Share in parliament’s reserved seats ‘legal right,’ ex-PM Khan’s party says

Special Share in parliament’s reserved seats ‘legal right,’ ex-PM Khan’s party says
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party spokesperson, Shoaib Shaheen (center), addresses the protesters in Islamabad on February 11, 2024, amid claims the election result delay is allowing authorities to rig the vote-counting. (AFP/File)
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Updated 22 February 2024
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Share in parliament’s reserved seats ‘legal right,’ ex-PM Khan’s party says

Share in parliament’s reserved seats ‘legal right,’ ex-PM Khan’s party says
  • Seventy reserved seats for women and non-Muslims in Pakistan’s assemblies are crucial in forming governments
  • Pakistan’s election regulator did not allocate reserved seats in Sindh, Punjab assemblies to party joined by Khan’s candidates

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said on Thursday that getting a share in the National Assembly’s reserved seats was its “legal right,” as political parties in the country race to form the next government in the South Asian country. 

The PTI announced on Monday its candidates who contested as independents during the Feb. 8 polls and won, would join the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) party to claim a share in the National Assembly’s reserved seats. 

A ruling by Pakistan’s top court in January meant members of Khan’s party could not contest the election from their party’s platform but only as independents. Consequently, Khan-backed candidates stunned observers by winning more than 90 seats in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament.

However, Khan’s party was faced with the prospect of losing reserved seats for women and minorities as they are only allotted to political parties based on their representation in the assembly.

“It is our legal right to claim and have the share in the reserved seats in the National Assembly and all four provincial assemblies,” advocate Shoaib Shaheen, a PTI spokesperson, told Arab News. 

“We will be getting our share through the SIC’s platform and have fulfilled all the legal requirements for it.”

Shaheen said the SIC would receive 27 reserved seats in the National Assembly, adding that there was “no reason or any legal justification for depriving us of these seats.”

There are 70 reserved seats in the National Assembly out of which 60 are for women and 10 for religious minorities in the 336-member house. These seats are allocated to parliamentary parties on a proportionate basis. Likewise, the reserved seats in the four provincial legislatures are also allocated to the parliamentary parties based on their numerical strength in the house.

Each reserved seat in the National Assembly would be allocated against 4.8 members and by this formula, the SIC may receive 19 seats as the party has 92 members in the National Assembly. 

As of Thursday, 86 independent members backed by Khan pledged their allegiance to the SIC and submitted their affidavits to Pakistan’s election regulator announcing they have joined the party. 

Shaheen explained that Khan-backed members joining the SIC was also necessary as the PTI wanted to bring all independent members of the party under a parliamentary party to avert defections, play a collective role in the legislation and vote, oppose, or abstain from voting on important matters, such as the national budget.

“We will have a formal alliance with the SIC after the PTI’s intraparty polls, which will hopefully be completed by the first week of March,” Shaheen said.

Political parties who had contested the polls had submitted a list of their members for the reserved seats for women and non-Muslims beforehand to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). 

However, the SIC did not do the same. 

Shaheen brushed aside the concern, saying that “it doesn’t matter” and that the SIC was now submitting a list for the ECP’s consideration.

As per notifications released by the ECP on Thursday, the regulator did not allocate any reserved seats to the SIC in Punjab or Sindh’s provincial assemblies. The list of allotted reserved seats for the National Assembly had not been published till the filing of this report. 

Former ECP secretary Kanwar Dilshad said it was the election oversight body’s “prerogative” whether it wanted to allocate reserved seats to the SIC or not.

“It is the sole prerogative of the election commission now to decide on the matter,” Dilshad told Arab News.

ECP spokesperson Hamid Raza said he would provide an update on the matter when the election regulator takes a decision. 

“At the moment, I am not in a position to comment on it,” Raza told Arab News.

Rashid Chaudhry, the deputy director of programs at the Free And Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in Pakistan, cited a precedent where three provincial legislators in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province joined the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) in 2019 after winning as independent candidates.

Chaudhry said the party was later allocated a reserved seat for women even though it had not submitted a priority list with the ECP before the elections.

