’Not an appropriate time to meet,’ Deobandi scholars tell PM Khan

Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan meets delegation of religious scholars at his office in Islamabad on Oct. 18. 2019. ( PID photo)
Updated 19 October 2019

’Not an appropriate time to meet,’ Deobandi scholars tell PM Khan

  • PTI government says seminaries and scholars are politically “neutral”
  • Government says seminaries and scholars had excused themselves due to prior engagements

KARACHI: Top clerics from Pakistan’s Deobandi Islamic school of thought did not attend a meeting between Prime Minister Imran Khan and Islamic scholars on Friday, citing concerns their presence would be inappropriate, and give the impression they supported the government ahead of a protest march led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F), a Deobandi political party.

The JUI-F ‘Azaadi’ (freedom) march is a moving protest scheduled to begin on Oct. 27, with Pakistan’s two biggest opposition parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), announcing this week they will be participating in Rehman’s protest, which aims to make the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government step down due to its inability to deliver on election promises.

“Our consultative meeting decided to decline the invitation because we thought it was not an appropriate time to meet the PM, as it will give an impression that we have sided with the government,” Maulana Talha Rehmani, spokesperson of Wafaq ul Madaris Al-Arabia Pakistan, a seminary board that conducts examinations of more than 10,000 affiliated Deobandi seminaries and 8,000 schools across the country, told Arab News.

However, Azhar Laghari, head of the PTI’s Public Relations and Media, said the seminaries simply had prior engagements that kept them from attending Friday’s meeting. 

“Some Deobandi religious scholars excused themselves from attending the meeting due to other commitments,” Leghari told Arab News.

But Rehmani denied the government’s version of events.

“It was a mutual decision to decline the invitation, due to the prevailing political condition,” he said.

While clarifying that religious seminaries were not to be part of the march, and were “neutral,” he said students of seminaries in their “individual capacity” were free to undertake political activities.

“The boards have strict instructions that affiliated madaris, as institutions, will not participate in any public gathering, rally or march but that students in their individual capacity are free to take part in the activity of any political party,” Rehmani said, and admitted that a majority of students of Deobandi Madrasas supported JUI-F.

According to a handout issued by the PM House, the predominant agenda of the Prime Minister’s meeting was a discussion of reforms in religious schools, while the scholars were also urged to highlight the Kashmir issue from their respective platforms, in response to India revoking the special legal status of the disputed, Muslim-majority territory on Aug. 5th. 

Earlier, local media reported the Prime Minister had said at the occasion that the meeting was not called to seek scholars’ support over the protest march, and concluded with few mentions made of the impending sit-in.

Scholars who attended the meeting included members from the four mainstream sects of the country- the Council of Islamic Ideology, Muttahida Ulema Board, Punjab, and Central Ruet-i-Hilal Committee. 

Pakistan gears up for industrial boom with tax break for Gwadar operators

Updated 8 min 15 sec ago

Pakistan gears up for industrial boom with tax break for Gwadar operators

  • Chinese firms exempted from sales levies on local purchases for 23 years
  • Ordinance issued in response to a long-standing demand by Beijing

KARACHI: Pakistan’s 23-year income tax holiday and exemptions of sales tax and customs duties to Chinese operators in Gwadar Port and its free zone is expected to create an environment that’s conducive for industrialization in the country, officials said on Monday.
“The tax holiday is for 23 years. After the exemption, the area is expected to witness an industrial boom. Earlier, there were only talks of exemptions sans any material progress. This is the continuation of the vision of government to set up a special economic zone in the country,” Kauda Babar, member of Pakistan’s Senate Standing Committee on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) told Arab News.
The move, he added, could be a major boost for Chinese companies who could “either set up new factories or relocate their units.”
Last month, Pakistan promulgated the ‘Tax Laws Ordinance, 2019’ to amend certain laws, including the Customs Act, 1969 (Act IV of 1969) and the Sales Tax Act, 1990. 
The ordinance was issued in response to a long-standing demand by Chinese companies to be exempted from the sales tax in order to expedite their operations. 
Pakistan has also decided to extend exemptions on equipments and material purchased locally for industrial units located in the Gwadar Free Zone (GFZ). 
The initiative, proposed by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, was initially resisted by tax authorities who later agreed to an offer of concession through a money bill which is expected to be presented in the parliament soon.
Last week, Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing, had said that China is setting up 19 factories in Gwadar.
In a tangible development, the Sino-Pak Tire Manufacturing Joint Venture also signed an agreement to invest $600 million to set up a tire manufacturing facility in Gwadar to cater to the growing needs of the market.
The GFZ is being managed by the Chinese but tax concession can be availed by any company operating in the free zone. “Pakistani manufacturers can purchase or rent space in free zone. They will be charged only $8 per square meter per year on lease up to 99 years”, the senator who hails from Gwadar said.
He added that all relevant infrastructure is ready and “if they (investors) want to start setting up factories tomorrow they can. There is no water and power issues in Gwadar.”
Senator Babar further implored the local business communities to take full advantage of the emerging opportunities in Gwadar and its strategic location. “I have talked to many businessmen and they say that the 8/square meter per year is not the big amount,” he added.
However, Pakistani businessmen say they are also investing in other active special economic zones located in the four provinces of the country with a 10-year tax relaxation.
“Government has given an incentive of a one-time duty free import of machinery and many investors have gone for other zones such as Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar and in Punjab, mainly due to proximity,” Syed Mazhar Ali Nasir, Patron in Chief of the Pakistan China business council of FPCCI, told Arab News.
“The advantage of Gwadar is that the imported material will come into the zone without duty and would be reprocessed to export. Joint ventures are preferring Gwadar,” he added.
Senator Babar, for his part, said that he has been requesting the government to declare the the complete area of Gwadar as tax free. “That will benefit the locals as well be a major part of mega developments.”