ISLAMABAD: Up to 145 per cent increase in prescribed gas prices with effect from July 1, 2019 has been sought to meet revenue requirements of the gas utilities for the next financial year, it emerged on Sunday.
The Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) and the Sui Southern Gas Company Limited (SSGCL) have filed their petitions for tariff increase at a time when the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government was still grappling with the political fallout of the 35pc increase it had allowed in October 2018.
In the process, four managing directors of the two companies have since been removed.
The Lahore-based SNGPL that serves Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has demanded an average increase of Rs723 to Rs1,224 per MMBTU (Million British Thermal Unit), suggesting a rise of almost 144pc with effect from July 1 for the financial year 2019-20, said an announcement by the Oil & Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra).
Ogra receives petitions from gas utilities seeking increase in prices from July 1
The regulator said the SNGPL had submitted the revised petition on March 19 with the request for an “increase of Rs722.51 per MMBTU in its normal business of natural gas w.e.f July 1, 2019”. As such, the SNGPL’s average prescribed price per unit would rise to Rs1,224 from its existing rate of Rs501.19.
On top of this, the company has also demanded about Rs111.32 per MMBTU under the head of diversion of RLNG to domestic consumers and Rs6,086 per MMBTU on account of LPG business.
Interestingly, the cost of SNGPL’s gas has increased by Rs66 per unit to reach Rs566.97 per unit or about 14pc when compared to its existing average prescribed price of Rs501 per unit but it was trying to recover shortfalls in revenue requirements of two years, including that of the current fiscal year.
Seeking increase in average prescribed price, the SNGPL gave a break up saying it be compensated for Rs62.3 per MMBTU, Rs98 per unit for operating cost, Rs70 per unit for guaranteed return on assets and Rs23per unit for late payment surcharge and short-term borrowing. The company demanded Rs381.54 per unit shortfall during fiscal year 2017-18 and Rs56.95 per unit for shortfall in 2018-19.
Separately, the other gas company, the SSGCL, has sought about Rs106.54 increase in its average prescribed price of Rs591.67 per unit to reach Rs698.21.
The cost of SSGCL’s gas has estimated an increase of about Rs50 per unit to Rs642 per unit from its existing prescribed price of Rs592 per unit. It sought an increase of Rs64 per unit increase in operating cost, Rs17 per unit depreciation and Rs22 per unit increase for return on assets.
Domestic gas prices are linked to international oil prices under various petroleum policies.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly said the gas companies were losing more than Rs50 billion to theft and mismanagement.
Under the law, the regulator is required to hold public hearings on the request of gas companies and then forward its determination to the government latest by May 20.
The government is required under the law to seek any change, if it considers so, to the proposed increase for various consumer categories within 40 days to Ogra for notification with effect from July 1 but without affecting the overall determined revenues.
The gas prices are changed twice a year – on the first of July and January. Because of political transition, the last gas price increase came into effect on September 27, 2018 instead of July 1. The 35pc average price increase of September was affected with a target to recover additional revenue of Rs116 billion, while high-consumption domestic consumers faced the highest 143pc increase.
Ogra had originally recommended an 186pc increase for the first two slabs of domestic consumers and a 30pc increase for most of other categories in industry, commercial, power sectors, etc. The government, however, diverted the burden from domestic consumers to electricity, industry, commercial and fertiliser sectors that would indirectly spread out to all consumers and categories.
ISLAMABAD: A delegation of the Asia-Pacific Group (APG) on money laundering — a regional affiliate of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) — will arrive here on Monday (today) to assess whether Pakistan has made enough progress on global standards against financial crimes to warrant its exclusion from the watchdog’s grey list.
“The meetings will start on Tuesday and will end on Thursday,” said Finance Ministry’s spokesman Dr Khaqan H. Najeeb.
He said the APG assessment team would meet officials from the State Bank of Pakistan, Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, Election Commission of Pakistan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior, National Counter Terrorism Authority, law enforcement agencies and counter terrorism departments.
In response to a question, he said the experts from the ministries and other key institutions would get an opportunity to explain and convince the assessors about Pakistan’s performance.
The country has taken certain steps since the February 18-22 meetings with FATF functionaries to comply with latest instructions to meet various deadlines in order to avoid being included in a blacklist. It declared as “high risk” all the eight entities and related elements specifically named by FATF as threats to the global financial system.
Sources said that India had taken an aggressive stance against Pakistan in the FATF and Islamabad had repeatedly called for removal of Indian vice president from the APG.
Achieving 27 targets under a 10-point action plan has now become a top priority for the government. As the FATF meetings were still in progress in February, the government had announced a ban on Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) and Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation (FiF) to partially address the concerns raised by India that Pakistan supported these and six similar organisations, including Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), or at least considered them low-risk entities, and then declared them “high risk” ones.
Under the high risk category the government is required to start monitoring and re-examining the groups’ activities and profiles under heightened security checks at all layers of legal, administrative, investigative and financial regimes.
All these entities are now subject to greater scrutiny by all agencies and institutions of the state regarding their activities starting from registration to operations and from fund collection to bank accounts and issuance of transactions.
The government has so far fined six banks and started investigations against 109 bankers for opening ‘fake’ bank accounts. About 8,707 suspicious transaction reports (STRs) were issued last year by the Financial Monitoring Unit, showing almost 57 per cent growth over the 5,548 STRs issued in 2017.
About 1,100 STRs were issued in January and February this year alone. Smuggled currency and jewellery worth more than Rs20 billion were confiscated between July and Jan 31, up 66 per cent from Rs12bn a year ago.
Memorandums of understanding are being signed in this regard with the United Kingdom, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Australia for sharing of intelligence. Pakistan is also trying to improve coordination among different agencies of the government through centralised software.
While such data may impress many Pakistanis, the FATF and its partners review processes, systems and weaknesses on the basis of a standard matrix. Pakistan is being monitored on 27 indicators under the 10-point action plan with deadlines.
The ICRG that reviewed Pakistan’s performance in recent meetings was not satisfied with the progress made by it vis-a-vis milestones set for January. This was despite improvements in the anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime and on the integrated database for currency declaration arrangements.
Therefore, FATF urged “Pakistan to swiftly complete its action plan, particularly those with timelines of May 2019” to address strategic deficiencies. The FATF had noted that Pakistan had revised its terror financing risk assessment, but did “not demonstrate a proper understanding of the terror financing risks posed by Islamic State group, AQ [Al Qaeda], JuD, FiF, LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba], JeM, HQN [Haqqani network], and persons affiliated with the Taliban”.
Pakistan has to comply with the 10-point action plan for which it is required to adequately demonstrate its understanding of the terror financing risks posed by the militant groups. It will have to conduct supervision on a risk-sensitive basis and prove that remedial actions and sanctions are applied in cases of AML/CFT violations, and that these actions have an effect on AML/CFT compliance by financial institutions.
The country also has to demonstrate that terror financing prosecutions result in effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions, enhancing the support for prosecutors and the judiciary. It must show effective implementation of targeted financial sanctions (supported by a comprehensive legal obligation) against all those designated as terrorists under the 1,267 and 1,373 UN resolutions and those acting for or on their behalf, including preventing the raising and moving of funds, identifying and freezing assets (movable and immovable) and prohibiting access to funds and financial services.
