Daily Briefs

Photo : Dawn

10 June 2020, Wednesday, Vol 1, No.41

Gen Bajwa visits Afghanistan, amidst the American pressure to kickstart intra-Afghan dialogue

Pakistan's military chief and DG-ISI to Kabul and their meetings with Ghani and Abdullah; petrol crisis within and COVID related news

PR Daily Brief | PR Team

Gen Bajwa visits Afghanistan, amidst the American pressure to kickstart intra-Afghan dialogue

Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff made an impromptu visit to Kabul on 9 June 2020 and met with Ashraf Ghani, the President of Afghanistan, and also Abdullah Abdullah, the other power centre in Kabul. It was a high profile visit for Pakistan; Gen Bajwa was accompanied by two Lt Gen Faiz Hameed (Director General, ISIS) and Muhammad Sadiq (Pakistan's new Special Envoy on Afghanistan).

While the visit was a sudden development, the purpose and the pressure behind his visit may not be. Consider the following: a few days earlier Amb Zalmay Khalilzad met Gen Bajwa in Islamabad. ("Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation called on General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of Army Staff (COAS), today," ISPR, 7 June 2020); on 7 June 2020, Khalilzad, along with Gen Scott Miller (Commander of the US forces in Afghanistan) met with Taliban leadership in Doha led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. According to a VOA note, referring to a Taliban tweet, "both sides talked about speedy release of the prisoners and commencement of intra-Afghan negotiations, in addition to other relevant matters." ("US Envoy Discusses Afghan Peace With Taliban, Pakistan," VOA News, 8 June 2020); Abdullah Abdullah, who is now the chief of the High Council for National Reconciliation, confirmed that the intra-Afghan dialogue with the Taliban would begin soon. ("Intra-Afghan talks to begin soon: Abdullah," The Hindu, 9 June 2020)

So, it is obvious why Gen Bajwa is in Kabul. To convince the Afghan leadership about Pakistan's support to the intra-Afghan dialogue. Though Ghani and Abdullah do not see eye to eye on many issues, both agree on Pakistan's sincerity or insincerity in achieving peace in Afghanistan as Kabul would want to. Both believe that Pakistan supports the Taliban, if not totally control it. Khalilzad should have pressurised Pakistan's leadership to have a direct talk with the Afghan leadership in Kabul.

The fact that the Army Chief and ISI Chief took this trip to Kabul, instead of Pakistan's foreign minister or the foreign secretary should underline where the power centre is within Pakistan – Islamabad or Rawalpindi. Though the newly appointed Pakistan envoy for Afghanistan also accompanied the former, it should have been on second thought.

Beyond the rhetoric that would appear in the media, what would the delegation from Pakistan have talked to the Afghan leadership? What could Khalilzad have asked Pakistan's army chief to convey?

In Focus
Center troubled by 'artificial' petrol shortage
PM Imran Khan, on 9 June, while chairing a federal cabinet meeting, directed OGRA (the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority) to ensure nationwide petroleum supply within 48 to 72 hours. Imran said the Center had noticed the "artificial" fuel shortage that had been created; warned against strict reprimanding of the instigators, and asked OGRA to ensure all oil marketing companies maintained a minimum of 21-day stock to meet their license requirements. 

When the novel coronavirus hit Pakistan, people were urged to not panic-buy fuel. Later, on OGRA's recommendation, fuel prices for June were reduced; following which, the depots ran dry immediately. Observing the "artificial" shortage, the federal government commenced an inquiry, headed by a Federal Investigation Agency representative, against OMCs regarding the oil-crisis. OGRA identified six OMCs involved in the issue and issued show-cause notices to them. Joint raiding teams, including officials from the FIA, petroleum division, OGRA and district administrations inspected the petrol depots. Those found hoarding would face severe consequences including the imposition of heavy fines, suspension, license-cancellation and arrest.

The Oil Companies Advisory Council, an independent organisation comprising of the OMCs, refineries and a pipeline company, has maintained that the easing of the pandemic lockdown had caused a 50 per cent surge in fuel purchasing; thus, causing its depletion.

Meanwhile, the PM also directed an inquiry into the sugar scam, reaffirming and reiterating that those involved would not be spared. The committee encompassing the Deputy Chairman Planning Commission, Secretary Aviation and Secretary Ministry of Industries and Production was also approved to investigate the issue of "sabotaging" the IRSA telemetry system, installed by WAPDA in early 2000s. ("'Artificial' petrol shortage irks federal cabinet," The Express Tribune, 10 June 2020) 


Image Source: The News

In Brief

Pakistan did not meet any of the perquisites for the opening of the lockdown: WHO
Critical of the hurried decision to ease the lockdown, the WHO stated that Pakistan is among the top 10 countries that are reporting the highest number of COVID-19 cases and has advised the government to increase its testing capacity. Also, as a strategy, the WHO recommended that a two-week lockdown be imposed in the country to curb the transmission rate of the virus. Further, the WHO alerted Pakistan on its week surveillance system stating that there is a limited capacity to provide critical care and that the population is not ready to adopt the changes that have to be made. (Asif Chaudhry, "WHO urges two-week lockdown, more tests," Dawn, 10 June 2020) 

