NEW DELHI: Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale will come face to face with his Pakistani counterpart, Tehmina Janjua, in Kabul this week for the Kabul conference, the Hindustan Times said on Tuesday.
Mr Gokhale will attend the conference on Wednesday in which 25 countries will be participating.
Though an official one-to-one meeting between the foreign secretaries hasn’t been confirmed by either of the two countries, if it takes place, the paper said, it would be the first such meeting between India and Pakistan since National Security Adviser Ajit Doval met his Pakistan counterpart in December 2017 in Bangkok.
The speculated meeting of the top diplomats at the Kabul conference comes in the backdrop of recent attacks on an army camp in Jammu and Kashmir’s Sunjwan, which India blames on Pakistan. The attack claimed the lives of five soldiers and one civilian, India claims.
Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said at the time that Pakistan will “pay for the misadventure”. According to NDTV, Ms Sitharaman had alleged that three militants of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, who attacked the army camp, were controlled by handlers in Pakistan.
Pakistan is “expanding the arch of terror to areas south of Pir Panjal ranges and resorting to ceasefire violations to assist infiltration”, she said.
The “Kabul Process” meeting is an Afghan government-led initiative with stakeholders to find lasting peace in the war-torn country, including the contours of engaging with Taliban outfit. This is the second such meeting of the Kabul Process and is taking place amid stepped up prospects that the elusive TAPI gas pipeline connecting Turkmenistan and India through Afghanistan and Pakistan could be taking shape.
Earlier, in the first stand-alone trip by the India’s foreign secretary to China after last year’s tense standoff in Doklam, Mr Gokhale quietly paid a visit to Beijing last week.
Indian Express reported both sides agreeing on a roadmap for the coming year, including discussions on visits by respective foreign ministers and other officials.
It quoted sources as saying that the brief for Mr Gokhale, a fluent Mandarin speaker who had played a key role in the disengagement at Doklam, was to lay the ground for normalising India-China ties, which have been strained recently, ahead of Prime Minister Narendra
Modi’s likely visit to Qingdao in China in June this year for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit.
Mr Gokhale was in Beijing on the day China lifted its objections to grey-listing of Pakistan with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) over terror financing, in what the paper saw as a major achievement for Delhi.
It said the FATF was on the table in the talks Mr Gokhale held in Beijing, apart from other contentious issues such as Maldives, Masood Azhar and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), and scheduling of working level meetings.
Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2018
WASHINGTON: Seventeen US intelligence agencies have warned Congress that Pakistan will continue to slip out of America’s influence and into China’s orbit in 2019, and will become a threat to Washington’s interests in the South Asian region.
The review is part of an annual report that Director of US National Intelligence Daniel R. Coats presented to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, underlining worldwide threat assessment of the American intelligence community.
The 17 agencies that jointly produced this report include Central Intelligence Agency, Defence Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Security Agency.
In their report on Pakistan, the agencies warned that the country will continue to threaten US interests by “deploying new nuclear weapons capabilities, maintaining its ties to militants, restricting counterterrorism cooperation, and drawing closer to China”.
The report claimed that Islamabad-backed militant groups will continue to take advantage of their alleged safe haven in Pakistan to “plan and conduct attacks in India and Afghanistan, including against US interests”.
The agencies also warned Pakistan’s perception of its “eroding position relative to India, reinforced by endemic economic weakness and domestic security issues, almost certainly will exacerbate long-held fears of isolation and drive Islamabad’s pursuit of actions that run counter to US goals for the region”.
In a brief assessment of Islamabad’s nuclear programme, US intelligence agencies informed Congress that Pakistan continues to produce nuclear weapons and develop new types, including short-range tactical weapons, sea-based cruise missiles, air-launched cruise missiles, and longer-range ballistic missiles.
“These new types of nuclear weapons will introduce new risks for escalation dynamics and security in the region,” the report added.
US agencies also expect relations between India and Pakistan to remain tense, with continued violence on the Line of Control and “the risk of escalation if there is another high-profile terrorist attack in India or an uptick in violence on the Line of Control”.
The agencies informed Congress that in 2019, relations between India and China will remain tense and will possibly deteriorate further, despite the negotiated settlement to their three-month border standoff in August.
This “elevates the risk of unintentional escalation”, the report added.
The US intelligence community expects the overall situation in Afghanistan to “deteriorate modestly” this year in the face of persistent political instability, sustained attacks by the Taliban-led insurgency, unsteady Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) performance, and chronic financial shortfalls.
The agencies warned that the National Unity government in Kabul “probably will struggle” to hold long-delayed parliamentary elections, currently scheduled for July 2018, and to prepare for a presidential election in 2019.