On top of that, Pakistan will have to demonstrate enforcement against the violations of terror financing sanctions, including administrative and criminal penalties. The FATF will undertake the next review of Pakistan’s performance in June, which will be preceded by a face-to-face meeting with the Joint Group in May.
In June last year, Pakistan made a commitment to work with the FATF and APG to strengthen its AML/CFT regime and to address its terrorism financing-related deficiencies by implementing an action plan to accomplish these objectives. The successful implementation of the plan and its verification by the APG will lead the FATF to remove Pakistan from its grey list or move it into the black list category by September.
The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday accepted a petition against ride-hailing service Careem for an allegedly unethical advertisement and issued notices to the Punjab government and others to submit their responses by April 5.
The LHC was petitioned regarding the matter last week as well, but had disposed off the petition and directed her to approach the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority for redress of her grievance. Today's petition was accepted for hearing by the court.
The petitioner today claimed that Careem used "unethical language" on its billboard, with the tagline, "Apni shaadi se bhagna ho tau Careem Bike karo (Use a Careem Bike if you want to run away from your wedding)."
The petitioner claimed that the advertisement is against Islamic teachings, and a violation of Article 31 of the Constitution, the Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) Act 2012 Section 21, and PHA Lahore Regulations 2013 Clause 10.
The petitioner pointed out that the PHA is responsible for granting permission to put up billboards and other advertisements in the city, asking how such 'unethical' slogans could be displayed despite the PHA being in place.
The petitioner requested that the "immoral and indecent" advertisements be removed immediately, Careem be fined, and orders issued for action against the relevant PHA officials.
The LHC accepted the petition and issued notices to the Punjab government and others, ordering them to submit their responses to the matter by April 5.
A local police officer, when contacted, said that the youth have been arrested “for questioning”. He refused to disclose further details.
The arrested civilians were identified as Ishaq Ittoo, 29, a government employee in the local health department; Mehrajuddin Mir, 34, shopkeeper; Arshid Lone, 24, shopkeeper; Shabir Kulley, 25 years, pursuing Masters Degree in Arts; Ghulam Nabi Mir, 55, a tailor master; Irfan Ittoo, 20, Driver; Fayaz Ahmad Mir, 49, an employee in the local revenue department.
The arrests come in the backdrop of renewed unrest; on Sunday, a complete shutdown was observed in India-occupied Kashmir against the banning of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) by the Indian government.
New Delhi had announced a ban on the pro-independence group on Friday, as part of a crackdown on what it calls “separatist organisations”. A statement issued in Delhi said the Indian government had declared JKLF an “unlawful association” as it was trying to curb the activities of “secessionist organisations” posing a threat to the country’s unity and integrity.
The group’s leader, Yasin Malik, was arrested recently in a counteroffensive against dissent following a Feb 14 suicide attack that killed over 40 Indian soldiers in the disputed region. Over a thousand people have been arrested since then.
The call for a strike was given by the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) comprising Syed Ali Gilani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik. All shops and other business establishments were shut in Srinagar and other cities of the valley.
Many groups have been fighting for the Himalayan region’s independence from India or its merger with Pakistan since 1989.
A 30-year insurgency in the region has left tens of thousands of people dead, mostly civilians.
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Uber is set to buy its Middle Eastern rival Careem for $3.1 billion, financial news agency Bloomberg reported on Sunday. Two sources familiar with the deal confirmed the same to Reuters.
The deal, expected to be announced on Tuesday, will see Uber pay $1.4 billion in cash and the rest in notes convertible to Uber shares, Bloomberg reported, citing people with knowledge of the matter.
It comes as Uber prepares for its initial public offering — expected next month — which could, according to some estimates, see the rideshare giant's value increase to $100 billion.
Careem declined to comment while Uber did not immediately respond to a request from Reuters to comment.
Dubai-based Careem boasts more than a million drivers and 30 million users across 90 cities.
Uber Technologies Inc, a US-based global logistics and transportation company, has been seeking new avenues of growth even as it faces severe competition in its core business of ride hailing from rivals like Lyft Inc.
The IPOs of Lyft and Uber represent a watershed for Silicon Valley's technology unicorns, which for years have snubbed the stock market in favour of raising capital privately, with investors happy to back their frothy valuations.
KARACHI: Jamil Akhtar, a former news editor of daily Dawn, passed away on Sunday, according to the family. He was 79.
Mr Akhtar remained associated with journalism for half a century and worked for various news organisations in former East Pakistan, China and the UAE as well as Pakistan in senior positions.
He was admitted to Ziauddin Hospital on March 14 after suffering from some chest problem and died at 8.10pm on Sunday, said his son, Muhammad Altamash.
He is survived by his widow and two sons.
Namaz-i-Janaza will be held at Sultan Masjid in Phase V, DHA, on Monday (today) after Asr prayer.
Jamil Akhtar started his career at Dhaka with the Morning News. Later, he worked for a radio network in China for several years. He joined Khaleej Times as its news editor in 1979 and remained there till early 2000s. He joined Dawn as its news editor in 2004. He retired in 2016.
Special counsel Robert Mueller did not find evidence that United States President Donald Trump's campaign “conspired or coordinated” with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election but reached no conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice, Attorney General William Barr declared on Sunday. That brought a hearty claim of vindication from Trump but set the stage for new rounds of political and legal fighting.
Trump cheered the outcome but also laid bare his resentment after two years of investigations that have shadowed his administration.
“It's a shame that our country has had to go through this. To be honest, it's a shame that your president has had to go through this,” he said.
Democrats pointed out that Mueller found evidence for and against obstruction and demanded to see his full report. They insisted that even the summary by the president's attorney general hardly put him in the clear.
Mueller's conclusions, summarised by Barr in a four-page letter to Congress, represented a victory for Trump on a key question that has hung over his presidency from the start: Did his campaign work with Russia to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton?
That was further good news for the president on top of the Justice Department's earlier announcement that Mueller had wrapped his investigation without new indictments. The resolution also could deflate the hopes of Democrats in Congress and on the 2020 campaign trail that incriminating findings from Mueller would hobble the president's agenda and re-election bid.
But while Mueller was categorical in ruling out criminal collusion, he was more circumspect on presidential obstruction of justice. Despite Trump's claim of total exoneration, Mueller did not draw a conclusion one way or the other on whether he sought to stifle the Russia investigation through his actions including the firing of former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director James Comey.
According to Barr's summary, Mueller set out “evidence on both sides of the question” and stated that "while this report does not conclude the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him". Barr, who was nominated by Trump in December, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller in May 2017 and oversaw much of his work, went further in Trump's favour.
The attorney general said he and Rosenstein had determined that Mueller's evidence was insufficient to prove in court that Trump had committed obstruction of justice to hamper the probe. Barr has previously voiced a broad view of presidential powers, and in an unsolicited memo last June, he cast doubt on whether the president could have obstructed justice through acts like firing his FBI director that he was legally empowered to take.
Barr said their decision was based on the evidence uncovered by Mueller and not affected by Justice Department legal opinions that say a sitting president cannot be indicted.
Mueller's team examined a series of actions by the president in the last two years to determine if he intended obstruction. Those include his firing of Comey one week before Mueller's appointment, his public and private haranguing of then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation because of his work on the campaign, his request of Comey to end an investigation into Michael Flynn, the White House's first national security adviser, and his drafting of an incomplete explanation about his oldest son's meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign.
