US sets up hotline for Afghans in American immigration process amid Pakistan deportation drive

US sets up hotline for Afghans in American immigration process amid Pakistan deportation drive
A sign pointing at the United States Department of State is pictured in Washington, US on August 6, 2021. (AFP/File)
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Updated 24 November 2023
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US sets up hotline for Afghans in American immigration process amid Pakistan deportation drive

US sets up hotline for Afghans in American immigration process amid Pakistan deportation drive
  • The UK recently arranged special flights with Pakistan’s aviation agency to relocate Afghans who assisted British forces
  • US officials have urged Pakistan not to repatriate its Afghan allies due to potential dangers in their homeland

KARACHI: The US Department of State’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs announced on Friday it had established an “emergency hotline” for Afghan nationals waiting for American visas amid a deportation drive initiated by Pakistani authorities to send unregistered migrants back to their respective countries.

The initiative is specifically designed for Afghans who are in the process of US immigration and resettlement, offering support during a period of heightened vulnerability. Many of these individuals had collaborated with US-led forces in Afghanistan before their August 2020 withdrawal from Kabul and subsequently fled to Pakistan, fearing reprisals from the Taliban who had swept back to power.

“The Dept of State has launched an emergency hotline for Afghans facing deportation or detainment in Pakistan who are in a US immigration and resettlement pathway,” the American authorities announced in a social media post, adding that the number was “available Mon-Sat from 8 AM to midnight Islamabad time.”

Pakistan’s decision last month to expel ‘illegal migrants,’ predominantly Afghans, followed a string of extremist attacks and suicide bombings, leading to accusations against Kabul of harboring anti-Pakistan militants.

This led to the Pakistani government’s Nov. 1 deadline, urging undocumented foreigners to voluntarily leave and resulting in the establishment of “holding centers” for rounding up Afghan families for deportation.

Amid these expulsions, registered Afghan refugees also reported instances of harassment.

The US is not the only country working to resettle Afghans who aided their efforts in Afghanistan. The UK also arranged special flights with the Pakistani aviation agency to relocate Afghans who assisted British forces.

While the US has taken more time in facilitating the relocation of its Afghan allies, its officials have urged Pakistan not to repatriate these individuals due to potential dangers in Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar told Arab News that Afghan applicants for special visas to the US and other Western nations had the right to remain in Pakistan for a “limited time.”

He confirmed that Islamabad was coordinating with Afghan groups to reach an “agreement” aimed at safeguarding those at risk of persecution in their homeland.


PM Sharif reiterates Pakistan’s resolve to eradicate polio in meeting with Bill Gates 

PM Sharif reiterates Pakistan’s resolve to eradicate polio in meeting with Bill Gates 
Updated 24 June 2024
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PM Sharif reiterates Pakistan’s resolve to eradicate polio in meeting with Bill Gates 

PM Sharif reiterates Pakistan’s resolve to eradicate polio in meeting with Bill Gates 
  • Says will utilize all state resources to protect polio workers taking part in vaccine campaigns
  • Pakistan reported fifth polio case of this year in the southwestern city of Quetta

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif reiterated his government’s resolve to eradicate polio in Pakistan in a meeting with philanthropist Bill Gates, the PM Office said on Monday, assuring the utilization of all state resources to protect polio workers carrying out vaccine campaigns.
Pakistan reported its fifth polio case this June. The infectious disease has been eliminated in developed nations but persists in parts of India, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. At least 11 policemen have been killed this year while on security duty during vaccination campaigns which are frequently targeted by militants. 
“The prime minister briefed on a strong and focused strategy to address the rising threat of polio virus infections and the necessary steps to completely eradicate the disease from Pakistan,” the PM Office said in a press release on Monday. “He reiterated the government’s firm commitment to polio eradication, stressing that it is a top priority.”
The statement said the prime minister would personally oversee national efforts being carried out for the eradication of polio.
“Mr Gates also expressed confidence that with continuous vaccination and the government’s strong commitment, there would be significant progress in the polio eradication campaign,” the PM Office added. “Both parties agreed to continue working together not only on polio eradication but also on strengthening the health system across all provinces.”
PM Sharif also accompanied Gates to the National Emergencies Operations Center (NEOC) which monitors the polio eradication campaign.
Many Pakistanis, particularly those residing in the conservative tribal areas, consider the polio vaccination a Western campaign aimed at sterilizing the country’s population. In 2012, the local Taliban had ordered a ban on immunization against polio in some tribal districts. Dozens of polio workers have been killed in the country in the line of duty.


Pakistani grain exporters seek government permission to export 3.9 million tons surplus wheat

Pakistani grain exporters seek government permission to export 3.9 million tons surplus wheat
Updated 24 June 2024
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Pakistani grain exporters seek government permission to export 3.9 million tons surplus wheat

Pakistani grain exporters seek government permission to export 3.9 million tons surplus wheat
  • Pakistan’s wheat production during 2023-24 stood at 31.4 million tons compared to 28.2 million tons last year
  • National Food Security and Research Ministry official says no decision had yet been taken to allow wheat export

KARACHI: Exporters have sought permission from the government this week to export surplus wheat to neighboring and Gulf countries to stabilize local markets following a bumper crop in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s wheat production during 2023-24 stood at 31.4 million tons compared to 28.2 million tons last year, posting a growth of 11.6 percent. According to official data, the country has over 36 million tons of wheat stock including carry-forward stock. The local consumption of wheat is estimated to be around 32.2 million tons this year. 

