Pakistani ship captain detained on suspicion of smuggling Iranian missile components faces US trial

Pakistani ship captain detained on suspicion of smuggling Iranian missile components faces US trial
This undated photograph released by the US military's Central Command shows what it is described as the vessel that carried Iranian-made missile components bound for Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the Arabian Sea. (US Central Command via AP)
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Updated 28 February 2024
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Pakistani ship captain detained on suspicion of smuggling Iranian missile components faces US trial

Pakistani ship captain detained on suspicion of smuggling Iranian missile components faces US trial
  • The vessel is said to have started its journey from Pakistan and had advanced conventional weaponry for Houthi rebels
  • The US Central Command says it is the first seizure of Iranian-supplied weapons to the groups since their strikes began

RICHMOND: A Pakistani national who US officials say was the captain of a ship carrying Iranian-made missile components to Houthi rebels in Yemen was ordered Tuesday to remain behind bars as he awaits trial on charges of attempting to smuggle a warhead and other weapons, and lying to US Coast Guard officers as they boarded the boat.

Two Navy SEALs drowned while boarding the unflagged vessel in the Arabian Sea on Jan. 11 in the wake of continued Houthi attacks on commercial and military ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
In court documents, federal prosecutors said the boat’s captain, Muhammad Pahlawan, refused to slow the ship when the US Navy began its boarding attempt and “shouted for the crew to burn the boat before the Navy could board it.”

The ship was described as a dhow.

“Rather than turn the engine off, however, Pahlawan told crewmembers not to stop the dhow while the Navy was approaching,” court documents stated. “In fact, Pahlawan tried to make the dhow go faster. Finally, another crewmember, not Pahlawan, stepped up to the engine and stopped the boat.”

US officials said Navy Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Christopher J. Chambers slipped into the gap created by high waves between the vessel and the SEALs’ combatant craft.

As Chambers fell, Navy Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class Nathan Gage Ingram jumped in to try to save him, according to US officials familiar with what happened. The SEAL who jumped in after the other operator in a rescue attempt was following protocol, according to court documents.

Efforts to find and rescue the two SEALs were unsuccessful and they were later declared dead by the Navy.

During a detention hearing in US District Court in Richmond, Virginia, on Tuesday, FBI Special Agent Lauren Lee testified that Pahlawan initially said he was the boat’s engineer and that the captain had gotten off the ship. He also said he was not aware of any cargo on the ship, Lee said. She said he later contradicted himself, saying, “I am in command of the boat.”

Assistant US Attorney Troy Edwards Jr. argued that Pahlawan should remain in custody pending trial because he is a danger to the community and poses a serious risk of flight. Edwards said Pahlawan has no ties to the US and that the most serious charge against him — intentionally transporting a warhead knowing it would be used by Houthi rebel forces — constitutes a federal crime of terrorism and carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

The charge of making material false statements carries a maximum of five years in prison.

Pahlawan’s attorney, Assistant Supervisory Federal Public Defender Amy Austin, suggested that the interpreter used by US officials when they were questioning crew members on the boat may not have spoken Punjabi, Pahlawan’s language. Lee said she did not know which language the interpreter spoke, but she said Pahlawan answered questions posed to him by the interpreter during sometimes hours-long interviews.

During a search of the ship, US forces found and seized Iranian-made advanced conventional weaponry, including critical parts for medium-range ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles, a warhead, and propulsion and guidance components, an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit. The agent said the items found are consistent with weaponry used by Houthi rebel forces in recent attacks on merchant ships and US military ships.

The affidavit quoted US Central Command, which stated that it was the first seizure of “Iranian-supplied advanced conventional weapons” to the Houthis since their strikes began in November.

The rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for trade among Asia, the Mideast and Europe.

Three other crew members were charged with providing false information to US Coast Guard officers. They were also ordered detained following detention hearings Tuesday.

Specifically, the men lied about Pahlawan’s identity as captain, the weapons on board and the ship’s departure from Iran, court documents stated. The men had claimed their voyage’s origin was Pakistan.