The highest number of cases and deaths reported in the 24 hours but no plan on lockdown 
With 4920 cases, 104 deaths reposted and 24620 tests being conducted in the last 24 hours, PM Imran Khan has once again made it clear that imposing another lockdown is not possible due to the current economic conditions. Addressing a federal cabinet meeting, the PM stated that the only option for reducing the spread of the virus was to take precautionary measures. Further, he directed the cabinet members to ensure that the SOPs are implemented and strictly adhered to. (Ikram Junaidi, "104 Covid-19 deaths recorded in single day," Dawn, 10 June 2020) 

With no prevention strategy, Pakistan turns catastrophic.
The editorial in Dawn states that the inefficiency between the State and Provincial governments in the follow-up of the lockdown and SOP guidelines has resulted in a mass spread of the virus in Pakistan. The worry is no more on easing measures to allow prayers during Ramzan but the lack of space and beds to treat people infected with Covid-19. The editorial ends by asking the government to look inward to detect the deviation and bring remedy. ("Path of disaster," Dawn, 10 June 2020) 

PM orders inquiry into the sugar scam
PM Imran Khan has ordered an inquiry into the sugar scam reiterating that action will be taken to those involved in the scam regardless of their status or political associations. He issued directives for being down the price of sugar and approved the decisions of the Economic Coordination Committee and also approved a massive investigation through accountability organisations against the sugar cartel. Further, the National Accounta­bility Bureau (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) will also be investigating various allegations. (Syed Irfan Raza, "PM wants sugar scam inquiry taken to logical end," Dawn, 10 June 2020) 

PA shows support to construct Diamer Basha Dam
Punjab Assembly passed a resolution unanimously to support the construction of Diamer Basha Dam during its private member's meeting. The PTI led government in the Punjab province lauded the Center's decision on the Dam project that would bring over 4000-megawatt electricity. ("PA supports Diamer Basha Dam," The News International, 10 June 2020)  

PM says ensure petrol and sugar at a fair price
The cabinet that met on Tuesday with Prime Minister Imran Khan ensured provisions on fair price after taking note of the artificial shortage of petrol in the country and price hike in sugar production. He directed the Petroleum Ministry to form a joint raiding team to inspect petrol depots. He said that punitive actions would be taken if found involved in hoarding petrol stocks and reminded that the law allows them to forcefully release stocks from the companies. ("Sugar to be cheap, petrol in plenty: Ensure provision on fair prices, says PM," The News International, 10 June 2020)      

Sedition Law in Pakistan gaining spotlight
The former chairman Raza Rabbani presented a bill to revoke sedition from Pakistan's penal code. State authorities have been controlling the voices of Civil rights activists, student leaders and academics under this rule. Many people have protested for the arrested individuals but when it comes to related petitions in the High court, it has not been sound enough. The editorial in Dawn states that these laws belonged to the colonial-era and must not persist at present. ("Archaic law," Dawn, 10 June 2020) 

Punjab amends Punjab Curriculum and Textbooks board bill
Punjab assembly passed the Punjab Curriculum and Text Book Board (amendment) bill 2020 during its private member's meeting. The bill states that contents relating to Islam will not be published in textbooks without prior approval from Muttahida Ulema Board Punjab. It was approved as it would protect 'Khatme Nabuwwat' and close the door to the spread of evil through textbooks with reference to Islam. ("Muttahida Ulema Board to approve all textbooks related to Islam in Punjab," The Nation, 10 June 2020) 

"This year's data are not to the expectations", Economic Survey 2019-20
The Economic survey for the year 2019-20 will be released by the federal government on 11 June, a day before the budget presentation for the next fiscal year. The outgoing year's data are not to the expectations as it had not reached the major targets set for the year. According to the planning commission's working paper, the federal budget for the next fiscal year will target 2.3 percent growth in the gross domestic product with the contributions from the agriculture and service industry. ("Economic Survey to be released on Thursday," The Express Tribune, 10 June 2020)    

Gen Bajwa meets President Ghani, Abdullah in Kabul
A meeting between Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani, Abdullah Abdullah and Gen Bajwa was convened in Kabuk. The two sides conversed on conflict issues and establishing peace measures in the region. This meeting is also said to be a step towards future intra-Afghan talks. Peace talks went smoothly due to Eid ceasefire, lesser violence and release of prisoners from both sides. ("Pakistan renews efforts for intra-Afghan dialogue," Dawn, 10 June 2020) 

First flight to depart from Islamabad tomorrow under the UAE rules
The resumption of flights from Pakistan starts tomorrow through Emirates after a long break of Covid-19. The flights will be operated with comprehensive safety measures for the customers and its employees in all contact points. As per the UAE government guidelines, passengers will go through temperature check after landing and the staff will be in personal protective equipment to keep a distance from people. (Mohammad Asghar, "Emirates resumes flights from Pakistan after two months," Dawn, 10 June 2020)



"Both sides discussed current developments in Afghan Peace Process and necessary steps to be undertaken to facilitate an Afghan led and Afghan owned peace process. Issues related to facilitation of trade and connectivity also came under discussion. Both sides agreed that a dignified and time-bound return of Afghan Refugees from Pakistan is key towards normalcy"

- ISPR press release on Gen Bajwa's meeting with the Afghan President in Kabul


In Focus and In Brief sections are prepared by Lakshmi V Menon, Abigail Miriam Fernandez, A Padmashree and P Harini Sha.


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