Kashmir Militants Kill Again as Trouble Grows Between India and Pakistan

NEW DELHI — Militants in Kashmir struck again on Monday, killing an Indian Army major and at least three other soldiers just days after orchestrating a devastating bombing that left dozens of Indian security forces dead.
Fears are now rising that Kashmir, a disputed region that lies between India and its regional rival, Pakistan, could be sliding into an especially deadly phase again.
Diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan are breaking down; Kashmiri students are being rounded up and attacked; other young people have been charged with sedition for criticizing the Indian Army; and Indians are lashing out at Pakistani civilians, including Bollywood actors.
The recent violence in Kashmir — a majority Muslim region that is mostly controlled by India, a predominantly Hindu nation — has uncapped a wave of jingoism that is sweeping across India. The orange, white and green national flag is going up everywhere, and many people say they want revenge.
Pakistan has a long history of supporting militant groups in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir. India has accused Pakistan of orchestrating the recent violence and vowed to retaliate. But India has few good military options, analysts say — and the public seems to sense this.
“There is a real sense of frustration and anger because Pakistan is in the picture,’’ said Gurcharan Das, an Indian writer. “A lot of Indians feel that India has failed with regard to Pakistan and that it has not been tough enough and has appeased Pakistan.’’
“But,’’ he added, “I don’t think anybody really wants a war.’’
The trouble on Monday started around 2 a.m. Under the cover of darkness, Indian soldiers in the Pulwama District of the Kashmir Valley surrounded a house that was thought to be a militant hide-out.
The militants opened fire on the approaching contingent, killing a major and three soldiers and critically wounding at least one other soldier. At least one civilian was killed in the crossfire.
Indian officials said the militants inside the house were members of Jaish-e-Muhammad, or the Army of Muhammad, the separatist group that claimed responsibility for the bombing last week that killed at least 40 Indian soldiers — one of the deadliest attacks in the region in decades.
By midafternoon, Indian officials said two militants had been killed. But security forces were struggling to get closer to the house because hundreds of Kashmiri civilians were hurling rocks in an effort to shield the militants, who are widely seen in Kashmir as legitimate freedom fighters.
Pakistan has denied involvement in the recent bombing in Kashmir, for which Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India has promised “a befitting reply.”
Retaliation would carry huge risks, however. Both nations field nuclear arsenals, and regional dynamics are especially sensitive right now. United States officials have been calling on regional powers to support a peace plan for an American withdrawal from Afghanistan, where Pakistan has long been a powerful influence.
But India is headed into major elections in the next few months, and Mr. Modi hardly wants to look weak.
Pakistan’s security services have a long history of supporting Kashmiri separatists and other militant groups, often using them as a proxy force against India. The United States considers the Army of Muhammad a terrorist organization; the group is officially banned in Pakistan, but Indian and American officials say it still operates there under different names.
The status of Kashmir has been disputed for decades, with India and Pakistan claiming large chunks of the mountainous region. Many of the militants in Kashmir are young men who have spent their entire lives in the Indian-controlled areas and have been shaped by years of heavy occupation by Indian troops. Security analysts say many militants still receive money and weapons from Pakistan.
On Thursday, a Kashmiri militant slammed a truck containing an unusually powerful bomb into a convoy of Indian troops moving across the Kashmir Valley. More than 40 paramilitary officers were killed, and Indian officials say they believe the bomb maker slipped in from Pakistan.
Since then, Indian security forces have been searching for accomplices, often going house to house.
Kashmiri civilians are also being targeted. At a university in Dehradun, someone used WhatsApp to threaten Kashmiri students, saying: “We will not leave you alive.’’
A board outside a mobile phone shop read: “Dogs are allowed, but Kashmiris are not allowed.”
Witnesses said that mobs swept through Dehradun, beating up Kashmiri students and forcing scores to flee.
“I am very scared,’’ said Junaid Ayub Rather, an engineering student who managed to hire a car to leave Dehradun.
He cited years of conflict and misery in Kashmir, where tens of thousands of civilians have been killed over the decades as India, Pakistan and various militant groups have fought for control.
“Tell me,’’ Mr. Rather said, “have you ever heard of Kashmiris attacking or threatening civilians from other parts of the country who reside in Kashmir to avenge that?”
Diplomatically, the two countries are pulling apart. On Friday, India recalled its ambassador to Pakistan. On Monday, Pakistan did the same.
Across India, more than a dozen people have been arrested, lost their jobs or were expelled from school for writing social media posts that were seen as critical of the Indian military or interpreted by the authorities as siding with the attackers.
Surabhi Singh, a senior coordinator for the Center for Advocacy and Research, a nonprofit that works with marginalized communities, wrote a post on Facebook shortly after the bombing, criticizing the Indian Army’s record.
She wrote: “If Attack on Armed Soldiers is Cowardly … Attacking Unarmed Civilians including Hapless Children must be an Act of Bravery.’’
Over the weekend, she was fired.
“I was targeted,” said Ms. Singh, who has also worked as a translator for international news organizations, including The New York Times. “You’re not allowed to think freely anymore. You have to toe the line of the majority. It is jingoistic.”
Even actors are being punished. A number of Indian film organizations announced a boycott of Pakistani actors working in India’s film industry, by far the biggest in South Asia.
Suresh Shyamlal Gupta, the president of the All Indian Cine Workers Association, said India needed to attack Pakistan “from all sides.”
Jeffrey Gettleman reported from New Delhi, and Sameer Yasir from Srinagar, Kashmir. Suhasini Raj, Hari Kumar and Kai Schultz contributed reporting from New Delhi.

Kashmir attack: is terror group JeM pushing India and Pakistan to the brink of war?

The Trump administration has been bent on a military withdrawal from Afghanistan and leaning on Pakistan to pressure the Taliban in peace talks. Pakistan is hosting a meeting next week in Islamabad between the Taliban and the United States before the next round of negotiations in Qatar at the end of the month.

It is likely Pakistan may use this opportunity to convey a subtle message, as it has done in the past, that it can get away with periodic attacks in Kashmir.

JeM has for years sought to end India’s sovereign hold on Jammu and Kashmir.

Just two months after the September 11 attacks in the United States, the JeM attacked India’s parliament in New Delhi. Experts suggest the US asked India not to retaliate militarily as it would have affected its deployment across several bases in Pakistan for operations in Afghanistan and lead to Islamabad mobilising the army for its own mission instead of helping the US seal the Afghan border.

Now, Pakistan is also likely to reiterate to the US the pet narrative that militancy in Jammu and Kashmir is a “home-grown disaffection” and cite reports that the car packed with bombs that killed Indian troops was driven by a local youth, Adil Ahmad Dar.

Overall, the situation highlights the strategic limitations of the US and other nations in forcing Pakistan to abandon militant groups. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has condemned the attack and strongly rejected insinuations it is linked to the incident.

China’s stance on Kashmir attack will test ties with India
It is also possible that with India-Pakistan relations in deep freeze, and the US in talks with the Taliban for a withdrawal from Afghanistan, the JeM wants to push India and Pakistan to the brink of war. It needs to be noted that the JeM, which has close links with the Taliban, carried out attacks inside Pakistan after former President Pervez Musharraf agreed to help the US military in the aftermath of September 11. Its attacks included two failed assassination bids on Musharaf in 2003. It was only later that the JeM was rehabilitated by Pakistan’s Army so it could be used against India.
The car bombing on February 14 was quite similar to those carried out by the Irish Republican Army or militants in Afghanistan or Iraq and is possibly a hint of things to come. While car bombs have been rare in Kashmir, it is not the first time the JeM has used them. It deployed them twice in 2000 in Srinagar, albeit with limited success.
In October 2001, JeM militants rammed the main gate of the Legislative Assembly building, killing 23.

Thwarting such attacks would not only require excellent intelligence on men and materials, but also mean restricting traffic movement and exhaustive checks of vehicles – disrupting everyday life in Jammu and Kashmir during a crucial election period.

India has already indicated it would stop all civilian traffic during the movement of troop convoys. The ruling BJP, claiming to be more nationalistic and “muscular” than other political parties, is facing tremendous pressure to take a tough line on Pakistan. It could again launch “surgical strikes” across the Line of Control but Pakistan is likely to be prepared.

The other option is an attack using combat aircraft or armed drones on militant training camps. However, the problem is that Masood Azhar is based around Bahawalpur – and any aerial attack across the international border could lead to escalation. An attack across the de facto border known as The Line of Control may abate public sentiment – but will not punish the actual culprits.

India warns of ‘befitting reply’ to Pakistan over Kashmir attack
There are many hawks in India who are recommending full-scale military action against Pakistan. But there are a few things to consider when contemplating full-scale war with Pakistan.

First, India lacks the conventional forces overmatch over Pakistan that would allow it full control over the escalation ladder. If the element of surprise fails, Indian troops could get bogged down and there is the potential for escalation.

Secondly, Pakistan’s fear of being quickly overwhelmed may encourage it to rapidly raise the stakes with nuclear threats.

Thirdly, keeping an Indian attack limited may also not be a priority of Pakistan. It would, on the contrary, be keen to escalate the conflict to a level where the threat of nuclear war becomes imminent and the international community is forced to intervene. This could allow Pakistan to “internationalise” the Kashmir conflict – it administers part of Jammu & Kashmir (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) but insists most residents want either independence or to be under Islamabad and not New Delhi’s control.

