Pakistan to review foreign airline service pacts to safeguard local industry

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In this file photo, A Pakistan International Airlines plane prepares to take off at Alama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore. (REUTERS)
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Shahrukh Nusrat, Secretary Aviation says the country would take steps in the better interest of the country’s domestic aviation industry – Photo AN
Updated 28 April 2019
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Pakistan to review foreign airline service pacts to safeguard local industry

  • Secretary aviation says agreements with airlines disadvantageous to national carrier will be renegotiated as per PM Khan’s orders
  • Experts call review ‘illogical,’ fear diplomatic setback for Pakistan

KARACHI: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has ordered that bilateral Air Service Agreements (ASAs) with foreign airlines, including from Gulf countries, be revised to safeguard Pakistan’s local industry, the civil aviation authority said on Saturday.

Pakistan is currently in the process of finalizing its National Aviation Policy (NAP) 2019, which will include a reduction of Rs4 billion in charges from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to the domestic aviation sector.
The government wants to review open skies clauses and associated ASAs under the revised National Aviation Policy, including renegotiating routes, slots and capacity accorded to foreign airlines that might be discriminatory and disadvantageous to the national flag carrier, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).
At present, Pakistan has ASAs with 98 countries which are subject to periodic renegotiations.
“We are mandated by the federal government for the review of the aviation policy with foreign airlines,” Secretary Aviation and CAA Board Chairman Shahrukh Nusrat told media at a news conference on Saturday. “We have received orders from Prime Minister Imran Khan [who has asked us] to review bilateral Air Service Agreements with all gulf [countries’] airlines.”
He added that talks with Qatar Airlines would kick off on the 2nd and 3rd of May.
Pakistan liberalized its aviation sector in 2015 by opening its skies to foreign airlines and increasing the number of international flights to Pakistan, thereby also slicing off a large share of the national carrier’s revenue. Gulf countries’ airlines benefited most from the liberalization.
PIA spokesman Mashood Tajwar told Arab News that the review, if it materialized, was expected to increase the business revenue of PIA to the tune of billions of rupees.
But aviation experts called the review impractical because no country would agree to reduce its market share.
“The perception that flights from gulf country airlines will be reduced is not logical. Only through bilateral negotiations can the ASAs be reviewed due to international obligations; no country can unilaterally force it,” Afsar Malik, an aviation expert, told Arab News on Saturday. “The implication of ending a bilateral ASA with a country will be that we will end direct air travel services to that country. It will also constitute a diplomatic setback.”
CAA’s Nusrat admitted that while it would be “very difficult” to conduct such negotiations, he said bilateral agreements meant Pakistan had a right to discuss loss and benefits to it with other states.
“Whatever is right for the country, we are going to do that,” Nusrat said, adding that the new aviation policy would provide a relief of Rs4 billion to local players and increase ease of doing business and reduce costs.
“Under the policy, the tax that the CAA charges has been rationalized and taken to almost zero for the domestic services, while Federal Excise Duty that the Federal Board of Revenue charges will be reduced,” Nusrat said.


Pakistan’s PM says Sikh separatist leader’s ‘gruesome murder’ jolted West

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Pakistan’s PM says Sikh separatist leader’s ‘gruesome murder’ jolted West

  • Canada’s PM said last week his government has ‘credible intelligence’ Indian agents were involved in Sikh activist’s killing
  • Pakistan’s Caretaker PM Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar says an alliance should be formed to check India’s ‘rough behavior’

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said the “gruesome murder” of a Sikh separatist leader in Canada months ago had jolted the West, which was now questioning the involvement of the Indian state in the incident, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report on Saturday.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last Monday infuriated New Delhi when he said his country had “credible intelligence” Indian agents were involved in Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s killing in June this year.
Trudeau’s comments sparked off a diplomatic row between Ottawa and New Delhi, with both states expelling senior diplomats from each other’s countries following the accusations. Pakistan’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that Nijjar’s killing was a violation of international law and showed New Delhi’s “network of extra-territorial killings” had gone global.
“Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar on Friday said that the gruesome murder of Khalistan Movement Sikh leader in Canada had jolted the West that raised serious questions about the role of Indian state,” the APP said, adding that the prime minister was speaking at the Pakistan Mission in New York.
Kakar said Pakistan had been a victim of such “state-sponsored terrorism” and that he had shared evidence of the same at different global and multilateral fora. The Pakistani prime minister said it was probably the first incident of its kind after World War I in which an Asian country had staged a “physical murder” on European soil.
The Pakistani premier said the killing’s impact was being felt across Western countries which were now realizing the extent to which India targets its minorities.
“The prime minister opined that an alliance should be formed to check such ‘rough behavior’ of India,” APP said.
During his address to the UN General Assembly on Friday, Kakar spoke about Pakistan’s relations with its nuclear-armed neighbor, saying that his country desired “peaceful and productive” relations with all neighbors including India.
“Global powers should convince New Delhi to accept Pakistan’s offer of mutual restraint on strategic and conventional weapons,” he said, adding that the disputed Kashmir region provided the key to peace between the two neighboring states.
He also spoke about the rising threat posed by “far-right extremist and fascist groups such as Hindutva inspired extremists threatening genocide against Indian Muslims and Christians alike.”
 


