WASHINGTON: Critics of US drone strike policy say the US is blocking a Pakistani opponent of the strikes from accompanying a Pakistani teacher and his family who want to visit Congress to discuss the loss of a family member in a strike.
Shahzad Akbar, who has sued the CIA over drone attacks, planned to accompany the Pakistani teacher Rafiq ur Rehman and his family to Washington to discuss the 2012 death of the teacher's mother.
Activist filmmaker Robert Greenwald says the State Department granted visas to the teacher's family, but not to Akbar and the teacher won't travel here without the lawyer accompanying him.
Greenwald said the teacher ''wanted to talk about what it means when your 67-year-old mother is killed by a drone.''
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf confirms Akbar's visa application, but says decisions are confidential.
QUETTA: A major earthquake hit a remote part of western Pakistan yesterday, killing at least 46 people and prompting a new island to rise from the sea just off the country’s southern coast. The United States Geological Survey said the 7.8 magnitude quake struck 145 miles southeast of Dalbandin in Pakistan’s quake-prone province of Baluchistan, which borders Iran. The earthquake was so powerful that it caused the seabed to rise and create a small, mountain-like island about 600 meters off Pakistan’s Gwadar coastline in the Arabian Sea.
Officials said the quake, which struck at 4:29 pm (1129 GMT), demolished dozens of houses in Awaran, 350 kilometers southwest of the Baluchistan provincial capital Quetta. Its epicenter was 20 kilometers below ground. The area is sparsely populated and most buildings are mud-built. But the US Geological Survey issued a red alert, warning that heavy casualties were likely based on past data.
Asad Gilani, one of the most senior officials in the Baluchistan administration said that at least 46 people had been confirmed killed and 100 injured in the quake. “A large number of houses have collapsed in the area and we fear the death toll may rise,” said Rafiq Lassi, police chief for Awaran district. The provincial government declared an emergency in Awaran and the military mobilized medical teams as well as 200 soldiers and paramilitary troops to help with the immediate relief effort.
“We have received reports that many homes in Awaran district have collapsed. We fear many deaths,” Jan Muhammad Baledi, a spokesman for the Baluchistan government, said on the ARY news channel. “There are not many doctors in the area but we are trying to provide maximum facilities in the affected areas.” Television footage showed collapsed houses, caved-in roofs and people sitting in the open air outside their homes, the rubble of mud and bricks scattered around them.
Abdul Qudoos Bizinjo, deputy speaker of Baluchistan’s parliament, told Dunya TV there were reports of “heavy losses” in Awaran. Damage to the mobile phone network was hampering communications in the area, he said. Awaran district has an estimated population of around 300,000, scattered over an area of more than 21,000 square kilometers.
Tremors were felt as far away as the Indian capital and even Dubai in the Gulf, while office workers in the Indian city of Ahmedabad near the border with Pakistan ran out of buildings and into the street in panic. In April a 7.8-magnitude quake centered in southeast Iran, close to the border with Baluchistan, killed 41 people and affected more than 12,000 on the Pakistan side of the border. The Red Crescent in Tehran reported no damage from the latest quake.
Office workers in Pakistan’s largest city Karachi rushed out of their buildings. “My work table jerked a bit and again and I impulsively rushed outside,” said Noor Jabeen, 28. “It was not so intense but it was terrible,” said Owais Khan, who works for a provincial government office. “Whenever I feel jolts it reminds me of the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir,” said Amjad Ali, 45, an IT official standing in the street. The 7.6 magnitude quake in 2005 centered in Kashmir killed at least 73,000 people and left several million homeless in one of the worst natural disasters to hit Pakistan.
Baluchistan, Pakistan’s largest but least populous province, is believed to have substantial gas and oil reserves, but it is violent and unstable. It is a flashpoint for growing violence against minority Shiite Muslims and has suffered attacks blamed on Taleban militants. It also suffers from an ongoing separatist insurgency which began in 2004 when Baluch rebels rose up to demand a greater share of profits from the province’s mineral resources.- Agencies
LONDON: A pilot believed to be working for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has been arrested at a British airport on suspicion of being drunk in charge of a plane, police said on Thursday.
