Pakistani court summons intelligence officials over alleged abduction of Kashmiri poet

Pakistani court summons intelligence officials over alleged abduction of Kashmiri poet
The picture shows missing poet and journalist from Azad Kashmir Ahmed Farhad Shah. (@AhmadFarhadReal/X)
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Updated 24 May 2024
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Pakistani court summons intelligence officials over alleged abduction of Kashmiri poet

Pakistani court summons intelligence officials over alleged abduction of Kashmiri poet
  • Family of a Kashmiri poet, Ahmad Farhad, accused the ISI after he went missing from his Islamabad residence
  • The court asks if any intelligence official was recently prosecuted for blackmailing, phone tapping or harassment

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani court on Friday summoned senior officials from the country’s spy agencies, along with top defense and interior ministry officials, in a case related to the recovery of a missing Kashmiri poet, Ahmad Farhad.

The alleged abduction of the poet from his Islamabad residence last week brought the Islamabad High Court (IHC) face to face with the executive, following Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani’s critical remarks about the conduct of these agencies.

This happened after the poet’s family accused Pakistan’s top spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), of abducting Farhad due to his critical social media posts targeting the army. The Pakistan military has not commented on the claims and has always denied suppressing dissident voices.

The high court had directed the authorities in the previous hearing to produce the missing poet by today, Friday, warning it would otherwise summon senior government functionaries. The court also criticized Pakistani intelligence agencies, which have frequently faced such allegations in the past, prompting the law minister to say on Monday the court’s comments were “shocking.”

“All relevant people, including the law minister, secretary of the interior, secretary of defense, sector commander of ISI, sector commander of MI [Military Intelligence], and director of IB [Intelligence Bureau], are ordered to appear in court at the next hearing,” an eight-page court order written in Urdu proclaimed.

The court deferred the hearing until May 29, saying if the missing person was recovered before that, a written report should be submitted.

The court also demanded to know about the accountability mechanism within the agencies that activates when officials are found involved in illegal activities.

“In the last year, if officials from ISI, IB and MI were found involved in illegal detention, blackmailing, phone tapping or harassment of any person, what action was initiated against them and how many officers were given punishment,” it asked.

In one of the previous hearings, Justice Kayani also ordered the Islamabad Police to record the ISI sector commander’s statement in the missing person’s case.

“Now, the ISI sector commander’s statement will be recorded in the missing person’s case. A police officer will record his statement and write it,” the judge ordered.

He also asked if there was any precedent where an intelligence officer was prosecuted in the past.

“This immunity that has been granted must come to an end,” he continued.


Pakistan decides to promote ‘quality’ domestic cricket after dismal World Cup performance

Pakistan decides to promote ‘quality’ domestic cricket after dismal World Cup performance
Updated 59 min 35 sec ago
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Pakistan decides to promote ‘quality’ domestic cricket after dismal World Cup performance

Pakistan decides to promote ‘quality’ domestic cricket after dismal World Cup performance
  • PCB chief Mohsin Naqvi says players will be selected only on basis of fitness, performance in domestic league
  • Says board will organize local tournaments regularly, appoint “master coach” to train coaches at domestic level

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chairman Mohsin Naqvi on Monday discussed strengthening Pakistan’s domestic cricket structure in the country after the green shirts failed to make it to the second round of the ongoing T20 World Cup 2024. 

Pakistan’s disappointing performance in the T20 World Cup, which saw them lose to minnows USA and arch-rivals India, triggered discussions about the state of domestic cricket in the country. Cricket experts and commentators have raised questions about domestic cricket in Pakistan, pointing out the lackluster pitches in the country and accusing selectors of deliberately ignoring cricketers who fail to perform in domestic cricket. 

They have also pointed out frequent changes in the cricket board and its coaches, selectors and captains, and alleged divisions within the national squad as reasons for Pakistan’s hapless performance in the megaevent. 

Naqvi chaired a three-hour-long meeting at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Lahore with senior board officials on Monday. Discussions revolved around strengthening domestic cricket in the country and the role of coaches in grooming young talent in the country, the PCB said in a statement. 

“Quality domestic cricket will be promoted at every level,” Naqvi was quoted by the PCB. “We will hold tournaments consistently from the club level to the national level.”

