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ISLAMABAD:
Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain on Tuesday hinted at a breakthrough in negotiations with the opposition on electoral reforms, saying that the two sides had reached an understanding on several points and there was a likelihood of further positive development.

The minister said the cabinet was given a detailed briefing on electronic voting machines (EVMs), Internet voting and biometric verification of voters. The objective behind the introduction of EVMs was to bring transparency in the electoral system, he added.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, while delivering a policy statement on the floor of the house last month, had invited the opposition to sit with the government on electoral reforms to hold ‘objection-free’ general elections. “Time has come that [when] we contest elections, no one worries about being defeated through rigging... We came to one result — the only solution is EVMs [electronic voting machines]. All that [post-voting] rigging period can be eliminated if result comes [immediately] after election,” said the prime minister said before offering the opposition parties to sit with the government for electoral reforms.

“Our government is ready to listen if the opposition has any other advice regarding the reforms,” the prime minister said in his wide-ranging speech on the conclusion of federal budget 2021-22 session in the National Assembly.

Addressing a news conference after a federal cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the federal cabinet was informed that the two sides had reached an understanding on several points and there was likelihood of further positive development.

Fawad also said the government had decided to uphold the ban on the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) under the anti-terrorism law and take the matter to the Supreme Court for its dissolution and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for the cancellation of its election symbol.

Among other key decisions, the cabinet also approved a 15% special allowance for the personnel of armed forces “to make their salaries equal to the civilians”.

It also gave the nod to fixing new prices of 49 medicines.

The cabinet was informed that 85 more Pakistanis jailed in Saudi Arabia were being released on Eidul Azha and a record 525,000 people were vaccinated in the country on Monday.

Briefing journalists after the cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, the information minister said the interior ministry’s report on examining the TLP's appeal against the ban on the outfit was reviewed and a conclusion was reached that the earlier decision, which was based on facts and merits, was correct.

In April this year, the government had banned the TLP, following violent protests by the outfit in which some policemen were martyred while several others suffered injuries.

The TLP had sought expulsion of the French ambassador from the country over the publication of blasphemous cartoons in a Paris weekly.

In the press briefing, Fawad said the law ministry and the attorney general for Pakistan would approach the ECP for the cancellation of the banned outfit’s election symbol.

In response to a query, the minister said the matter would also be taken to the apex court.

“Gone are the days when parties would reemerge with a different name.”

Fawad said a review revealed that former prime ministers, chief ministers, retired judges, bureaucrats and members of the opposition parties had more protocol and security details than the members of the federal cabinet.

He added that rules regarding the provision of official security and protocol to different people were being reviewed and a report would be presented to the prime minister in the next cabinet meeting.

The minister said the cabinet had given approval to a 15% special allowance of the running basic pay of the armed forces personnel.

He added that 10% pay raise was given to civilians and armed forces last year. However the civilians’ salaries were later increased by 25%.

Fawad said the premier had directed that Pakistan Rangers and Frontier Constabulary should also be given 15% allowance and instructed the authorities concerned to take steps for the purpose.

The minister highlighted that the premier had told the cabinet that 500 million trees would be planted during the ongoing monsoon season. Referring to a briefing about the encroachments in E-8 and E-9 sectors of Islamabad, Fawad said PM Imran had directed all institutions, including the Pakistan Air Force and the Pakistan Navy, to remove boundary walls built on the green belt and they had already started doing so.

The prime minister, he said, expressed concerns over the doubling of the federal capital's population from 2010 to 2020 while green belts were encroached all over the city. The PM, he added, had also directed that the culture of VVIP clubs, where the entry of a common man was banned, should be ended and all resources should be used for the welfare of the general public.

On the situation in Afghanistan, Fawad said Pakistan was already hosting over three million Afghan refugees and was expecting more if the situation in the neighbouring country deteriorated further.

“It is not just the responsibility of Pakistan only. Rather the international community, especially the superpowers, should come forward to share the burden.”

Sharing that Pakistan was making all possible efforts for a peaceful solution of the Afghan issue, Fawad said the ministries concerned had been directed to prepare a comprehensive policy keeping in view the emerging situation.

The minister also said the prime minister would soon address election rallies in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).

Taking a jibe at the PPP chairman, he said Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had already left for the US out of frustration that his party had no chance of winning in the AJK elections.

Similarly, he said, PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz was on a leisure trip to the AJK.

On the request of the opposition leader in Sindh Assembly, Halim Adil Sheikh, the cabinet issued directives for the formation of a joint investigation team to ensure transparency in the probe into the cases instituted against him.

At the outset of the meeting, the cabinet paid tributes to the Kashmiri martyrs of July 13, 1931.

In response to a question, he said that Aafia Siddiqui, who was imprisoned in the US, could serve her remaining sentence in Pakistan if she was sent back.

He confirmed that the cabinet had approved three Eid holidays beginning from July 20 and ending on July 22.

Urging citizens to have them vaccinated and pay no heed to propaganda, Fawad said over 1.5 billion people across the world had received the shots.

“Over 20 million people have been vaccinated in Pakistan so far,” he added.

He said the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) would share a report about Covid-19 vaccination on Wednesday (today).

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