Blinken reaffirms commitment to ‘robust partnership’ in phone call with Pakistani foreign minister 

Blinken reaffirms commitment to ‘robust partnership’ in phone call with Pakistani foreign minister 
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the press after meeting with the Armenian Prime Minister, European Union Foreign Policy chief and the EU Commission President, in Brussels on April 5, 2024. (AFP/File)
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Updated 06 April 2024
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Blinken reaffirms commitment to ‘robust partnership’ in phone call with Pakistani foreign minister 

Blinken reaffirms commitment to ‘robust partnership’ in phone call with Pakistani foreign minister 
  • Islamabad has long called for a broadening of relations with Washington beyond just security concerns
  • Analysts widely believe US will not seek to expand ties with Pakistan, remain focused on security cooperation

KARACHI: United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with Pakistani Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar on Friday and reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to a “robust partnership” that benefitted both nations, the US embassy in Islamabad said.

Ties between Islamabad and Washington, once close allies, have just started to warm after some years of frosty relations, mostly due to concerns about Pakistan’s alleged support of the Taliban in Afghanistan, though Islamabad long rejected accusations that it failed to tackle the militants battling the Kabul government and US-led foreign forces from sanctuaries on its side of the border.

Relations strained further under the government of former prime minister Imran Khan, who ruled from 2018-22 and antagonized Washington by welcoming the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021 and later accusing the US of being behind attempts to oust him. Washington has dismissed the accusation.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who took over after Khan and whose first term ended last year and second and ongoing term began in March, has vowed to mend ties but analysts widely believe the United States will not seek a significant broadening of ties with Islamabad in the near future but remain mostly focused on security cooperation, especially on counterterrorism and Afghanistan.

“Secretary Blinken reaffirmed our commitment to a robust partnership between the United States and Pakistan that advances the prosperity of both nations,” the US embassy in Islamabad said in a statement.

“Secretary Blinken stressed the importance of continued cooperation on counterterrorism, expanding our trade and investment partnership, and advancing women’s economic security and empowerment.”

Islamabad has long called for the expandsion ties with Washington beyond just security concerns and hopes to boost bilateral trade in goods and services, which the Pakistani embassy says totals about $12 billion currently.

Pakistan also hopes to attract more US investment, with a particular focus on food, IT and pharmaceuticals, after a long lull during which China became the dominant investor.

Pakistani officials say the country is well-placed to help diversify US supply chains that were dependent on China before COVID-19, but have started to shift toward other regional suppliers and could serve as a gateway to Central Asia.


Pakistan’s oil and gas regulator denies report of impending gas system collapse due to pressure issues

Pakistan’s oil and gas regulator denies report of impending gas system collapse due to pressure issues
Updated 11 sec ago
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Pakistan’s oil and gas regulator denies report of impending gas system collapse due to pressure issues

Pakistan’s oil and gas regulator denies report of impending gas system collapse due to pressure issues
  • OGRA chief says the gas transmission across the country is monitored and controlled through real-time management system
  • A local media report said Pakistan’s gas transmission system was on the verge of collapse due to line pack pressure

ISLAMABAD: The Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) of Pakistan on Wednesday dismissed a media report claiming the country’s gas transmission system was on the verge of collapse due to excessive pressure that has crossed the critical threshold of 4.07 billion cubic feet (bcf) for a host of technical reasons.

According to a report in The News International, the line pack pressure, which reflects the volume of gas within the pipeline, remains dangerously high at 5.08 bcf, warning that Pakistan’s gas transmission system could burst at any time, creating a major gas availability crisis.

However, the top OGRA official called the report “exaggerated,” saying the authorities had been using an effective Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system to monitor and control the gas flow across the country.

“Media reports are exaggerated as the system was put in place to save the distribution lines from any damage by real-time management of the flow of gas,” OGRA Chairman Masroor Ahmed told Arab News.

“We have the SCADA system installed for the distribution which works on a real-time basis and it keeps on recording the situation of distribution which is managed accordingly,” he added.

SCADA systems enable industries to monitor and control equipment to improve their operational efficiency. In the distribution network, the function of a SCADA system is to monitor and control distribution sectors, optimize overall network efficiency and enhance system reliability and sustainability.

Ahmed said gas inflow into the pipeline could never be random or unchecked, adding it was also kept within the capacity limits as a principle.

