PM Kakar announced to defend civil servants against ‘violent trolls’ this week
  • The investigation team has been asked to identify and prosecute people behind the social media campaign

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s outgoing caretaker administration has set up a joint investigation team (JIT) to identify and prosecute individuals behind a social media campaign targeting government functionaries and election officials following widespread rigging allegations in the wake of the February 8 polls.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar announced his interim administration would defend civil servants against “violent trolls” in the wake of the political contest marred by delays in vote count that led to the speculation of election manipulation.
The interior ministry announced the formation of the JIT in a notification on Wednesday, saying it had been established under Section 30 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016.
Discussing its terms of reference, the notification said it would “investigate the malicious social media campaign attempting to malign the image of Civil Servants/Government Officials in connection with elections 2024.”
It added the JIT would also “identify and prosecute the culprits in accordance with applicable laws.” Additionally, it will propose measures to prevent such campaigns from occurring in the future.
The team comprises seven members from the Federal Investigation Agency, Intelligence Bureau, Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan Telecommunications Authority and National Database Registration Authority.
It will submit its preliminary report to the ministry within two weeks.
Prior to this development, a senior Pakistani bureaucrat made a public confession of changing the election outcome in 13 national and 26 provincial constituencies.
This led to a heated social media debate and subsequent closure of platform X in Pakistan.
Kakar said in his statement this week some people were trying to blackmail and pressurize civil servants to switch their loyalties from the state.
“The State of Pakistan shall defend the civil servants in discharging their constitutional duties, act against these violent trolls and ensure exemplary punishment to them,” he said. “There should be no doubt about our commitment to these noble civil servants serving the State and the people of Pakistan.”


Pakistan’s central bank confident of rapid transition to Islamic economy, says will meet 2027 deadline

Pakistan’s central bank confident of rapid transition to Islamic economy, says will meet 2027 deadline
Updated 22 February 2024
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Pakistan’s central bank confident of rapid transition to Islamic economy, says will meet 2027 deadline

Pakistan’s central bank confident of rapid transition to Islamic economy, says will meet 2027 deadline
  • The deadline for the transformation of national economy was given by the Federal Shariat Court in a 2022 verdict
  • Mufti Munib asks the authorities to directly set up Islamic banks instead of transforming conventional ones

KARACHI: Pakistan’s central bank on Wednesday expressed confidence in meeting the Federal Shariat Court (FSC)’s deadline to transition the country’s economy, including its banking sector, to an interest-free model, with a top official saying efforts were rapidly advancing in this area.
In April 2022, the FSC ruled that “riba” (interest) was prohibited in all forms, mandating Pakistan’s shift to an interest-free economy by December 2027.
The court’s decision requires the removal of the term “interest” from all applicable legal clauses and necessitates amendments to all relevant laws in accordance with the judgment.
“The decision given by the Federal Shariat Court is being implemented and we are working with the full spread so that the date given by the court is implemented,” Saleem Ullah, Deputy Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), told Arab News on the sidelines of the 2nd National Islamic Economic Forum in Karachi. “We have developed and constituted various committees [for the purpose].”
The SBP official informed a high-level steering committee headed by the finance minister and the central bank governor had been constituted to oversees the strategy to implement the verdict.
“And then there is a committee headed by the two deputy governors, and that committee oversees the overall transformation process,” he continued, adding: “There are various work streams that have been constituted for that purpose and those work streams are actively performing their role.”
The SBP deputy governor informed work was being carried out to review the legal and regulatory frameworks along with the development of new financial products that were required to convert the public debt into sharia-compliant debt.
“We are very hopeful that by the will of God, with the collaborative efforts and kind of structure that we have created, we will be able to meet the deadline,” he added.
Addressing the forum, the central bank official said interest created an unjust system. He expressed optimism about expediting the journey of Islamic banking in Pakistan.
The market share of assets and deposits of Islamic Banking Industry (IBI) in the overall financial sector stood at 19.6 and 22.5 percent, respectively, by the end of September. However, the central bank has set the target to increase the share of Islamic banking system to 35 percent by 2025.
Speaking at the event Maulana Bashir Farooqi, founder chairman of Saylani Trust and convener of the forum, called for efforts “to wage a war against the interest-based banking system.”
Mufti Munib-ur-Rehman, a religious scholar, expressed concern over the “slow progress” of transformation toward Islamic banking in Pakistan.
He urged comprehensive economic planning by political leaders and economists for the next five to 20 years while calling for direct establishment of Islamic banks instead of opening the Shariah-compliant branches of conventional banks.