“The precedent is there, and it is now up to the election commission to decide on it,” Chaudhry told Arab News. He said political parties could submit a new list of nominations to the ECP if their previous lists would stand exhausted.

“Obviously if the ECP denies the share of reserved seats to the SIC, the matter will land in the Supreme Court for adjudication,” he noted. 


Pakistan’s finance minister briefs PM Sharif ahead of key US talks for new IMF loan deal

Pakistan’s finance minister briefs PM Sharif ahead of key US talks for new IMF loan deal
Updated 13 April 2024
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Pakistan’s finance minister briefs PM Sharif ahead of key US talks for new IMF loan deal

Pakistan’s finance minister briefs PM Sharif ahead of key US talks for new IMF loan deal
  • Muhammad Aurangzeb is scheduled to reach Washington tomorrow to attend the IMF, World Bank spring meetings
  • IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva has confirmed Pakistan has approached her organization for yet another loan program

KARACHI: Pakistan’s finance minister Muhammad Aurangzeb met Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday to discuss Pakistan’s economic strategy ahead of his meetings with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials in the United States with an aim to get a fresh loan for the country.
IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva confirmed this week Pakistan was in discussions with her organization on a potential follow-up loan program to its nine-month, $3 billion stand-by arrangement (SBA). The country reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF following the second and final review carried out under the SBA and is expected to receive a tranche of $1.1 billion toward the end of this month.
The finance minister is scheduled to arrive in Washington on Sunday where he will attend the IMF and World Bank spring meetings and discuss the possibility of securing another $6-8 billion deal.
According to a statement released by the finance ministry, Aurangzeb briefed the prime minister about the performance of his ministry during the meeting.
“The finance minister informed the prime minister about his upcoming visit to the United States,” it said. “He discussed with the prime minister his scheduled meetings with the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other organizations during the visit.”
“The overall economic situation of the country was also discussed in the meeting,” the statement added.
The IMF chief recognized Pakistan’s commitment to the structural economic reforms during an event at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington.
However, she also noted that some important issues, including the tax base and overall economic transparency, were yet to be addressed by the Pakistani authorities.
Earlier this week, the Asian Development Bank forecast a 1.9 percent growth in Pakistan during the current fiscal year, though it also warned of 25 percent inflation during the same period.
 


Unidentified gunmen kill nine passengers in Pakistan’s restive southwest

Unidentified gunmen kill nine passengers in Pakistan’s restive southwest
Updated 29 min 25 sec ago
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Unidentified gunmen kill nine passengers in Pakistan’s restive southwest

Unidentified gunmen kill nine passengers in Pakistan’s restive southwest
  • Gunmen stopped a bus in Balochistan and separated passengers belonging to Punjab after checking ID cards
  • Police in Nushki district say they pursued the armed men who fired rocket-propelled grenades and escaped

QUETTA: A group of unidentified gunmen stopped a passenger bus traveling from Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, to Taftan, a town bordering Iran, and killed nine passengers from Punjab province after checking the ID cards of people onboard in southwestern Pakistan, confirmed a senior police official on Saturday.
The incident happened on Friday night near the mountainous Nushki district of Balochistan province which has long been the scene of an insurgency by separatists fighting for independence.
While no group has claimed responsibility of the attack, Baloch nationalists have long complained of political marginalization and economic exploitation, accusing the Pakistani government and Punjab province of monopolizing profits from Balochistan’s rich natural resources.
Pakistani administrations have denied such allegations in the past, pointing out they have launched several development initiatives in the province to improve the lives of the residents of Balochistan.
Speaking to Arab News, a senior police official in Nushki said the armed men intercepted a passenger bus at the Quetta-Taftan Highway.
“They off-boarded nine passengers after checking their ID card near Sultan Charahi, and took them away to the nearby mountains before shooting them from point-blank range,” Senior Superintendent Police (SSP) Allah Bukhsh said. “Police and law enforcement agencies pursued the terrorists who fired RPG [rocket-propelled grenades] on security forces and escaped. But hunt for these terrorists is underway.”
Baloch separatists have also targeted Punjabi laborers working in the province in the past. At least 10 of them had been killed in Balochistan’s Turbat district during two separate attacks last year in October.
A key armed separatist faction, Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) has intensified attacks in the region over the past two months following the February 8 general elections in Pakistan. The group launched coordinated attacks on the country’s key strategic installations in Gwadar and Kech districts during this period.
“Earlier on Friday, the terrorists also attacked a vehicle driven by the brother of an elected member of the provincial assembly from Nushki, Ghulam Dastagir Badini, and busted his vehicle’s tire,” the police officer added. “The vehicle fell down into a ditch killing one man and injuring four others.”
Chief Minister Balochistan Sarfaraz Bugti condemned the killings of passengers and asked law enforcement agencies to pursue people involved in the incident.
“We will not forgive these terrorists who are enemies of Pakistan and seek to sabotage peace in Balochistan,” he said in an official statement released by his office.
 