“Molecules are put in the pipelines with calculations,” he informed. “They cannot be random without any system and measurement of the capacity.”

He added if the line cannot sustain a certain pressure, it is not given transmission volume above that.

“That is also the whole idea of having a SCADA system,” he said.


Suspected militants burn girls’ school in northwest Pakistan in third such attack this month

Suspected militants burn girls’ school in northwest Pakistan in third such attack this month
Updated 29 May 2024
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Suspected militants burn girls’ school in northwest Pakistan in third such attack this month

Suspected militants burn girls’ school in northwest Pakistan in third such attack this month
  • Kerosine used to set fire to a girls’ school in North Waziristan district
  • Suspects destroyed furniture, computers and books in latest attack

DERA ISMAIL KHAN: A group of militants used kerosine to set fire to a girls’ school in a former Pakistani Taliban stronghold, destroying furniture, computers and books, police said Wednesday, in the latest in a surge in such attacks.
No one was hurt in the overnight attack in North Waziristan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, local police official Rehmat Ullah said. Two other girls’ schools in the region were bombed earlier this month.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but authorities suspect Islamic militants, who targeted girls’ schools years ago, saying that women should not be educated.
North Waziristan is a former stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban, who are also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. It is a separate group but a close ally of the Afghan Taliban, who seized power in neighboring Afghanistan in 2021. The Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan has emboldened the Pakistani Taliban.


Cop shot dead by suspected militants in northwest Pakistan amid wave of police killings

Cop shot dead by suspected militants in northwest Pakistan amid wave of police killings
Updated 29 May 2024
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Cop shot dead by suspected militants in northwest Pakistan amid wave of police killings

Cop shot dead by suspected militants in northwest Pakistan amid wave of police killings
  • Peshawar police say 55 officers killed in ambushes and targeted attacks this year
  • Over 200 policemen killed in targeted killings and ambushes in the last two years

PESHAWAR: Unidentified gunmen on a motorbike shot dead a police officer headed to duty in the northwestern city of Peshawar early morning on Wednesday, police said, bringing the total number of officers killed in ambushes and targeted attacks to 55 this year.
The latest killings come at a time of renewed militant violence in Pakistan’s northwestern and southwestern regions, especially after the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) called off its fragile, months-long truce with the government in November 2022.
While no group immediately claimed responsibility for the latest killing, suspicion is likely to fall on the TTP, which has claimed dozens of recent attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in the country’s militancy-ridden northwest.
“An Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) Hajji Akbar Khan of Peshawar police was going on his motorcycle to duty in HayatAbad [neighborhood] when gunmen riding a motorbike shot him dead and fled the scene,” Zaffar Khan, a police officer at the Sarband Police Station, told Arab News.
The killing is part of a wave of attacks on policemen in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in recent weeks.
According to Muhammad Shabbir Khan, the police superintendent at the research wing of Peshawar police, over 200 policemen have been killed in targeted killings and ambushes by unidentified gunmen in the last two years.
“In 2024, almost 55 police personnel have been martyred in targeted killings so far,” Khan said.
“Similarly, last year, as many as 185 policemen were martyred in ambushes and targeted attacks elsewhere in KP.”
Last month, unidentified gunmen shot dead a policeman in the restive North Waziristan tribal district, while six people, including five officials of the customs department, were killed and another wounded when gunmen opened fire on their vehicle in the southern Dera Ismail Khan district in KP.
Both Pakistan and Afghanistan have traded blame in recent months over who is responsible for the recent spate of militant attacks in Pakistan. 
Islamabad says the attacks are launched mostly by TTP members who operate from safe havens in Afghanistan. Kabul denies this and blames Islamabad for not being able to handle its own security challenges.


Over 16,000 Pakistani pilgrims opt for government’s new shorter duration Hajj package 

Over 16,000 Pakistani pilgrims opt for government’s new shorter duration Hajj package 
Updated 29 May 2024
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Over 16,000 Pakistani pilgrims opt for government’s new shorter duration Hajj package 

Over 16,000 Pakistani pilgrims opt for government’s new shorter duration Hajj package 
  • Government Hajj scheme previously ran for 38-42 days, now shorter deal of up to 30 days also available
  • Pakistan’s Hajj 2024 quota is 179,210 pilgrims of which 63,805 pilgrims will use the government scheme

