Pakistani PM meets Iran’s supreme leader to extend condolences over Raisi’s death

Update Pakistani PM meets Iran’s supreme leader to extend condolences over Raisi’s death
Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (second right) meets Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei (right) to offer his condolences for late President Ebrahim Raisi’s death in a helicopter crash in Tehran, Iran on May 22, 2024. (Government of Pakistan)
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Updated 23 May 2024
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Pakistani PM meets Iran’s supreme leader to extend condolences over Raisi’s death

Pakistani PM meets Iran’s supreme leader to extend condolences over Raisi’s death
  • PM Shehbaz Sharif attends late Iranian president’s memorial event in Tehran on day-long visit 
  • Ebrahim Raisi died with FM Hossein Amir-Abdollahian died in a helicopter crash on Sunday

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif met Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei on Wednesday, as he arrived in Tehran on a day-long visit to offer his condolences for late President Ebrahim Raisi’s death in a helicopter crash, Pakistan’s foreign office said.

Sharif arrived in Tehran on Wednesday with senior ministers of his cabinet to attend Raisi’s funeral. Raisi’s helicopter crashed Sunday on a fog-shrouded mountainside in northern Iran on the way to the city of Tabriz. The Iranian president and his foreign minister were part of a group of officials who had attended the inauguration of a dam project on the border with Azerbaijan.

The Pakistani prime minister attended a memorial event in Raisi’s honor where he praised the late president for his services to Iran and for promoting the country’s ties with Pakistan. 

“In his meeting with His Eminence, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif offered condolences on behalf of the people and Government of Pakistan,” Pakistan’s foreign office said. 

The foreign office said Sharif recalled Raisi’s April visit to Pakistan, highlighting the former Iranian president’s “commendable role” in advancing Pakistan-Iran bilateral relations. 

“The Prime Minister termed President Raisi as a visionary leader who manifested steadfast dedication to serving his country and his people,” the foreign office said. 




Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (right) meets the caretaker President of Iran, Mohammad Mokhber, at the commemoration ceremony of the late Dr. Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian in Tehran, Iran on May 22, 2024. (Government of Pakistan)

The Pakistani prime minister said Raisi’s contributions for the Muslim Ummah and besieged people of Gaza will be etched in history. Sharif appreciated Iran’s late Foreign Minister Abdollahian in promoting regional peace and dialogue. 

“The Prime Minister expressed unwavering solidarity with the people of the Islamic Republic of Iran at this time of national tragedy,” the foreign office said. 

“He reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to further strengthening the bonds of friendship and brotherhood with the people and Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”




Mourners attend the funeral procession of Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi at a Muslim Shiite Shrine in Qom, on May 21, 2024. (AFP)


Experts say ban on Imran Khan’s party ‘unlikely’ to be approved by Pakistan top court

Experts say ban on Imran Khan’s party ‘unlikely’ to be approved by Pakistan top court
Updated 8 sec ago
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Experts say ban on Imran Khan’s party ‘unlikely’ to be approved by Pakistan top court

Experts say ban on Imran Khan’s party ‘unlikely’ to be approved by Pakistan top court
  • Article 17 of constitution says government has to refer decision to ban a party to Supreme Court for final decision
  • Experts say ban announcement latest effort by a weak governing coalition to squash Khan’s political popularity

ISLAMABAD: The federal government’s plans to push for a ban on former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was “unlikely” to be sanctioned by the Supreme Court and could be seen as a latest attempt to dent the popularity of the ex-premier and his party, political observers said this week.

Pakistan’s federal government announced on Monday it was planning to ban Khan’s political party and move the country’s Supreme Court to press high treason charges against him. The decision to ban the PTI was based on what Information Minister Ataullah Tara said was the “proven” charge of the party receiving foreign funding, which is illegal in Pakistan, rioting by its supporters last year that targeted military properties and because Khan had leaked state secrets by disclosing the contents of a classified diplomatic cable for political gains in what has come to be popularly called the cipher case. 

Under Article 17 of the Pakistani constitution, “should the Federal Government declare any political party as acting against these interests, it must refer the matter to the Supreme Court within fifteen days for a final decision.”