Mueller's findings absolve Trump on the question of colluding with Russia but don't entirely remove the legal threats the president and associates are facing. Federal prosecutors in New York, for instance, are investigating hush-money payments made to two women during the campaign who say they had sex with the president. Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, implicated Trump in campaign finance violations when he pleaded guilty last year.
The special counsel's investigation did not come up empty-handed. It ensnared nearly three dozen people, senior Trump campaign operatives among them. The probe illuminated Russia's assault on the American political system, painted the Trump campaign as eager to exploit the release of hacked Democratic emails to hurt Hillary Clinton and exposed lies by Trump aides aimed at covering up their Russia-related contacts.
Thirty-four people, including six Trump aides and advisers, were charged in the investigation. Twenty-five are Russians accused of election interference either through hacking into Democratic accounts or orchestrating a social media campaign to spread disinformation on the internet.
Sunday's summary and its suggestion that Mueller may have found evidence in support of obstruction sets up a fight between Barr and Democrats, who called for the special counsel's full report to be released and vowed to press on with their own investigations.
“Attorney General Barr's letter raises as many questions as it answers,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.
“Given Mr Barr's public record of bias against the special counsel's inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report,” they said.
Trump's own claim of complete exoneration “directly contradicts the words of Mr. Mueller and is not to be taken with any degree of credibility,” they added.
Trump was at his Florida estate when lawmakers received the report. Barr's chief of staff called Emmet Flood, the lead White House lawyer on the investigation, to brief him on the findings shortly before he sent it to Congress.
Mueller submitted his report to Barr instead of directly to Congress and the public because, unlike independent counsels such as Ken Starr in the case of President Bill Clinton, his investigation operated under the close supervision of the Justice Department.
Barr did not speak with the president, Mueller was not consulted on the letter, and the White House does not have Mueller's report, according to a Justice Department official.
Though Mueller did not find evidence that anyone associated with the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government, Barr's summary notes “multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign". That's a likely reference not only to a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting at which Donald Trump Jr expected to receive damaging information on Clinton from a Kremlin-connected lawyer, as well as a conversation in London months earlier at which Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos was told Russia had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of thousands of stolen emails.
Rep Jerrold Nadler of New York, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, said Congress needs to hear from Barr about his decision and see "all the underlying evidence". He said on Twitter: "DOJ owes the public more than just a brief synopsis and decision not to go any further in their work.”
Barr said that Mueller “thoroughly” investigated the question of whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia's election interference, issuing more than 2,800 subpoenas, obtaining nearly 500 search warrants and interviewing 500 witnesses. Trump answered some questions in writing, but refused to be interviewed in person by Mueller's team.
Barr said Mueller also catalogued the president's actions including “many” that took place in “public view,” a possible nod to Trump's public attacks on investigators and witnesses.
In the letter, Barr said he concluded that none of Trump's actions constituted a federal crime that prosecutors could prove in court.
MIRAMSHAH: Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman said on Sunday that the sole purpose of National Action Plan (NAP) and merger of defunct Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was to appease India and America.
Addressing a big rally in Mirali town of North Waziristan tribal district, he said that his party had opposed both the NAP and merger of tribal districts with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Tahaffuz Namoos-i-Risalat rally was organised in the main town which was also addressed by Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, opposition leader in KP Assembly Akram Khan Durrani and other party leaders.
This was JUI-F’s first show of power in the militancy-hit district after its merger with the province in May 2018. The government will hold elections in the merged districts for the provincial assembly before July next. Preparations for the elections in seven merged districts and six sub-divisions are underway as several candidates have started their campaign.
Says merger has increased agony of tribal people
Maulana Fazlur Rehman said that at present neither Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) nor police system existed in the merged districts, which had created a complete legal and administrative vacuum in the erstwhile Fata.
“The sole purpose of merger was to appease America,” he said, adding that the neighbouring countries, including Afghanistan, had been annoyed over the decision. He said that people of tribal districts were already living miserable life and their agonies had increased after the merger.
He said that JUI-F was not in favour of NAP that was unveiled after the terrorist attack on Army Public School, Peshawar, on December 16, 2014. He claimed that the 20-point plan was introduced to pacify India. He said that nobody was taking notice of the rights violations in tribal districts. He added that the tribal people were not taken into confidence before the merger.
The JUI-F chief said that the sitting rulers would not be allowed to accomplish their hidden agenda that included recognition of Jewish state. He said that attacks on religious scholars were part of international agenda. He said that Mufti Taqi Usmani, who survived an assassination attempt in Karachi, was a neutral and non-controversial figure.
He said that seminaries and ulema were under attack across the country, adding that the government could not stop the caravan of Namoos-i-Risalat through such tactics. He claimed that the government was trying to promote indecency in society in the name of women’s rights.
The Maulana said that a fake government had been installed in the centre which could not take pressure. He alleged that the Indian pilot was set free under the US pressure.
He said that JUI-F had started organising million marches against what he called anti-state and anti-Islam policies of the government. He said that a rally would be organised in Khyber tribal district on April 21. He said that his party would also give a call for a million march in Islamabad.
WOUNDED: A man and his six-year-old daughter were wounded in a landmine explosion in Boya tehsil of North Waziristan tribal district on Sunday.
Officials said that Gul Dada and his daughter, Salma Bibi, were walking near Norra Manza checkpost when a landmine went off. Military personnel shifted the wounded persons to the hospital.
A woman who had been tied with chains for several weeks and allegedly tortured by her husband was rescued by police in Sahiwal on Sunday.
Police said the suspect had allegedly kept his wife locked up at their residence in the Sheeran Wali Gali neighbourhood for at least 20 days. Police were alerted by neighbourhood residents and a team from Ghalla Mandi police station was dispatched to recover the woman.
TV footage showed the woman sitting on the floor of a room handcuffed and with her shackled feet connected to a wall with a chain.
"My husband and in-laws used to tie me up and beat me," the woman told police after her rescue.
Police arrested the suspect and registered a case against him under Section 342 (punishment for wrongful confinement) of the Pakistan Penal Code in the evening.
According to initial reports by police, the man had chained his wife up "on the pretext of her being possessed by demons" and would regularly beat her up brutally. He had also taken their two children away from her, including a breastfed baby.
Police initially suggested that the woman was of an unsound mind and had previously attempted suicide, however, the woman refuted this impression in her statement.
The rescued woman is currently in police custody.
Investigation officer Afzal Gill told DawnNewsTV that the woman will be presented in the court of a magistrate tomorrow who will determine whether she requires mental healthcare.
Her children presently live with her husband's family. Police have also arrested the suspect's brother.
MARDAN/BATKHELA: Federal Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid Ahmad said on Sunday that government would restore train service from Dargai to Karachi soon.
He inaugurated safari train service from Nowshera to Mardan and Dargai to boost tourism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
He travelled in the safari train from Nowshera to Mardan, Takhbhai and Dargai along with relevant staff.
Senior Provincial Minister Mohammad Atif Khan, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan, MNA Mujahid Khan and MPAs Zahir Shah Toru, Abdus Salam Afridi and Ifikhar Ali Mashwani were also present on the occasion.
Sh Rashid inaugurates Nowshera-Mardan safari train
Addressing the inaugural ceremony, Sheikh Rashid Ahmad said that remains of Buddhists monastery in Takhbahi were included in the World Heritage List that’s why government was taking steps to attract foreign tourists.
