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President urges PM to ensure implementation of SC’s order on KP, Punjab polls

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  • Elections are required to be held within 90 days, says president.  
  • Multiple fake cases has been registered against politicians, he says. 
  • No meaningful consultation with the president on policy issues had been undertaken by the PM, reads letter.  

ISLAMABAD: President Dr Arif Alvi on Friday penned a letter to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, emphasising that all concerned executive authorities of the federal and provincial governments should be directed to refrain from abuse of human rights and also to assist the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to hold general elections in the provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, within the timeframe, in compliance of Supreme Court’s Order, to avoid further complications including contempt of court.

The move came days after the electoral watchdog had postponed the upcoming elections in Punjab — initially scheduled to be held on April 30 — citing security reasons as the major cause behind the change in plans.

In his letter, the president said that the prime minister, being head of the government, was responsible for safeguarding human rights as well as the fundamental rights of every citizen of Pakistan as enshrined in the Constitution.

The president said that events that were highlighted by the print, electronic, and social media had taken place in the recent past about glaring violations of fundamental and human rights needed to be brought to the premier’s notice to ensure remedial measures and preventive action.

President Alvi maintained that elections of provincial assemblies, in case of their dissolution under Article 105 or Article 112, were required to be held within 90 days under Article 224 (2) of the Constitution.

The top court in its order dated March 1, had directed the electoral watchdog to propose date(s) to the president for holding the poll within 90 days or on a date that deviates to the barest minimum from the aforesaid deadline, he added.

The president said that KP Governor Haji Ghulam Ali was also directed by the SC to appoint a date for holding the general election for the provincial assembly as per the time frame.

“Subsequently, ECP had proposed holding of general elections between 30th April – 7th May, 2023 and general elections for the Provincial Assembly of Punjab were announced to be held on 30th April, 2023 and the same was notified by the ECP,” read the letter.

Role in postponement of polls

The head of the state said that it appeared that federal and caretaker governments in Punjab and KP advised the heads of concerned departments to indicate their inability to provide the necessary support for holding general elections.

He referred to Article 220 of the Constitution which states that “it shall be the duty of all executive authorities in the federation and in the provinces to assist the Commissioner and the election commission in the discharge of his or their functions”.

The president underlined that in his opinion, flagrant violation of the Constitution had been committed by the executive authorities and government departments, adding that ECP had not implemented his announcement of holding general elections in Punjab on April 30 and also blatantly violated the Supreme Court’s order. 

The ECP has announced the date of October 8, 2023, for holding general elections of provincial assemblies of Punjab and KP, he said.

He maintained that it was a matter of concern that the prime minister had undertaken no meaningful consultation with the president on policy issues in line with Article 46 of the Constitution, which provided that the PM shall keep the president informed on all matters of internal and foreign policy and on all legislative proposals the federal government intends to bring before the parliament. 

He added that Rule 15(5) of Rules of Business, 1973 also highlighted the responsibility of the PM, inter-alia, to furnish such information relating to the administration of affairs of the Federation and proposals for legislation as the president may call for.

In his letter, the president also drew the attention of the PM towards the seriousness of incidents of human rights violations, atrocities of police and law enforcement agencies and grossly disproportionate use of force against the citizens.

He said multiple fake and frivolous cases had been registered against politicians, workers, journalists and media persons; houses of political workers had been raided, and citizens had been abducted without warrants and lawful justification.

The president termed the incidents of human rights violations and oppression by state machinery against innocent citizens as “clear breach and violations of fundamental rights” guaranteed by Article 4 of the Constitution, which provides for, and guarantees citizens to enjoy the protection of the law and to be treated in accordance with the law.

“This has tarnished the image of Pakistan in the international community and is casting negative repercussions on the future of democracy and state of Human Rights in Pakistan,” he added.

The president further highlighted that in the World Press Freedom Index of 2021, Pakistan ranked 145 out of 180 countries and dropped to 157 ie, 12 points downwards in the World Press Freedom Index, 2022, which reflected the sorry state of affairs and this year’s actions and images would further exacerbate Pakistan’s already dismal ranking.