The PCB chairman said a “master coach” would be appointed to train coaches at the domestic level to groom young talent into future stars. 

“Players will have to participate in domestic cricket to be selected for the national team,” Naqvi said. “Players will be selected only on the basis of performance and merit.”

Naqvi told board officials that work needs to be done on an “emergency basis” to promote new talent in the country, adding that investing in young talent would promote cricket at the lower level, which would produce “positive” results. 

PCB officials also examined the structure of domestic cricket in India, New Zealand, Australia and England during the meeting, the board said. 

Pakistan captain Babar Azam had stepped down as captain of all three formats after Pakistan failed to make the knockout stage of the 50-overs World Cup in India last year. However, he was reinstated as white-ball skipper ahead of the 20-overs showpiece in the US and West Indies.

Questions surrounding Azam’s captaincy have once again surfaced following Pakistan’s dismal performance in the World Cup. The Pakistani captain has said he would let the PCB take the ultimate decision about his captaincy. 

“When I go back, we will discuss all that has happened here. And if I have to leave the captaincy, I will announce it openly,” he had said in a press conference earlier this month. “I will not hide behind anything. Whatever happens will happen in the open. But for now, I have not thought about it. It is eventually PCB’s decision.”


In a first, team of all-women Pakistani climbers begin expedition to summit K2

In a first, team of all-women Pakistani climbers begin expedition to summit K2
Updated 24 June 2024
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In a first, team of all-women Pakistani climbers begin expedition to summit K2

In a first, team of all-women Pakistani climbers begin expedition to summit K2
  • Team comprises professional mountaineers Anum Uzair, Amina Hanif, Siddiqa Hanif, Bibi Afzoon, Sultana Nasab and Shama Baqir
  • Uzair, expedition’s co-leader, says she hopes to inspire Pakistani women to “dream big, pursue their passions” by summitting K2

KHAPLU, GB: In a first, a six-member team of Pakistani women climbers on Monday kicked off its mission to scale the second-highest peak in the world, K2, hoping to conquer the summit and break gender stereotypes associated with women in the country. 

The team features professional women climbers Anum Uzair from Lahore, sisters Amina Hanif and Siddiqa Hanif from Hushe Valley in Gilgit-Baltistan’s district Ghanche, Bibi Afzoon and Sultana Nasab from Hunza in northern Pakistan and Shama Baqir. 

The 45-day expedition is being organized by Imagine Climb, a mountain trekking and climbing company operated by Pakistani climber Sirbaz Khan, and is sponsored by the Pakistan Army. Khan, who is the first and only Pakistani to have climbed 11 of the world’s 14 highest peaks, will lead the all-women team in their 45-day expedition. 

Speaking to Arab News over the phone, Khan confirmed all arrangements regarding the expedition have been completed.

“Being part of an all-women team is incredibly empowering, it feels like we’re breaking barriers and challenging societal norms,” Uzair, the co-leader of the expedition, told Arab News over the phone before embarking on the expedition. “I do believe that we are paving the way for other women in Pakistan, showing them that they too can achieve great heights in any field they choose.”

Known as “Savage Mountain” among climbers, K2 in Pakistan’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan region has often been deemed a more challenging ascent than Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak. Many climbers from around the world have died in their quest to summit the mountain. 

Uzair and her husband, Ahmed Uzair, became the first Pakistani husband-wife duo in September 2023 to summit Nepal’s towering Mount Manaslu. She said the challenge of climbing a mountain as dangerous as K2 had always “fascinated” her. 

“The inspiration came from a deep desire to push my limits, the allure of the mountain itself and the opportunity to represent and inspire women in Pakistan,” she explained. “The idea of standing on the summit of K2, knowing the obstacles I’ve overcome, is incredibly motivating.”

The challenging expedition meant the climbers had to prepare for the journey. The team completed a one-week climbing training at Sadpara Mountaineering School earlier this month. Uzair said the biggest challenges one encounters whilst climbing towering mountains are extreme weather conditions and high-altitude sickness. 

“To overcome these, I have trained extensively in similar conditions, and of course being part of the team assembled by the Pakistan Army gives me a lot of comfort,” Uzair shared. “We will also have a robust support system in place for emergencies.”

Amina Hanif, granddaughter of the late legendary Pakistani climber Little Karim, said she did not encounter difficulties in mountaineering as both her father and grandfather had worked in the same profession. 

