Thousands protest Pakistan Supreme Court minorities ruling

Thousands protest Pakistan Supreme Court minorities ruling
Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan activists protest against Supreme Court Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa, in Karachi on February 23, 2024. Pakistan's Supreme Court has defended its top judge after a ruling he issued related to blasphemy that sparked an online backlash and led to thinly veiled death threats. (AFP)
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Updated 23 February 2024
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Thousands protest Pakistan Supreme Court minorities ruling

Thousands protest Pakistan Supreme Court minorities ruling
  • CJP Faez Isa ordered the release of a man from Ahmadi community, considered heretical by Muslim scholars
  • Around 3,000 people gathered at protest rallies across the northwestern city of Peshawar after Friday prayers

PESHAWAR: Thousands of Pakistanis protested against the Supreme Court’s top judge on Friday, after he issued a ruling related to blasphemy that sparked online backlash and thinly veiled death threats.
A campaign targeting Supreme Court Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa began after he ordered the release of a man from the Ahmadi community, considered heretical by hard-line Muslim scholars.
The man had been accused of disseminating a forbidden Ahmadi text, which firebrand clerics consider tantamount to blasphemy — an incendiary issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of offending Islam have sparked violence.
Around 3,000 people gathered at rallies across the northwestern city of Peshawar after Friday prayers.
Crowds blocked roads and chanted “Death to Qadianis” — a slur referring to Ahmadis — as well as “Long live Islam.”
The Supreme Court issued a statement on Thursday evening defending his ruling, denying that it went against the Islamic constitution of Pakistan.
“This impression is absolutely wrong,” it said. “The organized campaign against judiciary and judges is unfortunate.”
A spokesman for Pakistan’s Ahmadi community, Amir Mahmood, told AFP that “one-sided negative propaganda is being spread against this judgment” which protected a man from “being persecuted for his religious belief.”
Isa’s ruling first went unnoticed two weeks ago, before it was highlighted by social media accounts linked to the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan party behind violent anti-blasphemy protests.
Posts calling for him to resign have been shared thousands of times on social media.
The Pakistani chapter of the Taliban militant group — known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — called Isa “an enemy of Islam” and “a damned man.”
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said Isa’s ruling “protects the constitutional right of all religious minorities to freedom of religion or belief.”
“Those political leaders and sections of the media that are responsible for this campaign must be restrained,” the organization said on social media platform X.
Ahmadis have been discriminated against and persecuted for decades in Pakistan.
The second amendment of Pakistan’s constitution, made in 1974, declares Ahmadis non-Muslims.
The law also prohibits them from professing to be Muslims or spreading their faith, and allows the death penalty for those found guilty of insulting Islam.
In his judgment, Isa ruled that according to the constitution, “every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion.”
“Freedom of faith is one of the fundamental tenets of Islam. But sadly, in matters of religion, tempers flare up and the Qur’anic mandate is forsaken,” he added.
He also said the book allegedly disseminated by the accused had not been outlawed at the time of the alleged crime in 2019.
Cleric Fazlur Rehman, the influential leader of the conservative religious party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, said Isa’s reasoning was “false and based on bad intentions.”
In 2011, the governor of eastern Punjab province was killed by his bodyguard after calling for reforms to the stringent blasphemy laws that Ahmadis frequently fall foul of.


Perpetrators of Bishkek mob violence will be punished, Kyrgyz FM assures Pakistani counterpart

Perpetrators of Bishkek mob violence will be punished, Kyrgyz FM assures Pakistani counterpart
Updated 21 May 2024
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Perpetrators of Bishkek mob violence will be punished, Kyrgyz FM assures Pakistani counterpart

Perpetrators of Bishkek mob violence will be punished, Kyrgyz FM assures Pakistani counterpart
  • Frenzied mobs targeted hostels of medical universities and private lodgings of international students, including Pakistanis, in Bishkek last week
  • FM Ishaq Dar told his Kyrgyz counterpart Pakistan’s main concern was the safety of its nationals, especially students, affected by Friday’s violence

ISLAMABAD: Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Minister Jeenbek Kulubaev on Monday met Pakistan’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Ishaq Dar, in Astana and assured him the Kyrgyz government would bring to justice perpetrators of last week’s mob attacks on foreign students in Bishkek, Pakistani state media reported.