He wrote that in recent months, media had been further suppressed and journalists had also been subjected to charges of sedition and terrorism to stifle dissent and criticism against the government. It appears that a reign of terror has been unleashed against the media persons who have independent opinions, he added.

Pakistan

US Fulbright scholarship prgramme opens for Pakistani students

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ISLAMABAD: The United States Educational Foundation in Pakistan (USEFP) has invited students to apply for the prestigious Fulbright Student Programme 2024.

The Fulbright Program in Pakistan is funded by the United States Government and is the world’s largest in terms of financial contribution, said a press release on Thursday.

Applications are welcome from all disciplines, including energy, water, agriculture, health, education, environmental science, and climate change. While clinical medicine is not included in the Fulbright Program, non-clinical public health applications are encouraged.

Interested applicants can apply at www.usefp.org before the deadline on February 28, 2024. The premier academic exchange program covers graduate studies, tuition, maintenance, insurance, and air travel.

All applicants are required to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and must have a minimum score of 145 in both the verbal and quantitative sections of the exam. Shortlisted candidates will be required to take the Duolingo English Test.

On the impact of the Fulbright Program in Pakistan, US Ambassador Donald Blome said: “Pakistani Fulbrighters have solved social problems, written new laws, advanced policies to ensure equal access and voices to all, and so much more. They do this all for one purpose: to create a better, safer, and more prosperous Pakistan. In this goal, the United States and Pakistan are united.”

Under the Fulbright Programme, nearly 3,000 Pakistani students have received fully funded scholarships to study for graduate study since 2005. These awardees have completed their studies and research and are now making significant contributions to the public and private sectors with their knowledge and expertise.

In a message to potential applicants, USEFP Executive Director Rita Akhtar encourages talented students and working professionals to consider applying. 

“We especially want to encourage applicants from public universities and under-served areas. Fulbright is a merit-based program, but in defining merit, the program considers the obstacles and challenges applicants have faced as well as their achievements.

“One of the goals of the program is to build human capacity in Pakistan, so successful applicants will plan to return to Pakistan on completion of their degrees and use their new skills and knowledge for the benefit of the country.”

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Pakistan

FDE announces winter vacations for schools

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ISLAMABAD: The government has announced the winter vacations for educational institutes functioning under the federal administration.

The winter break in the federal educational institutes will officially start from December 25 to December 29, a notification issued by the Federal Directorate of Education read.

However, Federal Directorate of Education officials said that the institutes will close on December 22, which falls on Friday, and reopen on January 1, 2024, (Monday). 

Earlier in the month, Punjab and Sindh governments also announced the winter vacation schedule for the year.

In Punjab, the winter break for school children will commence from December 18, 2023, and continue till January 1, 2024.

“Winter vacations for children will commence from Dec 18 , 2023 to Jan 1, 2024,” Punjab caretaker Chief Minister Mohsin Naqvi had announced.

Meanwhile, the Sindh schools will have the vacations from December 22 to 31.

After the winter break, the educational institutions will reopen on Monday (January 1, 2024).

“In pursuance of decisions taken in the steering committee meeting, all public and private educational institutions under the administrative control of School Education and Literacy Department Government of Sindh shall remain closed w.e.f 22-12,023 to 31-12,023 for Winter Vacation,” a statement by the provincial government read.

Meanwhile, the new academic year in the public and private schools across Sindh will commence on April 15, 2024, and August 1, 2024, in the colleges.

The matriculation and intermediate exams will be started in the last week of May 2024, while the results will be announced on July 31 and the second week of August, respectively. 

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Pakistan to ‘ascertain facts’ on Afghan minister using its passport

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  • Haqqani possessed a Pakistani passport until recently: report.
  • FO says the answer will come only after facts are ascertained.
  • US officials are set to visit Pakistan to discuss several matters.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan said Thursday it will first ascertain facts before issuing a comment on a report that claims that Afghanistan’s acting Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani possessed a Pakistani passport until recently.

In her weekly press briefing, Foreign Office (FO) spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said: “I have seen the report on the use of a Pakistani passport by the Afghan minister. The matter will be answered after [ascertaining] the facts.”