Officers were called on Wednesday evening to the airport serving the northern English cities of Leeds and Bradford where they arrested a 54-year-old man from Pakistan, a statement from West Yorkshire Police said.
The exact circumstances of the arrest were not entirely clear, although the pilot was not thought to be flying at the time.
“At about 10pm last night police were called to Leeds Bradford International Airport where they arrested an airline pilot on suspicion of carrying out an activity ancillary to an aviation function while impaired by drink,” police said.
“The 54-year-old man, from Pakistan, is currently in custody.”
PIA has immediately grounded and suspended one of its pilots upon violation of rules, a PIA Spokesperson said.
In a statement issued, he said the pilot was the captain of PK-776 from Leeds-Bradford to Islamabad.
"Due to unavailability of any alternate, the captain of the flight had to make a night stop at Leeds. Later, the flight departed with a delay of 15 hours."
He said the pilot is still in custody of British Police for further investigation.
Referring to another incident of indecent behavior by three flight stewards in Manchester, the spokesperson said that the management has also suspended them.
They were taken into custody by Manchester Police on complaint made by a British lady. The investigation is still in process.
The spokesperson said that PIA is not responsible for violation of rules or code of conduct committed by its employees.
"PIA will never provide legal or any kind of assistance nor support for individual's act of violation.
"Upon receipt of final report the violators will face further severe action according to rules of corporation," he concluded.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced plans earlier this month to sell off a 26 per cent stake in the ailing national carrier, one of the poorest performing state-run companies in the country.
UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan on Thursday raised the issue of American drone strikes in its tribal regions at the United Nations Security Council, calling for their cessation and seeking “urgent” talks to resolve the problem.
“Drone strikes infringe our sovereignty, violate international law, including international human rights and humanitarian law, cause civilian casualties and are detrimental to the combined efforts to fight terrorism,” Ambassador Masood Khan told the 15-nation council during a discussion on the situation in Afghanistan.
"Pakistan is facilitating the Afghan reconciliation process, but progress is attainable only if all stakeholders share the goals of the peace process," Ambassador Masood Khan said.
“We need to pursue this goal together, with unity of purpose,” the Pakistani envoy said.
Noting that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had called attention to the adverse consequences of the use of armed drones, the Pakistani ambassador said: “We call for cessation of drone strikes. Urgent and intense dialogue can help resolve this issue.”
In relation to the issue of drone strikes, Ambassador Zamir Akram, Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the UN in Geneva, had stated that Pakistan, a primary target of drone attacks, had suffered a heavy loss of innocent lives apart from widespread social and economic costs.
While addressing the opening session of the 24th Human Rights Council, he had said that in recent years, there had been severe human rights violations across the globe, as a result of indiscriminate use of force in the context of counter-terrorism efforts.
Akram had said these included illegal detentions, renditions, and extrajudicial killings including through use of drone attacks.
The All Parties Conference (APC) had recommended raising of the drone issue at the United Nations.
US drone attacks are deeply unpopular in Pakistan, but Washington views them as a vital tool in their fight against Taliban and al Qaeda militants in Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.
MUZAFFARABAD: The intra-Kashmir trade through the two crossing points on the Line of Control (LoC) may meet a tragic fate as Indian officials have refused to accept items which they allege are not from Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
On Aug 29, Indian authorities at their trade facilitation centre in Salamabad, on the other side of Chakothi, returned two trucks from AJK carrying mangoes, saying that the produce belonged to Pakistan, and not Azad Kashmir.
The decision caused anger not only here but also among traders on the India-held side. They went on a strike on Sept 3, saying the standard operating procedure (SOP) had no mention of the origin of a product.