Frenzied mobs targeted hostels of medical universities and private lodgings of international students, including Pakistanis, in Bishkek last week after videos of a brawl between Kyrgyz and Egyptian students went viral on social media.

Pakistan has since then ramped efforts to repatriate its students from the city and more than 600 Pakistani students have returned home via three different flights. According to official statistics, around 10,000 Pakistani students are enrolled in various educational institutions in Kyrgyzstan, with nearly 6,000 residing and studying in Bishkek.

The meeting between Dar and his Kyrgyz counterpart was held in Astana, Kazakhstan on the sidelines of a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s (SCO) Council of Foreign Ministers, the state-run Radio Pakistan broadcaster reported.

“Kyrgyz government has taken swift action to restore law and order in the country, and the perpetrators of the mob riots would be punished under the Kyrgyz law,” the report quoted FM Kulubaev as telling his Pakistani counterpart.

During the meeting, Dar shared concerns about Pakistani students in Kyrgyzstan and requested Foreign Minister Kulubaev to ensure their security, according to the report.

He underlined that Pakistan’s main concern was the well-being of its nationals, especially the students who were primarily affected by last week’s violence.

“Bilateral relations between Pakistan and Kyrgyz Republic, especially in the domains of energy, connectivity, trade and people-to-people contacts also came under discussion,” the report read.

“Both the dignitaries expressed satisfaction at the progress of established bilateral institutional mechanisms.”

Dar arrived in Kazakhstan on Monday to represent Pakistan at the two-day meeting of the SCO Council of Foreign Ministers. He will also hold bilateral meetings with his counterparts on the sidelines of the summit.

Founded in 2001, the SCO is a major trans-regional organization spanning South and Central Asia, with China, Russia, Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan as its permanent members. The SCO member states collectively represent nearly half of the world’s population and a quarter of global economic output.

The organization’s agenda of promoting peace and stability, and seeking enhanced linkages in infrastructure, economic, trade and cultural spheres, is aligned with Pakistan’s own vision of enhancing economic connectivity as well as peace and stability in the region.

Since becoming a full member of the SCO in 2017, Pakistan has been actively contributing toward advancing the organization’s core objectives through its participation in various SCO mechanisms.


Pakistan seeks ‘viable business plan’ for state-owned broadcasting corporations

Pakistan seeks ‘viable business plan’ for state-owned broadcasting corporations
Updated 20 May 2024
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Pakistan seeks ‘viable business plan’ for state-owned broadcasting corporations

Pakistan seeks ‘viable business plan’ for state-owned broadcasting corporations
  • A cabinet committee recognized ‘strategic nature’ of Pakistan Television Corporation, Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation
  • The development comes amid Pakistan’s push for privatization, reforms in loss-making state enterprises for IMF bailout

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government on Monday sought a “viable business plan” for two state-owned broadcasting corporations, the Finance Division said, amid the South Asian country’s push for reforms in loss-making state entities.

The statement came after a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on State-Owned Enterprises (CCoSOEs) in Islamabad, which was presided over by Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb.

The development comes amid Pakistan’s push for privatization and reforms in state-owned enterprises (SOEs) as it negotiates with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) a fresh bailout program.

The cabinet committee reviewed a proposal of the information ministry regarding the Pakistan Television Corporation (PTVC) and the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC).

“The CCoSOEs recognized the strategic nature of Pakistan Television Corporation (PTVC) and Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) and directed the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MoIB) to present a viable business plan to the committee for efficient management of these enterprises,” the Finance Division said in a statement.

Under the last $3 billion IMF program that helped Pakistan avert a debt default last year, the lender said SOEs whose losses were burning a hole in government finances would need stronger governance.