“The ANSF probably will maintain control of most major population centres with coalition force support, but the intensity and geographic scope of Taliban activities will put those centres under continued strain,” the agencies assessed.
The agencies believe that Afghanistan’s economic growth will stagnate at around 2.5 per cent per year, and Kabul will remain reliant on international donors for the great majority of its funding well beyond 2018.
US intelligence agencies see Russia as bringing pressure on Central Asia’s leaders to reduce engagement with Washington and support Russian-led economic and security initiatives, and believe that “concerns about [the militant Islamic State group] in Afghanistan will push Moscow to strengthen its security posture in the region”.
Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2018
LAHORE: Expressing his firm belief in democracy, Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar said on Sunday the judiciary would ensure free and fair general elections in the country.
“You will have free and fair election. I am making this announcement on behalf of my brother judges and the entire judiciary,” the chief justice told Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif thrice during the hearing of a suo motu case regarding provision of clean drinking water and disposal of untreated waste water and hospital waste.
Mr Shahbaz appeared before a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court in compliance with an order issued the other day after the chief justice was informed that 540 million gallons of waste water of Lahore city was being discharged daily into the Ravi without being treated.
At the outset of the hearing, Chief Justice Nisar told the chief minister that the court realised that the Punjab government’s performance was better than of other provinces, but still there were many areas which needed attention.
Chief justice, Shahbaz in witty exchange about who might be next PM
He said the disposal of untreated domestic and industrial waste in River Ravi was very alarming, but it seemed that the matter had never been a priority of the provincial government during its 10-year unbroken stint.
“We do not want to go into the past, but tell us what your government has planned to deal with the issue,” the chief justice asked the chief minister.
Before responding to the CJP’s query, Mr Shahbaz expressed his regard and honour for the courts and said an independent judiciary was vital to democracy. He also mentioned his participation in the lawyers’ movement for the restoration of democracy and independence of judiciary.
At this point an interesting dialogue took place between the chief minister and the chief justice.
When the chief minister said he had always advocated harmony between all state institutions, the CJP, on a lighter note, suggested to Mr Sharif to have the same discourse with other leaders of his party as well.
The courtroom resounded with laughter when CJP Nisar said: “If your party comes to power it will seriously consider making you the next prime minister.”
Mr Shahbaz responded: “You too are after my job.” The CJP retorted: “Not we, you are yourself after you job.”
Reverting to serious business, the chief justice said the court was not happy with outsourcing of different projects of the Punjab government, including the disposal of hospital infectious waste. He also showed concern over transparency in awarding the contracts.
Mr Shahbaz replied: “Transparency is something which is nearest to my heart.” He told the court that his government had saved billions of dollars of the nation by strictly observing transparency in all fields. He claimed that the government had established coal and gas based power projects to produce cheap electricity.
The level of smoke emission from the chimneys of coal power plants had been kept below the international minimum standard, he said when Justice Ijazul Ahsan referred to environmental hazards of coal power projects.
Chief Justice Nisar observed that the standard of emergency wards in public hospitals was not up to the mark. He referred to criticism from some leaders of the PML-N on his visit to a hospital in Lahore but said he did not mind that.
“I also have no objection. You can visit any hospital any time,” the chief minister responded. However, Mr Shahbaz, with a smiling face, sought some time when the chief justice offered him to go on a joint and surprise visit to a public hospital in Lahore right now.
The chief justice observed that the provision of good health facility was a fundamental right and to ensure this right was the responsibility of all institutions.
“I am not here (in the court) to project my government’s performance,” the chief minister said and added, “We have tried our best to serve this province.”
Shahbaz Sharif termed it politicking when the chief justice showed him a bottle containing tap water presented to him by PPP leader Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan the previous day. At this, the chief justice pointed out that arsenic was also found in water supplied to his chamber.
Mr Shahbaz sought three weeks to present a comprehensive plan to address the issues of waste water and incinerators and also expressed his willingness to appear in every hearing, if asked by the court.
The chief justice granted the time sought and asked the chief minister to submit a presentation on the Saaf Pani Project. Before leaving the rostrum, Mr Sharif recited some English verses to show his commitment to serve the people.
CLARIFICATION: The Supreme Court registrar’s office has rejected a statement of Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan that CJP Nisar desired that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz form the next government as well.
“It is clarified that the statement is totally false and concocted,” said a press release issued by the registrar office.
Several members of Mr Shahbaz’s cabinet, including Rana Sanaullah and Education Minister Rana Mashhood Ahmad Khan and the provincial government spokesmen Malik Muhammad Ahmad, also attended Sunday’s proceedings.
Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2018
ISLAMABAD: With an addition of 300,000 gas consumers every year, the country’s gas shortage is estimated to touch four billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) — almost equal to current total supplies — in two years and will go beyond 6.6bcfd by 2030.