Lastly, the Pakistani army does retain the potential to wreak some limited amount of damage on the Indian side of the border and the economic and stability cost to the border states would be debilitating.

If the ruling BJP limits itself to economic and diplomatic measures only, it may suffer in elections. With opposition parties piling on pressure to act, the government may have to undertake some kind of punitive action – the outcome and benefits of which cannot be predicted. Right now, by indicating “the armed forces have been given full liberty to decide the time, place and mode of retribution”, the government seems to have outsourced the problem of a credible response to the armed forces.

Kuldip Singh is a retired Brigadier from the Indian Army. He was formerly head of the defence wing in the National Security Council Secretariat of India.

Remembering Siddiq Baloch

Siddiq Baloch had a personality that made a distinct impression on people who met him. He was a moving force, fiercely proud in the Baloch tradition. His inquiring mind led him to explore independently, never willing to take other people’s account of reality. It also made him a fine journalist in Pakistan’s English language newspaper, Dawn where he sought answers to the nation’s intractable problems.

I met Siddiq upon joining the Dawn Reporters Room in 1984. His rugged, warrior like appearance belied the sensitivity that lay underneath. Foremost in his personae was a commitment to seeing justice, prominently for the people of Baluchistan. Moreover, his energy and bustling humor brought life to the city desk where we reported to encapsulate the politics of an ever-burgeoning Karachi.

It was a period when Gen. Zia ul Haq had ushered in military rule and when journalists and management alike walked a tight rope of censorship. As an activist in the National Awami Party and a follower of Ghaus Baksh Bijenzo, Siddiq was imprisoned for five years by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto under the Hyderabad conspiracy case and freed only after Gen. Zia overthrew Bhutto’s government.

Notwithstanding the twists and turns in Pakistan’s politics, Siddiq kept up his unrelenting opposition to military rule. He was elected president of the Karachi Union of Journalists in 1981, at a critical juncture in history. Thereafter, he energetically worked around Gen. Zia’s draconian laws against the print media, which was then the primary source of news and information.

The MQM led by Altaf Hussain was just then consolidating its grip on Karachi. The city was divided on ethnic lines even as it burned during violence, strikes and curfew.

Driving into the Dawn newspaper compound, I would see Siddiq Baloch energetically revving up his motor bike, with our mild-mannered Sindhi colleague Ghulam Ali clutching the rear. The two would zoom off to expeditions to Liaquatabad, Nazimabad, Orangi Town and far flung areas of Karachi, where MQM was testing out its new-found strength.

By late evening the two returned triumphantly from the frontlines, with eye-witness accounts of a city that had turned into a battlefield.

Both these colleagues lived in Lyari, where the lines between Baloch and Sindhis have blurred, and which added to the sense of fraternity one saw between them.

Ghulam Ali, who sat next to me, popped a joke every few minutes. The jokes were often about martial law, and what the average person… the barber or the rickshaw driver had said about the khakis. It complemented Siddiq’s remarks, who kept up his cynical commentary on military rule.

Lighter moments with Ghulam Ali and Siddiq Baloch stand out in memory. It was a hot, muggy summer evening in the Dawn Reporters Room, when fans circulated the stale air. Sweat dribbled down my colleagues and the grumbling grew louder that we had been condemned to work in a non-ventilated cubby hole.

Suddenly, the door opened and Siddiq and Ghulam Ali entered shirtless – wearing only vests over trousers. I laughed with delight at the sight of the two of them. They looked so comic in their zeal to show the bosses our plight. Siddiq sent for a photographer, where he dutifully took pictures of the burly, sweaty men typing away without their shirts.

Word got out to the management that two planned to keep up their shirtless protest. But one day of high drama served the cause of propaganda. In due course, an air conditioner was installed in the cubby hole and we were eventually able to type away in peace.

Siddiq had a sense of camaraderie that made him engage with every colleague. In the evenings, our short statured bulky colleague, Sabihuddin Ghausi would enter the Reporters Room with aplomb – newspapers rolled in one hand and a cigar in the other. Invariably, Siddiq looked up from his typewriter and in his inimical style teased Ghausi with an affectionate slight:

“Here comes the drug mafia!”

Ghausi was unfazed. While Siddiq was getting into economic reporting, Ghausi was the soul of Dawn’s Economic and Business Review (EBR) section – ferreting news with his penetrating intellect and sense of integrity. Siddiq shared Ghausi’s serious economic bent, even as he focused on Balochistan’s political economy – of which he became a notable authority.

I would see Siddiq’s mischievous smile around our colleague, Hameed – known by his by-line H.A. Hamied. Our colleague distinguished himself from the `riff raff’ by his starched white shirts, suspenders and supercilious remarks.

Whenever I heard Hamied say, `Har Shakh pey Uloo Baitha Hai’ (there’s an owl on every branch) I knew he was heaping contempt on some character being discussed in the room. Straightforward to the core, Siddiq would join the banter. He jokingly called Hamied by his by-line, Humaiy-eed to make him sound refined.

Siddiq’s other friends from Lyari were Latif Baloch and Aleem Pathan – both of whom worked with him in the sub-editor’s room. In time, Latif Baloch also joined reporting, bringing the flair of the locality to which he and Siddiq belonged.

Fair skinned Aleem was a Pathan from Lyari, who walked slowly and smoked in deliberate fashion. He told me that foreign journalists mistook him for Italian. When Siddiq was not around, Aleem would transport Ghulam Ali on his motor bike to riot-stricken areas like Orangi town.

Even when the 1985 Mohajir Pathan riots had peaked in Orangi town, Ghulam Ali would return from the affected area with a new joke. Returning from a dangerous expedition with Aleem, Ghulam Ali narrated with his flair for drama:

“When I turned around and said Aleem… he put his finger to his lips and said, Shhh go no further.” Aleem could have been concerned that Ghulam Ali would blow his cover, that he was no foreigner!

As was his habit, Siddiq liked to chuckle at his buddy’s jokes – which changed according to the seasons.

It was this sense of camaraderie that kept us going under the toughest circumstances. Once, Siddiq walked into the Reporters Room and picked on me – the only young woman among middle aged male colleagues. He began to sound the alarm that the Taliban were coming…. they would drive me off my job and make me stay at home.

As was Siddiq’s nature, he joked so energetically that for a while I thought he was serious. But I stood my ground and returned his verbal fire, telling him that even Mohammed Bin Qasim soldiers could not put my family in purdah. Knowing that I took his banter as “friendly fire,” Siddiq withdrew his joking offensive.

On another occasion, Siddiq had just returned from Saddar where he had an altercation with a police man who tried to ticket him on the ground that his motor bike was “illegally parked.” Knowing this was a prelude to taking a bribe, he narrated to me… eyes flashing as they did when he was animated… what he had said to the policeman:

I told him, “The whole government is illegally parked, and you talk about my motorbike!”

Each week the editor of Dawn, Ahmed Ali Khan would summon our weekly meeting. The meetings were more akin to showing presence in an imperial court rather than to elicit debate. While other reporters generally spoke to please the editor, Siddiq spoke with the conviction that showed he was his own boss.

Once in a while Dawn’s editor asked Siddiq for an update on his signature pieces – among them the Saindak copper and gold mine project in Balochistan. Siddiq gave updates on how Saindak had fallen victim to bureaucratic wrangling with the Punjab. Listening to him over the years, to me the Saindak project began to sound as intractable as the problem of Kashmir.

With his fierce Baloch nationalism, Siddiq was not one to give up. As late as 2017, he returned to the issue of Saindak mines, then being run by the Chinese. In an article written in the newspaper, he owned, The Daily Balochistan Express, Siddiq expressed his life-long desire that the people of Balochistan should benefit from their own resources.

“The Federal Government should surrender all the revenue in favor of the Government of Balochistan for the simple reason that the Government had failed to develop the basic infrastructure for future development during the past 70 long years.”

While Siddiq did not live to see the Saindak mines benefit the Baloch people, he saw China help construct the road network around Gwadar Port in Balochistan. Having traveled on the roads that were built under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, he told me with a touch of sarcasm aimed at the Pakistan government.

“More roads have been constructed in these parts in the last few years than in 70 years of Pakistan’s existence.”

Being firmly grounded among his people, it was but natural that Siddiq would leave Dawn in 1989 and move to Balochistan to start his own newspaper. It was a risky decision, given the financial capital needed to survive in a province with a low literacy rate.

Indeed, Siddiq’s first newspaper publication `Sindh Express,’ did not survive. Undeterred, he pursued his passion and a few years later began publishing `The Balochistan Express.’

I glimpsed his sense of independence at the time he left Dawn. His parting words have stayed with me:

“I’ll eat grass but I won’t eat from the `seth’ (boss).”

Seated next to me, Ghulam Ali wistfully remembered Siddiq long after he had left. With his incorrigible sense of humor, he kept joking about how all the newspapers Siddiq had been publishing… `Sindh Express,’ `Balochistan Express,’ `English Weekly Express,’… sounded like “railway timetables.”

Being an office bearer of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and the Karachi Union of Journalists, Siddiq kept returning to Karachi to speak at events that promoted freedom of expression and a living wage for media workers.

After the events of September 11, 2001, I was living in the US when an international media organization, Internews sponsored me to visit the border areas of Afghanistan to report on the state of the media. My research into Balochistan’s media found numerous “dummy publications” out to get advertising revenue, and newspapers that “paid” reporters by merely giving them the organization’s visiting cards.