To negotiate a fresh bailout with the IMF, Pakistan must implement an ambitious reforms agenda, including the privatization of debt-ridden SOEs.

Among the main entities Pakistan is pushing to privatize is its national flag carrier, the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). The government is putting on the block a stake ranging from 51 percent to 100 percent.


Pakistan PM prays for recovery of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman

Pakistan PM prays for recovery of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman
Updated 20 May 2024
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Pakistan PM prays for recovery of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman

Pakistan PM prays for recovery of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman
  • Saudi king is due to undergo treatment for lung inflammation, SPA reported
  • Shehbaz Sharif says King Salman sincere friend of Pakistan, guide for Muslim world

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday extended prayers for the recovery of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, who is due to undergo treatment for lung inflammation.

The treatment will consist of a course of antibiotics at Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported on Sunday.

The king underwent medical tests at the royal clinics at the palace earlier on Sunday after he suffered from a high temperature and joint pain.

“I have learnt with grave concern about the health of His Majesty King Salman bin Abdulaziz. His Majesty is not only a sincere friend of Pakistan but as the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, a leader and guide for the entire Muslim ummah,” Sharif said on X.

“The people of Pakistan join me in praying to the Almighty for His Majesty’s complete recovery and swift return to full health.”

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong trade, defense and cultural ties. The Kingdom is home to a large number of Pakistani expatriates and serves as the top source of remittances to the cash-strapped South Asian country.

Saudi Arabia has also often come to cash-strapped Pakistan’s aid by regularly providing it oil on deferred payment and offering direct financial support to help stabilize its economy and shore up its forex reserves.


England relish ‘fear factor’ of returning paceman Archer against Pakistan

England relish ‘fear factor’ of returning paceman Archer against Pakistan
Updated 21 May 2024
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England relish ‘fear factor’ of returning paceman Archer against Pakistan

England relish ‘fear factor’ of returning paceman Archer against Pakistan
  • Injuries have blighted Archer’s international career and he has not played top-level cricket for 14 months
  • But he is in England squad for four-match T20 series against Pakistan, starting this week, and the World Cup

LONDON: England are eager to unleash Jofra Archer’s “fear factor” against Pakistan as the paceman prepares to return from a long injury lay-off ahead of next month’s T20 World Cup, says team-mate Sam Curran.

Injuries have blighted Archer’s international career and he has not played top-level cricket for 14 months due to back and elbow issues.

He has managed just 15 Twenty20 appearances for England since making his international debut five years ago but is in the squad for their four-match T20 series against Pakistan, starting this week, and the World Cup.

The 29-year-old has been building up his fitness by playing club cricket in Barbados and last week took a wicket for Sussex’s second XI.

“It’s incredibly exciting to have a player of his quality,” all-rounder Curran said on Monday. “I’m sure England fans and players are extremely buzzed to have him back.

“He’s obviously got that extra pace and fear factor we can bring to opposition. We all hope his injuries are behind him now.

“Jof’s had a really tough couple of years — we all hope he can come back and do what he does for England and bring the A game that we know he’s got.”

England, who are reigning T20 world champions, are desperate to find form ahead of the tournament in the West Indies and the United States after a dismal 50-over World Cup defense in India last year.

Curran is one of eight squad members who returned early from the Indian Premier League ahead of the Pakistan series.

The players had little time together before the defense of their 50-over title.

“The messaging from (captain) Jos (Buttler) and the coaching staff was they wanted to get the group back together and we probably didn’t have that last time,” said Curran.

“We’ve been apart for a while so these games are going to be really crucial. We want to be playing as a team and get used to our roles.

“There’s a lot of buzz around the group, it seems like we’re back to our energy and it seems like the boys are really fizzed about this trophy hopefully coming back.”

The first game of the four-match T20 series against Pakistan takes place at Headingley on Wednesday.