Several analysts Arab News spoke to agreed that it was unlikely that the decision to ban the PTI would be upheld in court and reflected an attempt by the federal government to assert its authority after a general election marred by accusations of rigging against the broadly popular PTI. The party won more seats than any other in the election despite what it says is a crackdown on its candidates and supporters and has become ever-more popular since Khan was ousted in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in 2022.

“This move will probably backfire as it is the Supreme Court that will finally decide … and if the court does not see robust, solid evidence in support of declaring it unlawful, which I do not think they have, then probably the government will not succeed,” Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, president of the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development And Transparency (PILDAT) think tank, told Arab News.

“I do not think this will materially affect the PTI as long as there are people supporting the party, as long as there are people who love the party, who stand beside it.”

Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, a former close Khan aide, agreed. 

“The move is highly unlikely to succeed as under Article 17, government recommendations have to be approved by the SC and the likelihood of its approval is almost null,” he said. 

“BAD OPTICS”

The ban announcement comes in the wake of the PTI winning a number of important legal battles. Among four cases in which Khan was convicted and has been jailed since August last year, two have been suspended by courts since and he has been acquitted in the others, though new cases have since been brought against him. Arguably Pakistan’s most popular politician, Khan says all cases against him are motivated to keep him out of politics and behind bars.

Last week, the PTI also won a major victory when the Supreme Court declared that the party was eligible for over 20 extra reserved seats in parliament, which has stripped the governing coalition, led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, of its two-thirds majority in parliament, weakening an already fragile government that is widely believed to lack mass popular support.

All PTI candidates contested the Feb. 8 elections as independents after the party was barred from the polls on the technical grounds that it did not hold genuine intra-party polls, which is a legal requirement. Subsequently, they won the most seats in the national election, 93, but the election commission said independents were ineligible for their share of 70 reserved seats — 60 for women, 10 for non-Muslims — distributed among political parties in proportion to the number of seats they win in general polls. This completes the National Assembly’s total strength of 336 seats. 

The reserved seats were then distributed among other parties, mostly those in the ruling coalition, a decision Khan’s party appealed. On Friday the Supreme Court ruled that the PTI was indeed a political party for the purposes of the election and entitled to reserved seats. The court has now given the PTI 15 days, starting July 12, to submit its list of candidates entitled to the reserved seats and asked independent candidates to formally declare their allegiance to the PTI. 

Experts said the announcement of the ban could also be seen as the government’s way to discourage successful independent candidates from rejoining Khan’s party. 

“The government may be hoping that because of this announcement, some of the PTI members who currently have to give their affidavit, whether they will join the PTI or not — 41 of them in the National Assembly and about 60 in the Provincial Assemblies — they will get the message that if the party is declared unlawful by the Supreme Court, then they will also stand disqualified,” Mehboob from PILDAT explained, referring to a law that parliamentarians from a particular party stand disqualified if their party is banned. 

Mazhar Abbas, a senior journalist and longtime observer of Pakistani politics, was doubtful a ban on the popular political party could hold. 

“In any adverse situation, the PTI can come out with a new name with a more aggressive posture,” he said.

Chaudhry, the former Khan aide, also cautioned that a ban would weaken the government further as the public, already stirred up over what they saw as a rigged election and trumped-up cases against Khan, would see the ban a “an attempt to sabotage democracy and against the constitution.”

Political analyst Zoya Tariq warned a ban on the PTI or any other political party would have “serious repercussions” for the country.

“This is bad optics and will set a very wrong precedent as all political decisions in a democratic country should be made by the people,” she told Arab News. “It is the moral duty of the current government to take action to maintain stability in the country.”

“This [ban announcement] has caused no worry to PTI,” PTI spokesman Zulfi Bukhari said in a video message to reporters. “It has only demonstrated what we have been trying to say earlier that there is absolute fascism in Pakistan, there is an undeclared martial law in Pakistan.”
 