A report published in The News today revealed that Haqqani was issued a Pakistani passport for five years which he used to travel abroad, particularly to Qatar for negotiations with the United States for the signing of the Doha Agreement that resulted in the latter’s exit from Afghanistan.

The publication, via the interior ministry officials, learnt that these passports were issued from different cities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and Sindh.

Meanwhile, two passport officials involved in issuing Haqqani’s passport have been arrested, one of whom had retired from service by the time the action was initiated against him.

The issue around the minister using the Pakistani passport comes at a time when Pakistan continues to repatriate illegal foreigners, most of whom are undocumented Afghan migrants.

Baloch also briefed the presser about top officials from the United States visiting Pakistan this week.

“The focus of these visits is not only Afghanistan. These visits are related to the multifaceted aspects of Pakistan-US relations,” she said, adding that Pakistan has decided to talk to America.

Pakistan and the US will conduct consultations over several issues including the situation in Afghanistan, the FO said last week.

In the meetings between Pakistan and US officials, reservations of both sides will be discussed. “We will also discuss the issues on which we have objections.”

Updated list of Afghans from US

The spokesperson further shared that Pakistan has received an updated list from the American authorities regarding the transfer of Afghan nationals to the US.

Last month, a coalition comprising former high-ranking United States (US) officials and resettlement organisations issued an urgent appeal to Pakistan, urging it to not deport Afghan individuals applying to seek refuge in and visas for the US.

The appeal came weeks after Pakistan announced November 1 as the deadline for all undocumented migrants — a substantial number of whom are Afghans — residing in the country to either leave on their own or face expulsion once the ultimatum ends.

The population of the aforementioned migrants includes roughly 20,000 or potentially more Afghans, who escaped their homeland following the Taliban’s return to power in 2021. Many of these migrants in Pakistan are awaiting their applications for the US Special Immigration Visas (SIVs) or refugee resettlement in the United States to be processed.

Commenting on regular skirmishes at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the spokesperson said: “There are often misunderstandings between the border authorities. These misunderstandings are cleared through communication channels.”

She added that the Torkham border was opened for all kinds of traffic yesterday.

Israels’ ‘barbaric attacks’

The FO yet again condemned the continuous Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip, stating that the situation in the Strip is rapidly deteriorating.

“No place in Gaza is safe for the public,” Baloch said.

The UN Security Council must perform its primary responsibility under the Charter, impose an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and protect the people of Gaza from an impending genocide, the FO spokesperson said.

“We call on Israel’s backers to urge Israel to end its barbaric attacks and inhumane siege against Gaza,” she added.

The spokesperson further stated that Pakistan calls for an international conference for long-term peace on the Palestinian question.

“Durable peace in the region will emerge from the internationally agreed two-state solution and from the creation of a secure, viable, contiguous, and sovereign state of Palestine on the basis of the pre-June 1967 borders, with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital,” she said.

Baloch also spoke about the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s efforts for Palestinians.

The head of the UN warned that he expects “public order to completely break down soon due to the desperate conditions” in Gaza, currently under relentless Israeli bombardment and invoked Article 99 of the UN Charter for the first time in his tenure owing to the gravity of the humanitarian crisis in the Strip.

‘Pakistani citizens welfare top priority’

During the presser, Baloch commented on the recent revelations regarding Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist jailed in the United States for over a decade.

According to her lawyer, the Pakistani doctor has been sexually assaulted at least two times during her incarceration.

“The statements related to Aafia Siddiqui are serious,” the spokesperson said.

She further added that Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar has instructed that the matter should be taken up with the US Department of State and investigations should be conducted.

“The welfare of Pakistani citizens is among our priorities,” Baloch reiterated.

She also spoke about the acid attack on former special assistant to the prime minister Shahzad Akbar last week.

“Shahzad Akbar did not seek help from the Pakistani High Commission in this regard,” she said.

The FO strongly rejected the allegations of involvement of Pakistani agencies in the incident. “Pakistan has faith in the British authorities’ investigation.”

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