He said that government would soon restore train service from Dargai to Karachi on the said railway track. “We are going to grow trees and gardens on both sides of the railway track,” he added.
The federal minister said that they had planned to launch work next month on ML-1for which 1,700 kilometres long tack would be laid from Peshawar to Karachi. He added that train would travel on the track with the speed of 160 kilometres per hour.
He said that they were demolishing some parts of mountains in Gujar Khan and Jhelum to construct 69 kilometres strait railway route. After that, he said, train journey from Rawalpindi to Lahore would reduce to two hours.
The minister said that they were taking steps to launch three new train services from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh provinces. He announced to hand over four steam engines to provincial government. The provincial government would pay salaries of staff and bear other expenditures.
The minister said that railway could play a pivotal role in ending pollution. He said that Rs10 billion target of revenue was set for railways.
He added Rs4 billion revenue was generated and the remaining Rs6 billion would be generated in the remaining period.
He said that steps were being taken to remove all encroachments from the railway track. He said that government would provide train to PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for the train march. “We were denied the same facility when PTI wanted to launch train march,” he added.
ISLAMABAD: Over 20 million children will be covered during a door-to-door vaccination campaign against polio, which is being launched in 97 high-risk districts across the country on Monday (today).
The sub-national polio vaccination campaign will run for five days in Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar blocks followed by a two-day catch-up drive in these areas, while a three-plus-two-day campaign has been planned for other parts of Pakistan, according to Dr Rana Mohammad Safdar, coordinator of the National Emergency Operations Centre for Polio Programme.
So far, six polio cases have been detected in the country this year. They include cases from Karachi, Lahore, Bajaur, Khyber, Hangu and Bannu.
During the special campaign, front-line polio workers will go door to door to ensure that millions of children below the age of five years are administered two drops of vaccine to protect them against the polio virus.
The government has urged parents to ensure immunisation of all children during each and every polio campaign.
According to a statement of the polio programme, more than 6.6 million children will be vaccinated against the virus in 12 districts of Punjab. A total of 5.59m children will be administrated polio vaccine in 25 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including seven tribal districts, during the vaccination drive.
In Sindh, the campaign will run in Karachi and 20 other districts, where over 6.13m children below the age of five years will be administered polio vaccine.
Around 1.77m will be covered in 21 districts of Balochistan during the sub-national polio vaccination campaign.
In Islamabad, 240,000 children living in high risk areas will be administered polio drops during the drive.
“The age limit for vaccination has been enhanced from five years to 10 years in five union councils of Rawalpindi,” said the coordinator of the National Emergency Operations Centre for the Polio Programme.
Dr Safdar urged parents to “cooperate with polio workers and administer their children with anti-polio drops, which will ultimately help save the children from a lifetime of disability”.
He explained that polio virus could paralysed children for their entire life. “There is no cure for polio, but prevention through immunisation can reduce the chances of contracting the virus,” he said. Multiple vaccinations were critical in safeguarding children from the virus, he added.
He also asked religious leaders, civil society and the media to play their due roles in promoting the importance of vaccination.
“The country now has one of the best opportunities to stop transmission of polio virus. It is therefore high time that we all gear up to collectively fight the virus and provide support to our brave front-line workers so that they can reach and vaccinate every single Pakistani child,” said the prime minister’s focal person on polio eradication Babar Bin Atta.
He said there were challenges in way for complete eradication of the virus, but the federal and provincial governments remained firmly committed to defeating the virus forever.
He expressed the hope that all segments of society would come forward to support the programme during the final push against polio.
Polio, a highly infectious disease caused by virus mainly affecting children under the age of 10 years, invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis or even death. While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from this crippling disease. Repeated immunisation campaigns have helped nearly all countries of the world to become polio free.
Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry and India's Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj exchanged words on Twitter on Sunday after the latter shared that she had asked the Indian high commissioner in Pakistan to give her a report on the alleged abduction and forced conversion of two teenage sisters from Ghotki.
Chaudhry, responding to Swaraj, said that this was Pakistan's internal matter and he hoped the Indian government would "act with same diligence when it comes to rights of Indian minorities".
"It is Pakistan's internal issue and rest assure[d], it's not Modi’s India where minorities are subjugated," he added. "It's Imran Khan’s Naya Pak where the white colour of our flag [representing minorities] is equally dear to us."
Swaraj, addressing the minister, said her inquiry for a report on the girls — who belong to a Hindu family — made Chaudhry "jittery". "I only asked for a report from Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad about the kidnapping and forced conversion of two minor Hindu girls to Islam. This was enough to make you jittery. This only shows your guilty conscience."
In his reply, Chaudhry said he was "happy" that there were people in the Indian administration "who care for minority rights in other countries".
"I sincerely hope that your conscience will allow you to stand up for minorities at home as well. Gujarat and Jammu must weigh heavily on your soul," the information minister said pointedly.
Later, during a press conference, the minister reiterated that the Imran Khan-led government was ensuring the rights and protection of the country's minorities, questioning if the Indian government could claim the same.
He added that incidents happen all over the world, but what matters is how governments deal with them, giving the example of the recent New Zealand terror attack and its Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has been praised for her government's humane handling of the massacre.
"We saw the way New Zealand's government stood with their minority. Can India say that it stands with its minorities?" he asked.
Earlier in the day, the minister announced that Prime Minister Imran Khan had ordered the Sindh and Punjab governments to work together to investigate the reports of the alleged abduction and forced conversion from Hinduism to Islam of two teenage girls, and to retrieve them from Rahim Yar Khan — where they are suspected to have been taken from Ghotki.
The father and brother of the girls — one aged 14 and the other 16 — have alleged that the two sisters were abducted and forced into changing their religion from Hinduism to Islam. However, in a video making rounds on social media, of the girls say that they accepted Islam of their own free will.
The minor girls, after changing their religion, were married to Muslim men. "FIR [registered] with local police for 'abducting to compel to marriage'. Age in FIR is 14 and 16," said activist and lawyer Jibran Nasir. "Under Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, every citizen under 18 falls under definition of child and can't be married."
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Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday ordered the Sindh and Punjab governments to work together to recover two teenage girls who were allegedly kidnapped, forced to convert from Hinduism to Islam before being married to Muslim men, and have reportedly been taken to Rahim Yar Khan from Ghotki.
The father and brother of the girls in videos — circulating on social media over the last two days — said that the two sisters were abducted and forced into changing their religion from Hinduism to Islam. However, a separate video of the girls has also been making rounds, in which they said that they accepted Islam of their own free will.
Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry, via tweets on Sunday, said that Prime Minister Khan has asked the Sindh and Punjab governments to investigate reports of the two minor girls being shifted to Rahim Yar Khan from Ghotki.
The prime minister further asked that the two girls be recovered if they have indeed been moved to the city.
According to the tweet, the prime minister also directed the Sindh government to take concrete steps against such incidents [of abduction and forced conversions].
In his tweet, Chaudhry further said that Pakistan's minorities represent the white part of Pakistan's flag and that "we love all our colours and the protection of our flag is our responsibility."
Uproar on social media
On Saturday, after the case created uproar on social media, Chaudhry said the government had taken notice of reports of the alleged forced conversion and underage marriages of the two girls in Ghotki.