Pakistan’s EDUCAST to launch telemedicine services in Sudan with support from Islamic Development Bank

Updated 20 min 8 sec ago
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Pakistan’s EDUCAST to launch telemedicine services in Sudan with support from Islamic Development Bank

  • EDUCAST CEO says testing of equipment, identification of sites completed, operations to launch within four weeks
  • Karachi-based EDUCAST will jointly launch Sudan program with Yemen’s Building Foundation for Development

KARACHI: Pakistani digital health service provider EDUCAST will launch ‘first of its kind’ mobile telemedicine operations in Sudan within a month to offer medical support and assist local health care providers, the CEO of the company said this week.

Karachi-based EDUCAST, a digital health services and online medical education providing platform, signed an agreement in July with the Building Foundation for Development (BFD), a humanitarian organization headquartered in Yemen to work together in Sudan. The Science and Technology Innovation Department of the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank is supporting the project.

More than five months into a conflict between Sudan’s army and paramilitary group, Rapid Support Forces, the country’s health care sector is on its knees due to direct attacks from the warring parties as well as shortages of staff and medicines, they said. A World Health Organization (WHO) official said this week there have been 56 verified attacks so far on health care in Sudan since the war began in April and about 70 percent to 80 percent of hospitals in conflict states are now out of service.

“We have completed our initial work, including testing of equipment, identification of the operational sites in Sudan and will hopefully be in a position to launch operations within the next four weeks,” EDUCAST founder and CEO Abdullah Butt told Arab News on Thursday.

“Right now, about 80 percent of health facilities have been destroyed in Sudan due to the war and the country is in dire need of medical facilities,” he added, saying his organization was approached by Sudanese authorities and its humanitarian commission seeking telemedicine services.

“This will be the first of its kind telehealth service to be provided by any Pakistani company in an active war region,” Butt said.

Under the agreement between EDUCAST and BFD, a network of mobile telehealth units will be set up in Sudan to provide universal coverage and access to safe and effective mother and child health and other emergency related services.

The telehealth education and clinical support facilities will be provided at five medical teaching hospitals in Sudan.

The project seeks to develop the medical capacity of up to 1,000 Sudanese doctors by delivering online training and certification programs. It will also facilitate them with in-person training courses at Pakistan’s teaching hospitals in key health areas, including maternal and neonatal child health, infectious and non-communicable diseases.

Through its eDoctor program, EDUCAST will support local medical practitioners through its network of over 1,200 eDoctors, with presence in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The project will focus on areas of Sudan devastated by war and where there is a large number of internally displaced persons and insufficient health capacity, Butt said.

Meer Behrose Regi, Pakistan’s envoy to Sudan, called for increased humanitarian efforts in Sudan.

“Everything is needed over there,” he told Arab News, “but the risk of security remains substantially high, though many companies are still operating there.”


Pakistan’s commerce minister to invite top 100 global brands in bid to boost exports

Updated 54 min 7 sec ago
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Pakistan’s commerce minister to invite top 100 global brands in bid to boost exports

  • Dr. Gohar Ejaz announces state-guest protocol and free office space for invited international brand representatives
  • Government may allow local industrialists to purchase electricity directly from producers at competitive regional rates

KARACHI: Pakistan’s interim commerce minister Dr. Gohar Ejaz announced his decision on Friday to invite 100 top global brands to attend a conference with the aim of increasing exports from the country to $100 billion within the next five years.

Addressing the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), the minister did not divulge when he was planning to hold the conference. However, he assured everyone it would take place within the tenure of the caretaker government.

“We are going to hold the conference within 90 days and approach the top 100 brands and request them to come to Pakistan as our state guest,” he said.

