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

Government allies and opposition criticize federal budget, propose improvements during parliamentary debate
Commuters drive past the parliament house building in Islamabad, Pakistan, on August 9, 2023. (AFP/File)
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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.”


Pakistan PM congratulates Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan on becoming UAE deputy PM

Pakistan PM congratulates Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan on becoming UAE deputy PM
Updated 9 sec ago
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Pakistan PM congratulates Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan on becoming UAE deputy PM

Pakistan PM congratulates Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan on becoming UAE deputy PM
  • Shehbaz Sharif also felicitated Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan on appointment as UAE deputy PM, defense minister
  • The UAE is Pakistan’s third-largest trading partner after China and US as well as home to more than a million Pakistanis

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday extended his felicitations to Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan on his appointment as deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, vice president and ruler of Dubai, announced the appointment of Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah as deputy PM as part of the UAE government amendments on Sunday.
He also announced the joining of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum in the UAE government as deputy prime minister and minister of defense in the UAE cabinet.
In his message on X, Sharif also extended his congratulations to Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan on his appointment.
“Wishing them both success in their new endeavors & looking forward to further strengthening of our bilateral ties & deepening cooperation between our two brotherly nations,” the Pakistan prime minister said.

The UAE is Pakistan’s third-largest trading partner after China and the United States as well as home to more than a million Pakistani expatriates and the second-largest source of remittances to Pakistan after Saudi Arabia. It is also one of Pakistan’s closest allies and has frequently bailed out the South Asian country.
Policymakers in Pakistan also consider the Gulf state an optimal export destination due to its geographical proximity, which minimizes transportation and freight costs while facilitating commercial transactions.


Top Imran Khan aide says party deliberating no-trust motion against Pakistani PM

Top Imran Khan aide says party deliberating no-trust motion against Pakistani PM
Updated 27 min 30 sec ago
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Top Imran Khan aide says party deliberating no-trust motion against Pakistani PM

Top Imran Khan aide says party deliberating no-trust motion against Pakistani PM
  • The announcement comes hours after PM Shehbaz Sharif’s government said it was seeking to ban Khan’s party
  • Pakistan has been witnessing renewed political wrangling after court rulings in favor of Khan and his PTI party

ISLAMABAD: Asad Qaiser, a close aide of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan, on Monday said their Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was deliberating upon a no-confidence motion against Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif in parliament, in what appeared to be a tit-for-tat move in response to the government’s announcement of seeking a ban against the PTI.
Information Minister Attaullah Tarar announced the government had decided to file a high treason case against Khan and pursue a case to ban his party, unleashing a new challenge for the embattled PTI and its jailed leader.
The government’s decision followed a Supreme Court ruling that Khan’s PTI party was eligible for more than 20 extra reserved seats in parliament, which has mounted pressure on the weak coalition led by Sharif.
“We will see and contemplate if we want to bring a no-confidence motion against them or not,” Qaiser, a former National Assembly speaker, said in televised comments. “We will deliberate on that.”
Citing the increase in number of seats, Qaiser said the PTI would fight the government in parliament, clarifying that the PTI was a peaceful political party that believed in the rule of law and the constitution.
Separately, PTI leader Sayed Zulfikar Abbas Bukhari responded to Tarar’s announcement and said all cases against the PTI and ex-PM Khan were “politically motivated.”
“This is a sign of panic as they [federal government] have realized the courts can’t be threatened and put under pressure,” Bukhari said in a statement shared with reporters.
“I have been saying for a while now that we are under a soft martial law and this move only proves our point further.”
Khan’s PTI party says it has been facing a crackdown and mass arrest of members for standing by Khan, who has been in jail since August last year. Pakistani authorities deny the allegations.
Among four cases in which Khan was convicted, two have been suspended by courts 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. Authorities deny this.