Four Pakistani soldiers, five insurgents killed in coordinated attacks at military facility

Four Pakistani soldiers, five insurgents killed in coordinated attacks at military facility
Updated 4 min 16 sec ago
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Four Pakistani soldiers, five insurgents killed in coordinated attacks at military facility

Four Pakistani soldiers, five insurgents killed in coordinated attacks at military facility
  • Suicide bomber detonated explosives-laden vehicle and other insurgents opened fire near outer wall of Bannu Cantt
  • Most attacks in the region have been claimed by TTP which has stepped up assaults on security forces in recent months

PESHAWAR: A suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden vehicle and other insurgents opened fire near the outer wall of a military facility in northwestern Pakistan early Monday, killing at least four soldiers and wounding dozens, including civilians, officials said.

There was no immediate comment from the military about the attack that happened in Bannu, a city in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan.

However, four local security officials said all five attackers had been killed.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Smoke rises following an explosion after a militant suicide squad allegedly attempted to storm an army cantonment that houses military residences and offices in Bannu on July 15, 2024. (AFP)

However, a local police official Tahir Khan said security forces quickly responded to the “coordinated attack” and foiled an attempt by the insurgents to enter the sprawling military facility in the city of Bannu which mainly houses offices of the military and homes of security forces.

He also said army helicopters and ground forces were still reaching the area to track more militants.

Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant attacks, mostly in the northwest, in recent years.

In January 2023 militants killed at least 101 people, mostly police officers, when a suicide bomber disguised as a policeman attacked a mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Most attacks in the region have been claimed by the Pakistani Taliban who have stepped up assaults on security forces across the country in recent months.

Pakistani Taliban — who are known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP — are a separate group but an ally of the Afghan Taliban. TTP has stepped up its attacks on security forces since the Afghan Taliban seized power in neighboring Afghanistan in 2021.


Pakistan hikes prices of petrol, diesel — finance ministry

Pakistan hikes prices of petrol, diesel — finance ministry
Updated 55 min 33 sec ago
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Pakistan hikes prices of petrol, diesel — finance ministry

Pakistan hikes prices of petrol, diesel — finance ministry
  • Pakistan has increased price of petrol by Rs9.99 to Rs275.60, of high speed diesel by Rs6.18 to Rs283.63
  • Fortnightly price adjustment comes as Pakistan and International Monetary Fund reached $7 billion bailout deal

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has increased the price of petrol for the next fortnight by Rs9.99 ($0.036) to Rs275.60, with effect from today, Tuesday, the finance ministry said in a post on messaging platform X.

The government also increased the price of high speed diesel by Rs6.18 to Rs283.63, the finance ministry said, adding that the new prices were based on “price variations in the international market.”

“There will be no change in the applicable duties/levies, which will remain at the existing level,” the ministry of finance statement said. 

The government has jacked up the maximum limit of petroleum development levy (PDL) to Rs70 per liter in the Finance Bill to collect Rs1.28 trillion in the current fiscal year against Rs960 billion collection during the previous one — almost Rs91 billion higher than the Rs869 billion budget target.

The fortnightly fuel price adjustment came as Pakistan and the International Monetary Fund reached an agreement for a $7 billion, 37-month loan program that comes with tough measures, sending the benchmark share index to a record high on Monday.

Among the reforms the IMF wants Pakistan to take is to maintain power and gas tariffs at levels that ensure cost recovery, with adjustments made to safeguard the financially vulnerable, through existing progressive tariff structures.

Petroleum and electricity prices have been the key drivers of high inflation in Pakistan. Petrol is mostly used in private transport, small vehicles, rickshaws and two-wheelers while any increase in the price of diesel is considered highly inflationary as it is mostly used to power heavy transport vehicles and particularly adds to the prices of vegetables and other eatables.

Inflation averaged close to 30 percent in FY23 and 23.4 percent in FY24, which ended on June 30.
 


