Pakistan blocks X for the sixth day as activists criticize the social media platform’s shutdown

Pakistan blocks X for the sixth day as activists criticize the social media platform’s shutdown
The new logo of Twitter is seen in this illustration taken, July 24, 2023. (REUTERS)
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Updated 22 February 2024

Pakistan blocks X for the sixth day as activists criticize the social media platform’s shutdown

Pakistan blocks X for the sixth day as activists criticize the social media platform’s shutdown
  • Ex-PM Khan’s party says restrictions on X have been placed by authorities to muzzle its voice on social media
  • Social media platforms are often used by protest organizers in Pakistan to call followers out to streets, plan demonstrations

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s media regulators have blocked the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, with users across the country on Thursday enduring the sixth day of sweeping disruptions, partial and complete shutdowns.

There was no comment on the outage by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and government officials have not responded to repeated queries from The Associated Press for comment.

Human rights activists have demanded a full restoration of Internet services and access to social media. Washington has also urged Pakistan to lift restrictions on X.

The outage was first observed over the weekend when the political party of Pakistan’s imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan announced protests against what it says were rigged Feb. 8 parliamentary elections.

In the vote, candidates backed by Khan, who was barred from running, won most seats but short of a simply majority needed to form a government.

Social media platforms are often used by protest organizers to call followers out to the streets and spread the word about planned demonstrations.

Pakistan has witnessed an increase in political instability since the balloting. The country’s elections oversight body denies charges by Khan’s party that the vote was stolen. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party or PTI said on Thursday that the restrictions on X have been placed by the authorities to suppress its voice on social media.

On Wednesday, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller expressed concerns in a statement to reporters over the outage and restrictions on the freedom of expression and association in Pakistan.

“We continue to call on Pakistan to respect freedom of expression and restore access to a social media that has been restricted including Twitter, now known as X,” Miller said. “We have and will continue to emphasize the importance of respecting these fundamental freedoms during our engagements with Pakistani officials.”

Khan’s rivals, including the former Premier Shehbaz Sharif, are trying to form a coalition government. Sharif replaced Khan after his ouster in a no-confidence vote in parliament in 2022. Khan has since then been convicted offenses in what his supporters call politically motivated moves to keep him out of office.

Close to 600,000 Afghans expelled from Pakistan since deportation drive launched last year

Close to 600,000 Afghans expelled from Pakistan since deportation drive launched last year
Updated 30 May 2024

Close to 600,000 Afghans expelled from Pakistan since deportation drive launched last year

Close to 600,000 Afghans expelled from Pakistan since deportation drive launched last year
  • Radio Pakistan says 13,206 Afghan nationals repatriated over last ten days
  • Islamabad blames Afghans for militant violence, smuggling, other crimes

ISLAMABAD: The repatriation of illegal foreigners living in Pakistan continues with more than 10,000 Afghan nationals expelled over the last ten days, state broadcaster Radio Pakistan said on Thursday, bringing the total number of those deported close to 600,000. 
The government launched a deportation drive last year after a spike in suicide bombings which the Pakistan government, without providing any evidence, says were carried out by Afghan nationals. Islamabad has also blamed them for smuggling, militant violence and other crimes. 
A cash-strapped Pakistan that was navigating its record inflation, alongside a tough International Monetary Fund bailout program last year, had also said undocumented migrants had drained its resources for decades.
“590,445 Afghans have so far been repatriated to Afghanistan,” Radio Pakistan said on Thursday. “According to the latest statistics, 13,206 Afghan nationals returned to their country over the last ten days.”
Until the government initiated the expulsion drive last year, Pakistan was home to over four million Afghan migrants and refugees out of which around 1.7 million were undocumented. 
Afghans make up the largest portion of migrants, many of whom came after the Taliban took over Kabul in 2021, but a large number have been present since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Islamabad insists the deportation drive is not aimed specifically at Afghans but at all those living illegally in Pakistan. 
In October 2023, Pakistan announced phase one of the “Illegal Foreigners’ Repatriation Plan” with a 30-day deadline for “undocumented” aliens to leave the country or be subject to deportation, putting 1.4 million Afghan refugees at risk.
In phase two of the “repatriation plan,” around 600,00 Afghans who held Pakistan-issued Afghan citizenship cards (ACCs) will be expelled while phase three was expected to target those with UNHCR-issued Proof of Registration (PoR) cards.
In April, the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) issued a notification validating the extension of the POR card till June 30 this year.
Before the deportation drive, many people used to cross the Pak-Afghan border back and forth for business and personal purposes daily. The main entry points into Afghanistan are the borders in the Kandahar and Nangarhar provinces.
The deportation drive had led to a spike in tensions between Pakistan and the Taliban rulers in Afghanistan. The Taliban deny militants are using Afghan soil to launch attacks, calling Pakistan’s security challenges a domestic issue.