England and Wales population rises by most in 75 years amid influx from Pakistan, elsewhere

England and Wales population rises by most in 75 years amid influx from Pakistan, elsewhere
Updated 53 min 54 sec ago
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England and Wales population rises by most in 75 years amid influx from Pakistan, elsewhere

England and Wales population rises by most in 75 years amid influx from Pakistan, elsewhere
  • Post-Brexit changes to visas sharply reduced the number of EU migrants to Britain
  • But new work visa rules led to a surge in immigration from Pakistan, India and Nigeria

LONDON: Record immigration caused the population of England and Wales to rise by 610,000 to 60.9 million in mid-2023, the largest annual increase in 75 years, official data showed on Monday.
What statisticians term ‘natural’ population growth — the difference between births and deaths — fell to just 400, the lowest since 1978, while net international migration rose to 622,000, up from 548,500 in the previous 12 months.
A net 13,800 people also moved from England and Wales to Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Britain’s Office for National Statistics said the population increase in England and Wales was the largest since 1948, when a post-World War Two baby boom and the return of British military personnel serving overseas caused a rise of 1.5 million.
The population for the whole United Kingdom was 67.6 million in mid 2022. Data for 2023 is not yet available.
Economic output has not kept up with the rising population. Based on provisional population figures, gross domestic product per head in 2023 was 0.7 percent lower than a year earlier.
Net migration to the United Kingdom hit a record 764,000 in 2022 and fell 10 percent to 685,000 in 2023, but is more than double its level in 2015, just before the Brexit referendum.
Reducing immigration was a key goal of many Britons who voted to leave the European Union.
Britain’s previous Conservative government said it wanted to reduce net immigration, and Prime Minister Keir Starmer’s Labour Party pledged in the election campaign to do so too by making the economy less reliant on foreign workers.
Post-Brexit changes to visas sharply reduced the number of EU migrants to Britain, but new work visa rules led to a surge in immigration from India, Nigeria and Pakistan, often to fill health and social care vacancies.
At the end of last year the government tightened rules to stop low-paid social care workers from bringing dependents.


In fresh case of animal brutality in Pakistan, man arrested for cutting off buffalo’s tongue

In fresh case of animal brutality in Pakistan, man arrested for cutting off buffalo’s tongue
Updated 15 July 2024
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In fresh case of animal brutality in Pakistan, man arrested for cutting off buffalo’s tongue

In fresh case of animal brutality in Pakistan, man arrested for cutting off buffalo’s tongue
  • There has been widespread criticism in recent years of grim conditions at Pakistan’s zoos and the treatment of animals 
  • Animal abuse caught spotlight last month when local landlord was accused of chopping off camel’s leg in Sindh province

ISLAMABAD: A man was arrested in Pakistan’s Punjab province for chopping off a buffalo’s tongue, state media reported on Monday, highlighting the latest instance of animal abuse in the South Asian nation. 

The death of elephant Noor Jehan, 17, at the Karachi Zoo last year revived concerns about animal treatment and criticism of the nation’s zoos. In 2020, after years of campaigning by animal rights advocates and pop star Cher to rescue him from grim zoo conditions with no companion, the ‘world’s loneliest elephant’ Kaavan was airlifted to an elephant sanctuary in Cambodia. 

“A man was arrested on the charge of cutting the buffalo’s tongue here in the jurisdiction of Shahpur City police station,” the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said on Monday. “The accused Bilal was taking fodder in a loader rickshaw when a buffalo ate the fodder on the way, after which he cut off his tongue with a sickle.”

Sargodha district police took notice of the incident and arrested the suspect, APP added.

Animal abuse in Pakistan caught the spotlight last month when a local landlord in the southern Sanghar district was accused of chopping off a camel’s leg after it strayed into his fields for grazing. The story, which triggered uproar on mainstream and social media, led to the camel being transported to an animal shelter in Karachi for treatment. Six suspects were arrested by the police. 

In another incident in the southern Umerkot district last month, a camel was found dead with its legs amputated. 

Pakistan’s existing animal cruelty laws, rooted in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1890, prohibit various forms of animal cruelty, including beating, overdriving, and mutilation. The legislation also prescribes penalties for breaches of these anti-cruelty provisions, which can include fines and imprisonment, though these are not always effectively enforced.

And despite the laws, officials themselves poison hundreds of dogs yearly in an effort to curb a population of strays that attack thousands of people.