Chaudhry on Twitter said that the Human Rights Ministry had been "asked for an inquiry".
Lawyer and activist Jibran Nasir was among those who raised the issue on Twitter, sharing a video which he said was of the two sisters, one aged 14 and the other 16.
In the video, a cleric can be seen next to the girls and two men who they were married to. The cleric says the girls were inspired by Islam and alleges that their family is spreading "false propaganda" and is threatening their lives.
Nasir said the sisters were converted at the Dargah Barchundi Sharif. "As per Dargah, girls wanted to convert to Islam since long influenced by its teachings, but first act after conversion was underage marriage," he said. The girls were reportedly taken to Rahim Yar Khan following their marriages.
Nasir also shared a copy of a first information report dated March 20, which was registered by the girls' family against their alleged forced conversion to Islam.
"FIR [registered] with local police for 'abducting to compel to marriage'. Age in FIR is 14 and 16," said Nasir. "Under Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, every citizen under 18 falls under definition of child and cant be married."
"Police has tried to dismiss the matter by citing a video of the two sisters in which they claim they will fully converted (sic) to Islam," Nasir said.
Most Hindu families in Pakistan live in Sindh and according to media reports, some 25 forced marriages take place every month in the Umerkot district.
Last year, prior to being elected, Imran Khan had pledged to safeguard the rights of minorities if "he came into power" and had announced that his government would take effective measures to prevent forced marriages of Hindu girls with Muslims.
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Aaron Finch struck his second century in as many games to lead Australia to another thumping eight-wicket victory over a hapless Pakistan in the second one-day international in Sharjah on Sunday.
The Australia captain smashed a 143-ball 153 not out for his 13th ODI hundred — also his highest score in ODIs — to anchor Australia's comfortable chase of a 285-run target in 47.5 overs.
Finch, who scored 116 in Australia's eight-wicket win in the first game at the same venue on Friday, put on a solid 209-run opening wicket stand with Usman Khawaja who made a 109-ball 88 to give Australia a 2-0 lead in the five-match series.
Finch struck six sixes and 11 boundaries in a dominating innings, improving on his previous highest one-day score of 148 against Scotland at Edinburgh in 2013.
The victory came in the 100th ODI match between the two countries.
Finch admitted the start was tough.
“On a wicket like that, you can't afford to take it too deep with new batters,” he said. “When you come in, it's tough to score quickly at first. I just wanted to get through Imad (Wasim).
“It's hard to take a risk off him. I just hung in there as long as I could. Usman has been in good form, and he's getting big runs at an important time.
“Things are going quite well at the moment, but there are always things to improve.”
Inexperienced Pakistan lineup
Pakistan had replaced fast bowler Mohammad Amir with Mohammad Hasnain for the rookie 18-year-old's first one-day and that made for an inexperienced lineup, having already rested six main players for the series.
Finch and Khawaja thrived against the novice attack, with Finch striking two sixes in the final overs while Khawaja's knock had eight boundaries.
Finch completed his hundred with a couple off Hasnain on his 97th ball, making successive hundreds for a second time in his career. He scored consecutive hundreds against England in Australia last year.
Khawaja fell to leg-spinner Yasir Shah with 76 needed while Glenn Maxwell cracked two sixes in his 19 before he was run out.
Pakistan's stand-in captain Shoaib Malik rued the lack of early wickets.
“To be honest, I think early strikes in our bowling is what we are lacking,” said Malik. “Overall, there are positives as we fought until the last ball. We are testing our bench strength.”
Pakistan owed their total of 284-7, after winning the toss, to Mohammad Rizwan's maiden century.
Rizwan, only playing because regular keeper and skipper Sarfraz Ahmed has been rested for the series, added 52 for the third wicket with Haris Sohail (34) and an invaluable 127 for the fifth wicket with Shoaib Malik.
Pakistan lost opener Imam-ul-Haq without scoring off the fifth ball of the innings from fast bowler Jhye Richardson.
Shan Masood (19) and Sohail — who scored his maiden hundred in the first game on Friday — took the total to 35 when Richardson struck again, getting Masood caught at short mid-wicket.
But Richardson took 2-16 in his five overs and fell awkwardly in the outfield and left the field in the 11th over. Initial reports suggested he dislocated his shoulder and is doubtful for the remaining three matches.
Rizwan, though, lifted Pakistan after Umar Akmal fell for 16.
Rizwan improved on his previous best of 75 not out and completed his hundred with a single off 114 balls before falling to Nathan Coulter-Nile's boundary catch.
Coulter-Nile finished with 2-52.
Malik also smashed three boundaries and a six before falling in the 45th over.
The next match is in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.
Pakistan: Shoaib Malik (captain), Shan Masood, Umar Akmal, Faheem Ashraf, Haris Sohail, Imad Wasim, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Hasnain, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Abbas
Australia: Aaron Finch (captain), Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Alex Carey, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jhye Richardson, Nathan Lyon, Adam Zampa
Umpires: Michael Gough (ENG) and Ahsan Raza (PAK), Tv umpire: Kumar Dharmasena (SRI), Match referee: Jeff Crowe (NZL)
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Sunday said that PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari should change his narrative of bashing the government and censuring the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), and instead "stand with Pakistan".
Addressing a press conference in Lahore, the information minister said that Bilawal should focus his energy on issues bigger than running a movement to "save his father as there will be plenty of time to do that later".
Bilawal's father and PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari is currently embroiled in a NAB investigation regarding the use of fake bank accounts to launder money.
"You should concentrate on bigger issues; this 'if you ask us about Rs5,000 corruption then we will launch a movement against you' is an inappropriate attitude and does not justify a political movement against NAB," Chaudhry said, addressing Bilawal.
Last Thursday, Bilawal at a press conference had said that he does not trust the PTI government to crack down on banned organisations and demanded the removal of a trio of ministers from the federal cabinet, whom he accused of having "long-held ties" with members of proscribed groups.
Responding to Bilawal's allegations, the information minister said that the young parliamentarian is in need of a deeper assessment of the facts and history within his own party of similar "long-held ties".
"Bilawal has not assessed this fully. If only he had looked at who Qamar Zaman Kaira and Khursheed Shah had been pictured with he would not have made such statements," he said.
"He doesn't know what big 'terrorists' Khursheed sahab has been meeting," Chaudhry alleged. "If taken strictly [the viewpoint that Bilawal holds] the entire [National] Assembly would have to be banned."
He said that all of the ministers stand with Pakistan and will remain devoted to the country. "Bilawal will have to change his narrative and stand with Pakistan."
The information minister went on to claim that "the two favourites" [Bilawal and Maryam Nawaz] pose no political challenge to the government.
"We are of the view they have just begun [their political career] and we hope that they serve people and engage in philanthropy [before jumping into the deep end of politics]. They should at least get a job for six months so they know what life is like [for the common man]. It is not appropriate to engage in politicking over abbu's (father's) money," said Chaudhry.
'Goebbels of the puppet government'
PPP issued a quick response to the information minister's remarks, terming him the "Goebbels (referring to the propaganda minister of Nazi Germany) of the puppet government".
"The country knows that Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan are two sides of the same coin," alleged PPP leader Nafisa Shah.
"Bilawal wants to save Pakistan which faces danger from banned organisations," she claimed.
"Bilawal's statements hurt Imran Khan and when Imran Khan is hurt then NAB becomes more charged than ever," said Shah.