Pakistanis turn to gemstone healing as latest de-stress fix

Pakistanis turn to gemstone healing as latest de-stress fix
Updated 30 May 2024

Pakistanis turn to gemstone healing as latest de-stress fix

Pakistanis turn to gemstone healing as latest de-stress fix
  • Practitioners believe crystals release stress, induce relaxation, promote energy balance within the body
  • Crystal healing still considered pseudoscience, no peer-reviewed studies that prove alternative therapy’s efficacy

ISLAMABAD: While gemstones have long been cherished for their ornamental value, a growing number of Pakistanis are turning to them for healing purposes, with practitioners claiming stones “emit radiations” that help foster mental and bodily wellness.
Pakistan has significant gemstone reserves, particularly in its northern and northwestern regions, which include a variety of high-quality stones such as peridot, aquamarine, topaz, ruby and emerald. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also spoke in favor of granting industry status to the country’s gemstone sector, citing their economic potential following a 47 percent increase in the export of pearls and precious stones to China last year.
But many stones have other uses and can be used in therapy and placed at precise points on and around the body to release stress, induce relaxation and promote energy balance within the body.
Scientifically however, gemstone therapy is still considered a pseudoscience and there are little to no peer-reviewed studies that prove the method’s efficacy. 
“When clients come to me, I analyze their names and numerology to understand their traits,” Syed Khurram Abbas Naqvi, a gemstone healer in the capital, told Arab News this week. “Using this insight, I recommend specific gemstones to amplify strengths and alleviate concerns.”
Naqvi said more and more people were beginning to believe in the healing properties of stones, arguing that they emitted subtle energies or vibrations that influenced the wearer’s well-being and energy. Wearing a gemstone enhanced the lifespan and function of human cells, leading to better health, improved decision-making and overall well-being, he said.
“When examining agate, one finds it contains silicon dioxide, while turquoise comprises ammonia oxide along with elements such as copper, magnesium, iron, phosphate, and CsO3 [caesium ozonide],” Naqvi added.
“The radiation emitted by these stones is believed to bolster bodily strength. For instance, silicon dioxide can help regulate blood pressure, while bloodstone may assist in controlling blood pressure in men and opal is reputed to mitigate aggression in women.
“My priority is to provide high-quality, pure stones because their radiation power is stronger and more effective.”
Authentication of stones is vital for the business which depends on experts who specialize in telling real stones from fake ones.
“Clients seek our certification due to the high financial stakes and risk of fraud in the industry,” Faizan Jamshed, an internationally qualified gemologist who manages his own jewelry testing lab in the federal capital, said. “Our rigorous lab testing and certifications are vital for insurance and client trust.”
He added that a gemstone’s effectiveness for healing was closely tied to its genuine nature and purity.
“While untrained individuals may perceive all stones similarly, experts can discern substantial value discrepancies,” he said.
Naqvi added that the “color, carat, cut and clarity” of a stone were vital for gemstone therapy to work.
“The clearer, larger and purer the stone, the stronger its radiation power, resulting in more profound effects.”
But while many people remain skeptical of gemstone therapy, there are takers for the healing method who believe the right stone can do miracles and significantly change lives.
Amir Shehzad Haidari, an accountant with a local company, said he suffered for years from low energy before turning to gemstone treatment.
“Despite feeling lethargic and unmotivated, I chose gemstone healing over medical assistance,” he told Arab News. “Wearing quartz infused me with energy and tranquility.”
Muntasir Abbas, a travel agent, said he sought out gemstone healing to find relief against depression. 
“Family problems had me deeply depressed,” he said. “After traditional treatments failed, a friend recommended gemstone healing. Initially skeptical, I decided to try it. Within two to three months of wearing the suggested stone, I noticed significant improvements in my emotional state.”