Despite the poverty levels and the terrorism that engulfed Balochistan because of the war in Afghanistan, Siddiq Baloch kept the flame of journalism alive. Apart from the English language newspaper, The Balochistan Express, he also became chief editor of the Urdu language Azadi newspaper.

In recent years while visiting Karachi from the US, I drove through Saddar when the light turned red. With my car stopped at the signal, lo and behold I saw Siddiq Baloch approaching on foot – with an entourage of young men behind him. Instinctively, I put out my hand and shook hands with him. His smile was just as energetic and encompassing, even though our paths had long since diverged.

In July 2016, Siddiq Baloch spoke at the launch of the expanded edition of my book `Aboard the Democracy Train,’ at the Quetta Press Club. The book had arrived late, and my ex colleague had not had the opportunity to read it. Still, he spoke generously about our years in Dawn – leaving me touched by his observations.

That was the last time I saw Siddiq Baloch. Despite being diagnosed with cancer in 2014, he had kept up a brave face. Indeed, when I expressed my concern to him about not being well, he brushed off any suggestion that his health was in decline.

Meanwhile, creeping commercialization of the electronic media also took a toll on Siddiq’s attempt to promote journalism. After 2001, investors with little experience of media had obtained TV licenses – hiring non-journalists and young women for infotainment rather than news. Their golden rule was to stay in the good books of the government.

With declining advertising revenues and a tighter military grip on news, the space shrank further for a print era journalist like Siddiq Baloch.

Indeed, Baloch nationalists who protested against the theft of their resources were still being `disappeared’ and their bodies found in wastelands. The military painted as `anti-state’ the voices that expressed concern at Baloch marginalization by China’s investment in their province.

Six months before he passed away, Siddiq sounded dejected about the government’s clampdown on the media.

It concerned me to hear Siddiq say that his right of expression was being muffled not only in print but in speech. Still, knowing him to be an adept political worker, I figured he was laying low until the wind blew over.

Despite his ailment, Siddiq was preparing his family members to run his newspapers. They would be equipped with the baton of the press that advocates the genuine rights of the people of Balochistan

In February 2018, Siddiq Baloch joined the list of my colleagues in the Dawn Reporters Room – Huzoor Ahmed Shah, Saghir Ahmed, H.A. Hamied, Aleem Pathan, Ghulam Ali, G.D. Ghauri, Ali Kabir, Shamim ur Rehman and Sabihuddin Ghausi – who departed the earth.

Among them, Siddiq Baloch stands out as a moving force who inspired a generation of journalists to write passionately about Pakistan… and his beloved province of Balochistan… at a time when the business of building the nation is still unfinished.

A Princess Vanishes. A Video Offers Alarming Clues

BEIRUT — The princess known as Sheikha Latifa had not left Dubai, the glittering emirate ruled by her father, in 18 years. Her requests to travel and study elsewhere had been denied. Her passport had been taken away. Her friends’ apartments were forbidden to her, her palace off-limits to them.

At 32, Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum went nowhere without a watchful chauffeur.

“There’s no justice here,” she said in a video she secretly recorded last year. “Especially if you’re a female, your life is so disposable.”

So it was with a jolt of astonishment that her friends overseas read a WhatsApp message from her last March announcing that she had left Dubai “for good.”

“I have a very uncomfortable feeling,” one of them, an American sky diver named Chris Colwell, messaged back. “Is this real,” he added. “Where are you.”

“Free,” she responded. “And I’ll come see you soon.” She added a heart.

Her escape — planned over several years with the help of a Finnish capoeira trainer and a self-proclaimed French ex-spy — lasted less than a week.

Within a few days of setting sail on the Indian Ocean in the Frenchman’s yacht, bound for India and then the United States, the Sheikha went silent. She has not been seen since, except in a few photos released in December by her family, which says she is safely home after surviving what they said was a kidnapping.

Yet thanks to the video she made before fleeing, the sheikha’s face and voice have made their way around the world, drawing more than 2 million views on YouTube, spurring avid news coverage and marring Dubai’s image as a world capital of glitz and commerce like a graffiti tag.

Like the young women who have fled Saudi Arabia’s restrictive regime, Sheikha Latifa has made sure no one can forget how few freedoms are allotted to women in the Middle East’s most conservative societies — or how costly crossing Dubai’s ruler can be.

For all its megamalls, haute cuisine and dizzying skyscrapers, Dubai can flip at speed from international playground to repressive police state. It has drawn headlines in the West for detaining foreigners for holding hands in public and drinking alcohol without a license.

Last year, it was widely condemned for holding a British academic, Matthew Hedges, after accusing him of being a British spy. In recent years, the authorities have also intensified a crackdown on internal dissent.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re an ordinary Emirati citizen or a member of the royal family or an expat from a close ally like the U.K.,” said Hiba Zayadin, a researcher at Human Rights Watch. “If you’re harming that carefully tailored image,” she added, “you will face the consequences.”

Over the video’s 39 stark minutes, her voice composed and forceful, Sheikha Latifa described in fluent English her life of constricting privilege and stunted hopes. She hoped it would change if she could win political asylum in the United States.

“I don’t know how, how I’ll feel, just waking up in the morning and thinking, I can do whatever I want today,” she said. “That’ll be such a new, different feeling. It’ll be amazing.”

Fearing for her life if she was caught, she said she was recording the video in case she failed.

“They’re not going to take me back alive,” she said. “That’s not going to happen. If I don’t make it out alive, at least there’s this video.”

Sheikha Latifa first faced rigid restrictions after her sister’s failed escape attempt years earlier.

When she was 14, her older sister Shamsa escaped from her family’s security detail on a trip to England. Her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, owns a large estate and a prominent thoroughbred racing stable, Godolphin, there.

Hervé Jaubert, right, spoke at a news conference in London after Sheikha Latifa was captured aboard his yacht. He said he was helping her escape. Sheikha Latifa’s father said Mr. Jaubert had kidnapped her.

Hervé Jaubert, right, spoke at a news conference in London after Sheikha Latifa was captured aboard his yacht. He said he was helping her escape. Sheikha Latifa’s father said Mr. Jaubert had kidnapped her.

News reports at the time said Emirati personnel eventually tracked Shamsa to a street in Cambridge, forcing her into a car. When a Scotland Yard detective began investigating her case as a kidnapping, Dubai authorities refused to let him interview her. The case dead-ended there.

Sheikha Latifa said Shamsa, the only of 30 siblings to whom she was close, had been drugged into docility ever since, “basically like walking around with a cage following her.”

Horrified by Shamsa’s treatment, she said she tried to escape across the border to Oman. Retrieved almost immediately, she said she was held in solitary confinement for more than three years.

Emirati family law allows women to be punished for disobeying, and she said she was frequently pulled out of bed to be beaten, deprived of medical care and, until the final few months, even a toothbrush.

Even after she was released at 19, her life was defined by her family’s constraints as much as by its wealth.
She lived in a palace behind high walls, with 40 rooms spread over four wings — one for each female relative who lived there, said Tiina Jauhiainen, a Finnish woman who began training Sheikha Latifa in the Afro-Brazilian martial art of capoeira in 2010. There were about 100 servants and an athletic compound with its own swimming pool and spa. Wherever the sheikha went, a Filipino maid went too.

But hers was a life of enforced, confined leisure. She could spend her money only on hobbies and sports including horseback riding and scuba diving, or on treating friends to lunch or manicures. She was not allowed to study medicine as she had wanted, friends said.

Nor could she travel, even to the next-door emirate of Abu Dhabi, one of seven city-states making up the United Arab Emirates. She pressed friends to describe every trip for her “like she was traveling with me,” said Stefania Martinengo, her friend and skydiving coach.

She was also barred from visiting any nonpublic places, even friends’ homes. An avid sky diver, she once parachuted secretly into an unapproved part of the city for 20 minutes of kayaking with Mr. Colwell.

When friends rode along in the boxy black Mercedes that often ferried her around, she put on headphones and sat in silence, refusing, in front of the driver, to say a word.

Skydiving was her chief distraction.

Dropping into the sky, “you’re equal to everyone,” Ms. Martinengo said. “You don’t talk, you’re just flying. I think she enjoyed being free in the sky.”

At first glance, she seemed neither fabulously wealthy nor wildly unhappy.

Introducing herself as Latifa, she was often taken for just another local woman. Under the all-covering abaya she wore in public, she usually dressed in T-shirts and athletic pants. She demurred her way out of most photos. She listened rather than talked. She never outright complained about her situation, friends said.

She never spoke about her family. Dubai’s dazzlingly wealthy flaunted their lives on Instagram; she was barely Googleable.

But she fantasized about running her own life. She talked about starting an Emirati skydiving team, hoping her father would let her travel to international competitions. A vegan who had become passionate about wellness and detox, she planned to invest in a yoga-and-juice center in Europe with Ms. Martinengo.

When Ms. Martinengo asked how she would help run the business without traveling, she said, “I have a feeling things might change.”

Almost no one realized until later that she had been planning to run for several years.

She first contacted Hervé Jaubert, whose website describes him as a former French intelligence officer and “no ordinary man,” who had once managed to escape Dubai in a small rubber boat by dressing as a woman.