She said that the PPP only demands a complete implementation of NAP.
The exchange of barbs between the minister and the PPP comes days after PTI MPA Mussarat Jamshed Cheema submitted a resolution in the Punjab Assembly demanding that the federal government register a high treason case against Bilawal following his allegation that some incumbent ministers had ties with members of proscribed organisations.
After the resolution was submitted, Bilawal had lashed out at the PTI-led government whom he labelled "fascist trolls" and questioned whether those who refuse to follow "scripted narratives" would be declared traitors.
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Lahore's Chughtai Lab on Saturday night posted a statement, clarifying its position on what it called was an attempt to target former premier Nawaz Sharif through "mockery by using insulting remarks in an amendment to his medical reports".
Social media, particularly Twitter, remained abuzz on Saturday about an apparently altered medical report of PML-N's supreme leader. An image of a lab test report bearing patient identity number 13001-19-104183295 and name M Nawaz was circulating on social media. In the image, someone had replaced the residential address on the report with a phrase saying, "Please return Pakistan's looted money and freely live anywhere. Regards @endlessquest92."
A large number of people, particularly PML-N workers and supporters, used hashtag #BoycottChughtaiLab to record their protest against the incident. Many started raising questions upon the credibility of medical reports from Chughtai Lab, saying that if one part of the report could be altered, so could the rest.
According to the lab, online profile of one of its patients was tampered and modified without permission. "Twitter user @endlessquest92 has admitted online to this act," the lab Twitted.
The lab further clarified that patient results can be accessed on their servers by using patient identity information that is printed on lab reports. "That is why photos of lab reports should not be shared on social media," it added.
In a series of Tweets, the lab mentioned that using patient's information, online reports can be accessed, whereas patient address and other profile information can also be changed.
"In today's episode, someone has accessed the patient's profile and edited the address field."
The lab said that the patient's online lab record has been restored to original condition. The incident has been reported to the Federal Investigation Authority's (FIA) cyber crime wing, it added.
In its press release, the lab administration made it clear that they are not associated with any political party. The lab also vowed to take steps to further strengthen the security of online reports to avoid record tampering in the future.
No senior PML-N leader has yet commented on the incident.
'Nawaz’s kidney function has deteriorated'
Nawaz Sharif is undergoing seven-year imprisonment in the Al-Azizia Mills corruption case. The government claims that he is not ready to be treated in any hospital in the country as he wants to go to London for treatment. The PML-N has accused the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government of indulging in politics over Sharif’s health.
The former premier spent around 10 days in Jinnah Hospital, Lahore, last month. He refused to get further treatment at the hospital after the Islamabad High Court rejected his petition seeking suspension of his sentence in the Al-Azizia reference on medical grounds.
Maryam Nawaz, after meeting her father at Kot Lakhpat jail on Saturday, said the former prime minister’s kidney function has deteriorated.
She said Sharif’s condition was “serious”.
“Just got back after meeting MNS [Mian Nawaz Sharif]. His doctor’s concern was not unfounded. The blood tests done yesterday reveal a further raise in his CREATININE levels which means his kidney function has deteriorated. His kidney disease is already at stage 3. The pain in the flanks persists,” she said in a tweet.
In view of deterioration of Sharif’s renal function, the authorities were arranging for a specialist to examine/evaluate him at the jail, she had said.
“Presence of MNS’s personal physician during the examination is vital. A written request to the Home Office in this regard has been dispatched,” she said.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Sunday invited PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari for talks regarding the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) at the place of his choosing and said that he has no objections to a parliamentary briefing on the same.
Speaking to reporters in Multan, the foreign minister addressed Bilawal's recent statements on the government's handling of NAP by saying: "I spoke to his [Bilawal's] father and also to the leader of the opposition Shahbaz Sharif over the phone and I wrote a letter to both as well. In the letter I said I am writing to you in two capacities: as the foreign minister as well as the vice chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf with the approval of the premiership of Imran Khan; let's sit and talk.
"You all [the opposition parties] are united in your stance regarding the plan. Are not all your parties signatories to the plan? Then let's take the matter forward together," he said, referring to his telephonic conversation and letters to Asif Ali Zardari and Sharif.
He said that Bilawal was adamant and instead responded by demanding that the whole parliament be briefed on NAP.
"I have no objections to that either. We are ready for that. I want to tell Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari sahib through the media: 'Please allay your concerns in writing to me. What sort of implementation do you want? What steps should we take to combat the forces that give shelter to terrorists? Guide us, tell us. We will give importance to your input and will try to incorporate it in NAP. But mere statements do not solve problems,'" he said.
He urged Bilawal to see the importance of Pakistan presenting a united stance before the world given that India was constantly engaging in efforts to pull the country down.
"You must see that India is trying to attack Pakistan. It is trying to get Pakistan pushed into FATF's blacklist from the 'grey list' and trying to diplomatically isolate Pakistan.
"Today India is trying to move a resolution in the [UN] Security Council against Pakistan which a lot of countries have presented — I do not wish to name them — and many countries are acting as spokespersons for it.
"Pakistan's united stance is in its best security interests and is in accordance with its national security requirements."
He once again called upon the PPP leader to give talks a chance. "I invite you to sit with us and give me your suggestions, verbally or in writing, and if you face trouble in coming, the [National] Assembly is a shared forum.
"Let us meet in the assembly and if you feel like your party members are not all on the same page yet then I am ready to come. The chamber of the leader of the opposition is available. I will tell [Sharif to make it available for us]," he stressed.
'Will not let our guard down'
Regarding peace overtures to India and the latter's recent change in tone with a message sent to Prime Minister Imran Khan ahead of Pakistan Day celebrations, the foreign minister said: "PTI was pushing for talks since day one. On July 26 the prime minister's message was 'let's talk'. If India is ready we were also never hesitant."
However, he warned against Pakistan raising its hopes too much.
"Until elections are over we will see a rise and fall in such rhetoric. We are ready for peace but that doesn't mean we will remain ignorant. We are aware of the cunning ones and their craftiness and we will not let our guard down and keep our preventative measures in place," he said.
When asked whether Pakistan will respond in kind if India changes its tone once again, Qureshi said: "We gave preference to peace before and will continue to put peace before anything else.
"However, if they act in aggression then we reserve the right to defend ourselves. We will defend ourselves and with pride. The armed forces, air forces and navy have proved they have the capability."
Visit to China
Qureshi said his visit to China last week was of immense importance and termed the discussions held there fruitful.
"China was an important tour because they played a great role in de-escalation [with India]. They spoke to us on the phone and then spoke on various forums as well and played their role very effectively," he said in praise of the all-weather friend that Pakistan sees in China.
"You know well that India wishes to raise a lot of issues before the sanctions committee and the UN Security Council. They [China] have stood by us when things went awry. I wanted that our talks with them and discussions remain ongoing.
"Our talks with them were very profitable. I want to let the nation know that they have said to us in clear terms that they were with us in the past and will remain with us. They give importance to our needs and will continue to do so," he said.
The Anti Narcotic Force (ANF) on Sunday arrested a dual national woman after thwarting her attempt to smuggle narcotics and recovered 13 kilogram heroin worth Rs130 million.
The arrest and recovery were made in an intelligence-based operation at the Islamabad airport, ANF sources said, adding that the British-Pakistani suspect was arrested from the departure lounge as she had managed to get herself and her luggage cleared from all check points.