“We have sought permission to export a million tons in the first phase including half a million tons un-milled and half a million tons in the form of by-products,” Muzammil Chappal, Chairman of the Cereal Association of Pakistan (CAP), told Arab News on Monday.

“Our members are ready to commence exports of wheat products through land and sea routes immediately and ensure no shortage locally.”

The CAP chairman, who also wrote a letter to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in this regard earlier this month, said due to surplus production, Pakistan had the capacity to export 250,000 tons of flour and fine flour each and 500,000 tons of wheat.

“Currently, there are 3.92 million tons of surplus wheat in the country and that is why the farmers are not getting good prices,” Chappal said, adding that the move would help stabilize the local wheat market and also alleviate the suffering of farmers due to a high yield and low prices. 

Chappal said exporters were engaged in talks with the government, highlighting that exporting surplus wheat would give a chance to farmers to sell at good prices and also earn foreign exchange for the country. He listed all Middle Eastern countries including the United Arab Emirates as potential markets for Pakistani wheat.
 
An official of the National Food Security and Research Ministry said no decision had yet been taken to allow wheat exports as a committee formed by the government was still assessing wheat stock levels in the country.
 
“No decision has been taken to allow the export of wheat from Pakistan,” he said. “A committee has been formed to assess the stock situation of the country.” 
 
The South Asian nation has not allowed exports of wheat from Pakistan since the financial year 2019-2020 due to domestic supply concerns to ensure stable supply as wheat is crucial for national food security.
 
Earlier in May, peasant unions in Pakistan had strongly protested against the wheat crisis, which they say has been deliberately created by the former caretaker prime minister Anwaarul Haq Kakr and some bureaucrats.

Pakistani farmers had announced a nationwide protest over the wheat import crisis, demanding the government stop wheat imports that had flooded the market at a time when they expected bumper crops.

They had said the import of wheat in the second half of 2023 and the first three months of this year had resulted in excess amounts of the commodity in the country, leading to reduced prices. 

Later, PM Sharif also took notice of the matter and formed a committee under the Ministry of National Food Security and Research to address farmer grievances.
 
Official data shows that Pakistan spent over $1 billion to import 3.5 million tons of wheat during the July-May period of the current fiscal year.
 
Wheat has a 9 percent share in agriculture and 2.2 percent of the GDP is harvested in Pakistan from April to June, with peak vegetation development occurring between late March and early February. 


Controversy grows over Pakistan’s new anti-terrorism operation

Controversy grows over Pakistan’s new anti-terrorism operation
Updated 24 June 2024
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Controversy grows over Pakistan’s new anti-terrorism operation

Controversy grows over Pakistan’s new anti-terrorism operation
  • Key Imran Khan aide says campaign cannot be approved without discussion with stakeholders
  • PTI-backed opposition has rejected the operation saying it was not discussed in parliament

KARACHI: Controversy grew on Monday over a new anti-terrorism operation announced by the federal government as the chief minister of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province said the campaign could not be approved without a discussion with stakeholders. 

Pakistan’s top national security forum on Saturday announced the Operation Azm-e-Istehkam, or Resolve for Stability, campaign after a meeting of the Central Apex Committee on the National Action Plan (NAP) that was attended by senior military leaders and top government officials from all provinces, including PTI-backed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur.

However, the PTI-backed opposition has rejected the operation, saying it was not discussed in parliament.

“This operation cannot take place without discussions,” Gandapur told media outside Adiala Jail where PTI founder Imran Khan has been incarcerated since last year. 

“There is no clarity in this operation. What is the plan? We will obviously engage in talks when the Inter-Service Public Relations issues an official plan detailing where and how the operation will be carried out and when the plan sketch comes to light.”

Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, the leader of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F), also rejected the operation. 

“They announced Operation Azm-e-Istehkam but this is an Operation Adm-e-Istekham (Absence of resolve) that will make Pakistan more weak,” Rehman said.

Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant attacks in recent months, many of them claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which pledges allegiance to, and gets its name from, the Afghan Taliban, but is not directly a part of the group that now rules Afghanistan. Its stated aim is to impose Islamic religious law in Pakistan, as the Taliban have done in Afghanistan.

Islamabad blames the recent uptick in attacks on Afghanistan, saying TTP leaders have taken refuge there and run camps to train militants to launch attacks inside Pakistan. Kabul says rising violence in Pakistan is a domestic issue for Islamabad and it does not allow militants to operate on its territory.

The announcement of Azm-e-Istehkam has also come on the heels of a top Chinese official raising concerns that Pakistan’s security challenges were undermining investor confidence.