She then enlisted Ms. Jauhiainen. At one point, they trained to dive and swim to Oman via underwater scooter.
Ms. Jauhiainen said Sheikha Latifa wanted to help other women who had been trapped in similar situations, and she wanted to get Shamsa out. If necessary, she thought she could work as a skydiving instructor.

To show that she was safe at home, the government of the United Arab Emirates distributed this picture showing Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, left, with Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, in December.

To show that she was safe at home, the government of the United Arab Emirates distributed this picture showing Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, left, with Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, in December.

“I’m ready to flip burgers or do anything as long as I have my freedom,” she told Ms. Jauhiainen.

A few days before they left, she sneaked out of a mall to record the video at Ms. Jauhiainen’s apartment.

“I’m feeling positive about the future,” she said. “I’m feeling like it’s the start of an adventure. It’s the start of me claiming my life, my freedom, freedom of choice.”

“I’m really looking forward to that,” she said.

The morning of the escape, Sheikha Latifa was driven to eat breakfast with Ms. Jauhiainen at a restaurant, as she often did. According to Ms. Jauhiainen, they got into her car and made for Oman, where they rode an inflatable raft, then Jet Skis, out to Mr. Jaubert’s yacht. A selfie they took in the car shows Sheikha Latifa grinning behind mirrored sunglasses, elated.

“We’re like Thelma and Louise,” Ms. Jauhiainen joked, referring to the 1991 American film.

“Don’t say that,” Sheikha Latifa protested. “It has a sad ending!”

As they sailed toward India on the evening of March 4, the women were getting ready for bed below decks when they heard loud noises. They locked themselves in the bathroom, but it filled with smoke. The only way out was up.

On deck, armed men whom Ms. Jauhiainen identified as Indian and Emirati pushed Mr. Jaubert, Ms. Jauhiainen and the Filipino crewmen to the ground, tying them up and beating them. They told Ms. Jauhiainen to take her last breath. Ms. Jauhiainen saw Sheikha Latifa on the ground, tied up but kicking, screaming that she wanted political asylum in India.

Before long, an Arabic-speaking man boarded. He made it clear, Ms. Jauhiainen said, that he had come to retrieve the sheikha.

“Just shoot me here,” she cried, Ms. Jauhiainen recalled. “Don’t take me back.”
Then she was gone.

Her father, Sheikh Mohammed, did not address her whereabouts until December, when the BBC was about to air a documentary. His office issued a statement saying that she was safe in Dubai, celebrating her 33rd birthday with family “in privacy and peace.” (Ms. Jauhiainen said the sheikha had not chosen to spend her birthday with family in years.)

The statement accused Mr. Jaubert, whom it called a “convicted criminal,” of kidnapping her for a $100 million ransom.

Sheikh Mohammed did not reply to a request for an interview sent to his office. The Emirati embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

Things have only gotten stranger since.

On Christmas Eve, Dubai released the first public photos of Sheikha Latifa since her disappearance. They showed her sitting with Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who confirmed that she had met the sheikha at her family’s request.

Ms. Robinson said Sheikha Latifa was safe with her family, but said she was receiving psychiatric care, calling her a “troubled young woman” with a “serious medical condition.”

“This is a family matter now,” Ms. Robinson said.

The sheikha’s advocates were taken aback that a respected human rights crusader had seemingly embraced Dubai’s official line. They disputed that she had a psychiatric condition, apart from any she might have developed because of imprisonment or drugging.

“I know 100 percent for sure that she doesn’t need mental care,” Ms. Martinengo said. “Maybe now, after all these treatments, but not before. How can you think that a person who’s been in prison for nine months wouldn’t seem troubled?”

Friends also found Sheikha Latifa’s appearance in the photos — slightly dazed, her eyes missing the camera — concerning.

With negative attention thickening around her, Ms. Robinson issued a statement saying that she had made her assessment “in good faith and to the best of my ability,” adding that the sheikha’s “vulnerability was apparent.”

By mid-January, a lawyer who had been working with activists left the sheikha’s case without explanation.

Several friends still in Dubai said they were too frightened to speak, while Mr. Jaubert abruptly stopped responding to requests to be interviewed for this article.

Sheikha Latifa had little doubt about what would happen to her.

“If you are watching this video, it’s not such a good thing,” she said in her video. “Either I’m dead, or I’m in a very, very, very bad situation.”

Pakistani journalist arrested for critical Twitter posts

Washington, D.C., February 9, 2019–The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Pakistani authorities to immediately release and drop all legal proceedings against Rizwan-ur-Rehman Razi, a TV host for Din News, a privately-owned Urdu-language news station. Razi was arrested and taken into custody this morning in Lahore, according to news reports and CPJ reporting.

“Expressing opinions, even critical opinions, should not be a crime, in Pakistan or anywhere,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler. “Justice–and Pakistan’s constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press–can only be served by Rizwan Razi’s immediate release.”

Razi, also known as “Razi Dada,” was taken from his home at 10:30 a.m. today, according to his son, Osama Razi, who told CPJ his father was beaten and bundled into a black car, which he then chased after as it sped away from the house in Lahore. In an interview with CPJ, Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed that Razi had been arrested by the Federal Investigation Agency for social media postings that allegedly violated Pakistan’s Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act. A photograph was later circulated showing Razi in handcuffs.

A First Information Report released by the FIA Cyber Crime Wing, which CPJ has seen, said that Razi had put up “defamatory and obnoxious posts” on his Twitter account against the “judiciary, government institutions and intelligence agencies” of Pakistan.

The FIR further stated that Razi had “confessed” to uploading the posts, apologized and promised to refrain from posting similar material in the future. The agency also said it had seized and searched Razi’s mobile phone.

Although it was unclear what specifically led to the arrest, earlier this month, Razi had criticized extrajudicial killings in Punjab at the hands of security forces and pointed fingers at the Army, according to screenshots of Twitter postings provided to CPJ. Razi’s Twitter account, @RaziDada, appeared to have been disabled on Saturday.

Osama Razi said that he expected his father to be released after he goes before a judge for formal charging, although this was not guaranteed.

Steven Butler
Asia Program Coordinator
sbutler@cpj.org
+1 (202) 445-3216
Facebook.com/CPJAsia
@CPJAsia

Aliya Iftikhar
Asia Program Research Associate
aiftikhar@cpj.org
+1 (212) 300-9023
Facebook.com/CPJAsia
@CPJAsia

Committee to Protect Journalists
330 7th Avenue, 11th Floor
New York, NY 10001 – United States

Pakistan relying less and less on US, turning to China, Saudi Arabia & UAE

Pakistan is making important strides in its military and naval capacities with the help of China, relying less on US-made weaponry. Despite accepting money from all sides, Pakistan’s relationship with China continues to be strong.

After the Trump administration decided to suspend $3 billion in security assistance to Pakistan, complaining that Islamabad fails to do enough to combat terrorism, Washington has risked pushing Pakistan into the open arms of a number of other notable nations.

China-Pakistan relationship continues to strengthen
China has been a key ally for Pakistan in recent times and is almost certainly the reason why the US has taken a sharp turn in its approach to dealing with the country. (Considering that the Bush administration was caught red-handed funding Pakistani terrorist groups, Washington’s recent disdain for Islamabad makes little sense in the context of wider US imperialism).

Now, China is assisting Pakistan’s Navy to expand rapidly, with the completion and delivery of four advanced warships currently under construction in Shanghai. According to the Diplomat, Pakistan’s Chinese-made naval vessels will arrive through a bilateral arms agreement by 2021. Worth over $348 million, these frigates have the capacity to act as anti-ship and anti-submarine operations, as well as for air defense.

Reports seem to indicate that these ships are to be stationed for defense and security in and around the Gwadar port. This is the same port that many media outlets accused China of attempting to hijack and transform into its own naval base. Perhaps the media sounding the alarm over these reports have helped convince China to try a subtler strategy of creating a naval presence around this strategic area, but either way, the move to acquire Chinese naval ships is sure to irk the United States irrespective of the end result, as some experts are predicting that this will lead to regular Sino-Pakistani patrols across the region.

That being said, this is also the same port in which Saudi Arabia is planning to establish a $10 billion oil refinery, according to the Saudi Energy Ministry, setting Saudi Arabia up as a key partner in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Pakistan turning down American arms
Unfortunately for Washington, Pakistani purchases of US-made military equipment have begun to fall. Data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute appears to show that US weapons exports to Pakistan dropped from $21 million in 2017, from a whopping $1 billion just seven years prior. Altogether, since the September 11 attacks, the US has provided over $22 billion in overt security aid to Pakistan and another $10 billion in economic aid, according to a July 2018 report conducted by consultant firm Avascent.

However, despite these initial findings, this same report found that Pakistan was increasingly turning to Beijing for its defense equipment and leaving Washington out in the sand. In total, Pakistan has signed billions of dollars’ worth of contracts for fighter aircraft, submarines and warships from China. The report estimated that over the next decade, Beijing will become the single most important arms supplier for the Pakistani military, but maintains options to obtain arms from Turkey and Russia as well. Turkey, for its part, will upgrade two of Pakistan’s Agosta 90B-class submarines, will provide four MILGEM corvettes to the Pakistani Navy, and already provided a navy fleet tanker in 2016.

Pakistan is also reportedly the largest importer of the F-7PG aircraft from China, with more than 50 F-7PG fighters in the Pakistan Air Force (one of these planes just recently crashed in Western Pakistan, killing the pilot).