Families of Pakistanis held ‘hostage’ in Myanmar in recruitment fraud urge authorities to secure release

Families of Pakistanis held ‘hostage’ in Myanmar in recruitment fraud urge authorities to secure release
Updated 15 July 2024
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Families of Pakistanis held ‘hostage’ in Myanmar in recruitment fraud urge authorities to secure release

Families of Pakistanis held ‘hostage’ in Myanmar in recruitment fraud urge authorities to secure release
  • Families say Pakistanis were lured with lucrative job offers by alleged Chinese scammers operating near Thailand-Myanmar border 
  • Spokesperson at Chinese consulate in Karachi says no evidence so far of involvement of Chinese nationals in “unsubstantiated” accusations

KARACHI: The families of six Pakistani nationals allegedly taken “hostage” by fake job scammers in Myanmar have appealed to Pakistani authorities this week to secure their release, saying their loved ones were being subjected to the “worst forms of torture.” 

Families of the Pakistani nationals say they were lured by a group of alleged Chinese scammers in Thailand with the offer of lucrative jobs and were now being forced to work up to 18 hours a day and being tortured, including through sleep deprivation and electric shocks, according to their family members. Arab News could not independently verify that the Pakistanis were scammed by Chinese nationals but a spokesperson at the Chinese consulate in Karachi said they were looking into the case but there was no evidence so far of the involvement of Chinese nationals in the “unsubstantiated” accusations. 

While the exact nature of the work the Pakistanis are allegedly being forced to do is not known, the scammers had set a performance target of $150,000 per employee against a salary of $200 a month for the first six months and $500 per month thereafter for a year. A copy of a contract by a company called YONGQIAN Group seen by Arab News did not specify the type of work the Pakistanis were required to do in return for the $150,000 target but said their employment period would be extended until the goal was achieved, while any employee resigning before 18 months would have to pay $8,000 to the company.

In one case, Qamar Zaman, a Pakistani working in Thailand for 10 years, told Arab News he had invited his son, Muhammad Zain, to the Southeast Asian country from Pakistan’s Punjab province a month and a half ago on a family visa to start a business. An acquaintance of the Zaman family, Shahid Mehmood, another Pakistani from Punjab’s Sialkot married to a Thai woman with two children, also convinced Zaman to send over his son.

“He [Mehmood] told me he had a great offer and that he would secure the job only if my son accompanied him,” Zaman told Arab News, saying Mehmood was not involved with the scammers.

“He promised my son a lucrative salary, but instead, I have brought upon myself a living hell. My life now is worse than hell itself.”

Zaman said both his son and Mehmood are now trapped in a fake job scam and had gotten in touch with him by using the “secret phone” of three other Pakistani nationals from the Sindh province who were also being held captive on the Myanmar side of the Thailand-Myanmar border.

“‘Papa, get me out of here before I die’, he pleaded with me on the phone,” Zaman said. “He was crying in agony.”

Zaman, who hails from the city of Gujrat, said he lodged a complaint about his son’s “abduction” with the Thai police on June 12 and was struggling to bring him home. 

In another case, Muhammad Amir Hussain from Punjab’s Mandi Bahauddin, was also “taken hostage” along with Zain and Mehmood, according to Zain’s father.

In a third case, a resident from Sindh’s Hyderabad, Ashiq Hussain, has written a letter to the Pakistani embassy in Myanmar saying his son Kashif Hussain, 22, and two of his friends, Faraz Khan and Shehroz Khan, had gone to visit Thailand on Feb. 19, but met some alleged Chinese individuals in Bangkok who offered them “good jobs with handsome salaries” on employment visas, tempting them into traveling to Myanmar.

According to the letter, the scammers took the men’s mobile phones and other documents and compelled them to work with them. Hussain’s son and his friends managed to use a secret phone to contact their families back home, telling them that they had been handcuffed upon arrival at the facility and were now being “forced to work long hours without breaks.”

Hussain said he had reached out to the Pakistani embassy in Myanmar after his son shared his location using the secret phone. 

“It’s been a month and a half, and we still haven’t heard from the Pakistan embassy,” the father lamented.

When asked to comment on the cases, Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, a spokesperson for the Pakistani foreign office, said she would forward the queries to Pakistan’s embassy in Myanmar and declined further comment. 

Meanwhile, families of the men said the situation was becoming “increasingly unbearable” for them with each passing day.

“These are scammers and there was no factory as promised to Shahid,” Zaman said. “I threw my son in front of the wolves and his mother in Pakistan doesn’t even know it.”