After ICUBE-Q, Pakistan launches modern communication satellite into space

After ICUBE-Q, Pakistan launches modern communication satellite into space
Updated 8 min 14 sec ago

After ICUBE-Q, Pakistan launches modern communication satellite into space

After ICUBE-Q, Pakistan launches modern communication satellite into space
  • PAKSAT MM1 will help usher in digital era by providing Internet to country’s remote areas, national space agency says
  • Satellite launch from Xichang Satellite Launch Center to be broadcast live from Suparco centers in Islamabad, Karachi

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan launched its latest modern communication satellite, the PAKSAT MM1, into space on Thursday, weeks after its ICUBE-Qamar (ICUBE-Q) entered lunar orbit.
ICUBE-Q was launched into space on May 3 aboard China’s Chang’e-6 lunar mission from Hainan, China. A major milestone in Pakistan’s space exploration efforts, the satellite successfully entered the moon’s orbit on May 8, and shortly after began transmitting the first images to earth.
The Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco), the national space agency, now plans to launch another communication satellite with Chinese assistance.
“Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission will launch a new satellite PakSat MM1 on Thursday from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China,” state broadcaster Radio Pakistan said.
“The satellite PakSat MM1 has been conceived keeping in view the growing needs of the country in the broad spectrum of communication and connectivity ... Based on advanced communication technologies, PakSat MM1 will play a pivotal role in the socio-economic uplift of the country and will prove to be a stepping stone in the transformation of the country into Digital Pakistan.”
Earlier this week, state media said the satellite would help usher in a digital era in Pakistan by helping provide Internet to remote areas, as per Suparco officials.
The launch ceremony would be broadcast live from Suparco’s offices in Islamabad and Karachi.
Established in 1961, Suparco manages Pakistan’s space program, enhancing the nation’s capabilities in satellite communications, remote sensing and meteorological science.
Chang’e 6 is a planned robotic Chinese and Pakistani lunar exploration mission that is attempting Beijing’s second sample return mission and aims to obtain the first-ever soil and rock samples from the lunar far side and return them to earth. The samples will contain material ejected from the lunar mantle and will be used to provide insight into the history of the moon, earth, and the solar system.
The primary phase of the mission is expected to last about 53 days. Around 100 students from Pakistan’s Institute of Space Technology (IST) contributed to developing the ICUBE-Q satellite.

Pakistan army top commanders decry cross-border attacks from Afghanistan, ‘digital terrorism’

Pakistan army top commanders decry cross-border attacks from Afghanistan, ‘digital terrorism’
Updated 30 May 2024

Pakistan army top commanders decry cross-border attacks from Afghanistan, ‘digital terrorism’

Pakistan army top commanders decry cross-border attacks from Afghanistan, ‘digital terrorism’
  • Army says adversaries are using Afghanistan to target security forces and civilians inside Pakistan
  • In veiled reference to ex-PM Khan and his party, army says will defeat “politically motivated digital terrorism” 