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor
In actuality, China and Pakistan are developing their relationship in more ways than at first meets the eye. It is one thing to spend millions of dollars attempting to beef up a nation’s navy, but it is something else entirely when two nations become attached on a much deeper level, particularly when it involves the citizens of those countries. Just this week, the government of Pakistan announced a new visa regime between Pakistan and China, tourism being an area of Pakistan’s economy that China has already been contributing heavily. Reportedly, millions of young Pakistanis are also foregoing English and learning Mandarin instead in order to obtain jobs and degrees. If we fast-forward a few decades down the line, I venture to bet that Western influence in Pakistan will be almost completely invisible.

Pakistani President Arif Alvi also just hailed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), vowing that the scheme will bring economic prosperity to the two countries. The CPEC is essentially a combination of infrastructure projects in Pakistan funded by Chinese loans which are worth at least $62 billion. As explained above, Saudi Arabia is not sitting idly by watching this project develop (not surprising, when one understands why).

CPEC, combined with China’s New Silk Road Project, has top US lawmakers and intelligence personnel increasingly “concerned.” One senator stated that he was “concerned about data access China may control through digital infrastructure projects in countries around the world. What is the IC’s assessment of potential dual-use aspects of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and what threats do they pose to US interests?”
US allies and partners “seeking greater independence from Washington”

A report compiled by Daniel R. Coats, the director of national intelligence, entitled “Worldwide threat assessment of the US intelligence community” identifies Pakistan as a nation that contributes to the risks of escalation dynamics and security in the region. More noticeable, however, is that while Pakistan appears in the document a handful of times, China is mentioned at least 85 times right throughout the report.

“We assess that China’s leaders will try to extend the country’s global economic, political, and military reach while using China’s military capabilities and overseas infrastructure and energy investments under the Belt and Road Initiative to diminish US influence,” the report states. “China has built its first overseas military facility in Djibouti and probably is exploring bases, support facilities, or access agreements in Africa, Europe, Oceania, Southeast Asia, and South Asia.”

Most curious is the foreword of the report which, after outlining all the threats Russia and China pose to the United States in all the different ways, states that “[a]t the same time, some US allies and partners are seeking greater independence from Washington in response to perceptions of changing US policies on security and trade and are becoming more open to new bilateral and multilateral partnerships.”

Let’s do the math. As already stated, the US has deprived Pakistan of $3 billion in security assistance. Not too long ago, the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) UAE deposited $3 billion into the State Bank of Pakistan to support its economic growth. Saudi Arabia made a similar promise, agreeing to provide Islamabad with a one-year deferred payment facility for importation of oil worth up to $3 billion.

At around the same time, Emirati media announced that the UAE and Pakistan were accelerating defense cooperation after the federal minister for defense production in Pakistan, Zubaida Jalal, received Major General Staff Pilot Ishaq Saleh Al-Balushi, head of the executive directorate of industries and development of defense capabilities at the UAE Ministry of Defense in Islamabad.

Pakistan is also expected to sign a memorandum of understanding with Saudi Arabia on a framework for $10 billion in Saudi investments. While some media will present Pakistan’s willingness to work with Saudi Arabia as an issue which will rattle and unnerve China, the available evidence appears to show that Sino-Pakistan relations are continuing unabated.

The question of Pakistan’s nukes
Last Thursday, the Pakistani Army Strategic Forces Command conducted a successful test flight of the Nasr close-range ballistic missile, which is nuclear-capable and can reach a specification of 70km.

The target of the ballistic test may surprise you. According to the Pakistani Army statement, the Nasr “augmented Full Spectrum Deterrence posture remaining within the precincts of policy of Credible Minimum Deterrence, against prevailing and evolving threat spectrum more effectively including enemy’s ballistic missile defense and other Air Defence Systems.”

The “enemy” referred to in this statement appears to be a blatant reference to Trump’s recent 2019 Missile Defense Review, which admitted that the US had “discussed potential missile defense cooperation with India” in light of the fact that “a number of states in South Asia are developing an advanced and diverse range of ballistic and cruise missile capabilities.”

Currently, Pakistan has ballistic missiles with ranges that can hit anywhere inside India. It has also built nuclear-tipped cruise missiles that can travel up to 400 miles. Not surprisingly, it was the US that gave the green light to Pakistan to modify its F-16 fighters to be capable of dropping nuclear weapons.

Conclusion
Pakistan’s economic woes put the nation in an incredibly compromising position. Knowing that it can no longer rely on Washington for support, it has to turn to as many partners as it can to keep its economy afloat. While China may not be thrilled by Saudi Arabia’s attempt to wade in on its project at the Gwadar port, it does appear that Pakistan’s geopolitical significance, particularly in relation to China, will entail Beijing continuing to prioritize its relationship with Pakistan. This includes, if necessary, militarizing its available bases in the region through the supply of its Chinese-made naval vessels

US-Taliban peace talks in Doha a ‘significant step’

The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilizad said Saturday that talks with the Taliban had been “more productive than they have been in the past,” and that “significant progress on vital issues” had been made.

In a series of messages posted to Twitter, Khalilzad also said he would be flying to Afghanistan for consultations with the government and to “build on the momentum and resume talks shortly.”

Khalilzad cautioned that there were still a “number of issues left to work out.”

“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and ‘everything’ must include an intra-Afghan dialogue and comprehensive ceasefire,” Khalilzad said.

US officials and Taliban negotiators were in Qatar’s capital to broker a ceasefire that would lead to a sequenced agreement for dialogue, initially between the US and the Taliban and then between the Taliban and the Afghan government, a source with knowledge of the talks told CNN.

Afghan official: U.S. assures us they’re committed
“If the ceasefire is announced this will trigger a sequence of talks that will have already been agreed by heads of both sides,” the source said.

The source added that there is a lot at stake for Khalilizad in these talks, not least to get President Donald Trump to sign on to whatever he has been able to get from the Taliban.

One concern, the source said, is that if the US pulls out troops without a deal with the Taliban, the Afghan government would fall, which could potentially see al Qaeda returning to the capital. The Taliban are currently sheltering a number of al Qaeda sleeper cells, according to the source.

On Saturday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the Doha talks “saw progress” on vital issues but that “until the issue of withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan is agreed upon, progress in other issues is impossible.”

The Taliban spokesman also said there wasn’t a ceasefire agreement in place yet.

“Reports by some media outlets about agreement on a ceasefire and talks with the Kabul administration are not true,” Mujahid said in a statement.

Both parties thanked the Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani for his role in facilitating the talks.

Writing on Twitter, Al-Thani called the six-day meeting a “significant step in the history of peace and reconciliation” on Twitter and called on regional and international players to “unify and coordinate efforts and support#Doha in its endeavor to facilitate successful negotiations.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the news “encouraging,” writing on Twitter that the US is “serious about pursuing peace, preventing #Afghanistan from continuing to be a space for international terrorism & bringing forces home.”

Last month, the US military was ordered to begin planning to withdraw about half of its troops in Afghanistan, according to a US defense official with direct knowledge of the matter. The US has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan, most of which are present as part of a larger NATO-led mission to train, advise and assist Afghan forces.

The conflict, known as America’s longest war, has cost more than 2,400 American lives, billions of US dollars and has spanned three US administrations.

While casualty figures for Afghan military and police have been classified since 2017, at least 62,000 Afghan military and police lives have been lost, according to the New York Times.

The number of civilians — mostly women and children — killed or injured by airstrikes in Afghanistan has risen a startling 39% year on year, according to UN figures released last October.

And in the past three years, the Taliban have strengthened their grip according to the most recent report released by the US government’s own ombudsman of the war.

In its quarterly report for the US Congress, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said that the Afghan government currently controls or influences only 55.5% of the country’s districts, marking the lowest level recorded since SIGAR began tracking district control in November 2015.

In November 2015, the Afghan government controlled 72% of districts in the country, but now controls just 56% of them. Insurgent influence or control has risen to 12.5% of districts from just 7% and approximately a third of Afghanistan is a “contested” area.

CNN’s Nic Robertson, Saleem Masood and Jomana Karadsheh contributed to this report.

Finance Minister Asad Umar presents third finance bill for fiscal 2019 amidst loud protests

Finance Minister Asad Umar presented the third finance bill for the current fiscal year during the National Assembly session being held on Wednesday evening.

Earlier, Umar, without revealing any specifics, had said the ‘mini-budget’ — technically the Finance Supplementary (Second Amendment) Bill of 2019 — would help generate more revenue for the government.

Speaking amidst loud jeering by opposition lawmakers, the finance minister described the bill as a measure to address the people of Pakistan’s needs.

“This is not a budget, this is a corrective package aimed at addressing various sectors of the economy,” the finance minister clarified at the start of his speech.