Their attorneys have declined to comment.

Another 10 crew members are being detained under the federal material witness law. It allows courts to issue warrants for the arrest and detention of a person if their testimony is “material in a criminal proceeding,” and if it “may become impracticable to secure the presence of the person by subpoena.”

The FBI affidavit states that crew members had been in contact multiple times by satellite phone with a member of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.


Pakistan, China sign multiple MoUs focusing on flood rehabilitation, IT and development

Pakistan, China sign multiple MoUs focusing on flood rehabilitation, IT and development
Updated 23 April 2024
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Pakistan, China sign multiple MoUs focusing on flood rehabilitation, IT and development

Pakistan, China sign multiple MoUs focusing on flood rehabilitation, IT and development
  • Agreements were signed during meeting of Chinese International Development Cooperation Agency officials with PM Sharif
  • Pakistan PM commended CIDCA for its vital support during 2022 floods that killed 1,739 people, caused $30 bln losses

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and China on Tuesday signed multiple memorandums of understanding (MoUs) that focused on flood rehabilitation, information and communication technologies, and development, Pakistani state media reported.

The agreements were signed during a meeting between a high-level delegation of the Chinese International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA), led by Luo Zhaohui, and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Islamabad.

The MoUs pertained to flood rehabilitation, information and communication technologies, Juncao technology to address soil erosion and desertification, and China-Pakistan Development Cooperation Planning (2024-2028).

“Welcoming the delegation, the Prime Minister said China is Pakistan’s most trusted friend and appreciated China’s steadfast support to Pakistan,” the state-run Radio Pakistan broadcaster reported.

“Acknowledging CIDCA’s pivotal role in bolstering Pakistan’s economic development, the Prime Minister specifically commended CIDCA for its vital support during the 2022 floods and for its relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction efforts in Pakistan.”

In 2022, downpours swelled rivers and at one point flooded a third of Pakistan, killing 1,739 people. The floods also caused $30 billion in damages, from which Pakistan is still trying to rebuild.

The prime minister witnessed the signing of agreements alongside a Letter of Exchange on the establishment of a First Aid Center in Balochistan and Protocol on Cooperation in Human Resources Development under the Global Development Initiative.

“These agreements signify the deepening cooperation between Pakistan and China across various sectors,” the report read.

The meeting was also attended by China’s Ambassador to Pakistan Jiang Zaidong, members of PM Sharif’s cabinet and senior officials of Pakistan.

Beijing has been one of Islamabad’s most reliable foreign partners in recent years, readily providing financial assistance to bail out its often-struggling neighbor.

In July last year, China granted Pakistan a two-year rollover on a $2.4 billion loan, giving the debt-saddled nation much-needed breathing space as it tackled a balance-of-payments crisis.

China has inked more than two trillion dollars in contracts around the world under its Belt and Road investment scheme, with billions pouring into infrastructure projects in Pakistan.


Three militants killed, one arrested in Pakistan’s restive southwest — military

Three militants killed, one arrested in Pakistan’s restive southwest — military
Updated 23 April 2024
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Three militants killed, one arrested in Pakistan’s restive southwest — military

Three militants killed, one arrested in Pakistan’s restive southwest — military
  • The militants were killed in an intelligence-based operation in the Pishin district of Balochistan
  • Military says one militant apprehended in injured condition was identified as an Afghan national

ISLAMABAD: Three militants were killed and another was injured in a shootout with security forces in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, the Pakistani military said on Tuesday.

The shootout took place during an intelligence-based operation in the Pishin district of Balochistan, according to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the military’s media wing.

The militants were killed after intense exchange of fire during the conduct of operation.

“One terrorist was apprehended in injured condition, who has been identified as an Afghan national,” the ISPR said in a statement.

“A huge cache of arms, ammunition and explosives was also recovered during the operation.”

Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan, is the site of a long-running insurgency by separatists and religiously motivated militants, who have recently carried out a number of attacks in the region.

Gunmen this month killed nine people, who hailed from the eastern Punjab province, after abducting them from a bus on a highway near the Noshki district. The outlawed Balochistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attack.

