Pakistan sets up 49 holding centers for undocumented migrants ahead of deportation

Pakistan sets up 49 holding centers for undocumented migrants ahead of deportation
Afghan refugees along with their belongings depart for Afghanistan from a refugee camp in Islamabad on October 31, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 01 November 2023
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Pakistan sets up 49 holding centers for undocumented migrants ahead of deportation

Pakistan sets up 49 holding centers for undocumented migrants ahead of deportation
  • 1.7 Afghans and other foreigners living in Pakistan without documents or registration ordered to leave by Nov. 1 or face deportation and arrest
  • Anyone found staying in the country without authorization from Wednesday will be arrested and sent to deportation centers, interior minister says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s deadline for undocumented migrants to voluntarily leave the country expired today, Wednesday, and the government said it would start rounding up from tomorrow, Thursday, those staying illegally and send them to 49 holding centers around the country.
Pakistan last month gave foreigners without documents or registration until Nov. 1 to leave or face deportation and arrest. The government has set up deportation centers for undocumented migrants, including an estimated 1.7 million Afghans, and anyone found staying in the country without authorization from today, Wednesday, will be arrested and sent to one of the centers, the interior ministry has said.
“The Ministry of Interior has set up 49 holding area points across the country to help these people respectfully cross the border after thorough screening,” state-run Radio Pakistan reported.

“36 holding centers have been established in all 36 districts of Punjab, three in Peshawar, Haripur and Landi Kotal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, two in Kemari and Malir districts of Sindh and three in Quetta, Chagai and Pishin districts of Balochistan. Similarly, one holding center each has been established in Islamabad Federal Capital and Gilgit.”
Undocumented Afghans can cross over from the Chaman, Noor Wahab, Badini and Barab Chah crossing points in Balochistan and Torkham, Kharlachi, Ghulam Khan and Angoor Adda points in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“From November 2 onwards, they [undocumented foreigners] will be sent to our holding centers. We will keep them at the holding centers for two to three days,” Interior Minister Sarfaraz Bugti said in a video message hours before the expiry of the Nov 1. deadline.
“We will try to provide them with food and health facilities and after that we will deport them through the border of our choice which will be in keeping with our security [requirements] and convenience.”
More than 130,000 Afghans have returned home since the crackdown was announced on Oct. 3, according to officials. 
Although the government insists its expulsion order does not specifically target Afghans, they form the largest number of undocumented foreigners in the South Asian nation. Around 1.7 million Afghans in Pakistan, out of a total four million, are undocumented, according to the government. Many of them have lived in Pakistan their entire lives and never visited Afghanistan.
The sudden expulsion threat came after suicide bombings this year that the government said involved Afghans, though without providing evidence. Islamabad has also blamed Afghans for smuggling and other militant attacks as well as petty crimes and says Afghan nationals were found to be involved in attacks against government and the army, including 14 of this year’s 24 suicide bombings.
"NO PERPETUAL BAN"
The country hosts millions of Afghans who fled their country during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation. The numbers swelled after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021.
The government says those with Proof of Registration (PoR) and Afghan Citizenship Cards (ACC) will not be expelled by Nov. 1.
On Tuesday, Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar announced there was no “perpetual ban” on the return of Afghan nationals to Pakistan. 
“We have not placed a perpetual ban on them that they cannot come back to Pakistan after today,” Kakar told journalists.
“They should go to their countries, get their travel documents issued from their states, get visas from our mission there. Whether they want to come for educational purposes, for business, whatever their purpose may be, we will facilitate that.”
The government was only against “irregulated” travelers, Kakar added.
Western embassies and the United Nations have urged Pakistan to identify and protect Afghans at risk of persecution at home.
“Amnesty International strongly reiterates its call to the Government of Pakistan to immediately reverse its decision to forcibly deport unregistered Afghan refugees ahead of the deadline set for tomorrow,” the group said in a statement.
It added that Pakistan must meet its international legal obligations including the principle of non-refoulement and stop the crackdown against, and harassment of, Afghan refugees across the country.
“Amnesty International is also calling on the international community to financially support Pakistan for hosting Afghan refugees, and to share the responsibility to provide protection to those fleeing persecution in Afghanistan,” the statement added.
Amnesty International said lives and rights are at stake due to “the collective failure of the Pakistan Government and the international community to share the responsibility for their protection,” stressing the risks for women, journalists, human rights defenders, protesters, artists, and former government officials and security personnel.