“You can say we are genetically in this field so there are no difficulties for me,” she said. “Secondly, I have summited seven mountains in Pakistan, Spain and Iran.”

The confident Hanif, however, was wary of the challenge the “Bottleneck” presented on her quest to summit K2. 

The Bottleneck is a challenging and hazardous section on the K2’s climbing route. It is usually described as one of the most notorious and treacherous parts of the ascent by the mountaineering community.

“For K2 the most dangerous part is the Bottleneck,” Hanif said. “If we manage to cross it, we will be able to summit K2, God willing.”

Hanif requested Pakistani men to support the women in their lives and help them accomplish their goals and objectives. 

“Please support them, they [girls] can do anything like men,” Hanif said. 

Uzair, meanwhile, said that by summitting K2, she hoped to send the message that “nothing is impossible” for Pakistani women. 

“With determination, hard work, and support, you can overcome any obstacle,” she said. “I hope to inspire young girls and women to dream big, pursue their passions, and believe in their potential.”


PM Sharif’s aide on climate change urges Pakistani provinces to ban plastic bags

PM Sharif’s aide on climate change urges Pakistani provinces to ban plastic bags
Updated 24 June 2024
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PM Sharif’s aide on climate change urges Pakistani provinces to ban plastic bags

PM Sharif’s aide on climate change urges Pakistani provinces to ban plastic bags
  • Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, banned production, distribution and sale of plastic bags on June 5
  • Pakistan consistently ranks among countries worldwide most affected adversely by climate change 

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s coordinator recently urged Pakistani provinces to follow Punjab’s decision to ban the manufacturing, distribution and sale of plastic to reduce the adverse impacts of plastic waste across the country. 

Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, banned the production, distribution and sale of plastic on June 5, a move that coincided from World Environment Day, in its bid to cut pollution and promote pro-environment steps. 

The production of plastic bags adversely affects human health, ecosystems and wildlife. Made from polyethylene, a type of non-biodegradable material, plastic bags remain in the environment for hundreds of years and never decompose fully. 

“Coordinator to Prime Minister on Climate Change, Romina Khurshid Alam has urged all provincial governments to follow the suit of Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz of enforcing plastic ban, to make Pakistan plastic-free country,” state broadcaster Radio Pakistan said in a report on Sunday. 

Alam said achieving a “plastic-free Pakistan” is an extremely challenging goal but one which can be achieved through coordinated efforts by provincial governments. She noted that plastic had a disastrous impact on the environment and also contributed to respiratory ailments, and other life-threatening conditions.

“She also urged the provincial governments to promote use of eco-friendly alternatives like cotton bags to replace plastic bags, appealing to the citizens to switch to cloth and paper bags as alternatives to plastic,” Radio Pakistan said. 

Pakistan, which ranks among countries most vulnerable to climate change, has witnessed untimely downpours, deadly floods, heat waves and droughts in recent years, which experts have attributed to climate change effects.

Devastating floods in the summer of 2022 killed over 1,700 people and inflicted damages of over $33 billion in the country. Pakistani experts attributed the heavy rains and melting of glaciers to the adverse effects of climate change. 


Government allies and opposition criticize federal budget, propose improvements during parliamentary debate

Government allies and opposition criticize federal budget, propose improvements during parliamentary debate
Updated 24 June 2024
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Government allies and opposition criticize federal budget, propose improvements during parliamentary debate

Government allies and opposition criticize federal budget, propose improvements during parliamentary debate
  • PPP’s Aseefa Bhutto says Pakistani people deserve a better budget, urges the government to provide relief to poor
  • Information minister says opposition has not prepared shadow budget, is criticizing government without justification