The woman said, in a confessional video, that she intended to go to Vienna via Doha, Qatar. She was carrying three bags in which the narcotics were concealed.
According to ANF sources, initial investigations suggested that the suspect was a part of a larger network of narcotics smugglers.
On Wednesday, a Lahore Sessions Court sentenced a Czech woman arrested last year on charges of attempting to smuggle heroin from Pakistan to Abu Dhabi to eight years and eight months in jail.
Since her arrest on January 10, 2018, 21-year-old Tereza Hluskova has told investigators that she came to Pakistan to work as a model, but someone put eight and a half kilogrammes of narcotics into her luggage as she was returning.
Earlier this year in January, a foreign PhD student was taken into custody by customs staff after narcotics were found in his luggage during check-in at the new Islamabad International Airport.
Customs staff recovered 325 grams of cocaine disguised as sweets and arrested the student Ifenaye Junior Aloja, who is a PhD student in a private university of Islamabad. He was moved to Customs Headquarters for legal proceedings.
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New Delhi had announced a ban on the pro-independence group yesterday, as part of a crackdown on what it calls “separatist organisations”.
A statement issued in Delhi said the Indian government had declared JKLF an “unlawful association” as it was trying to curb the activities of “secessionist organisations” posing a threat to the country’s unity and integrity.
The group’s leader, Yasin Malik, was arrested recently in a counteroffensive against dissent following a Feb 14 suicide attack that killed over 40 Indian soldiers in the disputed region. Over a thousand people have been arrested since then.
The call for a strike was given by the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) comprising Syed Ali Gilani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik.
All shops and other business establishments were shut in Srinagar and other cities of the valley.
Indian police and paramilitary forces set up checkpoints at several places, while troops were deployed to foil possible protests in downtown Srinagar.
“The order to ban Jamaat-i-Islami and JKLF is nothing but an act of political vengeance and an oppressive tactic to suppress the just movement of people of Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian government’s decision to ban the organisations peacefully striving for the resolution of Kashmir dispute, will not cow down the people,” a statement from the JRL said.
The statement added that the Indian government wants to "push people towards the wall for raising the demand to get their rights but it will not make pro-freedom leadership to crumble".
Many groups have been fighting for the Himalayan region’s independence from India or its merger with Pakistan since 1989.
A 30-year insurgency in the region has left tens of thousands of people dead, mostly civilians.
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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Sohail Mahmood said on Saturday Pakistan’s peace gestures to India showed his country’s forward looking approach for the future of the region.
Speaking at a flag-hoisting ceremony at the Pakistan High Commission on the occasion of Pakistan Day, the high commissioner, according to a press statement issued from New Delhi, said that Pakistani government’s overtures should not be seen as “a sign of weakness”, rather they should be looked as “constructive thinking of a secure and confident nation”.
The high commissioner earlier on Friday hosted a reception on the eve of Pakistan Day in which he emphasised the need for dialogue to address all bilateral issues including that of Kashmir. “Diplomacy and dialogue remain indispensable for enhancing mutual understanding, addressing mutual concerns, and resolving long-standing disputes including Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.
Mr Mahmood noted that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s decision to release captured Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan, return of two high commissioners to their respective missions and the initiation of the discussion on developing modalities for the operationalisation of Kartarpur Corridor showed that things in the bilateral relationship were moving in a positive direction.
He recalled the strides Pakistan had made in democracy, economic development, independence of judiciary, promotion of free media and growth of a vibrant civil society since its independence in 1947.
Pakistan Day in other countries
IRAN: Pakistan Ambassador to Iran Riffat Masood, while speaking at a Pakistan Day ceremony in Tehran, hoped that Pakistan and Iran ties would improve. She also said the leadership of both the countries was committed to betterment in their relationship. Amb Masood called upon the Pakistani community to remain committed to serving their country, reiterating the need for forging national unity to overcome challenges faced by the country.
Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Hassan Rouhani in their conversation earlier this month agreed on the need for closer cooperation among the two intelligence agencies of their countries in combating terrorism. Successful recovery of four kidnapped Iranian border guards by Pakistani law enforcement agencies last week helped improve the atmospherics in the relationship that had become tense since the bombing of an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps bus in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan province in February.
IRAQ: Pakistan Ambassador to Iraq Sajid Bilal hoisted the national flag at a Pakistan Day ceremony at the embassy in Baghdad. Speaking on the occasion, Amb Bilal said Pakistan “successfully confronted extraordinary challenges and made notable gains against extremism and terrorism”. He said Pakistan was, however, still faced with the challenge of socio-economic development.
Prominent members of Pakistani community in Iraq, a wide cross section of Iraqi society including prominent politicians, members of the parliament, officials of various ministries, the academia, philanthropists, journalists, businessmen and members of Baghdad-based diplomatic corps attended a reception hosted by the embassy in the evening.
One-minute silence was also observed at the reception for the victims of the ferry that capsized near Mosul in Ninawa province of Iraq. Over hundred passengers including 12 children lost their lives when an overcrowded ferry capsized in the River Tigris on Thursday.
Amb Bilal later called on Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi to convey Pakistani government’s condolences on the tragic loss of precious lives in the ferry accident. Iraq is observing three-day mourning over the incident.
UAE: Ambassador to the UAE Moazzam Ahmad Khan in his speech at a Pakistan Day ceremony in Abu Dhabi recalled the challenges confronted by Pakistan since its inception and how through national resolve, resilience and commitment by the Pakistani nation had overcome them.
“While appreciating the unity and maturity displayed by [the] Pakistani nation during the recent unprovoked Indian aggression against Pakistan, the ambassador reiterated the readiness of Pakistan to play its part in winning lasting peace in the region,” the mission in Emirates said in a statement.
The ambassador thanked friends of Pakistan particularly the UAE who has always stood by it in difficult times and contributed to its development. He said the successive meetings between the leadership of two countries in recent months had transformed these bilateral relations into strategic partnership.
TURKEY: Ambassador to Turkey Syprus Sajjad Qazi, at a ceremony in Ankara, thanked the people and leadership of Turkey for standing beside Pakistan during challenging times. He remarked that Pakistan and Turkey enjoy a relationship that has no parallels.
New Zealand will hold a national remembrance service for victims of the Christchurch massacre on March 29, the government announced on Sunday, as the country grieves over a tragedy that shocked the world.
The service will take place in Christchurch at 10am (2100 GMT) local time, two weeks after an Australian white supremacist gunned down 50 Muslims and wounded dozens of others during Friday prayers at two mosques in the city on March 15.
"The national remembrance service provides an opportunity for Cantabrians (Christchurch-area residents), New Zealanders and people all around the world to come together as one to honour the victims of the terrorist attack," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement.
Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old motivated by the white extremist belief that Muslims were "invading" Western countries, was arrested within minutes of the massacre and has been charged with murder.
The slaughter, which he cold-bloodedly live-streamed, has rocked the normally laid-back country of 4.5 million.
"In the week since the unprecedented terror attack, there has been an outpouring of grief and love in our country," Ardern said.
"The service will be a chance to once again show that New Zealanders are compassionate, inclusive and diverse, and that we will protect those values."
The service will be held at Hagley Park in Christchurch, located across the street from the Al Noor Mosque where the killing spree began.