________________________________________
Salient features of Finance Supplementary (Second Amendment) Bill of 2019
• Tax on income generated from loans to small businesses, agriculture sector and low-income housing to be reduced from 39pc at present to 20pc.
• Introduction of interest-free revolving credit of Rs5 billion (qarz-i-husna)
• Withholding tax on bank transactions waived off for tax filers.
• Ban on purchase of vehicles for non-filers lifted for new locally manufactured cars up till 1300CC capacity, but higher taxes will apply.
• Small businesses exempted from submitting withholding tax returns every month; will do so only twice every year.
• Rs20,000 fixed tax on marriage halls reduced to Rs5,000.
• Pilot scheme to be introduced in Islamabad to facilitate traders in filing and paying taxes.
• Duty on newsprint abolished completely.
• Investment in solar panels and wind turbines to be exempt from duties and taxation for five years.
• Reduction and abolishment (in some cases) of duties on raw materials to support export industries.
• Super tax on non-banking companies to be abolished from July 1, 2019.
• Continuation of 1pc per annum reduction in corporate income tax.
• Capital loss carry-over to be allowed for 3 years (stock trading).
• 0.02 per cent withholding tax on trading to be abolished.
• Import duties on cars with engine capacity of 1800CC and above to be increased.
• Taxes and duties on mobile phones rationalised: taxes on budget sets to be reduced, high-end sets to become more expensive.
• Machinery for greenfield projects (including renewables) to be exempt of customs duty, sales tax and income tax (for five years)
• Tax refunds to be worked out; promissory notes to be issued by mid-February.
• Gas Infrastructure Development Cess to be removed from fertiliser production.
• Duty on diesel engines for agricultural applications to be reduced to 5pc from current 17pc.
________________________________________

Starting his speech with an assessment of Pakistan’s economic condition, the finance minister said his aim had been to eliminate all factors that necessitate a return to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package by successive regimes.

“The Constitution ensures the rights of the underprivileged segment of society and it is the Pakistani government and parliament’s responsibility to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. Unfortunately, this responsibility was never fulfilled,” the finance minister continued. “I wish to recommend measures for the prosperity of this country,” he added.

“The people sitting on my right [the opposition] had left nothing when they were leaving the government. Instead of reforming themselves, the last ruling regime tried to buy an election. The budget deficit, as presented by them [in their budget], should have been 4.1 but the actual deficit at the end of the year clocked in [much higher],” he said, speaking above opposition shouts of “Liar, liar!”

“They destroyed the electricity [generation and distribution] system and left us a Rs450bn deficit. The gas [distribution] system which had never witnessed a deficit has now recorded Rs150bn deficit,” he complained. “Similarly, the deficit was around Rs30bn in Railways.”

“They left the country indebted with Rs2,500bn to Rs3,000bn in loans that were not shown in the books,” he further alleged.

“I wish those shouting ‘Liar, Liar!’ right now had called out their own ministers when they were in power,” he said after recounting the challenges he said he had inherited.

“We took several difficult decisions, and I appreciate that the people realised that these difficult decisions were necessary,” the finance minister said.

“I want to give them the good news that these difficult decisions are yielding dividends: the deficit is reducing, exports are increasing and imports are declining. We need to bring a balance in revenue and expenditure as it is vital for growth. Our imports are touching a dangerous point. We have to increase exports and bring reforms in the agriculture and other sectors,” he said.

“The camera is recording [when I say this]: At the time of the next election, the PTI govt will not have to purchase an election [like our opponents attempted to]. The years 2022 and ’23 will witness the highest growth as compared to the period from 2008 to 2023,” he claimed.

Umar said the opposition will guide the government in its efforts to bring reforms in the economy. He said the PTI has given preference to the livelihood of youngsters.

Considering that small and medium-sized businesses hold an important position for the growth of the economy, he announced a reduction in the tax on small and medium enterprises. A cut in interest rate was also announced on agricultural loans, along with a reduction in the low-incoming housing tax.

Announcing that the withholding tax on banking deposits and transactions is being waved off for filers, the minister said the previous government “were proud of their influence in the business community but they hit them hard”.

“Pakistan was 76th in the international ranking of ease of doing business but during the last decade, it fell to 136th rank. We are taking steps for ease of doing business. Instead of submitting their withholding tax statement every month, businessmen will have to submit it only twice a year,” he said.

He announced that the government will launch a pilot project of a scheme in Islamabad under which a simple regime for taxation will be introduced on traders’ request.

Umar revealed a second revision in PTI government’s policy on disallowing non-filers from purchasing vehicles. “We decided to lift the ban on the purchase of small [locally manufactured] vehicles up to 1300CC, but the tax ratio for non-filers is being increased so they are encouraged to become filers,” Umar said.

“Most of the news and editorials are not being published in the PTI government’s favour but we do believe that a free press is vital for true democracy … so we are completely waiving the duty on import of newsprint,” he announced.

Speaking about the need to strengthen the industrial sector, the minister said the government would reduce, and in some cases waive off, the duties on raw materials in order to make industries profitable. “Special attention has been paid to small and medium industries, including vendors of the auto industry,” he added.

Umar termed the previous government’s alleged move to tax investments as “cruelty”. Promising to bring investments to the Special Economic Zones being set up as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, he announced that all equipment brought to the SEZs will now be duty-free.

He said: “Our trade deficit’s larger chunk consists of energy imports. We want to shift our dependence to renewable electricity … we want solar panels and wind turbines to be produced locally. And so investment in this sector for local production will enjoy a five-year relaxation in duties and taxes.”

Umar said the previous government, instead of encouraging savings, had imposed a tax on savings of companies that they could use for reinvestment. “We are eliminating this foolish tax by July 1,” he announced.

Referring to the opposition’s frequent criticism of the prevailing situation at the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX), the minister said, “When the stock market lost 15,000 points in just seven months during their [opposition’s] tenure, there was no problem; when the market plunged by just 5,000 points during our government a hue and cry was raised that the economy had crashed.”

He added that the PSX had seen an increase of 3,000 points during the last three weeks.

In what he said was the “only item” in the supplementary budget where the tax is being increased, Umar announced that the duty on import of vehicles with engine capacity of 1800CC and above would be raised.

He said the administrative issues of exporters were being resolved and would be “revealed later”. For farmers, the minister said, the price of urea will be reduced by Rs200 per bag after legislation is passed by the parliament in this regard. In addition, production units are being increased by 50pc to facilitate the issuance of loans to farmers and the regulatory duty on components of diesel engine is being reduced from 17pc to 5pc.

“I hope that the country’s new journey of self-dependence will continue. We are ready to take difficult decisions. We may ask for assistance from the IMF but we will not let the burden pass on to poor people,” he concluded.

Earlier today, the federal cabinet headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan was given a briefing on the bill, after which it was taken to the parliament for debate.

The supplementary budget was expected to offer major incentives to boost the stock market, housing, agriculture and industrial sectors, besides imposing punitive duties on luxury imports.

According to the finance ministry’s adviser and spokesman Dr Khaqan Najeeb Khan, the mini-budget would support ease of business processes, simplify procedures and facilitate business by reducing bureaucratic red-tape.

Informed sources, however, said the government was planning to reverse documentation reforms introduced for the equity markets in a bid to turn around the declining stock index which fell from its high at 53,000 points in 2016 to around 38,000 points at present. The package was also likely to include the reduction and removal of some tax rates, commissions and capital gains tax.

Third bill for fiscal 2019
The ‘mini-budget’ would constitute the third finance bill for fiscal 2018-2019.

The National Assembly had in May 2018 passed the Finance Bill 2018-19 during the tenure of the PML-N government, the basic structure of which remained the same as announced by then Finance Minister Miftah Ismail on Apr 27, 2018.

Then, in September 2018, Umar had presented the incumbent Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government’s amendments to the budget announced by the PML-N.

The highlights of the amendment included a cut in federal development programmes and measures to bring the budget deficit down to 5.1 per cent.

Tax rates were lower than the previous year and the tax relief that had been granted by the PML-N was revoked from salaried persons earning more than Rs200,000 per month. The tax rate in the highest income tax slab was raised from 15 pc to 30 pc. The rate of withholding tax on banking transactions for non-tax filers was increased to 0.6pc

Other developments included an increase in federal excise duty on imports of luxury vehicles and duties on ‘expensive’ cell phones. Customs duty was also increased on more than 5,000 ‘luxury’ items. Regulatory duty was increased on the import of more than 900 items.

The Insaf Sehat Card facility was expanded to Fata and Islamabad Capital Territory.

Opposition opposes govt decision to announce mini-budget
On Jan 16, the government had sought the opposition’s support for the mini-budget announced today. National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser had facilitated two meetings between the government and opposition in which the issues of the mini-budget and formation of committees of the NA were discussed.

However, leaders of various political parties had opposed the government’s plans, saying the mini-budget “will add to the miseries of public” and “badly affect the commerce and industrial sectors in the country”.

Parliamentary leader of the PPP in the Senate, Sherry Rehman, had in a statement expressed her reservations over ever-increasing prices of various commodities.

Similarly, several PML-N leaders, including former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, had also criticised the government’s move to present another finance bill.

Speaking at a news conference on Jan 12, the PML-N leaders had lashed out at the PTI government for what they termed “directionless and failed” economic policies, which they claimed had drastically brought down the country’s growth rate in just five months.

A Family Ski Adventure in the Himalayas

Last winter, as I was riding in a car with my family through the Kashmir Valley, the driver’s phone rang. He listened carefully before frowning.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Man killed in avalanche.”

“Who?”

“A Russian, skier, went by helicopter.”

“Where?” I asked
.
“Where else?’’ The driver shrugged. “Gulmarg.”

Gulmarg. That’s exactly where I was taking my family for a ski trip. Gulmarg is Kashmir’s underdog ski resort, tucked in the snowy Himalayas, a place of magnificent skiing and no frills. Few foreigners visit, for reasons I will get into, and as we drew closer, I began to wonder if this was such a great idea. I looked out the window. It was now dark and snowing, and we were winding our way up a narrow road into the mountains. After we passed another military checkpoint, the driver nodded to me.