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

Islamabad Gandhara symposium, with Buddhist leaders in attendance, highlight’s Pakistan’s ancient heritage
Updated 2 min 29 sec ago
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Islamabad Gandhara symposium, with Buddhist leaders in attendance, highlight’s Pakistan’s ancient heritage

Islamabad Gandhara symposium, with Buddhist leaders in attendance, highlight’s 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. 

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 relation to ‘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.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Wednesday met a Buddhist delegation comprising 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 his office said. 

“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 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.

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 today’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and northern Punjab regions, and has regularly hosted Buddhist pilgrims and religious leaders in recent years.


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. 


Pakistani industrialists urge government to tackle high energy prices, interest rate in budget 2024-25

Pakistani industrialists urge government to tackle high energy prices, interest rate in budget 2024-25
Updated 29 May 2024
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Pakistani industrialists urge government to tackle high energy prices, interest rate in budget 2024-25

Pakistani industrialists urge government to tackle high energy prices, interest rate in budget 2024-25
  • Pakistan’s finance minister expected to unveil federal budget next week, shed light on priorities to address fiscal challenges
  • Pakistan has hiked fuel and energy prices over past two years in line with reforms recommended by International Monetary Fund 

KARACHI: Highlighting exorbitant energy costs, a high interest rate, and multiple taxations as major hurdles to industrial growth, Pakistan’s leading body of industrialists and traders on Wednesday said it hoped the government would address these challenges next week when it unveils the federal budget.

Pakistan’s Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb is expected to unveil budget 2024-25 next week in the parliament. The document will outline the government’s financial plans and allocations across various sectors. The budget will also shed light on Pakistan’s economic priorities, potential reforms and strategies to address pressing fiscal challenges.

The development takes place as the South Asian country grapples with an economic crisis that has seen its reserves plummet, national currency decline in value significantly against the US dollar, and inflation surge.

The Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FPCCI), the apex representative body of Pakistani traders and industrials in the country, said it has submitted budget proposals to the government, adding that it expects 80 percent of its demands to be met.

“We have collected all the information from our trade bodies, from all the chambers and we have made the proposals and we have already sent them to the FBR (Federal Board of Revenue), Ministry of Finance and the other departments,” Atif Ikram Sheikh, the FPCCI’s president, told Arab News on Tuesday.

Sheikh said the FPCCI has invited the government’s attention toward major issues that industrialists and traders in Pakistan encounter, such as exorbitant energy costs, taxation and the prevailing high interest rate. 

He said these issues were not making it “bearable” to run industries in Pakistan. 

“So we want the government to reduce interest rates, energy costs like fuel prices, gas and electricity and to run the economy in a better way,” Sheikh explained. 

Pakistan has hiked prices of fuel and energy as part of reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in exchange for a $3 billion loan program last year.

Pakistan increased gas charges by 318.74 percent and electricity charges by 71.12 percent since April 2023, as per official data. Surging energy costs took inflation to a historic high of 38 percent in May 202, which gradually eased to 17.3 percent in April 2024. 

Pakistan’s central bank has projected the annual average inflation in the range of 23– 25 percent for the current fiscal year against a target of 21 percent.

The country’s finance minister expects inflation to decrease to 13.5-14.5 percent range in May 2024 and decline further to 12.5-13.5 percent by June 24. 

Industrialists want the government to slash the interest rate, which has made the cost of borrowing high in Pakistan. The central bank has cumulatively raised the policy rate by 1,500 basis points during FY22 and FY23 and has maintained it at 22 percent at present. 

Pakistan’s finance ministry said on Wednesday it expects a “promising” economic outlook amid improving industrial activities. 

“The economic outlook is promising as industrial activities are gradually improving, inflation is on a downward trajectory and the external sector is stable,” the finance ministry said in its monthly economic report for May 2024.

The ministry observed that as the fiscal year is about to end, the economic indicators reflect that stability is gaining strength in the real, fiscal and external sectors.

It said Pakistan’s GDP growth is increasing while the inflation rate is on a decline, reflecting the effectiveness of recent fiscal consolidation efforts. The report said the country’s economic performance also reveals that agriculture has been a major contributor to this fiscal year’s economic upswing, attributed to government-led initiatives that enhanced input supply and credit disbursements. 

The FPCCI has demanded a reduction in import duties and sales tax on various items. The body has also demanded a revival of the zero rating of sales tax for five export-oriented sectors, namely sports, surgical, leather, textiles, and carpets.

“We are sure and expecting what we are sending, what we have requested to the government, they will consider the FPCCI’s proposals,” Sheikh said.

“And I am sure 80 percent of our demands will be fulfilled.”