Meet Saad Haroon, comedian who took a chance on laughter being the best medicine for Pakistan 

Meet Saad Haroon, comedian who took a chance on laughter being the best medicine for Pakistan 
Updated 13 April 2024
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Meet Saad Haroon, comedian who took a chance on laughter being the best medicine for Pakistan 

Meet Saad Haroon, comedian who took a chance on laughter being the best medicine for Pakistan 
  • Haroon created Pakistan’s first English-language comedy TV show and improv comedy troupe BlackFish
  • Haroon says laughter is “cathartic” in Pakistan, a country steeped in pressing issues like militancy and poverty 

ISLAMABAD: It was a dark time in Pakistan when stand-up comedian Saad Haroon returned home after completing his education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2001. 

In a post-September 11 world, it was a nation divided over whether Pakistan should be involved in the United States’ war on terror or not. The war in neighboring Afghanistan led to a sudden rise in the number and scale of terror attacks in the country. The conflict in the region also hit major sectors of the economy, and trading activities were widely disrupted. And as Haroon would find out in the years to come, things would only get worse and laughter would turn out to be the best medicine.

“Little did I know that I would need a lot of comedy over the years because we’ve been dealing with kind of a situation after situation,” Haroon, now one of Pakistan’s best-known English language comedians, told Arab News in an interview in Karachi. “And I was like, ‘Okay, I can use comedy to really make people feel better’.”

The undated file photo shows Pakistani comedian Saad Haroon. (Photo courtesy: Saad Haroon)

Haroon is the creator of the first ever Pakistani improvizational comedy troupe “BlackFish” and was the first Pakistani stand-up comedian to perform in English in cities across Pakistan in his tour, “Saad Haroon: Very Live.” He has many other accolades to his name, including being voted the “Second Funniest Person in the World” during the first Laugh Factory worldwide competition held in 2014. 

But carving a niche as a comedian in Pakistan — and that too in the English language which is spoken by less than five million people in a country of 241 million — was no easy task. The learning curve was improvizational, with Haroon and his peers trading cassette tapes of international comedians to learn the tricks of the trade. And given the political chaos around him, it was no surprise that Haroon quickly turned to political satire, using comedy to make people laugh but also to make them understand the complexities of life.

“I could wax eloquent about these very difficult things that have been happening and it was fun and it was good,” he said, adding that political satire was “cathartic” and a “coping mechanism.”

“And sometimes the audience finds it fun. Sometimes they find it incredibly dark and it’s still rewarding.”

But does he ever get into trouble with his jokes?

“Well, my job is to push those boundaries and sometimes I don’t censor myself and I get in trouble,” Haroon said, recalling the backlash he received for writing a song named “Burqa Woman.”

“BLASKFISH”

Venturing into a full-time career as a comedian as far back as 2002, Haroon became aware of many sad realities about Pakistan’s creative industry, including that there were no quality writers. 

“Because there’s not much art, it means that we don’t actually have a system to create that art, which means we don’t have writers,” the comedian said. 

That’s why improvizational comedy became the answer.

“I was like, ‘Okay, if you don’t have writers, how do we do comedy without writers? Let’s do improv’.”

Thus was born BlackFish in 2002, but that was not without its challenges, not least of them the language barrier and the inability to generate money. 

“I think we charged a whopping Rs100 [36 cents] per ticket,” Haroon joked. “So, I couldn’t pay anyone in the troupe. I would collect the money in the kitty and then we’d go for dinner sometimes.”

