Government mulls closing airspace, Afghan transit for India

ISLAMABAD: Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry on Tuesday said that the federal cabinet was considering restoration of a complete ban on the use of Pakistani airspace for Indian flights.

In a Twitter message, the minister said a blanket ban on the use of Pakistani land routes for India’s trade with Afghanistan was also suggested during Tuesday’s cabinet meeting. He said the legal formalities for these decisions to take effect were under consideration.

“Modi has started we’ll finish!” the minister wrote, in a reference to the Indian prime minister’s move to revoke the Indian Held Kashmir’s special autonomy earlier this month.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, while chairing the cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office, expressed determination that the government, leadership and people of Pakistan will fully stand by Kashmiris in their right to self-determination.

Giving a briefing to the media on cabinet meeting, Special Assistant to PM on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said the prime minister took the cabinet into confidence on his Monday’s speech and the steps being taken by the government to internationalise the injustice and plight of IHK people to the world in an effective manner.

Dr Firdous said the cabinet endorsed the prime minister’s decision to choose Friday to observe it as a national solidarity day with Kashmiris. The cabinet hailed the steps being taken by the government on highlighting the Kashmir issue and the recently set up focal group on Kashmir comprising members from both treasury and opposition.

The cabinet members assured full support to the prime minister on his upcoming address to the UN General Assembly next month. Referring to public welfare steps of the government, the special assistant said the prime minister was briefed that a token system has been introduced in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to facilitate the public on first come first served basis. Minister for Aviation informed the cabinet that the Civil Aviation department will introduce a system that will work in coordination with Meteorological Department to give timely information to people and especially farmers regarding weather conditions.

The meeting was informed that the payment deadline of electricity and gas bills will be increased to 15 days from seven days to give people sufficient time for bill payments. Minister for Communications Murad Saeed apprised the cabinet that services for disabled persons have been introduced in inter-city public buses.

Minister for Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar informed the meeting that a decision has been made to turn all economic support from abroad into grant in aid, rather than loans. The prime minister directed to speed up the process of completion of public development projects. He urged the cabinet members to make distinction between project planning and project implementation. Imran Khan also emphasised to arrange and manage human resource well in time so that projects are not delayed unnecessarily.

The prime minister also directed the Human Rights Ministry to arrange capacity building trainings for transgender community in coordination with civil society so that they could earn a respectable living.

The cabinet expressed its concern on rising online crimes, including child pornography. Prime Minister Imran Khan directed the Law Ministry to draft laws to give exemplary punishments to those involved in such heinous crimes, so that it has a deterrence effect.

Imran Khan agreed to a suggestion of the Interior Ministry to set up a state-of-the-art centre for drug rehabilitation in Islamabad, so that addicts are rehabilitated in society. The Ministry of IT shared projects with the cabinet for increasing capacity building of youth, increasing international IT exports, and talent hunt programmes.

Law Minister Barrister Farogh Naseem apprised the cabinet on development of Imran Khan Legal Aid Helpline which will help the poor, destitute and displaced persons across the country to access speedy justice.

Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri informed the cabinet of all the initiatives to facilitate the Hujjaj. He said 700,000 people apply for visits to Iran, Syria and Iraq annually and the ministry is facilitating increase in their numbers. A policy draft in this regard will be presented to the cabinet soon. The minister further told that a 70-year-old temple will be rehabilitated in Sialkot, while a Gurdwara closed for decades in Peshawar has been opened again.

Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad informed the cabinet that rail ticket prices have been reduced to half for persons who are 65 years old or above, while four free tickets will be given per annum to persons above 75 years of age. He said 3.7 million litters of diesel has been saved with effective measures to stop its pilferage. The minister said steps are also being taken to facilitate disabled persons for train travel.

Adviser on Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood told the meeting that earlier Pakistani products were being sold worldwide with tags of different countries. He said the Commerce Ministry is now working on legislation to protect Pakistani brand name. Adviser on Institutional Reforms Dr Ishrat Hussain informed of various measures which have resulted in improved performance of public sector institutions. It was told that heads of 30 organisations have been appointed on fair and transparent manner.

The cabinet was also informed of measures to register home-based workers with EOBI after setting up a new database. Similarly, a database of overseas Pakistanis will also be set up. A special police station for overseas Pakistanis has already been set up in Islamabad to help resolve their grievances and issues.

A report on privatisation was presented to the cabinet and it was told that 32 entities have been identified for privatisation. Amir Mumtaz was approved as director and chairman of Board of Pakistan Steel Mills.

To a question, Firdous said China fully supported Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir and the meeting of vice chairman of Chinese Central Military Commission with the prime minister was an important development. She said the prime minister had taken right steps on the Kashmir issue and their positive results would come in due course of time.

She said upgrading of railway track and improvement of the Pakistan Railways was top most priority of the government. Despite limited resources, she said, the Railways’ performance was more than satisfactory.

To a question about the Islamabad Expressway and Peshawar More-New Airport Metro Bus Service, the special assistant said she would try that the cabinet should be given a briefing on the very important projects, which were gateways to Islamabad. She said the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health and Punjab Health Department, was launching an advocacy and awareness campaign on the dengue fever. Amendments to the NAB law were also discussed during the cabinet meeting.

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