ISLAMABAD: The coalition partners of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s administration and the opposition parties on Sunday criticized the budget for the next fiscal year (FY25) while offering suggestions to improve it to provide relief to the public.
The National Assembly of Pakistan kicked off debate on the federal budget on Thursday, as the government hopes for its passage this week.
During the discussions, both the opposition lawmakers and members of the government’s allied parties slammed the budget while asking the Sharif administration to review the taxes imposed on the salaried class, food items and other sectors.
Islamabad has set an ambitious tax revenue generation target of about Rs13 trillion ($46.55 billion) in the budget, which was presented on June 12 by Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue Muhammad Aurangzeb.
“Do you think this is the budget the people of Pakistan deserve,” Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari, Pakistan Peoples Party lawmaker and daughter of the slain ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, said while participating in the debate. “The people of Pakistan deserve better.”
She urged the government to provide relief to the public.
“Together we have to find way to give relief to the people who are suffering 15 hours a day without electricity in this sweltering heat,” she added.
The PPP leader also asked the government to support farmers battered by storms, floods and recent controversial decisions related to wheat import.
“We must find ways to help the blue-collar workers who have no job security,” she said. “We must find ways to develop our human capital. We must find ways to provide relief directly to the poorest of the poor of this country.”
Another senior PPP lawmaker Khurshid Shah termed the budget “difficult” that would increase burden on the public.
He suggested the government to work on population control to save resources and provide education, health, clean drinking water and other facilities to people.
“The government should offer incentives to the public to bring down the population number,” he added.
Opposition lawmaker from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Shahida Begum said no relief was provided to the public in the budget, criticizing the government’ spending and lack of transparency related to the utilization of public funds.
“The government should reduce income tax and try to broaden the tax base to collect more revenue,” she said.
Sunni Ittehad Council’s Ali Muhammad Khan emphasized the idea of abolishing interest to strengthen the national economy.
“If we abolish interest, then all budgets would be for the prosperity and progress of the country and the nation,” he said.
Responding to all the criticism, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Attaullah Tarar said the opposition had not bothered to prepare even a shadow budget and was only criticizing the government without justification.
He pointed out the government had increased the salaries of public servants along with the minimum wage level and reduced tariff for industrial electricity.
“Everyone is resorting to criticism, but no one talks about the budget,” he said.
“Pakistan’s friendly countries want to invest here which is in their [opposition’s] interest and ours as well,” he continued. “We have to make Pakistan a peaceful country for trade and investments.”


Pakistani classical singer Mai Dhai featured on iconic Times Square billboard

Pakistani classical singer Mai Dhai featured on iconic Times Square billboard
Updated 24 June 2024
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Pakistani classical singer Mai Dhai featured on iconic Times Square billboard

Pakistani classical singer Mai Dhai featured on iconic Times Square billboard
  • Times Square in New York is recognized as one of the world’s most heavily trafficked places
  • Dhai, who hails from Pakistan’s Sindh province, has a string of hits to her name such as “Kaid Ao Ni”

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani classical singer Mai Dhai was recently featured on the iconic Times Square billboard in New York city, making her the latest celebrity from the country to be advertised at the prestigious location. 

Times Square, situated at the heart of New York City, is renowned for its iconic digital billboards and advertisements which showcase images of celebrities and a wide array of prominent brands. It is recognized as one of the most heavily trafficked places in the world. 

Dhai, a septuagenarian singer who hails from Pakistan’s southern Tharparkar district famous for its desert landscape and cultural diversity, belongs to the Manganhar Muslim community. The Manganhars are a famous community of singers that reside in the Tharparkar district in Pakistan and Rajasthan state in India, both areas connected via the shared border between the two countries. 

“A voice like that of the cuckoo reaches Times Square directly,” Spotify Pakistan posted on Instagram on Saturday, sharing a picture of Dhai at a vertical billboard on Times Square. “Listen to Mai Dhai on the #EQUALPAKISTAN playlist.”

The Equal Pakistan initiative by Spotify aims to promote both established and aspiring female artists, recognizing their talent and contributions to the music industry in the country. 

Dhai garnered critical acclaim after performing in a string of popular Pakistani musical festivals. However, she shot to fame across Pakistan in 2016 after debuting in Coke Studio’s season 8 with her two songs, “Aankhaṛli Phaṛookai” and “Kadi Ao Ni with artists Karam Abbas Khan and Atif Aslam garnering critical acclaim. 

In October 2023, Pakistani musician-singer Talal Qureshi was also featured on a Spotify billboard at Times Square, when the music platform and streaming app promoted Qureshi’s 2023 album “Turbo” on the billboard. 

Qureshi, celebrated for his seamless fusion of traditional Pakistani music with modern electronic sounds, is known for popular hits such as “Peechay Hut,” “Hico,” “Faltu Pyar” and “Paisa.”