Pakistan PM forms committee to probe fault in Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project

Pakistan PM forms committee to probe fault in Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project
The picture posted on December 25, 2022 shows a view of Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project Located on River Neelum in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan. (Tahir Mahmood)
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Updated 16 May 2024
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Pakistan PM forms committee to probe fault in Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project

Pakistan PM forms committee to probe fault in Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project
  • Power generation at Neelum-Jhelum project was suspended earlier this month due to a technical fault 
  • PM Sharif wants third-party experts to probe matter, says delay in findings of inquiry will not be tolerated

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif formed a cabinet committee on Thursday to probe a technical fault in the 969MW Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project, which was shut down earlier this month after a problem was detected in its head race tunnel.

Located on River Neelum in Azad Kashmir, the project generates 5.15 billion units of power annually but has faced several problems over the years. The project first shut down in 2022 after a fault was detected in its head race tunnel but was later restored after a year in September 2023. The same problem was detected in April 2024 and power generation was suspended again earlier this month. 

Sharif called for an urgent probe into the matter when he visited the project site during his day-long visit to Azad Kashmir, a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said. 

The prime minister expressed his displeasure that the inquiry’s findings were still not finalized, directing officials to submit a report on the matter within days and restore power generation after repair work was done as early as possible.

“I am very much clear. I need a thorough probe into whether lapses were in the design or in the construction and the responsibility should be fixed,” Sharif was quoted as saying by the PMO.

“No more delays will be acceptable.”

Sharif lamented that $5 billion was spent on the project despite its initial cost being estimated at $40 million, adding that it was unfortunate that the project was still facing technical issues. 

The prime minister described the Neelum-Jhelum project as one of “national significance” in the power sector, saying it was constructed at a huge cost and must remain functional for decades.

He directed that the inquiry must be carried out by third-party experts and not by the designer or contractor of the project.

“If a mistake has been made and someone has committed an excess, then they will have to pay the fine,” Sharif said. “This is the trust of the nation, we will have to answer to them.”


Daesh claims responsibility for mosque attack in Oman, four Pakistanis killed

Daesh claims responsibility for mosque attack in Oman, four Pakistanis killed
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Daesh claims responsibility for mosque attack in Oman, four Pakistanis killed

Daesh claims responsibility for mosque attack in Oman, four Pakistanis killed
  • Attack took place at Shiite mosque in Wadi Al-Kabir in Omani capital of Muscat
  • Attack raises fears that Daesh may be trying to gain a foothold in new territory

ISLAMABAD: The Daesh group claimed responsibility for an attack at a Shiite Muslim mosque in Oman, the group said on Tuesday, which left at least nine people dead, including four Pakistanis, a rare security breach in the oil-producing Gulf state.

The attack on Monday, which is unusual in the wealthy Gulf state, raises fears that Daesh may be trying to gain a foothold in new territory.

“Three suicide attackers from the Islamic State attacked last night a gathering of Shiite (Muslims) while they were practicing their annual rituals at a temple in the Wadi Al-Kabir district in the (Omani) capital,” according to the group’s statement, which cited three security sources.

The Daesh fighters fired on Shiite worshippers and exchanged gunfire with Omani security forces until morning, the statement added.

Daesh late on Tuesday published what it said was a video of the attack on its Telegram site. The group also said that the attack left more than 30 Shiite Muslims and five Omani forces, including a police officer, killed or wounded.

“According to the latest information received from the Omani authorities, four Pakistanis were martyred as a result of gunshots in the dastardly terrorist attack on the Ali bin Abi Talib mosque in Wadi Kabeer area in Muscat,” the Pakistani foreign ministry said. “Another thirty Pakistanis are under treatment in hospitals.”

Videos shared by the embassy in Oman showed Pakistan’s ambassador to Oman Imran Ali visiting the injured in hospital. 

“This is my message to the Pakistani community that in this emergency situation, please don’t go toward Wadi Al-Kabir, that area is cordoned off,” Ali said in a video message recorded at a hospital. “If anyone has injured relatives, kindly please don’t give up on your patience.”

He said he had visited up to four hospitals and the injured people he had met were in “relatively” stable condition. 

“People in their homes, please stay safe, and don’t go there [toward Wadi Al-Kabir] because our information is that the emergency situation is still ongoing,” the ambassador concluded.

A handout from the embassy said the “terrorist” attack by “unknown assailants” took place around 11pm on Monday night on the Imam Bargah Ali bin Abu Talib in Wadi Al-Kabir. Authorities evacuated people from the area following the attack and started an operation around 230am.

“Assailants have taken worshippers hostages while reportedly [there are] several casualties; authorities have cordoned off the area,” it added. “Hostage evacuation has started now. Military units have reached.”

The Pakistani embassy’s Facebook page said emergency had been imposed at the Khulla Hospital, Nahida Hospital and Royal Hospital, which Ambassador Ali had visited. 

