A delegation of ‘concerned citizens’ comprising prominent figures from various spheres of Pakistani society convened on Thursday to meet with Rabea Javeria Agha, Chairperson of the National Commission of Human Rights (NCHR).
Their primary objective was to press the human rights watchdog to address the violations of human rights faced by Afghan refugees, who were recently ordered to be expelled by the caretaker government.
The delegation brought together influential individuals such as Farhatullah Babar, President of the Human Rights Cell of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP); Afrasiab Khattak, former Senator and member of the National Democratic Movement (NDM); Senator Mushtaq Ahmad of Jamat-e-Islami; and human rights activists including Saba Gul Khattak, Barrister Umer Gilani, Amina Masood Janjua, and Advocate Supreme Court Imran Shafiq.
In a formal display of their commitment to this pressing issue, the delegation also presented a petition to Chairperson Rabea Javeria Agha during their meeting at her office.
The petition underscored that earlier this month, the unelected caretaker government took a surprising departure from Pakistan’s four-decade-old policy of protecting Afghan refugees, regardless of their documentation status. This abrupt decision, attributed to the so-called “apex committee,” a body lacking legal or constitutional standing, was found to be in violation of the cabinet’s decision made in February 2017 by the elected government.
The delegation argued that the apex committee’s decision not only contravened established court judgments but also ran counter to the Tripartite Agreement between Pakistan, UNHCR, and Afghanistan. It further violated international treaties ratified by Pakistan and recommendations put forth by the Human Rights Committee of the National Assembly late last year.
Moreover, the delegation contended that the decision conflicted with the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) plus regime, which had previously granted Pakistan preferential export facilities to European Union countries. They criticised this decision as “thoughtless and knee-jerk,” asserting that it led to police-initiated campaigns against Afghan refugees across the country, resulting in widespread reports of harassment, bribery, and extortion.
The petitioners vehemently rejected the notion that all foreigners in Pakistan without valid visas should be subject to deportation. They argued that this simplistic view failed to consider the fact that many “illegal” and undocumented refugees had no other choice due to the government’s reluctance to issue them the necessary documents.
Read More: Crackdown rattles Afghans in Pakistan
The delegation also highlighted Pakistan’s recognition of the constitutional right to asylum, a principle reaffirmed by the Islamabad High Court in the well-known case of Raheel Azizi vs State.
Key respondents in the petition include the Federation of Pakistan, Secretary of the Interior Division, Coordinator of the “Apex Committee,” Director-General of Immigration and Passports, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chief Commissioner for Afghan Refugees, NADRA, and UNHCR.
In their appeal, the petitioners called on the UNHCR to intervene and prevent the Federation from detaining and forcibly deporting Afghan asylum-seekers who possess valid documentation or whose asylum applications are pending before UNHCR, with particular emphasis on safeguarding Afghan human rights defenders.
The meeting with the NCHR serves as a notable milestone in the ongoing efforts to protect the rights and dignity of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, underscoring the importance of upholding the principles of international humanitarian law and safeguarding the rights of vulnerable populations in the region.
‘Some forces’ pull back leaders with progressive vision: Zardari
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday asserted that ‘some forces’ hinder the progress of leaders with a vision for advancing the country. He however expressed his confidence in the people of Pakistan, emphasising that he does not succumb to fear in the face of such forces.
Addressing a rally in Quetta to mark the party’s 56th foundation day, he said that Balochistan was the heart of Pakistan, a term usually referred to Lahore, lamenting that Islamabad and other provinces fail to recognise it as such.
Zardari affirmed his party’s commitment to rectifying this perception while acknowledging the significance of winning hearts of the people of Balochistan to achieve this goal.
He stated that the PPP would empower the people of Balochistan, ensuring their ownership of the province’s resources, including gas, petrol, and minerals. He underlined that the rights to these resources belong solely to the people of Balochistan, with no claim by others.
The former president highlighted the challenges faced by Balochistan and emphasised the need to address the grief prevalent in the province.
He pledged that the PPP would make Balochistan the master of its own destiny, ensuring that all resources, whether gas, petrol, or minerals, benefit the local population. Zardari promised equitable distribution of water resources across all provinces.
Turning his attention to his son Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the veteran politician commended former foreign minister for elevating Pakistan’s dignity at a young age. He called for support for Bilawal, envisioning him as a leader of the youth, guiding the nation towards prosperity.
Zardari concluded by asserting the need to groom Bilawal as a leader for today and tomorrow, saying that he would try to transfer his ‘wisdom’ to his son.
Bilawal fires broadside at PML-N
Speaking on the occasion, Bilawal took aim at his political opponents, asserting that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had earned the moniker “mehangai [inflation] league”, calling the former coalition partners a showbaaz (braggers) of Pakistani politics.
Bilawal said that 70% of the country’s population comprises youth, highlighting his own youthful identity. In an apparent reference to former prime minister Imran Khan, who is considered popular among the youth, the former foreign minister said that he would represent the youth himself, not any khiladi (player).
Bilawal credited his father Asif Ali Zardari for burying the politics of hatred and revenge, marking the beginning of a new era.