The projection has been made by the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) in its “State of the Industry Report 2016-17”. The report also noted a 16 per cent surge in petroleum consumption owing to an increase in the number of cars and motorbikes and lower oil prices as the overall oil consumption rose by 10pc.
“The shortfall in gas is expected to reach 3.999bcfd by the fiscal year 2019-20 and the gap will reach 6.611bcfd without imported gas by 2029-30,” Ogra said. It noted a significant rise in demand and consumption of gas by residential and domestic consumers owing to price differential vis-à-vis other competing fuels — liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), firewood and coal.
Over the past five years, more than 300,000 consumers had been added to the gas network annually by gas companies and the growth in power, commercial and residential and fertiliser sectors resulted in a shortage, the report said, adding that “the demand for natural gas will further increase in the coming years…It is forecast that due to ever-increasing demand for gas, Pakistan will face a deficit in gas supply”.
300,000 consumers are added to the system every year
The power sector (including captive power) remained the main gas consumer, accounting for around 43pc share, followed by residential and fertiliser sectors with 21pc each.
The province-wise figures showed that Punjab and Sindh remained the major gas consumers with about 47pc and 43pc shares respectively. On the production front, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa contributed 56pc, 13pc and 12pc shares respectively. The share of re-gasified liquefied natural gas (RLNG) was 16pc.
As of June 30 last year, the cumulative transmission network of the two gas utilities — SSGCL and SNGPL — stood at 3,973km and 8,975km and distribution network at 45,521km and 110,217km, respectively. The two utilities provided new gas connection to 486,418 consumers and their cumulative consumer base stood at 8.576 million.
The import of LNG was declared by Ogra as a major success, among various measures being taken to bridge the gap between demand and supply. “Development of two LNG handling terminals (each having re-gasification capacity of 650mmcfd) at Karachi Port is a major milestone achieved to mitigate gas shortages in the country. During the year, total supply of natural gas in the country, including imported RLNG, reached 4.131bcfd.
Ogra said the total LPG supply touched 1.209 million tonnes. The domestic, commercial and industrial sectors consumed 37pc, 36pc and 27pc respectivley.
Gas-producing fields and imports together contributed 42pc each and refineries 16pc. The LPG supply increased to 3,029 tonnes per day in 2016-17 from 2,801 tonnes in 2015-16, while consumption rose to 3,313 tonnes from 3,055 tonnes.
According to Ogra, consumption of petroleum products registered a growth of 9.7pc (26 million tonnes) during the fiscal year 2016-17, compared to 5.2pc (23.7 million tonnes) in 2015-16. The main drivers of increased consumption were transport and power sectors with 12pc and 10pc respectively.
Consumption of petrol in the transport sector saw an increase of 16pc due to the growing number of motorcycles and cars. Similarly, consumption of high speed diesel (HSD) grew by 10pc, mainly because of higher utilisation by the transport sector, indicating increased economic activities in the country.
The transport and power sectors consumed almost 90pc of total petroleum oil lubricant, sharing 57pc and 33pc respectively.
The Pakistan State Oil remained the lead player in total energy products supply to consumers with 55pc market share, followed by Shell (9pc), Attock Petroleum Limited (8pc), Hascol Private Limited (8pc), Total Parco Marketing Limited (4pc) and Total Parco Pakistan Limited (4pc). Byco Petroleum Pakistan Limited and other oil marketing companies contributed 3pc and 8pc shares, respectively.
Local demands for HSD, petrol, furnace oil and jet fuels are mostly met through imports — 73pc petrol, 69pc furnace oil, 46pc HSD and 14pc jet fuel — as domestic production is not enough to meet the requirements.
Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2018
Reham Khan, a former TV anchor and ex-wife of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, has clarified that she has left Pakistan temporarily due to various reasons and will return to the country after a book she has been working on is published.
Reham told DawnNews that she is currently in the UK "temporarily", "for the security of my kids" and wants to settle her children there and publish her book.
"I have not left the country. When the book is published, I will return to Pakistan."
The former TV presenter said the editing and writing of her book have been completed and she is only waiting for it to be published.
Talking about the book, Reham said it is mainly about her life as a journalist and mother, but mentioned that the PTI chief features in it because he was once a part of her life, "albeit an unpleasant one".
Media reports had earlier claimed that Reham had left the country "amid threats by unknown individuals".
The news of her departure came in the wake of a recent interview she gave to India TV, in which she commented on her former husband's alleged third marriage.
"There is no specific threat," Reham clarified today. She, however, claimed that a cricketer from the national team had been "constantly trying to contact me".
She claimed that when she finally spoke to the player, he told her to "stop saying what you are saying about Imran."