Ejaz said the government would provide these companies space to set up their offices free of cost and declare the area an “export zone” with complete protocol. He noted the country had more remittance inflows than export revenue, which was only limited to about $27 billion.

The minister said the government’s decision to launch a crackdown against the smugglers of dollars had led to the appreciation of the Pakistani rupee.

“The rupee that was trading at around Rs350 has come down to Rs290,” he said, adding that the real effective rate should be Rs260 and, according to inflation figures, it should be somewhere around Rs200.

Ejaz said the government had also decided to act against gas thieves since that raised the production costs of many industries.

“UFG [Unaccounted for Gas] is much higher than the benchmark,” he added. “Therefore, the cabinet has granted approval in principle for action against gas thieves, and a grand operation against them will be conducted by next week.”

The minister said the government imposed some import restrictions in the past to reduce pressure on the external account, but it had proved counterproductive.

“By imposing restrictions, imports were curtailed but smuggling from Afghanistan and Iran surged by $5 billion,” he informed.

The minister said it was not possible to offer subsidies to local industries, though an alternative proposal to provide them cheaper electricity was under consideration that would allow industrialists in Sindh and Punjab provinces to purchase power directly from producers at regionally competitive rates.

Responding to a question about the closure of markets earlier than usual, he said the deadline for that had been extended. The government had asked stakeholders to submit proposals along with hourly sales trends to make an informed decision on the matter.


Pakistan’s central bank launches ‘Diamond’ category with additional rewards for remitters

Updated 23 September 2023
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Pakistan’s central bank launches ‘Diamond’ category with additional rewards for remitters

  • Remitters can avail preferential treatment at airports and embassies and get gratis passports
  • The South Asian country relies heavily on foreign remittances to keep its cash-starved economy afloat

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s central bank launched a new ‘Diamond’ category in its remittance program for overseas Pakistanis on Friday, promising additional benefits to category holders such as preferential treatment at embassies and airports, and gratis passports.
The Sohni Dharti Remittance Program (SDRP) is a point-based loyalty scheme for remitters who work abroad and send money to their relatives in Pakistan through banking channels or exchange companies.
Remitters earn reward points based on a certain percentage of every remittance they send. The SDRP program already has three categories: Green (annual remittances of up to $10,000), Gold (annual remittances from $10,001 to $30,000) and Platinum (annual remittances of more than $30,000). The statement did not specify the amount for the Diamond category.
“Effective from September 22, 2023, a new ‘Diamond’ category has been added in the Sohni Dharti Remittance Program (SDRP),” the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) said in a statement.
Remitters can track their remittances and reward points through the SDRP app on their smartphones.
The SBP recalled former finance minister Ishaq Dar’s statement in which he said the Diamond category would include enhanced reward points and benefits such as arms license of non-prohibited bore, preferential treatment at Pakistan embassies/airports, and gratis passports.
It said reward points can be redeemed by the remitter and their beneficiary by availing free of cost products and services such as the payment of the Emigrant Registration fee, payment of duty for imported mobile sets and vehicles to the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), and the payment of renewal fee for passports.
“Moreover, benefits on redeeming reward points can also be availed on International air tickets and extra luggage charges by Pakistan International Airlines; life insurance/takaful premium payment at State Life Insurance Corporation; and purchases made at Utility Stores Corporation of Pakistan,” the SBP added.
Pakistan relies heavily on remittances to keep its cash-starved economy afloat. According to official data by the SBP, the South Asian country received $27 billion in remittances during the outgoing fiscal year, FY23.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE remained the top contributors of money sent home by Pakistani workers during FY23.
 


Pakistan’s ‘first priority’ is countering terrorism from Afghanistan, PM says in UNGA address

Updated 22 September 2023
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Pakistan’s ‘first priority’ is countering terrorism from Afghanistan, PM says in UNGA address

  • Kakar welcomes the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran while calling for a two-state solution for Palestine
  • The premier urges global powers to convince India to accept Pakistan’s offer of mutual restraint on strategic weapons

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar on Friday called for action against militant attacks from neighboring Afghanistan, endorsed Saudi Arabia and Iran’s diplomatic rapprochement, and advocated a two-state solution as the path to enduring peace in Palestine.

Kakar achieved a historic milestone as the first caretaker prime minister of his country to address the annual United Nations General Assembly session in New York, where he tackled various global issues, spanning from extremist violence and relations with India to the escalating challenges of climate change and Islamophobia.