Although the government says it has quelled militancy, violence by various groups has persisted in the region.

Last year, Islamabad also set a November deadline for all undocumented migrants, mostly Afghans, to leave or face arrest, forcing more than 500,000 Afghans to flee Pakistan.

Pakistan defended the crackdown by pointing to security concerns and is expected to begin a renewed push to deport more Afghan nationals in the coming weeks, according to officials.


At $306 million, Pakistan reported highest ever single-month IT exports in March — representative

At $306 million, Pakistan reported highest ever single-month IT exports in March — representative
Updated 23 April 2024
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At $306 million, Pakistan reported highest ever single-month IT exports in March — representative

At $306 million, Pakistan reported highest ever single-month IT exports in March — representative
  • The Pakistani IT exports surged by $49 million in the last month from $257 million recorded in Feb.
  • Representative calls the achievement a result of hard work of all stakeholders and favorable policies

KARACHI: Pakistan recorded highest ever single-month exports in the field of information technology (IT) in March, chairman of the country’s software houses association said on Tuesday.

The Pakistani IT exports surged by $49 million in the last month from $257 million recorded in the month of February, according to Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA).

The exports, which stood at $225 million in March 2023, recorded an increase of 36 percent on a year-on-year basis.

“Crossing $300 million in a single month makes the IT industry second to only textiles in Pakistan,” Zohaib Khan, the P@SHA chairman, said in a statement.

“It is pertinent to note that IT exports for the month of March 2024 is also the highest exports of the industry in a single month in the country’s history.”

Khan said this achievement was a result of hard work of all stakeholders and favorable government policies over the past several months.

“All we need is policy continuity coupled with new initiatives vis-a-vis skills development and branding of the IT sector on a global-scale for the country’s soft-image,” he said, urging the country’s finance and revenue authorities to give due consideration and incorporation to their budgetary proposals that had already been submitted at concerned forums. 

The P@SHA Chief reiterated the IT industry would fully support the initiatives of the Pakistani IT ministry in achieving the export target of $3.5 billion for the outgoing fiscal year, which ends in June.

“We should aim for $5 billion for the forthcoming fiscal year, i.e. FY25,” he added.


PepsiCo. reports double-digit revenue growth in Pakistan, China and other nations

PepsiCo. reports double-digit revenue growth in Pakistan, China and other nations
Updated 23 April 2024
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PepsiCo. reports double-digit revenue growth in Pakistan, China and other nations

PepsiCo. reports double-digit revenue growth in Pakistan, China and other nations
  • The company reported better-than-expected revenue in first quarter on strong demand for snacks, beverages
  • PepsiCo. has leaned heavily into price increases over the past two years to combat higher ingredient costs

PepsiCo. reported better-than-expected revenue in the first quarter on strong international demand for its snacks and beverages.

The Purchase, New York-based company said revenue rose 2 percent to $18.3 billion for the January-April period. That was higher than the $18 billion Wall Street forecast, according to analysts polled by FactSet.

Pepsi reaffirmed its financial guidance for 2024, including organic revenue growth of 4 percent. The company has said it expects to return to more normal rates of growth this year after several years of inflation-driven price increases.

That may have disappointed investors who have grown used to stronger growth at PepsiCo. Last year organic revenue grew 9.5 percent, for example. PepsiCo’s shares fell more than 2.5 percent in morning trading Tuesday.

In North America Frito-Lay revenue rose 2 percent while Pepsi beverage sales were up 1 percent. Sales were hurt by a recall early in the quarter of Quaker Oats cereal, bars and snacks because of potential contamination with salmonella. Quaker Foods sales dropped 24 percent during the quarter.

But the company saw 11 percent sales growth in Asia Pacific and 10 percent sales growth in Europe.

PepsiCo. Chairman and CEO Ramon Laguarta said the company is optimistic that consumer demand will continue to rise this year in the US and elsewhere.