Reham further alleged that after their divorce, Khan had sent her a message stating, "You should leave for the UK and give the impression that your kids could not be settled here [Pakistan]."
Terming it a "masked threat", she said she "know[s] the ability of these people [PTI members]".
Reham said people had been linking her to the PML-N after her recent statements, but a senior leader from the ruling party had called her this week and suggested that she stop talking about Khan.
She said other senior PML-N leaders had also asked her to keep mum about Khan.
"They had also asked me to stay quiet on the Ayesha Gulalai [harrassment] issue," she told DawnNews.
Responding to her allegation, PTI spokesperson Fawad Chaudhry said her claims were "rubbish".
"The threat [allegedly issued by Khan] was so effective that she lived in Pakistan for two years [after the divorce] and only in elections year she remembered the threat and that too just before [the] launch of her 'sponsored' book," he told DawnNews.
"PTI is not MQM [Muttahida Qaumi Movement] and we have no militant groups or the Punjab police at our disposal."
GeoNews, late Sunday night, said that Reham, while speaking to anchorperson Muneeb Farooq, had "confirmed she had left Pakistan on Sunday night and was receiving threats through phone calls made to her staff".
The publication added that Reham had also reportedly shared a voice recording of the coordinator of Reham Khan Foundation telling her that he had received threats for working for the foundation.
On Twitter, Reham did not mention leaving the country; she, however, did share journalist Murtaza Solangi's tweet in which he expressed shock over her "leaving the country".
The federal cabinet on Wednesday granted a 30-day extension in the legal stay of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. This is the sixth extension given to the refugees by the government.
Nearly 1.4 million registered Afghans had lost their refugee status in Pakistan on Sunday after their Proof of Registration (PoR) cards expired on December 31.
The Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (Safron) had suggested to the Prime Minister’s Secretariat that the refugees' stay should be extended until December 2018.
However, a meeting of the cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in Islamabad "agreed to grant only 30 days extension for PoR" card holders, read a press release issued after the meeting.
After a detailed discussion on the proposal to extend the stay of Afghan refugees, the cabinet decided that the issue of early repatriation of the refugees will be raised with UNHCR and the international community.
"Pakistan’s economy has carried the burden of hosting Afghan refugees since long and in the present circumstances cannot sustain it further," said the statement after the meeting.
Afghan refugees have already availed extension in their stay five times. The government had introduced PoR card system for the registered refugees to legalise their stay and protect them from harassment at the hands of law enforcement agencies. The card system was introduced with the assistance of UNHCR in 2009.
The government has commitments with UNHCR and Afghan government that there would be no forced return of refugees despite the expiry of PoR cards and would facilitate their return through the UN-sponsored voluntary repatriation programme.
At the outset of the meeting, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif briefed the cabinet regarding the allegations levelled by US President Donald Trump against Pakistan in a tweet, and the discussion held during a meeting of the National Security Committee on Tuesday.
The cabinet unanimously endorsed NSC's stance at the end of the meeting. It observed that Trump's statements are "detrimental to the bilateral relationship between Pakistan and USA".
"Pakistan has rendered huge sacrifices, both in terms of loss of precious human lives and substantial damage to the economy."
Pakistan's Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) Maleeha Lodhi condemned the United States (US) administration's aggressive remarks against Pakistan and said that Islamabad could "review its cooperation if it is not appreciated".
Referring to US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley's comments a day earlier where she had accused Pakistan of playing a "double game" with the US, Lodhi cautioned against "shifting the blame for [the US'] own mistakes and failures onto others".
Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Lodhi said that Pakistan has "contributed and sacrificed the most in fighting international terrorism".
The diplomat added that Pakistan's role in the war against terrorism did not depend on US aid but on "national interests and principles".
A war of words was triggered after Trump, in his first tweets on New Year's day, lashed out against Pakistan, calling the country a "liar".
Elaborating on Trump's tweets, Haley on Tuesday said that the US had withheld $255 million of military aid to Pakistan for the latter's alleged "harbouring of terrorists".
On the same day, US Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said at a press briefing that a detailed policy will be announced within the next 24-48 hours.
The US president's tweets evoked a strong response from the Pakistani civil and military leadership. The Foreign Office (FO) sought an explanation from American ambassador David Hale while the country's leadership expressed "deep disappointment" at the accusations levelled by the US president in a National Security Council meeting on Tuesday.
"... even more importantly the huge sacrifices made by Pakistan, including the loss of tens of thousands of lives ... could not be trivialised so heartlessly by pushing all of it behind a monetary value – and that too an imagined one," a press release issued after the meeting in Islamabad said, in a reference to Trump's claim that the US has "foolishly" given Pakistan over $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years.
Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif claimed that Pakistan had already "said 'no more' to America, so Trump's 'no more' has no importance".