Blaskfish continued for a few years before Haroon quit and started doing solo stand-up comedy shows.

Next Haroon created and hosted the first ever English language comedy television show in Pakistan called The Real News in 2007.

“That was political satire and people in Pakistan, we love making fun of politicians because you know, there’s no saving grace about it,” Haroon explained. 

Another major achievement was when in October 2014, he was voted the second funniest person in the world, securing 59,213 votes in the Laugh Factory competition.

“I think winning that second funniest person in the world award was amazing,” Haroon recalled. “And it was kind of amazing what it made other people in Pakistan feel like because they had something.”

For Haroon, art is important in Pakistan because conventional careers like becoming a doctor, engineer or lawyer are not for everyone.

“We all really need money, but we all really need to laugh a little bit as well,” he said. “And so, I’ll go down with this ship laughing even if you don’t.”


Search on in northwest Pakistan for four who went missing while bathing in canal, boating

Search on in northwest Pakistan for four who went missing while bathing in canal, boating
Updated 12 April 2024
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Search on in northwest Pakistan for four who went missing while bathing in canal, boating

Search on in northwest Pakistan for four who went missing while bathing in canal, boating
  • A boat capsized in Kund Park in the Nowshera district on Thursday and seven people submerged as a result of it
  • In another incident in Charsadda, six people went under water while bathing in Khayali canal, three were rescued

ISLAMABAD: A search operation was underway for four people who went missing while boating and bathing at recreational spots in different districts of Pakistan ‘s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, the Rescue 1122 service said on Friday.

A boat capsized in Kund Park in the Nowshera district on Thursday and seven people submerged as a result of it. Of them, six were rescued, according to Rescue 1122.

In another incident in Charsadda, six people went under water while bathing in Khayali canal and the rescuers three of them. Three were still missing.

“An operation by Rescue 1122 is ongoing in search of the four missing persons,” a Rescue 1122 spokesperson said in a statement on Friday. “One person in Kund and three in Charsadda are missing.”

The incidents occurred as a large number of people visited recreational spots on the second day of Eid Al-Fitr festival, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Muslims around the world offer special prayers on Eid morning, spend time with loved ones, organize lavish meals and go for recreational activities during the three-day religious festival.

The Rescue 1122 spokesperson said teams of divers had already been deployed at picnic and recreational spots on account of Eid.

“Rescue 1122 diving teams have rubber boats and all other equipment,” the spokesperson added.


In Pakistan’s Hyderabad, storehouse hydroponic farm beats drought, land degradation

In Pakistan’s Hyderabad, storehouse hydroponic farm beats drought, land degradation
Updated 12 April 2024
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In Pakistan’s Hyderabad, storehouse hydroponic farm beats drought, land degradation

In Pakistan’s Hyderabad, storehouse hydroponic farm beats drought, land degradation
  • Attiq-ur-Rehman Bhayo is using water-based nutrient solution instead of soil to grow tomatoes
  • Shift to urbanization combined with climate change is reducing farmlands in Pakistan, UN official says

HYDERABAD, PAKISTAN: In a large storehouse in the southern Pakistani city of Hyderabad, a 29-year-old entrepreneur is growing tomatoes on a hydroponic farm, defying land degradation, water shortage and power cuts in a country that ranks among the top 10 nations worldwide most affected by climate change.

Attiq-ur-Rehman Bhayo says his solar-powered set-up, in which farming is done in water instead of soil, will provide an urban solution to Pakistan’s agriculture needs as it faces more extreme rainfall, drought and heat waves, crop losses and other worsening threats from climate change.

Instead of soil to grow the tomatoes, Bhayo uses a water-based nutrient solution, coco peat, which is crushed from coconut husks, comes in the form of fine dust or powder and is popular due to its environmental friendliness and sustainability. In hydroponic farming, water is conserved because it is reused multiple times. Hydroponically grown plants also require no pesticides because there are no soil-borne diseases.

Spread over a large 4,000 square feet storehouse, Bhayo’s farm has been registered with the Securities & Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) since April 2022 and yielded its first produce in January this year. Since its inception, the farm has produced around 100 kilograms of tomatoes and exotic cherry tomato varieties.