“You see that spot?’’ he said, pointing into the woods. “We saw a bear there last week.’’
My wife, Courtenay, who was sitting in the back, tapped me on the shoulder.

“Why can’t we go skiing in Austria like everybody else?”

I laughed.

“No,” she said. “I’m serious.”

I had always dreamed of skiing in Kashmir. That name alone conjures up adventure: white-toothed mountains and deep green valleys, wide open slopes and tough highland people. Draped in a mysterious beauty, Kashmir is one of those places most of us have heard of, but know little about. And I had a personal agenda. My children are among that strange breed of Americans who have never lived in the United States. They were born in Kenya, raised (so far) in Africa and India, products of the tropics who go to school all year round in shorts, and I wanted them to experience snow.

So one weekend about a year ago, while we were sitting around our apartment in New Delhi, I suggested a trip to Kashmir’s winter wonderland.

“Are you kidding?” Courtenay said. “Isn’t there an active conflict up there?”

“I wouldn’t necessarily call it a conflict,” I said.

“What would you call it then?”

“A dispute, maybe?

I’m an average skier, trained on the snowy pimples of the Midwest, with a few lucky trips to Vail and the Alps. But I love skiing, and the thought of plunging down the Himalayas, the world’s tallest mountains, fired me up. I soon learned that Kashmir’s ski spot, Gulmarg, is huge (about seven times the size of Jackson Hole), with some runs so long they take all day to ski. I also learned that Gulmarg is cheap, never crowded and blessed with perfect high-altitude, inland snow. One experienced skier described it as being so soft and feathery that skiing through it was like floating through a forest. I wanted to float through that forest.

But before getting more excited, I needed to check out the safety of the area. This was a family trip, after all, and my wife was right: Kashmir is contested territory, torn between India and Pakistan. It’s a long story, flaring up in the 1940s, when the British divided the subcontinent into Hindu-dominated India and Muslim-dominated Pakistan. The people of Kashmir fell in between, religiously and geographically. They were ruled by a Hindu maharajah, though the population was mostly Muslim. And their area, with its fertile orchards, deliciously cool climate and legendary scenery, lies right between what is now India and Pakistan.

After the British left, India and Pakistan fought three wars over Kashmir, and today the conflict has settled into a thorny standoff, with India controlling most of Kashmir and Pakistan a smaller slice.

Many Kashmiris don’t want either country controlling them: They want independence, and a small, dogged separatist movement operates in Kashmir, attacking police posts and civilians believed to be collaborators. Gulmarg, however, is rarely affected; it lies in a nook of the Kashmir valley tightly controlled by the Indian military.

I was obsessed with getting us there, but had no idea how to pull this off. As luck would have it, right when Courtenay and I were haggling over the trip, we were invited to a dinner party in New Delhi where I was seated near a charming, fit-looking Indian with a bald head and handlebar mustache. His name was Akshay Kumar and he was a former champion skier. He had skied Gulmarg countless times, ever since he was a child, and he and his wife, Dilshad Master, run an adventure tour company,

When I asked him if Gulmarg was safe, he said: “Very. I’m taking some families up there in a couple of weekends. Want to come?”

I now had the necessary cover.

Akshay offered to do all the hard work: organizing ski rentals, lift passes, hotel bookings and, most important, the seamless string of large bearded men who would schlep us around. He made what could have been a complicated trip simple and safe. He also made it inexpensive. The kids’ lift tickets were less than $3 (that’s not a typo). A gondola day pass was $25. Equipment rental was about the same and the gear was solid: parabolic Atomic skis and Salomon boots. A ski trip to Austria, for example, would have cost us thousands of dollars.

I cover South Asia for The New York Times, and I was working on a story in Kashmir that same week on the life and times of a young militant named Sameer Tiger. Like many others, Sameer Tiger had been pulled into the insurgency by a mix of anger, naïveté and lack of economic opportunity. And, like many others, he went down in a hail of bullets, cornered by security forces. I had spent weeks researching him and was familiar with flying in and out of Srinagar, Kashmir’s biggest city. I also knew that the hot spots where the militants conducted their attacks tended to be in southern Kashmir, miles away from Gulmarg.

“Like ice, Daddy, like ice”

As I waited at the Srinagar airport for my family, I was giddy with excitement. It had just snowed and the trees were delicately coated, the roads wet and shiny. When I picked everyone up, Asa, our 7-year-old, pointed to a lumpy bag tied to the taxi’s roof and asked, just as I knew he would, “What’s that?”

I untied the bag and told him to put his hands in. “Ooh, that’s cold,” he said, turning over his first clump of snow. “Like ice, Daddy, like ice.”

I would have loved to linger in Srinagar, an old town built on a lotus-covered lake, where you can stay in a gorgeous houseboat, wake up with kingfishers plunging into the lake next to you, and then stroll through rose-filled gardens sculpted by Moghul emperors hundreds of years ago. But we only had the weekend to work with, so we had to skip all of this.

It’s about an hour-and-a-half drive from Srinagar to Gulmarg, and Courtenay was quiet the entire way. I did not blame her. Kashmir isn’t a war zone, but everywhere you look, you see Indian soldiers running checkpoints, patrolling the markets and peeking their helmeted heads out from the turrets of scarred-up gun trucks. The American government warns citizens to stay away, though I feel that’s overblown. I’ve been to Kashmir now more than half a dozen times and I’ve never heard a single gunshot. The Indian troops exert control in just about all parts of the valley, especially in Srinagar, and I know several other expat families who have visited, and all said they felt safe.

With evening approaching, we left the city on a smooth highway running west. The long shadows of minarets fell across the road. The men in the villages we passed were bundled up in heavy woolen cloaks called pherans. When we stopped to buy water, I noticed one man with a large round bulge under his pheran. When I asked him what it was, he lifted up his cloak to reveal a small pot of burning coal he was cradling to keep himself warm.
This is what I love about Kashmir. While India is such a feast of the senses — the food, the fashion, the colors, the deities, the clanging of brass bells and the constant whiffs of incense and fragrant oils — Kashmir radiates its own distinctive charm.

We crossed a river. This is when the driver’s phone rang, and after we heard about the deadly avalanche and then the bear in these same woods, the car fell silent.

The mood brightened when we pulled into the Khyber hotel, Gulmarg’s fanciest. It was a supersize ski chalet, and its green pointed roofs were dusted with snow. The kids’ eyes were peeled for bears. But as soon as we stepped into the lobby, with its dark, gleaming wood and fine carpets, I spotted what I really wanted to see: children. Packs of them.

Clearly this was a family destination, and in the Khyber’s downstairs rec room, Asa and our other son, Apollo, 9, instantly bonded with their Indian comrades over foosball and air hockey. I had to pry them out of there. There aren’t any bars in Kashmir (it’s dry) or anything resembling an après-ski scene, so we went to sleep early.

The next morning we mustered outside in the hotel’s portico, waiting for our skis to be delivered. I thought we’d just slap them on and slide the couple of hundred yards to the base of the slopes, but no, a Jeep dispatched as part of Akshay’s operation zoomed up with three men inside. Kashmiris are some of the warmest, most hospitable people, and before we climbed into the Jeep, the men greeted us with big hugs. When we climbed out, they insisted on putting on our skis. I had one guy on my left, another on my right and a third young man kneeling in the snow at my feet.

“Guys, guys, guys,” I said, trying to wiggle free. “I can put on my own skis.”

But the young man at my feet either didn’t understand or didn’t care. And for the first time since I was about 5, I watched someone untie my shoes and carefully pull them off.
The sky was a flawless blue, the air peppermint fresh. It wasn’t even that cold — maybe 30 degrees. Kashmir rarely gets bitterly cold; Gulmarg lies at the same latitude as Atlanta. All around us, the white teeth of the Himalayas gleamed, and from nearby chimneys I smelled wood smoke. It was the most romantic alpine scene I had ever entered, and part of it was the scale. Behind the mountains that stood in front of me were even higher mountains, and behind them, the real titans. On a clear day, from the top of Gulmarg, you can see into Pakistan and glimpse K2, the second tallest mountain in the world after Everest.
Gulmarg doesn’t feel like a ski resort; it feels like a village. At the base of the gondola, men with wooden boxes strapped to their shoulders sold chocolate bars, selfie sticks and cigarettes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pack of cigarettes on a ski slope.

Others wielded silver samovars and poured steaming cups of kahwah, a light Kashmiri tea, made from saffron and other spices, that carries a delightful aroma. Of the several hundred people on the mountain that day, most were not skiers but Indian families content to pay a few rupees for a ride on a sled. I watched the sled wallahs — a string of young Kashmiri men with battered toboggans — begin their long trudge uphill. They were working for the equivalent of a few dollars a day and didn’t have the money to take the lift. They slowly made their way up the mountain, heads down, bodies leaning forward, the wind tugging at their pherans.

Akshay arranged for my sons to take lessons with a Kashmiri skier named Ishfaq. He told them to call him Eeesh. We waved to Eeesh and the two roly-poly shadows beneath him as they tramped off to the bunny hill.

Courtenay and I hired our own guide, Wali. Wali was in his late 40s with curly gray hair and orange mirrored shades. He wore no hat. He had been working on these slopes since he was 8, beginning as a sled wallah. He had never been to school. When I asked Wali what he loved about skiing, he looked off into the hills and smiled.