Pakistan equities trade at record highs as weak China data dents investor mood

Pakistan equities trade at record highs as weak China data dents investor mood
Updated 15 July 2024
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Pakistan equities trade at record highs as weak China data dents investor mood

Pakistan equities trade at record highs as weak China data dents investor mood
  • Pakistan’s benchmark index rose 1.7 percent to hit a record high after Islamabad reached an agreement for $7 billion loan with the IMF
  • The index has soared 30 percent this year and has almost doubled since Pakistan signed its last deal for $3 billion standby arrangement

Most emerging market stocks started the week lower after disappointing China economic data, while Pakistani equities traded at record highs and investors assessed the fallout of a revised budget in Kenya.
China stocks ended flat on Monday and Hong Kong equities logged their biggest one-day drop after the economy grew much slower than expected in the second quarter, prompting downward revisions for annual growth by brokerages J.P.Morgan and Goldman Sachs.
Attention was also on the once-in-five-years ‘Third Plenum’, due to end on Thursday, where markets hope for some efforts to manage China’s vast property crisis, boost domestic consumption and revitalize the private sector.
“It remains the case that China is taking pragmatic steps to address the problems it can fix, but at nothing like the pace foreign investors or net commodity exporters wish to see,” said Hasnain Malik, head of equity research at Tellimer Research.
MSCI’s index tracking bourses in developing economies slipped 0.2 percent, while an index tracking currencies was flat. Traders assessed political developments in the US and the implications of a second Donald Trump presidency.
In South Asia, Pakistan’s benchmark index rose 1.7 percent to hit a record high after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the country reached a staff level agreement (SLA) for a $7 billion, 37-month loan program.
The index has soared 30 percent this year and has almost doubled since Pakistan signed its last SLA for the $3 billion standby arrangement.
India’s main stock indexes also traded at record highs. Quarterly earnings were in focus along with the new government’s annual budget expected on July 23, where a private lender expects the country to cut its current year’s gross market borrowings after a better-than-estimated surplus transfer from the central bank.
Meanwhile, yield on Kenyan sovereign bonds slipped between 5 and 13 basis points (bps) after the government said it plans to cut annual spending by 1.9 percent and widen the fiscal deficit to 3.6 percent of GDP, weeks after it was forced to roll back tax hikes due to mass protests.
Most currencies in eastern and central Europe were tepid against the euro. The forint inched up 0.2 percent ahead of remarks on monetary policy from the Hungary’s deputy central bank governor.
Elsewhere, the shekel inched up 0.1 percent against the dollar ahead of June inflation data and against the backdrop of talks of a Gaza ceasefire, while Rwanda’s franc was flat against the euro as elections were underway.


Two-member Canadian team begins aviation security assessment at Karachi airport

Two-member Canadian team begins aviation security assessment at Karachi airport
Updated 15 July 2024
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Two-member Canadian team begins aviation security assessment at Karachi airport

Two-member Canadian team begins aviation security assessment at Karachi airport
  • This is the fifth international evaluation of Pakistan’s aviation security system in recent months
  • Pakistan’s aviation protocols have faced significant scrutiny since a 2020 fake pilot license scandal

KARACHI: A two-member Canadian team on Monday began its aviation security assessment at Jinnah International Airport in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) said.
The team comprises inspectors, Barbara Durette and Abdel Tahir, from Transport Canada — a Canadian government entity responsible for policies and services of road, rail, marine and air transportation.
It held a meeting with Pakistani officials at the PCAA headquarters. The four-day assessment will focus on aviation security documentation, airport arrangements, catering and cargo complexes.
“The team will be inspecting implementation of various aviation security protocols at the airport and implementation of special security measures being undertaken by PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) for direct flights to Canada,” the PCAA said in a statement.
It said the assessment is a continuation of collaborative efforts between Transport Canada and the PCAA to enhance aviation security standards in the South Asian country.
This is the 5th international evaluation of Pakistan’s aviation security system in recent months. The PCAA earlier said it had successfully passed all previous inspections, including an inaugural assessment by the United Arab Emirates General Civil Aviation Authority (UAE-GCAA) of Islamabad and Karachi airports that concluded on July 5.
Pakistan’s aviation protocols have faced significant scrutiny since 2020 following a scandal wherein approximately 262 out of 860 active pilots were said to have obtained fake licenses, leading to the grounding of around 150 pilots from the PIA and other carriers.
This revelation came in the wake of the tragic crash of PIA flight 8303 in Karachi, resulting in the suspension of PIA’s operations in the European Union (EU) and other regions and prompting calls for regulatory reforms to improve safety standards and transparency.