ISLAMABAD: More than 16,000 pilgrims have chosen the government’s new short duration Hajj package, state-run media said on Wednesday, an option that allows believers to complete the journey in up to 30 days.
Previously, the government Hajj scheme ran for 38-42 days, but a shorter package of 25-30 days has been made available for the first time this year. 
Hajj 2024 is expected to take place from June 14-19, coinciding with the peak of sweltering summer temperatures in the region and raising concerns about the well-being of millions of pilgrims gathering in Makkah from around the world.
“Over 16,000 intending pilgrims have chosen a short Hajj package introduced by the government this year,” state-run Radio Pakistan said, quoting Director General Hajj Abdul Wahab Soomro. “The package is a gift for the busy people who intend to perform Hajj in a short duration.”
Soomro said numerous steps were being taken to facilitate pilgrims during their stay in Saudi Arabia, with space for pilgrims acquired timely in Mina and a train service made available to transport them to Mashayer.
Pakistan has a Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims this year. Of them, 63,805 pilgrims will be performing the pilgrimage under the government scheme, while the rest will be accommodated by private tour operators, according to the Pakistani religious affairs ministry.
Around 40,000 Pakistani Hajj pilgrims have so far arrived in Madinah and Makkah through 164 flights under the government scheme. The number of pilgrims who arrived under the private scheme stands at 5,500. 
As many as 114 flights will be transporting another 34,422 Pakistanis to Jeddah till June 9.
This year, Pakistan is also due to send 550 Hajj assistants and 400 doctors and paramedical staff to Saudi Arabia to ensure that the pilgrimage process, including food, transportation and accommodation, is managed efficiently.


Human Rights Watch urges Pakistan to reform land laws amid eviction drives targeting urban poor

Human Rights Watch urges Pakistan to reform land laws amid eviction drives targeting urban poor
Updated 29 May 2024
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Human Rights Watch urges Pakistan to reform land laws amid eviction drives targeting urban poor

Human Rights Watch urges Pakistan to reform land laws amid eviction drives targeting urban poor
  • Watchdog says authorities should ensure no one made homeless, compensate loss of land, provide resettlement
  • Officials have said in the past they are only working to remove structures that “encroach” on public lands, state property

ISLAMABAD: Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Pakistan this week to reform its colonial-era land laws which the watchdog said were being used to forcibly evict low-income residents, shop owners, and street vendors to make room for public and private development projects.
The latest HRW report titled “I Escaped With Only My Life: Abusive Forced Evictions in Pakistan” details alleged widespread and abusive forced evictions that the rights body said disproportionately affected the most economically and socially marginalized communities in Pakistan. Authorities had evicted thousands of people without adequate consultation, notice, compensation, resettlement assistance, or means of redress in violation of their basic rights, the document said. 
Forced eviction is defined as “the permanent or temporary removal against their will and without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection.”
“The Pakistani government urgently needs to reform its colonial-era land laws so that they are equitable, transparent, and in line with Pakistan’s international obligations,” HRW Senior Counsel Saroop Ijaz said.
“The authorities should ensure that no one is made homeless due to eviction, compensate the loss of land, and provide for the resettlement of those displaced.”
The government and police have not yet commented on HRW’s latest report, but officials have said in the past they were only removing structures that “encroached” on public lands or state property, which they deem both necessary and justified. Encroachment is a crime under several provincial and regional laws, and those convicted face fines or even prison sentences.
In its report, HRW interviewed at least 36 victims of forced evictions in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi who alleged that police used excessive force to remove tenants and, in some cases, also made illegal arrests. Interviewees also said there was “little consistency and less rationale” for evictions on the pretext of anti-encroachment drives. Victims said police were arresting and prosecuting those who resisted evictions, while corruption in land acquisition, and poor land registration mechanisms made it impossible for them to prove ownership of their land.
“Many of those evicted, in addition to losing their homes, frequently lose their livelihoods and access to essential public services, such as schools and health care,” the report said. “These practices worsen social and economic inequalities, disproportionately burdening people and households with low incomes, and who often are ethnic minorities.”
Pakistan’s colonial-era Land Acquisition Act (LAA) 1894 provides the template for public land acquisition in the country more than a century after its enactment. 
“The law and others based on it give the government almost exclusive authority to decide what falls within its scope and to displace people with minimum procedural safeguards that are contrary to international human rights law and standards,” the report added.