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January 17, 2019: National Current Affairs
1. Pakistan presses Afghan Taliban to meet US envoy in Islamabad
• Pakistan is believed to be making serious efforts to arrange a meeting between the US special representative for Afghanistan and Afghan Taliban leaders in Islamabad to help break the deadlock and speed up the Afghan peace process.
• Foreign Office spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal said he had no knowledge of the meeting between US special representative Zalmay Khalilzad and Afghan Taliban representatives but the sources said Pakistan had conveyed to the Taliban leadership its desire to convene a meeting in Islamabad this week to push forward the peace agenda.
• The Taliban did not announce its agreement to sit down with Mr Khalilzad though sources said chances of talks between the two adversaries were high. Mr Khalilzad`s visit to Islamabad was delayed and rescheduled to allow the Taliban leadership to consult each other and come up with a firm response.
• This comes in the backdrop of media reports about the arrest of a senior Taliban figure and his subsequent release and raids and arrests of some Taliban commanders to put pressure on the group to return to the negotiating table and also to get them to meet the Afghan government representatives.
2. EPD issues data on environment-friendly measures
• The Punjab Environment Protection Department (EPD) has stated that it has worked to control smog in the first few months of the government and air quality index (AQI) remained `below the safe limits of 300`, and mostly between 100 to 150.
• The recent decline in air quality was because of brick kilns.
• As kilns are functional again, a high AQI is to be expected.
3. Women`s seat to be reserved from Islamabad in NA
• For the first time in the country`s parliamentary history, a women`s seat will be reserved for the federal capital in the National Assembly. The government on January 16, 2019 introduced a constitutional amendment in the lower house of parliament seeking an increase in the number of seats reserved for women.
• Parliamentary Secretary for Law and Justice Maleeka Bukhari introduced the bill on behalf of Law Minister Barrister Farogh Naseem, which was then referred to the concerned standing committee by Speaker Asad Qaiser for further deliberations.
• When it passes through the lower house, the bill will go to the Senate for approval. The support of two-third members in both the houses is required for the passage of a constitutional amendment bill.
• The present PTI-led coalition government does not have a two-thirds majority in either house and will have to seek the support of opposition parties, including PML-N and PPP.
4. Pakistan implements IMF`s data dissemination system
• In line with the International Monetary Fund`s (IMF) enhanced General Data Dissemination System (e-GDDS) recommendations; Pakistan published critical data on the National Summary Data Page (NSDP) January 16, 2019.
• The NSDP is a national data portal that serves as a one-stop vehicle for essential macroeconomic data on the national accounts, government operations and debt, monetary and financial sector and balance of payments among others.
5. ECP suspends 332 lawmakers over failure to file assets, liabilities papers
• The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on January 16, 2019 suspended as many as 332 lawmakers, including ministers and other political heavyweights, for their failure to submit annual statements of assets and liabilities by January 15, 2019 two weeks after the expiry of the Dec 31 deadline to do so.
• Interestingly, the list of suspended lawmakers includes names of two political heavyweights who have yet to take the oath, raising the question if the ECP can suspend the members-elect. They are former finance minister and Senator-elect Muhammad Ishaq Dar and former interior minister and member-elect of the Punjab Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.
• Those suspended include 116 members of the Punjab Assembly, 72 members of the National Assembly, 54 members of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Assembly, 52 members of the Sindh Assembly, 20 senators and 19 members of the Balochistan Assembly.
6. Malik Mazhar Abbas Raan MPA dies of cardiac arrest
• Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) MPA from PP-218 (Multan) Malik Mazhar Abbas Raan died of a cardiac arrest in Lahore on January 16, 2019. He was 65.
• Raan, who was in Lahore to attend the assembly session, suffered from a cardiac arrest and was shifted to the Punjab Institute of Cardiology where he breathed his last.
• Born in 1953, Raan started his political career from the platform of the Pakistan Peoples Party and contested election from PP-166 against Shah Mahmood Qureshi in 1988 and 1990 but lost; however he made it to the Punjab Assembly on PML-N ticket in 1997.
• In 2002 and 2008, he lost the election by PPP candidates Arshad Raan and Abbas Raan, respectively. In 2013, he won the election on the PML-N ticket while in 2018 he was the PTl candidate and was returned to the provincial assembly by scoring 45,872 votes.
January 17, 2019: International Current Affairs
7. Report finds increase in persecution of Christians across Asia
• One in three Christians in Asia faces high levels of persecution after a `shocking increase` of religious-based threats and violence across the world, particularly in China and sub-Saharan Africa, a global advocacy group said on January 16, 2019.
• Around half of China`s 100 million Christians encounters persecution, `the worst it`s been in more than a decade`, following `new laws seeking to control religious expression`, the Open Doors watchdog said.
• Persecution worldwide increased for the sixth straight year, with a total of 245 million Christians one out of nine worldwide facing high levels in 2018, up from 215 million, or one in 12, the previous year.
• `Worldwide, our data reveals that 13.9 per cent more Christians are experiencing high levels of persecution than last year. That`s 30 million more people,` Open Doors UK and Ireland CEO Henrietta Blyth said in a statement.
• More than 4,300 Christians were killed due to their beliefs worldwide last year, over 3,700 of them in Nigeria, according to the 2019 World Watch List.
8. Facebook to tighten political ad rules for 2019 elections
• Facebook said on January 16, 2019 it will tighten rules for political ads in countries with elections scheduled in the first half of the year, building on transparency efforts already underway in the United States, Britain and Brazil after a series of scandals.
• `As we prepare for major elections around the world this year, we`re continuing our focus on preventing foreign interference and giving people more information about the ads they see across our platforms,` the social media giant said in a post on its Business page.
• In the US, Britain and Brazil political advertisers must confirm their identity and location before they can run Facebook ads, which are also housed in a public, searchable library for up to seven years. `By shining a light on political ads, news organisations, regulators, watchdog groups and people anywhere in the world can hold advertisers and us more accountable,` it said.
9. First human rights TV channel vows to ‘give voice to voiceless’
• The world’s first television channel dedicated to human rights was launched in London on January 15, 2019 with a promise to deliver hidden stories ignored by mainstream media into people’s living rooms.
• The International Observatory of Human Rights (IOHR) said its web-based channel would bring human rights issues to audiences in over 20 countries across Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.
• “There are so many people in the world who cannot speak up, and it seems to be getting worse and worse,” IOHR director Valerie Peay told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at the official launch at London’s Frontline Club. “You have got a lot of niche channels out there, but so far not one dedicated to human rights. We want to bring this into people’s homes.”
10. UN approves mission to shore up Yemen truce
• The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved on January 16, 2019 the deployment to Yemen of up to 75 monitors in a new mission to shore up a fragile ceasefire and oversee a pullback of forces from the flashpoint port of Hodeida.
• The observer mission was agreed during talks last month in Sweden between the Saudi-backed government and Houthi rebels and an advance team is already on the ground in the rebel-held city.
• The unarmed monitors will be sent to Hodeida city and port as well as to the ports of Saleef and Ras Issa for an initial period of six months.
• The resolution calls on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to `expe-ditiously` deploy the United Nations Mission to support the Hodeida Agreement (UNMHA), led by retired Dutch General Patrick Cammaert.