Net-metering, tax controversies cloud future of solarization in Pakistan despite government clarification

Net-metering, tax controversies cloud future of solarization in Pakistan despite government clarification
Updated 20 May 2024
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Net-metering, tax controversies cloud future of solarization in Pakistan despite government clarification

Net-metering, tax controversies cloud future of solarization in Pakistan despite government clarification
  • Government says it won’t end net-metering policy for solar power producers, promises to honor commitments made by companies
  • Pakistan’s energy woes stem from high capacity charges consumers pay due to long-term government contracts with power producers

KARACHI: Controversies about net-metering and imposition of a new tax have cast a cloud over Pakistan’s transition to solar energy despite the government’s ambitious plans, stakeholders said on Monday, adding the situation has left them in a state of uncertainty.

Pakistan approved the net-metering policy in 2017 that allows consumers to sell excess electricity produced by their solar systems to power distribution companies, resulting in significant savings in their monthly bills.

However, the energy ministry stirred a controversy last month by declaring that net-metering was promoting “unhealthy investments” in installation of solar power by affluent domestic and industrial consumers, hinting at cutting the buyback rates.

“Before this [controversy], people were shifting to solar [energy] in such a way that we thought that 100 percent Pakistan embraced solar energy,” Zulfiqar Ali, an importer, supplier and installer of solar panels, told Arab News on Monday.

“Now, we’re witnessing a stark contrast, a slowdown in inquiries, stagnation in projects, all amidst a talk of governmental reconsideration of solar energy policies.”

Ali said the net-metering issue had a lot of effect on the market as the purchasing groups suddenly went silent and the deals that were going on became stagnant. “The planned projects have gone into an idle position, people are neither saying yes nor no,” he added.

Recent reports published by local media about new taxes and an end to net-metering policy further compounded the situation and prompted Energy Minister Awais Leghari to explain the government’s position on the matter. 

“We completely reject these stories. The agreements our companies have made with net-metering users, whether they are for five years, six years, or seven years, will not be altered in any way and the government will not damage its reputation, nor will it cause any inconvenience to those investors,” Leghari said at a press conference in Lahore on Sunday.

He said the government was fully committed to renewable energy and solarization and was in favor of continuing the net-metering policy. 

“If, after studying it over the next few months, there is a need to revise it, it will be done very responsibly and in consultation with stakeholders,” Leghari said.

“After the approval of the entire government, if necessary, we will rationalize this. At this moment, we are committed to fulfilling all the contracts we have signed with various people. We will uphold the integrity of the entire government and move forward together.”

But despite the government’s assurances, an atmosphere of uncertainty prevails in the South Asian country with regard to solarization.

“I wanted to install solar panels at my rooftop to mitigate the impact of high electricity bills but now I am unable to take a decision because of the government’s intended moves of either taxing panels or curtailing net-metering benefits,” said Khalid Abbas, a resident of Karachi, adding that he would wait for clarity on the subject.

Solar panel suppliers said people, who were buying solar panels by selling their cars or jewelry, had stopped purchasing the equipment. 

“Residential consumers who wanted to install 5-20KW panels have stopped and are waiting for clarity,” Zulfiqar said.

Pakistan’s energy woes stem from the substantially high electricity bills, mainly due to the capacity charges that are as high as 65 percent and the nation is bound to pay these to power producers, even though their plants stand idle. 

The power purchase price (PPP), or the average per unit price based on the generation cost, is Rs20.60, which includes Rs14.09 capacity charges, and Rs6.21 fuel and variable charges, according to Pakistan’s reference tariff for fiscal year 2023-2024.

Pakistani energy experts believe the volume with which solar energy is increasing is still “insignificant” and does not even make 1 percent of the total power generation in the country.

“But the way it is going on in Pakistan, perhaps a significant portion of our net-metering will be done from it,” Dr. Khalid Waleed, an expert on energy economics, told Arab News. “Around 2,000MWs will be coming from net-metering. So, it should not be discouraged at all.”

When consumers switch to solar power, Waleed said, capacity charges are borne by other consumers that ultimately increases their power burden. 

Experts say the country won’t be able to get rid of the capacity charges before 2050 due to long-term contracts made with power producers.