Bhayo said his farm is the first solar-powered vertical farm in Pakistan, though there is no official confirmation of this.

“This is controlled environment agriculture based on hydroponic technology. In this system plant roots are submerged in a nutrient-drenched water solution,” Bhayo, the chief executive officer (CEO) and owner of Sulit Agro (Pvt) Ltd, told Arab News.

“Basically, the main difference between this system and the traditional system is yield and the quality of the fruit. As you can see this is a controlled environment so we don’t use any pesticides or fungicides which give us organic produce.”

Bhayo, who comes from a traditional family of farmers in Pakistan’s Sindh province, decided to pursue hydroponic farming while pursuing a Masters of Science degree in Engineering Business Management in the United Kingdom.

On returning to Pakistan in 2018, he set up his farm under the Prime Minister’s Kamyab Jawan Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme at a cost of Rs20 million.

“URBAN FARMING”

Hydroponic farming offers many benefits, including minimal food wastage as compared to open field cultivation, the prevention of nutrient runoff pollution that endangers livestock, fertilizer conservation, savings in pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, water conservation through closed-loop systems to avoid aquifer depletion, elimination of tilling to save Co2 emissions and protect soil microbes, and high yield in small spaces, Bhayo explained. 

But the primary distinction between hydroponics and traditional farming was yield and fruit quality, the grower said. 

Under the controlled environment of a hydroponic farm, pesticides and fungicides were unnecessary, resulting in organic produce. Additionally, produce could be available year-round compared with soil-based farming, which typically yields tomatoes for only three or four months annually.

Also, with traditional farming, the average yield per plant is 5 to 8 kilograms per season each year, whereas with hydroponics, the yield is year-round with an average of 36 kilograms per plant. If more advanced hydroponic systems are used in a high-tech temperature-controlled environment with special lights, the yield can go up to to 60 kilograms per plant yearly. 

It is for these reasons that vertical farming is gaining momentum in Pakistan, primarily driven by the private sector, with public sector organizations also embracing the modern agricultural approach.

The Soil Salinity and Reclamation Research Institute (SS&RRI), a provincial body established in Sindh’s Tando Jam town, recently carried out experiments using hydroponics. 

“Under the hydroponic system, we experimented with five vegetables, brinjal, chilies, tomatoes and others,” an official at the institute, Jamila Jamro, told Arab News.

In soil-less farming, she said, plants received essential elements without toxic additions like arsenic and cadmium, making the fruits healthier than those that came from field crops.

“We recommend indoor farming over traditional field farming,” Jamro said.

She said the institute’s future plan was to expand its research to major crops such as rice and wheat, for which it would identify salt-tolerant varieties.

“FUTURE SOLUTION”

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the world’s population is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, 70 percent of which will be living in urban areas mainly in low- and middle-income countries in Africa and Asia.

Against this background, the FAO has been supporting the transformation of urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA) into a recognized urban land use and economic activity, integrated into national and local agricultural development strategies as well as food and nutrition programs and urban planning, a Sindh-based FOA official, James Robert Okoth, explained.

He told Arab News the social shift toward urbanization in Pakistan, combined with climate change which was reducing available farmland, had spotlighted the importance of urban farming to enhance food security and availability in communities.

“Urban farming is important for Pakistan, especially in Sindh province, as the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly evident,” Okoth said. “There is considerable land degradation, and much of the groundwater is becoming brackish, limiting crop options in these areas.”

Urban farming allows for intensification within a small area, enabling the cultivation of diverse, nutritious vegetables, as well as creating employment opportunities, the FOA official added.

Bhayo agrees and hopes the idea will catch on.

After having successfully established his farm, the entrepreneur now offers consultancy on greenhouse technology to others intending to set up similar farms.

“The response is that people are most likely scared whether they will get a return from this huge investment or not,” he said, adding that government support to scale hydroponic farms, through loans and knowledge transfer, was the way forward. 

“This will provide them [farmers] a good opportunity to invest in this system,” Bhayo said. “Once you stabilize the system, there are minimum requirements to maintain the system.”