'Must move on'
Most victims were gunned down at Al Noor before Tarrant killed seven more at the smaller Linwood Mosque several kilometres (miles) away.
Police subsequently took over the mosques for investigations and security reasons, but handed them back to the Muslim community on Saturday.
The faithful were allowed back into Al Noor shortly afterwards, and on Sunday Linwood re-opened after both sites underwent hasty work to repair bullet holes and clean bloodstains.
Present for Linwood's re-opening was Afghan refugee Abdul Aziz, who was hailed as a hero after he chased Tarrant away from the mosque wielding only a hand-held credit card machine, likely preventing further bloodshed.
"When I passed through (the door) I got this pressure in my head," Aziz, a 48-year-old father of four, said as he joined the mosque's imam, Alabi Lateef Zirullah, in reclaiming the house of worship.
"It brings all the memories back. But we have to move on. It takes time to heal, but we have to be strong," he said.
"If I didn't face him (the shooter) I would have been killed anyway. My life was not more important than the 80 or 100 people inside the mosque."
Donations pour in
New Zealand came to a standstill on Friday to mark one week since the bloodshed, with the Muslim call to prayer broadcast across the country from a ceremony at Hagley Park followed by two minutes of silence.
Friday's ceremonies saw poignant scenes across the country with non-believers embracing Muslims, Maoris performing the traditional haka war dance, and non-Muslim New Zealand women donning makeshift Islamic headscarves in solidarity.
The government has picked up the tab for the burials, which were conducted over the past week, and Ardern has said it will bear costs of relocating shattered families out of New Zealand if they wish.
More than NZ$10.8 million ($7.4 million) in public donations to families had been received as of Sunday morning, according to the fund-raising websites GiveaLittle.co.nz and LaunchGood.com, a global crowdfunding platform focused on Muslims.
In the corner of Saddar’s old bazaar, the 122-year-old Krishna Mandir was decorated with lights and flowers and alive with the sound of bhajans, as the Hindus of Rawalpindi and Islamabad celebrated Holi this weekend.
The small temple is not very noticeable most days, but Friday night it was a riot of colour and light, where the Hindu community gathered to celebrate the festival of colours, as well as Pakistan Day.
Holi is celebrated at the start of spring to commemorate the victory of Vishnu against the evil forces of the Raja of Multan.
Residents gathered at Krishna Mandir on Friday, the last day of Holi – a three day festival that began on March 19 – as well as the eve of March 23, so that celebrations could coincide with Pakistan Day.
Local police had closed off roads from Railway Road to Kola Centre for security reasons, and police officials were deployed to check individuals heading towards the temple.
The festival began with Durga Puja (prayer) followed by special prayers for the prosperity of the country and brotherhood among people of all religions.
The main feature of Holi celebrations is a colour fight, during which people throw coloured powder at each other. This begins with the breaking of an earthen pot filled with butter and coconut that hangs in the middle of the temple courtyard. The priest throws the first handful of rung.
Jai Ram, the priest at Krishna Mandir, explained the origins of Holi.
“Raja Hiranyakashipu who ruled Multan and the northern part of Indian subcontinent acquired some powers from the gods, but then announced he was more powerful than the god Vishnu and refused to obey him and joined with the evil forces. However, his son Prahad was a devotee of Vishnu and refused to accept his father above Vishnu,” he said.
Raja Hiranyakashipu tried to kill his son. He asked his sister, Holika, who could not be harmed by fire if she wore a cloak. Raja Hiranyakashipu set a huge fire and his sister brought Prahad into the fire wearing her cloak. However, Holika was burned and Prahad escaped because of the blessings of Vishnu, and the flames turned into colour for Prahad.
All Pakistan Hindu-Sikh Welfare Association President Heera Lal offered special prayers for the wellbeing of the country and said all Pakistanis were united in the country without any religious divides.
“The Hindu community will defend their homeland Pakistan in difficult times as other Pakistanis would do,” he said.
He said the Holi celebrations were held on Saturday to celebrate Pakistan Day as well, remarking that Hindus were celebrating two festivals on the same day.
Priest Jai Ram accompanied by Pandit Channa Lal and Om Prakash announced a minute silence to express solidarity with Muslims murdered in New Zealand and said that the Hindu community condemned such acts.
“Our country needs peace and harmony for prosperity. We should give the message to the enemy that all the residents of the country are united,” he said.
A man working as a driver for a prominent political family of Balochistan was shot and wounded by his employer in Karachi on Saturday over allegations of raping the minor daughter of a domestic helper, according to police.
Gizri Station House Officer Khan Mohammed Bhatti told Dawn that the 20-year-old driver, Mohammed Irfan, was shot at and wounded inside the Defence Housing Authority residence where he worked.
The officer said that an initial probe revealed that the wounded man had allegedly raped the teenage daughter of the family’s maid inside the home two days ago. The mother had complained to her employer, who then called the driver to question him. He stated his innocence and claimed that it was a false accusation against him.
"The owner of the house was not satisfied with his response, and in order to frighten him, resorted to firing a shot and the bullet hit the driver," said the officer, sharing the initial findings of the case.
The driver was taken to Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) where he was found to be out of danger, according to Dr Seemin Jamali, executive director of the hospital. The bullet struck his right thigh.
Later on Saturday night, SHO Bhatti told Dawn that the police have registered a rape case against the injured driver on the complaint of the victim's mother. The officer said the girl is around 13-14 years old. The police will get a medical examination done from the hospital on Sunday, he added.
SHO Bhatti said that the police have sent an officer to get the driver's statement in order to register a case against his employer, but he did not provide a statement, saying that he would like to receive medical treatment first.
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WASHINGTON: The world’s three major powers — the United States, Russia and China — have agreed to ensure that Afghanistan never becomes a source of threat to any of them, according to US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
In a separate statement, the US State Department said on Saturday the three powers had also agreed to ensure that Afghans exercised their right to decide their own future.
Representatives of the three countries met in Washington on Thursday and Friday to coordinate their strategies for restoring peace and stability to Afghanistan. This was their first joint meeting since the United States started holding direct talks with the Taliban militants. “The parties exchanged views on the current status of the Afghan peace process and discussed common efforts to bring peace, prosperity and security to Afghanistan,” the State Department said.
“They underscored their respect for the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Afghanistan, as well as Afghanistan’s right to make its own political, security and economic decisions.”
US, Russia and China will continue to seek joint efforts on Afghan peace, says State Department
Mr Khalilzad, who leads the US team in the talks with the Taliban, attended the trilateral talks. In a tweet released after the talks, he wrote that he first held separate meetings with his counterparts from Russia, China and the European Union before joining them on a working lunch.
“Welcome the robust interest in Afghan Peace Process,” he wrote. “We respect Afghan sovereignty, want peace for all Afghans and seek an Afghanistan that is never a source of threat for any of us.”
The State Department said the United States, China and Russia had agreed to continue further discussions as “the parties will continue to seek common efforts and coordination on the Afghan peace process”.
The exact date and venue for the next meeting will be decided through diplomatic channels.
The meeting followed the fifth round of US-Taliban talks in Doha, Qatar, late last month. The talks focused on four key points: Counterterrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan dialogue, and a comprehensive ceasefire.
While there seems to be an understanding on the first two points, the Taliban are refusing to hold talks with the Afghan government and appear reluctant to enforce a comprehensive ceasefire.
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