Pay $450mln renewal fee or licences expire on Aug 21, PTA orders Jazz and Telenor

Pakistan’s biggest mobile network Jazz, and the country’s second-largest telecoms firm, Telenor, are challenging in court the license renewal process after government’s last-minute price hike for a long-term mobile operating license renewal. (AFP)
Updated 01 August 2019

Pay $450mln renewal fee or licences expire on Aug 21, PTA orders Jazz and Telenor

  • Pakistan’s biggest and second-largest telecom firms have taken the government to court over the renewal process and price
  • Companies believe licence price hike goes against a 2004 agreement and have challenged the PTA for setting the price in USD

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has informed the country's biggest mobile network, Jazz, and second-largest telecoms firm, Telenor, that their licences will stand expired on August 21 if the companies do not agree to pay a renewal fee of $450 million as per the PTA’s terms and conditions, PTA and Jazz officials said this week.
Pakistan’s telecoms market was deregulated in 2004 and foreign firms such as Jazz have invested heavily. But now the company fears the new renewal fee, which it says goes against an agreement struck in 2004, will pose a significant risk to the connectivity of millions of Pakistanis and jeopardize a growing digital economy.
According to PTA figures as of April 2019, Pakistan has 161 million cellular subscribers, with 59.2 million using Jazz and 44.8 million on Telenor.
“The decision by PTA to expire the licences of operators on August 21, 2019, if not renewed on their terms, is indeed concerning,” Ali Naseer, Chief Corporate and Enterprise Officer at Jazz, told Arab News in an interview this week. “This can potentially disrupt services for millions of Pakistani cell phone users.”
A Telenor spokesman did not respond to repeated calls for comment but a PTA directive to Telenor dated July 22 and seen by Arab News orders the company to pay the $450 million renewal fee by the August 21 deadline and on the PTA’s terms, or risk discontinuation of operations.
Mobile technology is the primary means of communication for millions of Pakistanis. Recent intelligence research by the GSM Association, a trade body that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide, estimated the total economic impact of mobiles on Pakistan’s economy was $17 billion, or 5.4% of GDP.
In 2017, total direct tax and fee payments by the mobile sector were estimated at $950 million, 29% of operator revenue, and the wider mobile ecosystem contributed a total of $1.9 billion in direct and indirect taxes in 2018, as per the GSM Association. A tax directory issued by the Federal Board of Revenue for tax year 2017 listed Telenor and Jazz among the country's top corporate taxpayers.
Pakistan’s government is currently struggling to lift revenues, cut ballooning public debt and raise foreign reserves. A recently signed loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund is aimed at shoring up fragile public finances and strengthening a slowing economy.
“It’s important that Pakistan doesn’t ... place gaining inflated revenues from spectrum licences above the connectivity of its citizens,” Brett Tarnutzer, Head of Spectrum at GSMA, said. “Spectrum prices and taxes should be set at a sufficiently low level that allows operators to deliver affordable services and deploy mobile broadband widely.”
“NEGLIGENCE AND INCOMPETENCE”
The licences of both Jazz and Telenor were originally set to expire on 25 May. In early May, the two companies took PTA to court after the Authority asked them to pay a $450 million renewal fee, more than double the dollar price at which the operators originally acquired licences at auction in 2004.
At the heart of the court challenge between the telecom firms and the Pakistan government is a 2015 telecommunications policy that replaced a 2004 version and which Jazz and Telenor say outlined the terms and conditions for auctions of new spectrums but did not lay down any guidelines regarding renewals.
Globally, licence renewal terms are to be communicated to operators 18 months before a licence is due to expire. According to PTA documents seen by Arab News, the Authority came up with new terms on May 9, a little over two weeks before the May 25 deadline and after Jazz and Telenor had taken the matter to court.
“That is the first example of negligence or incompetence because now, in 2019, when the renewals were due, we found ourselves in a situation where there is no framework,” Naseer said. “Had they [government] come out with a reasonable policy, we would have accepted that because we want predictability. Jazz is now 25 years in the market, we are one of the largest foreign direct investors in the country, we’re not going anywhere in a hurry. We are beholden to the country and we want to work and progress.”
Jazz also says that it communicated its intention to renew its licence 30 months prior to the May 25 expiry deadline, as specified in the licence terms. PTA was then required to inform the operators about the renewal terms and conditions within three months of receiving their intent for renewal, which the Authority did not. In the absence of a new set of guidelines formulated and communicated within the deadline as set by the law and the licence terms, Jazz and Telenor argued in court that the 2004 licence terms and conditions should continue to apply to the latest renewal.
After several hearings, the Islamabad High Court remanded the case back to PTA last month, asking the Authority to review the terms of renewal with a “fresh eye.” After quasi-judicial hearings for both Jazz and Telenor, PTA concluded on July 22 that the telecom operators would have to pay the set price of $450 million by August 21.
PTA directives to Jazz and Telenor seen by Arab News said payment terms for the $450 million renewal fee would be 100% upfront or 50% upfront with the remaining 50% paid in five equal annual installments on the London Interbank Offered Rate, plus 3%. The payment could be made in USD or its equivalent in Pakistani rupees, calculated at the market exchange rate at the time of payment.
“We are disappointed that PTA has not been able to see our point of view on these renewals,” Naseer said. “We are committed to endeavour towards improved connectivity and an enabling digital environment in Pakistan.”
A PTA spokesman declined repeated requests for an interview and only referred to public documents about the licences.
“EVALUATING ALL OPTIONS”
The decision by Pakistan’s cash-strapped government to set the new renewal fee in US dollars and not in local rupee currency, which has lost about 40 percent against the dollar in the last 20 months, is another major sticking point for the mobile operators.
The 2004 auction for a 15-year licence cost $291 million, equivalent to Rs17 billion at the 2004 exchange rate. But with the rupee plunging to record lows against the dollar, Jazz now faces paying Rs67 billion for $450 million, a 265% increase compared to what Jazz paid in 2004.
Naseer said the company earned and charged customers in local currency, not dollars, and thus setting the renewal fee in dollars was “unsound.”
“We believe in Pakistan and if word gets out that existing investors are being treated like this it makes it very difficult for us to say ‘Pakistan is open for business’,” Naseer said.
Jazz says it is now evaluating the option of renewing its licence at the PTA’s asking price, letting it expire or filing an appeal with the Islamabad High Court before August 22. Telenor’s options are similar.
“Honestly, at this stage we are evaluating all our options,” Naseer said. “Nothing has been ruled out.”