The attack comes during the Islamic month of Muharram, when Shiite Muslims commemorate the seventh-century battlefield martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).


IMF deal will improve Pakistan’s funding prospects — Moody’s

IMF deal will improve Pakistan’s funding prospects — Moody’s
Updated 17 July 2024
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IMF deal will improve Pakistan’s funding prospects — Moody’s

IMF deal will improve Pakistan’s funding prospects — Moody’s
  • Rating agency says government’s ability to sustain reform implementation will be key to continually unlocking financing
  • Capping talks that started in May, Pakistan and IMF reached bailout deal for $7 billion, 37-month loan program last week

ISLAMABAD: Rating agency Moody’s has said this week a new $7 billion bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund would improve funding for Pakistan from bilateral and multilateral partners but the ability to sustain reforms would be key to easing liquidity risks.

Pakistan and the IMF reached an agreement for a $7 billion, 37-month loan program last week, capping negotiations that started in May after Islamabad completed a short-term, $3 billion program that helped stabilize the economy, avert a sovereign debt default, and set challenging revenue targets in its budget to get IMF approval.

In a comment regarding the new IMF deal, Moody’s said, “the new IMF program will improve Pakistan’s (Caa3 stable) funding prospects.

“The program will provide credible sources of financing from the IMF and catalyze funding from other bilateral and multilateral partners to meet Pakistan’s external financing needs.”

However, the agency cautioned that the government’s ability to sustain reform implementation would be key to allowing Pakistan to continually unlock financing over the duration of the IMF program, leading to a durable easing of government liquidity risks.

The new IMF bailout deal comes with conditions of far-reaching reforms, such as measures to broaden the tax base and remove exemptions and make timely adjustments of energy enterprises’ management and privatization, phasing out agricultural support prices and associated subsidies, advancing anti-corruption, governance and transparency reforms, and gradually liberalizing trade policy.

A resurgence of social tensions on the back of high cost of living – which may increase because of higher taxes and future adjustments to energy tariffs – could weigh on reform implementation, Moody’s said. Moreover, risks that the coalition government may not have a sufficiently strong electoral mandate to continually implement difficult reforms remain, the rating agency said in the comment.

According to an IMF report published in May, Pakistan’s external financing needs are about $21 billion for fiscal 2025 (ending June 2025) and about $23 billion for fiscal 2026-27. The Moody’s agency said Pakistan’s external position remained fragile, with high external financing requirements over the next three to five years.

The country is vulnerable to policy slippages, it said, adding that weak governance and high social tensions can compound the government’s ability to advance reforms, jeopardizing its ability to complete reviews under the IMF program and unlock external financing.


Pakistan National Assembly speaker calls for unity on Ashura, condemns aggression in Gaza

Pakistan National Assembly speaker calls for unity on Ashura, condemns aggression in Gaza
Updated 17 July 2024
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Pakistan National Assembly speaker calls for unity on Ashura, condemns aggression in Gaza

Pakistan National Assembly speaker calls for unity on Ashura, condemns aggression in Gaza
  • At least 38,713 Palestinians have been killed since October last year when Israel launched military offensive 
  • Pakistan does not recognize nor have diplomatic relations with Israel, calls for independent Palestinian state

ISLAMABAD: National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq on Wednesday urged Pakistani scholars and religious leaders to promote peace, tolerance, and unity on the occasion of Ashura, which occurs annually on the tenth of Muharram, and condemned Israel’s ongoing military offensive in Gaza.
Ashura is marked worldwide by Shi’ite Muslims as a day of mourning over the seventh-century battlefield death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
“The Muslim Ummah can overcome its current challenges by embracing the spirit of self-sacrifice exemplified by the martyrs of Karbala,” Sadiq was quoted by Radio Pakistan as saying. 
In his message, Sadiq described the incident of Karbala as an “enduring testament to faith, bravery, and martyrdom, values upheld in the Holy Qur’an.”
He also used the occasion to speak about the ongoing Israeli military offensive in Gaza in which at least 38,713 Palestinians have been killed since October last year.
“Referring to the ongoing aggressions in Kashmir and Palestine, Sadiq condemned the severe state terrorism inflicted upon innocent civilians,” Radio Pakistan said. “He urged Muslim countries to unite and voice strong opposition against these human rights violations.”
Sadiq reaffirmed Pakistan’s “steadfast” support for the establishment of the independent states of Palestine and Kashmir in accordance with United Nations resolutions.
Pakistan does not recognize nor have diplomatic relations with Israel and calls for an independent Palestinian state based on “internationally agreed parameters” and the pre-1967 borders with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.
Since the beginning of Israel’s war on Gaza in October last year, Pakistan has repeatedly raised the issue at the United Nations and OIC and demanded international powers and multilateral bodies stop Israeli military actions in the Palestinian territory.