Pakistani journalist gets prestigious Journalists of Courage Impact Award

Pakistani journalist gets prestigious Journalists of Courage Impact Award
Updated 24 June 2024
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Pakistani journalist gets prestigious Journalists of Courage Impact Award

Pakistani journalist gets prestigious Journalists of Courage Impact Award
  • Kamal Siddiqui is the first Pakistani to receive the biennial award
  • Siddiqui has previously served as editor of The Express Tribune

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani journalist Kamal Siddiqi on Monday received the prestigious Journalists of Courage Impact Award at the East-West Center (EWC) International Media Conference in Manila, the organization announced on its website. 

The former director news at Aaj TV is the first Pakistani to receive the biennial award, which honors journalists who have “displayed exceptional commitment to quality reporting and freedom of the press, often under harrowing circumstances.”

The six other recipients include Sincha Dimara, news editor at Inside PNG, Tom Grundym, editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press, Alan Miller, founder of the News Literacy Project in Washington DC, Soe Myint, editor-in-chief and managing director at Mizzima Media Group in Yangon, Myanmar, John Nery, columnist and editorial consultant at Rappler in Manila and Ana Marie Pamintuan, editor-in-chief at The Philippine Star.

In February when the award was first announced, Siddiqi said in a statement on X that he was “humbled” at getting the award.

Siddiqi is currently working at the Media Development Investment Fund as a senior program officer focusing on South Asia. He was previously the director at the Center for Excellence in Journalism at the Institute of Business Administration.

He has also served as editor of The Express Tribune, and president of the EWC’s alumni association in Karachi. Siddiqui is also a fellow of the Center for Democratic Development and Rule of Law at Stanford University and a senior non-resident fellow with the Atlantic Council, according to the EWC.


Pakistan’s disaster management authority issues comprehensive monsoon forecast for July 

Pakistan’s disaster management authority issues comprehensive monsoon forecast for July 
Updated 24 June 2024
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Pakistan’s disaster management authority issues comprehensive monsoon forecast for July 

Pakistan’s disaster management authority issues comprehensive monsoon forecast for July 
  • Forecast highlights expected rainfall intensities, potential impacts of rain across country’s various regions
  • Disaster management authority warns of flash flooding, urban flooding and landslides in several parts of country

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) on Monday issued a comprehensive monsoon forecast for the month of July, highlighting potential impacts of rainfall across various regions of the country. 

The National Emergencies Operation Center (NEOC) was set up in October 2023 and is equipped with the latest tools and technologies, including real-time satellite feeds, to anticipate disasters up to three months in advance. The center, which has been set up at the NDMA, has a multidisciplinary team of experts that harness the power of geographic information system (GIS), remote sensing, climatology, meteorology, seismology, hydrology, and data sciences to monitor and analyze global and local hazards.

The NEOC said in its forecast that various areas of the country may receive moderate to very heavy rains that could cause riverine and flash flooding, urban flooding, landslides in hilly areas, and potential Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) events.

“In light of these projections, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has advised Provincial Disaster Management Authorities (PDMAs), District Disaster Management Authorities (DDMAs), and other relevant line departments to remain vigilant and prepared to respond to any emergent situations,” the NDMA said in a statement. 

The NDMA said that as per its forecast, rainfall at isolated places of Mardan, Malakand and Hazara Divisions in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province is expected in the third week of July while heavy to very heavy rainfall is expected in the fourth week. 

In Pakistan’s Punjab province, it said Lahore, Sargodha, Faisalabad and Gujranwala districts and Islamabad are expected to receive 15-50 millimeters of rainfall at isolated places during the first and second weeks of July. 

The NDMA warned of potential flooding in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Sargodha, Gujranwala and Faisalabad in Punjab during the fourth week of July. 

For Sindh, the NDMA said Mirpurkhas, Karachi, Hyderabad, Nawabshah, Larkana and Sukkur districts are expected to receive 30-75 millimeters of rainfall in the month of July. These same areas are expected to receive heavy to very heavy rainfall in the second and fourth week of the month. 

“In 4th week of July Astore District of Gilgit Baltistan and isolated places of Azad Jammu and Kashmir to receive heavy to very heavy rainfall, potential severe flooding in nullahs and rivers,” it said. 

The disaster management authority called on government departments to sensitize residents living along riverbanks and nullahs about the expected increase in water flows, and facilitate timely evacuation of at-risk populations from low-lying and flood-prone areas. 

“Additionally, citizens are advised to take extreme precautionary measures, such as staying away from electric poles and weak infrastructure, and refraining from driving or walking in waterways,” the statement said. 

Pakistan is consistently ranked among the world’s worst-affected countries due to climate change. Unprecedented rainfall and melting of glaciers in June 2022 triggered massive floods across the country that killed nearly 1,700 people and inflicted damages worth $3 billion. Scientists and experts attributed the floods to the adverse effects of climate change. 

Pakistan also suffered a severe heat wave last month, which saw temperatures in some regions rise to above 50 degrees Celsius.