Pakistan can be kings again despite India’s IPL riches, says Nazar 

Updated 21 October 2021

Pakistan can be kings again despite India’s IPL riches, says Nazar 

  • Starting in 2008, a year after the inaugural T20 World Cup, the IPL ushered in a new era of white-ball cricket 
  • Pakistan once had a far better head-to-head record against India who played catch up with their arch-rivals from 2000 onwards 

DUBAI: Former Pakistan all-rounder Mudassar Nazar insists his country will once again be the kings of Asian cricket despite India’s rise as world beaters on the back of the riches of the IPL. 
Pakistan were kings of the sub-continent from the mid-1980s to 1990s with their on-field brilliance under Imran Khan, who led them to the 1992 World Cup, before India turned the tables. 
“I don’t think Pakistan has changed. It is India who have changed,” Nazar told AFP ahead of the eagerly-awaited India-Pakistan clash at the Twenty20 World Cup in Dubai on Sunday. 
“With the advent of the IPL they have used the money really, really well. If you look at the domestic competition in India, look at all the associations, how well they are organizing their cricket. 
He added: “Everybody has got their own stadium, their own academies, school cricket, state cricket. Cricket is thriving in India. 
“But the people who have been consistently doing well have been England and Australia...India is in the forefront and among the three best sides in the world.” 
Starting in 2008, a year after the inaugural T20 World Cup, the IPL ushered in a new era of white-ball cricket that witnessed the game break new ground in viewership and fan base.

The IPL emerged as the world’s richest T20 league with its brand value estimated at $6.7 billion in 2019 by the Duff and Phelps financial consultancy.

At the same time, Pakistan was becoming a no-go zone for international cricket following the 2009 terror attack on the visiting Sri Lanka team.
“The BCCI have been very clever in how they used the IPL money. Indian cricket was powerful before that but since then it has seen a lot of consistency,” said Nazar. 
“They have got all the areas covered. You talk about fast bowling, you talk about spinners, fielding, the physical side, it’s a powerhouse. They seem to be getting top class batsmen every season. At the moment they are looking very formidable.”

But Nazar remains hopeful that the Pakistan Super League (PSL) — the nation’s premier T20 tournament — and new management will revive the game.

“It is also a matter of cycles. One decade we could be better than the rest of the world and then somebody else catches up,” said Nazar, who played 76 Tests between 1976 and 1989 with a batting average of over 38. 
He also sees a bright future under new PCB chairman Ramiz Raja.
“Things have started to improve with the PSL, but it will take time. It took time for India to revive.” 
“There is no club cricket and there is hardly any state cricket, so that’s a stumbling block. 
“But now with the new management coming in, Ramiz is a former cricketer and I think he will shape things better, put us on the right path and in the next couple of years probably we will be as strong as we used to be.” 
Pakistan once had a far better head-to-head record against India who played catch up with their arch-rivals from 2000 onwards. 
Nazar, who had been part of that strong Pakistan set-up, said the national team will someday turn a corner and notch up their first win against India in a World Cup. 
“When we were playing we always had the edge and toward the end of my career we won most games against India than we lost,” said the 65-year-old Nazar. 
“It needs somebody to come up with some brilliance. Somebody has a damn good game. Somebody has a decent century and bowls a decent spell and all of a sudden the tables will turn.” 