“Pakistan’s first priority is to prevent and counter all terrorism from and within Afghanistan,” he told representatives of United Nations member states. “Pakistan condemns the cross-border attacks … by the TTP [Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan], Daesh and other groups operating from Afghanistan.”

The prime minister’s statement comes against the backdrop of a dramatic spike in militant attacks in Pakistan, mainly in border regions abutting Afghanistan since the return of Afghan Taliban to power in Kabul in August 2021.

The first half of this year saw about 80 percent increase in attacks compared to the last year, according to statistics compiled by the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies.

“We have sought Kabul’s support and cooperation to prevent these attacks,” the prime minister continued. “We are also taking necessary measures to end this externally encouraged terrorism.”

Prime Minister Pakistan Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar speaks during the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, US, on September 22, 2023. (Photo courtesy: REUTERS)

Kakar reiterated his country’s position that peace in Afghanistan was a “strategic imperative” for Pakistan while sharing concerns of the international community with respect to Afghanistan, particularly those related to the rights of women and girls.

“We advocate continued humanitarian assistance for destitute Afghan population in which Afghan girls and women are the most vulnerable as well as the revival of Afghan economy and implementation of the connectivity projects with Central Asia,” he said.

Speaking about Pakistan’s relations with its nuclear-armed neighbor, the prime minister said his country desired “peaceful and productive” relations with all neighbors including India.

“Global powers should convince New Delhi to accept Pakistan’s offer of mutual restraint on strategic and conventional weapons,” he said, adding that Kashmir provided the key to peace between the two neighboring states.

Pakistan and India both rule parts of the disputed Himalayan region while claiming it in full. They have fought two wars over the mountainous territory and their forces regularly trade fire across a 740-kilometer (466 mile) Line of Control, which is the de facto border separating the two parts of Kashmir.

“We must counter all terrorists without discrimination including the rising threat posed by far-right extremist and fascist groups such as Hindutva inspired extremists threatening genocide against Indian Muslims and Christians alike,” he maintained.

“We also need to oppose state terrorism, address the root cause of terrorism such as poverty, injustice and foreign occupation, and distinguish genuine freedom struggles from terrorism,” he added.

The prime minister also proposed the creation of a committee of the general assembly to oversee the balanced implementation of all “four pillars of the global counter terrorism strategy.”

He also applauded the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran while commenting on the overall strategic situation in the Middle East.

“Pakistan welcomes the progress made toward ending the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, in particular we warmly welcome the normalization of relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said.

Focusing on the Palestine issue, he mentioned continued “Israeli military raids, air strikes, expansion of settlements and eviction of Palestinians.”

“Durable peace can be established only through a two-state solution and establishment of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state within the pre-June 1967 borders with Al-Quds as its capital,” he said.

 

 

Kakar also mentioned the “age-old phenomenon” of Islamophobia, saying it had acquired endemic proportion in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the United States and was manifested in the negative profiling of Muslims and public burnings of the Holy Qur’an.

“The narratives advocating a clash of civilizations have done considerable harm to humanity’s progress,” he noted. “Such ideas have bred extremism, hatred and religious intolerance, including Islamophobia.”

The prime minister welcomed the legislation initiated by Denmark and contemplated by Sweden to ban the desecration of the Islamic scripture.

“Pakistan and the OIC [Organization of Islamic Cooperation] countries will propose further steps to combat Islamophobia, including the appointment of a special envoy, creation of an Islamophobia data center, legal assistance to victims and an accountability process to punish Islamophobic crimes,” he continued.

Discussing the climate change issue, Kakar said Pakistan looked forward to fulfilling the climate commitments made at COP28 by developed countries to provide over $100 billion in annual climate finance, allocate at least half of it for adaptation in developing countries, operationalize the loss and damage fund, and reduce global carbon emission.

“Pakistan’s triple food finance fuel challenge is a prime illustration of the impact of COVID conflict and climate on developing countries,” he said, adding Pakistan was one of the worst affected countries from the adverse impacts of climate change.

Kakar said the last year’s flood in Pakistan submerged one-third of the country, killed 1,700 people, displaced over eight million people, destroyed vital infrastructure and caused over $30 billion damage to the economy.

“We are gratified by the commitment of over $10.5 billion for Pakistan’s comprehensive plan for recovery, rehabilitation, reconstruction with resilience,” he said.

“Specific projects are being submitted to ensure timely funding … I hope our development partners will accord priority to the allocation of funds for our recovery plan which costs $13 billion,” he added.