Pakistan interior minister orders ‘strict adherence’ to security plan for Muharram processions

Pakistan interior minister orders ‘strict adherence’ to security plan for Muharram processions
Updated 16 July 2024
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Pakistan interior minister orders ‘strict adherence’ to security plan for Muharram processions

Pakistan interior minister orders ‘strict adherence’ to security plan for Muharram processions
  • Militants have attacked Muharram processions in Pakistan in the past 
  • The South Asian nation has seen a surge in militancy in recent months 

ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi on Tuesday directed authorities to ensure security in all parts of the country and urged “strict adherence” to a special Muharram security plan put in place ahead of Ashura.

Ashura occurs annually on the tenth of Muharram and is marked worldwide by Shi’te Muslims as a day of mourning over the seventh-century battlefield death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Militants have attacked Muharram processions in the past in Pakistan, which has seen a surge in militancy in recent months.

“The Minister directed the authorities concerned for ensuring security in all four provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir and emphasized strict adherence to the special Muharram security plan,” state-run Radio Pakistan reported as Naqvi reviewed security arrangements at a main procession held in Islamabad on Tuesday, the 9th of Muharram.

“Naqvi said the federal government is extending every possible cooperation to provinces, Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Kashmir for maintenance of peace and law and order.”

While the Pakistani Taliban and separatist groups have been the major source of instability in Pakistan, sectarian militants who regard Shiites as non-Muslims also pose a significant security threat.

Large-scale sectarian attacks, which killed thousands in the 1980s and 1990s, are now less frequent in Pakistan but the rise of a local Daesh franchise has presented new challenges for the government. 


Pakistan-origin Shabana Mahmood is UK’s first Muslim woman Lord Chancellor

Pakistan-origin Shabana Mahmood is UK’s first Muslim woman Lord Chancellor
Updated 16 July 2024
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Pakistan-origin Shabana Mahmood is UK’s first Muslim woman Lord Chancellor

Pakistan-origin Shabana Mahmood is UK’s first Muslim woman Lord Chancellor
  • 43-year-old barrister has been a Member of Parliament for Birmingham Ladywood since 2010
  • Mahmood’s family roots are from Mirpur in Azad Kashmir, she graduated in 2002 from Oxford 

ISLAMABAD: Shabana Mahmood, a British-Pakistani MP from Birmingham, was sworn in this week as the United Kingdom’s new Lord Chancellor at a ceremony at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, becoming the first Muslim woman to head the Ministry of Justice as the Secretary of State for Justice. 

A member of the Labour Party, the 43-year-old barrister has been an MP for Birmingham Ladywood since 2010 and previously held various shadow junior ministerial and shadow cabinet positions under leaders Ed Miliband, Harriet Harman, and Keir Starmer between 2010 and 2024.

“I must say what an honor it is to take my own oath as Lord Chancellor today,” Mahmood, 43, said in a speech on Monday as she was sworn in. “There once was a little girl in Small Heath, one of the poorest areas of Birmingham who worked behind the till in her parents’ corner shop ...

“I hold this office in the very highest regard. I do so not just as a former barrister, but as the child of immigrants. My parents weren’t steeped in Magna Carta, Habeas Corpus and the Bill of Rights – as I would one day be. But they did have a strong sense, arriving here in the UK from rural Kashmir, that this country was different: That there are rules, some written and some not, that we abide by.”

Speaking about her inspirations, Mahmood mentioned Elwyn-Jones who served as Lord Chancellor for five years between 1974 and 1979.

“I certainly hope to emulate his longevity. It is said that he was the first Welsh speaking Lord Chancellor for centuries,” she said. “I wonder what he would’ve made of the first Lord Chancellor to speak Urdu.

“I’ve carried the weight of many identities in this career. It is a privilege, but also a burden … So, at the very least, I hope my appointment shows the next little girl in Small Heath, or wherever she may be that, in this country, even the oldest offices in the land are within reach of us all.”

Mahmood concluded by quoting Chapter 4 Verse 135 of the Qur’an: “O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin and whether it be (against) rich or poor: For Allah can best protect both.”

“This is the fundamental articulation of how we, as Muslims, view justice in how we deal with the world,” Mahmood said. “It places justice above all else,” the justice secretary said. 

With roots in Mirpur, Azad Kashmir in Pakistan, Mahmood was born in 1980 in Birmingham and lived from 1981 to 1986 in Taif, Saudi Arabia, where her father was working as a civil engineer on desalination. After that, she was brought up in Birmingham where her mother worked in a corner grocery shop that the family had bought after returning to England. Her father became chair of the local Labour party and as a teenager, Mahmood helped him with campaigning in local elections.

Mahmood graduated in 2002 from Lincoln College, University of Oxford and went on to complete the Bar Vocational Course at the Inns of Court School of Law in 2003 after receiving a scholarship. As a barrister, her specialism is in professional indemnity.