Boycott calls add to India-Pakistan cricket tensions ahead of World Cup clash in Dubai

Updated 20 October 2021

Boycott calls add to India-Pakistan cricket tensions ahead of World Cup clash in Dubai

  • India has largely refused to play bilateral games against Pakistan since 2008, after deadly attacks in Mumbai which it blamed on Pakistan
  • Indian atheletes say ‘sports and politics should not be mixed’ and the World Cup match between the two countries should go on

Dubai: Cricket tensions between India and Pakistan have been heightened by boycott calls in India ahead of their T20 World Cup clash on Sunday.
A series of killings in the disputed Kashmir region has set off the anger, even though the Indian board has insisted the national team cannot withdraw from the game.
Decades of bitter rivalry between the neighbors often clouds their cricket encounters. India has largely refused to play bilateral games against Pakistan since 2008, after deadly attacks in Mumbai which India blamed on Pakistan.
Now they only play each other in international events. The last meeting was at the 50-over World Cup two years ago but even that was at the center of boycott calls.
The killings of 11 migrant workers and minority Hindus and Sikhs in Indian-administered Kashmir have led to the latest demands made in India, which frequently accuses Pakistan of backing Kashmir militant groups. The hashtag #BlacklistPakistan was trending on Twitter Wednesday.
Rajeev Shukla, the Board of Control for Cricket in India vice president, said earlier that the country had a contractual obligation to take part.
“We strongly condemns the killings. However, under the International Cricket Council’s commitments, you can’t refuse to play any one (game),” Shukla told Indian media.
A cabinet minister, Giriraj Singh, had also urged the government to consider intervening to stop the match.
“I think if relations are not good, then this should be reconsidered,” Singh said when questioned about the match. Other politicians have also joined the calls.
However, India’s badminton great Prakash Padukone said, “sports and politics should not be mixed and according to me it (the India-Pakistan match) should go on.”
India was also urged to boycott the 2019 World Cup game against Pakistan because of a Kashmir suicide bomber attack in February of that year in which more than 40 troops were killed.
Pakistan denied any role in the assault but the two countries came to the brink of war. India won the game which went ahead in June 2019.
India and Pakistan last played a bilateral series in 2013 during a brief thaw in their rivalry.
The two countries have fought two wars over Kashmir — divided between the two nations — since their independence in 1947.


Bomb hits security vehicle in northwest Pakistan, killing four

Updated 20 October 2021

Bomb hits security vehicle in northwest Pakistan, killing four

  • The attack happened in Bajaur, a district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan
  • There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest attack, though suspicion fell on the Pakistani Taliban based in Afghanistan

PESHAWAR: A roadside bomb struck a vehicle carrying security forces in a former stronghold of local militants in northwest Pakistan on Wednesday, killing four, police said.
The attack happened in Bajaur, a district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. The area served as a base for the Pakistani Taliban until a few years ago, when the army said it cleared the region of insurgents. But the violence has continued there.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest attack.
Senior police officer Abdul Samad Khan said two police officers and two soldiers were killed in the attack. He said troops launched a search operation in the region to find those who orchestrated the attack.
Khan refused to speculate on who could be behind the attack.
But suspicion fell on Pakistan’s own Taliban who have been emboldened by the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan, where thousands of Pakistani militants are still believed to be hiding.
Pakistan and Afghanistan share a 2,400-kilometer (1,500-mile) internationally recognized border known as the Durand Line, which was drawn in the 19th century when the British dominated South Asia. Kabul has never recognized the boundary.
Before the the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan often accused each other of turning a blind eye to militants operating along the porous frontier.


At Moscow meet, Pakistan urges global powers to continue economic engagement with Afghanistan

Updated 20 October 2021

At Moscow meet, Pakistan urges global powers to continue economic engagement with Afghanistan

  • Ambassador Sadiq asks world to unfreeze Afghanistan assets to avert economic meltdown
  • Pakistan advocates enhanced cooperation with Afghanistan to address challenges such as global terrorism

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Wednesday urged the international community to continue its economic engagements with Afghanistan to prevent another humanitarian disaster in the region, adding it was imperative in this context to unfreeze the Afghan financial assets parked in other countries.
Pakistan’s special representative for Afghanistan, Ambassador Muhammad Sadiq, highlighted the issue while addressing a major international conference in Moscow that brought together officials from various regional countries.
The international community froze nearly $10 billion of Afghanistan’s financial assets in other countries after the fall of Kabul on August 15 since the money was viewed as a key instrument to mount political pressure on the Taliban.
Sadiq said in a Twitter post on Wednesday he proposed three “broad contours of engagement with Afghanistan” while speaking at the Moscow forum.
These included “extending urgent humanitarian support to Afghanistan, to remain economically engaged to [avert] financial meltdown [by] de-freezing of Afghanistan’s foreign assets … [and] enhance cooperation [with Kabul] to address common challenges, such as combatting terrorism, trans-national crime and border management,” he wrote on the social media platform.