“I love it for the money,” he said.

It wasn’t exactly the poetic answer I was looking for, but fair enough. In strife-torn Kashmir, where there aren’t many jobs for an athletic, adventurous man, this was a good one.

Gulmarg’s slopes cover everything from green to double black diamond, but few are marked. Part of the mountain is groomed, but advanced skiers love the ungroomed, backcountry skiing. The gondola reaches around 13,000 feet, one of the highest in the world. Some skiers hike up even higher or take helicopters to virgin spots. Gulmarg’s vertical drop, a measure of the altitude from where you start to where you finish, can be as much as 6,000 feet. With good snow, some runs stretch more than four miles. They can take the better part of a day and end in the woods, near some old temples.

We started with a medium-difficult run, taking the gondola to the middle of the mountain (Gulmarg has one gondola, one chair lift and several tow ropes). We stepped off into thick snowpack. This was mid-February, the best time for snow; sometimes the area gets eight feet of powder.

Wali led the way, dropping into a wide track that ran through Himalayan cedar trees. He stopped intermittently to look back at Courtenay and me.

“Up and down, up and down,” he shouted as we made our turns, trying to keep our skis together. “Yass, yass, that’s it. Good, good!”
As my skis cut through the snow, I felt the air against my cheeks and that addictive sense of speed. My thighs burned and occasionally I heard the sssh, sssh of a better skier descending past me, though there were only a handful of us on the slopes. It had been nearly 10 years since I had last skied, and bombing down the mountain felt as pure and intoxicating as galloping on a horse.

Courtenay agreed it was thrilling. But she was more distracted than I was by Kashmir’s misfortune of lying between two rival nations. Her take on Gulmarg was that it was “a stunning ski resort in the middle of a zone of sadness.”

We skied around some low-slung houses made of wooden planks. “What are those?” I shouted to Wali.

“Gujjar houses!” Wali shouted back.

Hmm, I thought. This place doesn’t just feel like a village — it is a village. Seminomadic Gujjar herders live here in the summer, when the slopes are carpeted with grass and wildflowers; the name Gulmarg means meadow of flowers. Just as I was thinking “How sweet is this?” — observing some culture while working on my parallel — I dug in too deep on a turn and face-planted. Courtenay and Wali didn’t hear me wipe out and kept going, leaving me in the snowbound Gujjar village by myself.

A bear of a man appeared out of nowhere. He ripped me up from the ground. After I got my hands through straps in my poles and could stand up without falling on my face again, I said, “Shukria” — thank you.

“Where from?” he asked.

“U.S.”

“America?”

“Yes.”

His bristly face broke into a huge smile.

“Welcome, brother, welcome.”

Paradise on Earth

For lunch, we met up with our children at Hotel Highlands Park on the slopes. Again, this was not a Western imitation. We didn’t thump along in our ski boots in a packed cafeteria, pushing a tray along a track for a $10 cup of cocoa and a $25 hamburger. We sat down at a proper table in a proper restaurant and polished off a feast: naan bread, curried vegetables, fresh yogurt and an exquisite lamb dish of tender meat hammered flat and rolled into a baseball-size meatball. The hotel felt like a hunting lodge; deer heads and bearskin rugs hung on the walls.

I hadn’t seen any other foreigners, so when I heard an American accent down the hallway, I was curious. I wandered through the lodge, pushed open a door and found three rugged, sun-tanned guys sitting on cushions in a cozy, wood-paneled room heated by wood-burning stoves.

“What do you guys do here?”

“We’re the ski patrol,” said one.

His name was Luke. He was 39 years old. He grew up in Alaska, became an avalanche forecaster and a paramedic and came to Gulmarg seven years ago to run the ski patrol.
“It’s the warmth of the people,” he said. “That’s what drew me here.”

He explained that Gulmarg has 17 ski patrollers with snowmobiles to rescue injured skiers. Avalanches were always a risk but only in the off-piste areas, he said, like where the Russian tourist was skiing on the day we arrived.

After lunch, I watched my sons ski. Eeesh had taught them well. Asa turned back and forth, carving large S’s and ending with a confident snowplow. Apollo was less orthodox. He shot down the bunny hill like a bullet.

“Stop! Stop!” Courtenay yelled as he approached the bottom.

I doubt he heard but somehow, right before he was about to crash into us, he stopped.
The next morning was sadly our last. I persuaded Wali to take me higher on the mountain. When we got off the chair lift, we were by ourselves. The views were breathtaking. It was so bright, so clear, so crisp, so still. I just wanted to stay up there and stare at the jagged white mountains and etch those images into my brain.

I was reminded of a Persian couplet inscribed long ago on a pavilion in one of Srinagar’s majestic gardens: “If there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.”
I gazed across the valley.

“You go first,” Wali hollered. “I want to watch your form.”

I didn’t know where to start. We were poised on the lip of an enormous bowl. In front of me, for as long as I could see, the snow was untrammeled. There wasn’t a single track.

Opposition parties close ranks against govt

ISLAMABAD: Opposition parties in the National Assembly on Tuesday agreed to close ranks against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government on crucial matters and formed a special committee to evolve joint strategies on important national issues.

The decision was taken in a meeting convened by Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif in his chamber at the Parliament House. It was attended by top leadership of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and other parties.

Speaking to reporters after the nearly two-hour-long meeting, PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif said the opposition leaders had decided to form a committee to formulate proposals for adopting a joint course of action to help resolve national issues.

The joint committee – with representation from all opposition parties – would be responsible for holding negotiations with the government on the issue of an extension in the tenure of military courts, Shahbaz told reporters.

“A coalition agreement has been reached between the opposition parties,” said former president Zardari after the meeting. “The opposition has today adopted a very good strategy to form a committee and have a joint opposition in and outside parliament,” added Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

Structural reforms to continue despite ‘anti-govt propaganda’: PM

The joint committee comprised Syed Khursheed Shah and Sherry Rehman of the PPP; Ahsan Iqbal, Rana Sanaullah and Marriyum Aurangzeb of the PML-N, Amir Haider Hoti of the Awami National Party (ANP), Maulana Abdul Wasay of the MMA and Akhtar Mengal of the BNP.

At the media talk, both Shahbaz and Bilawal slammed the PTI government’s economic policies. They expressed concerns over hike in the prices of gas, power, medicines and items of daily use. “The economic conditions have worsened,” Shehbaz said, adding that inflation had risen as well.

Shahbaz called for a fresh bidding for the Mohmand dam contract to ensure transparency in this mega project. On the second extension in the tenure of military courts, Shehbaz said “the combined opposition” would take the decision in the national interest.

The meeting took place after the opposition staged a walkout from the National Assembly after raising questions over the bidding process of Mohmand dam. It had become a controversial issue after the contract was awarded to a close aide of the prime minister.

At the meeting, former president Asif Zardari, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Syed Khursheed Shah, Syed Naveed Qamar, Sherry Rahman, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Khwaja Asif, Ahsan Iqbal, Rana Tanveer Hussain, Khawaja Saad Rafique, Rana Sanaullah, Senator Pervez Rashid, Senator Asif Kirmani and Marriyum Auranzeb were present.

Pressure tactic to seek NRO, says PM Imran after opposition’s NA walkout

MMA was represented by it parliamentary leader Maulana Asad Mahmood and Maulana Abdul Wasay while ANP was represented by Amir Haider Khan Hoti. Balochistan National Party’s Agha Hassan Baloch and Haji Hashim Potezai also participated in the meeting at special invitation by the opposition parties.

Their talks focused on the current political and economic situation in the country, the Mohmand dam issue, extension in tenure of military courts and the strategy of the opposition. Bilawal later said that the Charter of Democracy would be revisited, keeping in view the ground realities and political situation.

Bilawal said the opposition’s human and democratic rights were under attack from all sides by the government, but the opposition leaders were “not ready to compromise” on these two rights. He also said his party did not want to strike any deals with the government to seek an NRO-type amnesty.

The PML-N president slammed the “worst incompetence” of the PTI government and accused it of “cronyism” in awarding the Mohmand dam contract to a consortium, allegedly owned by a sitting adviser to the prime minister.

When the former president Zardari was asked whether the opposition parties would come together in the shape of an alliance, he replied: “The union has taken place.”

Later, the opposition issued a joint communiqué, alleging that the PTI government’s disastrous economic policies and utter disregard for provincial autonomy posed a grave threat to the existence and federation of Pakistan.

It stated that the dangerously falling economic growth rate and the resulting unemployment had spun out of control and the government’s economic policies had become “a clear and present danger for the country”.

“The leaders of the opposition parties in the meeting rejected the government’s mini-budget and said that the third budget by the ‘insanely incompetent’ government will be vociferously opposed in parliament because it would crush the already burdened masses of Pakistan,” it said.

The joint statement expressed grave concern over “the rapidly shrinking room for freedom of speech, freedom of the press and broadcast” and the “economic snuffing of media outlets, leading to their closure”.

The joint statement pointed out that a steep decline of 35% in the value of rupee had on the one hand added billions more to the foreign debt of Pakistan while on the other crucial sectors of national development and everyday life were severely hit by this devaluation.

“All these disastrous economic policies of the government created uncertainty in the investors that cost Pakistan more than $40 billion at the stock market and brought financial activity to a grinding halt,” the joint statement said.