The same day, Indian officials conveyed to their counterparts in AJK that trade could not be carried on for some time because the traders on their side had gone on a strike.
On Wednesday, the AJK Trade and Travel Authority (Tata), which deals with intra-Kashmir trade and travel, sent a written request to officials on the other side for a meeting at the Kaman Bridge on Monday to sort out the issue.
On Monday, Tata Director General retired Brig Mohammad Ismail himself went to the crossing point at 10.30am, but no one turned up from the other side.
In the afternoon, Ehsanul Haq, custodian of intra-Kashmir trade at the Salamabad centre, met Azad Kashmir’s Trade Facilitation Officer Basharat Iqbal and handed him a copy of a ‘notification’ from India’s Central Board of Excise and Customs, stating that the goods which had their origin in Pakistan, and not in AJK, could not be allowed to be traded across the LoC.
Talking to Dawn, Brig Ismail said he was disappointed by the attitude of the Indian government as it was returning even those goods which both sides had included in the list of 21 tradable items.
He said everybody knew that the two parts of Kashmir were not producing most of those items in bulk and they were coming from India and Pakistan.
“But while imposing restrictions on us, they want us to accept whatever they send from there,” he said.
The DG said that since the trade was on a barter basis, it could hardly be carried forward with such an attitude by the Indian authorities.
“Returning trucks laden with fresh fruit and vegetables simply means inflicting huge losses on traders from this side,” he said, adding that the AJK authorities had never returned a single truck from the other side.
He said the events unfolding over the past few weeks suggested that the Indian government was looking for excuses to shut down this activity.
“We want this trade to continue, but on the basis of equality and mutual understanding.”
The trade across the Line of Control is conducted four days a week — from Tuesday to Friday.
MIRAMSHAH: At least two militants were killed as security forces repulsed an attack on a checkpost in Dattakhel Tehsil of North Waziristan tribal region whereas one solider was also wounded in the attack that took place early on Wednesday.
An indefinite curfew was imposed on the Bannu-Miramshah Road following the incident.
"The militants had launched a huge attack on the Khar Qamar checkpost at night and after a gunbattle of about half an hour, the attack was repulsed during which two militants were killed," an Inter Public Service Relations (ISPR) officer confirmed.
The official added that one solider was also inured in the attack.
Meanwhile curfew was imposed on Bannu-Miranshah road for an indefinite period after the attack and security forces were carrying out a search operation in the area.
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Thursday gave a go ahead for privatising 26 per cent shares of the national flag carrier, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) in “an open and transparent manner to make it competitive and service-oriented.”
He also directed the Ministry of Privatisation and Civil Aviation Division to initiate the process of privatisation, while ensuring complete transparency, adherence of all relevant codal formalities and guidelines of the superior courts.
This would not only help provide people quality service, but would also improve the overall image of the national flag carrier locally and internationally, said an official press release.
The prime minister gave these directions while chairing a meeting on PIA at the Prime Minister's Office in Islamabad. Sharif said the government was fully committed to reform and restructure all the ailing state enterprises.
He also directed the PIA management to focus on their operational efficiency, cut down their wasteful expenses and promote qualified professionals to compete modern day environment in the air transport industry.
Earlier, while reviewing performance of the PIA, PM Sharif expressed his deep concerns over mismanagement in its affairs and was saddened to observe that the airline had not come up to the expectations of the people.
The premier was also briefed about the problems and issues confronting the PIA, such as its declining service standard, lack of reliability and punctuality, pilferages, lack of quality manpower, training and job rotation, ageing fleet, over-staffing and high loans resulting in heavy financial cost.
He directed the PIA management to cut down its losses in the short term, in order to make it a viable entity for privatisation. The prime minister also directed that all the policy decisions to revitalise the public sector organisation would be made by its board of governors.
Moreover, the premier directed to ensure full transparency in the decision-making process to protect public interest.
The meeting was attended by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Information Minister Parvez Rashid, Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and other senior officials.