Sadiq said the “international community must not abandon Afghanistan at this critical juncture.”
Meanwhile, Russia stepped up pressure on the Taliban to create an inclusive administration during the conference which was also attended by China, Iran, India and Central Asian countries.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted by Reuters as saying that he regretted the US absence from the talks, the biggest international meeting on the region since the Taliban victory in August.
Russia previously said it was not a rush to recognize the Taliban, as officials in Moscow noted the former Afghan rebel faction should fulfil its political commitments on human rights and political inclusivity to the world at large.
The Taliban deputy prime minister, Abdul Salam Hanafi, told the forum that “isolating Afghanistan is in no one’s interest.”
He added the Taliban had moved as quickly as possible on opening up their government and guaranteeing rights to women, reported Reuters, while adding that the Afghan faction did not represent a threat to any other country.

 


‘I am not at peace,’ Noor Mukadam’s mother says at protest demonstration in Islamabad

Updated 20 October 2021

‘I am not at peace,’ Noor Mukadam’s mother says at protest demonstration in Islamabad

  • ‘Noor was also a woman and I’m a mother and a woman too,’ says Kausar Mukadam while reacting to the bail of Asmat Adamjee in the murder case
  • A district court judge snubs the prime suspect, Zahir Jaffer, for violating the court’s decorum by trying to speak during the proceedings

ISLAMABAD: Family and friends of Noor Mukadam, a 27-year-old woman who was brutally murdered on July 20 in Islamabad, urged the judiciary to deliver swift justice in the case on Wednesday as they demanded the killer to be hanged as soon as possible.
About a dozen of these protesters gathered in front of the Parliament House as they sought early justice for Mukadam, the daughter of a former Pakistani diplomat Shaukat Mukadam, two days after the Supreme Court granted bail to Asmat Adamjee, the mother of the prime suspect, Zahir Jaffer, who, along with her husband, Zakir Jaffer, was arrested for allegedly abetting the crime.
Mukadam’s beheaded body was found at the Jaffer residence in Islamabad on July 20, after which their three household staff, namely Iftikhar, Jan Muhammad and Jameel, were also arrested.
“I am not at peace. I can’t sleep,” Kausar Mukadam, the victim’s mother, said while speaking to the media outside the Parliament House. “You don’t know, my daughter was a center of attraction in our home. I keep looking for her in my home. We won’t be at peace until we get justice.”

Noor Mukadam's family and friends hold a protest demonstration in Islamabad, Pakistan, on October 20, 2021. (Photo courtesy: Justice for Noor)

The participants of the gathering, including Mukadam’s parents, were carrying placards seeking swift justice in the case, though they also expressed confidence and trust in the judiciary.
“She [Noor Mukadam] was the youngest in our home, and we all used to treat her as a baby,” her mother said. “She was a soft spoken person who used to play with children.”
Discussing Asmat Adamjee’s bail which was granted to her for being a woman, she said: “Noor was also a woman, and I’m a mother and a woman too. I also deserve sympathy. I am hopeful the judiciary will give us justice.”
Kausar Mukadam maintained all suspects in the case were involved in the murder since none of them helped her daughter escape. “No one should get bail and they should be punished,” she said.

People seeking swift justice in the Noor Mukadam murder case hold placards during a protest demonstration in Islamabad, Pakistan, on October 20, 2021. (Photo courtesy: Justice for Noor)

Shaukat Mukadam, the victim’s father, said his family would accept the courts’ verdicts in the case, though he added that people were “disappointed with the [Supreme Court bail] decision.”
“The murderer should be hanged as soon as possible,” he said.
Separately, a district and sessions judge Atta Rabbani recorded the statement of a police witness in the case and adjourned the hearing until October 27.
As per the directions of the Islamabad High Court, the district court is required to complete the murder trial within a period of eight weeks.


The judge also snubbed Zahir Jaffer during the proceedings for violating the court’s decorum by trying to speak during the hearing.
“Don’t interrupt the proceedings,” the judge remarked while ordering the police to keep the suspect quiet in the courtroom.
His mother, Adamjee, requested the court during the proceedings to allow her to live in the F-7 residence where the gruesome murder had taken place since she had to stay in the federal capital to attend all the court hearings.
“This is your home, you can live there,” the judge said while Adamjee’s lawyer requested the court to put it on record to avoid any legal complications.