“The consumer, globally, we think is very resilient,” Laguarta said during a conference call with investors. “It’s basically supported by two facts: very low unemployment or quite low unemployment globally and wages growing at a good pace in the majority of the countries where we participate.”

In Europe, sales were driven by demand in Eastern Europe, Laguarta said. In Western Europe, consumers saw fewer PepsiCo. snacks and drinks on grocery shelves during the quarter. Carrefour, one of Europe’s largest supermarket chains, announced in January that it was pulling PepsiCo. products from stores in France, Belgium, Spain and Italy due to unacceptable price increases. The two companies resolved their pricing dispute and Carrefour began restocking PepsiCo. products in early April.

The company said it also saw double-digit organic revenue growth in Mexico, Brazil, Egypt, Pakistan, China and Australia.

But Laguarta added a note of caution. Consumer spending in China remains cautious, he said, and PepsiCo. is also keeping a close eye on lower-income consumers in the US, who are buying fewer snacks or switching to store brands in the face of higher prices.

“The lower-income consumer in the US is stretched,” he said. “That’s a consumer that we are emphasizing in our commercial programs and we are learning how best to keep that consumer in our categories.”

PepsiCo. has leaned heavily into price increases over the past two years to combat higher ingredient costs. The fourth quarter of 2023 was the company’s eighth straight quarter of double-digit percentage price increases.

Those increases moderated in the first quarter. PepsiCo. said net pricing was up 5 percent globally during the quarter, while volumes fell 2 percent. PepsiCo. has said some of that volume decline is strategic. The company has been shrinking package sizes to meet consumer demand for convenience and portion control.

PepsiCo. said its net earnings rose 5.6 percent to $2 billion in the first quarter. Excluding special items, the company earned $1.61 per share. That beat Wall Street’s forecast of $1.52.


Pakistani families urge President Raisi to release cargo crew detained in Iran

Pakistani families urge President Raisi to release cargo crew detained in Iran
Updated 49 min 19 sec ago
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Pakistani families urge President Raisi to release cargo crew detained in Iran

Pakistani families urge President Raisi to release cargo crew detained in Iran
  • Jalal Ahmed, the cargo boat captain, was on his way from Dubai to Somalia when he was caught by Iran four years ago
  • The families of detained Pakistanis say they have not been informed of the charges against Ahmed, others on the boat

KARACHI: Families of Pakistani crew members aboard a cargo boat, which set sail from Dubai to Somalia but was detained by Iran four years ago, appealed to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Tuesday for their release, citing a lack of cooperation from Iranian authorities.
Raisi, who arrived in Pakistan on Monday for a three-day visit, flew to Karachi today after a brief stopover in Lahore. During his stay in Karachi, the Iranian president is slated to meet with government officials and businessmen.
The family of Jalal Ahmed, the captain of the cargo boat, along with others, staged a demonstration in front of the Karachi Press Club to highlight the difficulties they have faced in securing the release of their loved ones, who have been incarcerated in Iran’s Minab city for the past four years.
“We have come here because my brother is imprisoned in the city of Minab in Iran,” Gul Saba, Ahmed’s sister, told Arab News while urging Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif to intervene in the matter to secure the release of the detained crew members.
“We also appeal to Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi to release our brother and the other ten [people] who accompanied him,” she continued.
Saba added her 45-year-old brother, who has three children, was transporting cargo from Dubai to Somalia when his ship was stopped by the Iranian authorities.
She said her family members had traveled to Iran, but there had been no response from Iranian authorities.
“No statement has come [from Iranian officials] regarding why [the Pakistani crew members] have been imprisoned,” she added. “There may be no crime involved as their cargo ship was legal.”
Arab News could not independently verify the claims made by the affected family.
Jawad Jalal, Ahmed’s 10-year-old son, also participated in the protest along with his mother, Sadia Ahmed, and aunt Saba.
“When I was six, my father was imprisoned in Iran,” he said while reminiscing how Ahmed escorted him to school before being detained.
“He should be released so he can drop me off at school once again,” he continued, holding a placard emblazoned with the demand for his father’s release from Iranian prison.