ISLAMABAD: The top commanders of the Pakistan army met on Thursday and discussed ‘serious concerns’ about cross-border attacks they said were orchestrated by militants using safe havens in neighboring Afghanistan, as well as the use of social media by “politically motivated” internal actors to sow discord between the military and the public.
The views were expressed at the 83rd Formation Commanders Conference held at the military’s GHQ headquarters in Rawalpindi and attended by Army Chief General Asim Munir, all corps commanders, principal staff officers and formation commanders of the Pakistan army.
In a press conference held earlier this month, Pakistan’s military had said a suicide bombing in March that killed five Chinese engineers was planned in neighboring Afghanistan, and that the bomber was an Afghan national. Previously also, the government and army have blamed militants harboring in Afghanistan for a surge in attacks in Pakistan.
Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have soured in recent months as Islamabad says Kabul is not doing enough to tackle militant groups targeting Pakistan. In March, Pakistan also carried out airstrikes targeting militants on Afghan territory. The Taliban have rejected Islamabad’s accusations, saying Pakistan is responsible for its own security challenges.
Since late last year, Pakistan has expelled almost half a million undocumented Afghan nationals, saying the majority of suicide attacks against its security forces were carried out by Afghans, a charge Kabul rejects.
“The forum expressed serious concerns over continued cross-border violations from Afghanistan and terrorism being orchestrated using Afghan soil, noting that Pakistan’s adversaries were using Afghanistan to target Security Forces and innocent civilians inside Pakistan,” a statement from the army said after the corp commanders’ meeting on Thursday.
Talking about internal challenges, the statement, in a veiled reference to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, said “politically motivated and vested digital terrorism” had been unleashed by “conspirators duly abetted by their foreign cohorts against state institutions.”
“[It] is clearly meant to try to induce despondency in the Pakistani nation, to sow discord among national institutions, especially the Armed Forces, and the people of Pakistan by peddling blatant lies, fake news, and propaganda,” the statement said. 
“However, the nation is fully cognizant of their ugly and ulterior motives and surely the designs of these nefarious forces will be comprehensively defeated.”
The military remains the country’s most powerful institution and has for decades had a huge role in making and breaking governments. Khan accuses the military of a crackdown on him and his party, which the army denies.
Although Khan is widely believed to have been brought to power in 2018 with the backing of the army, he fell out with top generals and by April 2022 was ousted from the PM’s office in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence. He has since led a defiant campaign against the army, which he accuses of working with his political rivals to unseat him. 
Tensions between Khan and the army reached a crescendo on May 9 last year when alleged supporters of the PTI attacked and damaged government and military installations. Hundreds of PTI supporters and leaders were arrested following the riots and some continue to remain behind bars as they await trial. The army has also initiated military court trials of at least 103 people accused of involvement in the violence. Many close Khan aides have since deserted him, due to what is widely believed to be pressure from the army, which denies interfering in politics.
“The planners, perpetrators, abettors, and facilitators of 9th May need to be brought to justice for the collective good of the country, and that without swift and transparent dispensation of justice to the culprits and establishing the rule of law, stability in the country will ever remain hostage to the machinations of such elements,” the army statement concluded. 
Khan and the PTI say the May riots have been used as a ruse by political rivals and the military to crack down on the party, which is arguably the most popular in Pakistan. Khan has also been indicted under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism law in connection with the violence. A section of Pakistan’s 1997 anti-terrorism act prescribes the death penalty as maximum punishment. Khan has denied the charges, saying he was in detention when the violence took place.
Khan was also handed four court convictions ahead of Feb. 8 general elections, which ruled him out of the polls as convicted individuals cannot run for public office under Pakistani law. Khan says all the cases are motivated to keep him away from politics.

Azerbaijan’s foreign minister meets deputy PM amid Pakistan’s push for increased trade, investment

Azerbaijan’s foreign minister meets deputy PM amid Pakistan’s push for increased trade, investment
Updated 54 min 52 sec ago

Azerbaijan’s foreign minister meets deputy PM amid Pakistan’s push for increased trade, investment

Azerbaijan’s foreign minister meets deputy PM amid Pakistan’s push for increased trade, investment
  • Pakistan is interested in LNG supplies from Azerbaijan, views the relationship as significant for its energy security
  • The two countries have also grown stronger ties in recent years in other areas including defense, trade and culture

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Jeyhun Bayramov held a meeting with Pakistan’s Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar on Thursday amid a flurry of diplomatic activity between the South Asian state and the Central Asian region, as Pakistani authorities strive for greater trade and investment to boost their ailing economy.
The relations between Pakistan and Azerbaijan have been growing stronger in recent years, particularly in the areas of defense, energy and trade. Last year, the two countries signed an agreement related to the supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Azerbaijan to Pakistan at discounted rates to bolster Pakistan’s energy reserves and help address its energy challenges.
On the defense front, military cooperation also deepened with joint military exercises and Azerbaijan’s interest in purchasing JF-17 Thunder fighter jets from Pakistan, reflecting a robust partnership aimed at enhancing their strategic and security capabilities.
Politically as well, the two nations continue to support each other’s key territorial and diplomatic stances on international platforms, reinforcing their political collaboration and mutual geopolitical interests.
“Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan Jeyhun Bayramov @Bayramov_Jeyhun has arrived at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Islamabad,” the foreign office said in a social media post. “He was received by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammad Ishaq Dar @MIshaqDar50.”
“They will hold comprehensive talks on bilateral and regional issues,” it added.

 The visiting dignitary arrived in Islamabad on a two-day visit on Wednesday night and is expected to meet Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif during his stay in the country.
Pakistan, which has witnessed a prolonged economic crisis, has sought financial assistance from international lenders and friendly nations. More recently, its officials have shown a greater interest in generating trade with other nations and are seeking foreign investment to reform the economy over the long term.
This month, Pakistani officials announced the United Arab Emirates would invest $10 billion in various sectors, with hopes of securing additional funds from other parts of the Gulf region.
Relations with Azerbaijan are viewed as important for the country’s energy security, as Pakistani officials seek to generate more economic activity in the country in the foreseeable future.