He said that his party would bring a new “charter of economy” if brought to power, criticising the PML-N-led government in failing to curb inflation despite holding the finance ministry.
Urging the youth to reject divisive politics, Bilawal expressed regret that Islamabad failed to recognise the significance of Balochistan in Pakistan.
He called for a new vision and politics in Pakistan, signalling the PPP’s intention to initiate a fresh style of politics to empower the people in facing economic challenges.
لائیو: پاکستان پیپلز پارٹی کے 56 ویں یوم تاسیس کے موقعے پر کوئٹہ میں جلسہ عام https://t.co/sI1ou9uVQh
— Pakistan Peoples Party – PPP (@PPP_Org) November 30, 2023
FBR rolls back its decision to freeze PIA`s bank accounts
The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) rolled back its decision to freeze Pakistan International Airlines’ (PIA) bank accounts on Thursday. However, it clarified that the reversal did not impede its pursuit of recovery proceedings, signaling a precarious financial situation for the national carrier.
The PIA has repeatedly found itself entangled in a financial crisis, exacerbated by the FBR’s action of freezing 28 of its accounts just a day before. The Pakistan State Oil (PSO) had also issued a stern warning, threatening to suspend oil supplies to the airline if outstanding dues remained unsettled.
These developments unfolded against a visit from the European Union’s Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) team, tasked with assessing flight safety concerns in Pakistan.
Notably, the EASA had previously restricted PIA from operating flights to Europe after a plane crash in Karachi in May 2020 and subsequent revelations by former aviation minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan about questionable qualifications of Pakistani pilots.
FBR’s deputy commissioner for Inland Revenue conveyed, “This office has been directed to withdraw the notice mentioned above and to de-attach the bank accounts of the subject taxpayer with immediate effect.”
Despite this, the board emphasized that removing the attachment did not preclude the pursuit of “recovery proceedings” under Section 14(3) of the Federal Excise Act, 2005, pertaining to unpaid or erroneously refunded duty.
PIA spokesperson Abdullah Khan confirmed the FBR’s directive to unfreeze accounts nationwide, highlighting ongoing communication between the national carrier and FBR’s large tax unit to address the underlying issues.
The financial challenges for PIA have escalated with billions in losses, prompting the government to announce privatization plans and outsourcing airport operations. Last month, the airline faced a severe setback when PSO halted fuel supplies because of unpaid dues, resulting in the cancellation of over 500 flights. Although operations resumed, the government has intensified decisions regarding PIA’s future.
Furthermore, the Cabinet’s Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) declined approval for an emergency supplementary grant of Rs7.3 billion per a request from the Aviation Ministry.
Reports from Bloomberg indicate that PIA’s liabilities amount to a staggering Rs743 billion (approximately $2.5 billion), surpassing its total assets by five times. With only 19 out of 34 aircraft operational, and losses reaching Rs86 billion last year, the estimate for this year stands at a monumental Rs153 billion. Privatization or grounding the airline appears increasingly inevitable, with the government contemplating the sale of at least 51% shares along with management control.
Recent directives include the cancellation of scheduled off days for PIA employees, with the chief executive urging senior officials to expedite tasks related to the airline’s divestment process. As turbulence continues to envelop PIA, the airline’s fate remains precarious, teetering on the edge of financial instability and the government’s ongoing reformative measures.
Caretaker PM arrives in Dubai to attend COP-28
Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar arrived in Dubai on Wednesday to attend the 28th United Nations Conference of Parties (COP-28).
Minister for Justice of the United Arab Emirates Abdullah Sultan bin Awad Al Nuaimi, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the UAE Faisal Niaz Tirmizi and the Pakistani diplomatic staff welcomed the prime minister at Dubai’s Al-Maktoum airport, the Prime Minister Office’s media wing said in a press release.
The premier will head the Pakistani delegation at the 28th Conference of Parties (COP-28), and will also attend the World Climate Action Summit, scheduled for December 01-02.
Caretaker Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani, Caretaker Finance Minister Dr Shamshad Akhtar, Caretaker Minister for Climate Change Ahmed Irfan Aslam and Caretaker Energy Minister Muhammad Ali will also be participating in the globally popular climate change event.
The COP28 summit is being held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates from today; it will run through December 12.
COP refers to signatories of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, an agreement which was signed by over 150 governments in 1992.
COP28 is the 28th annual summit which will bring leaders from around the globe. About 70,000 participants are expected to attend the event including various heads of state and government, climate envoys, experts, business leaders, indigenous groups, activists, diplomats and others.
The conference will seek agreement on goals and strategies to address the climate crisis.
Earlier in the day, Kakar and Kuwait’s Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah held a meeting, fostering a mutual commitment to enhance bilateral relations across various domains.
According to a statement issued by the PMO, Prime Minister Kakar emphasised the paramount importance Pakistan places on its relationship with Kuwait. He reiterated Pakistan’s eagerness to broaden bilateral cooperation, spanning trade, energy, information technology, labour, minerals, and investments.
Prime Minister Kakar expressed contentment with the robust collaboration between the two nations in various international fora. He also lauded Kuwait’s initiatives in recruiting Pakistani manpower, particularly in the fields of health, security, and infrastructure.
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