Pakistan approves agriculture relief package to support farmers

In this picture taken on February 23, 2020, officials of the Agriculture Department on a tractor spray pesticides to kill locusts as a farmer works in a field in Pipli Pahar village in Pakistan's central Punjab province. (AFP)
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Updated 14 May 2020
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Pakistan approves agriculture relief package to support farmers

  • Agriculture contributes 18.5 percent to Pakistan’s GDP and provides 38.5 percent employment to the national labor force
  • Farmers reject the package, saying it will only benefit ‘seed and pesticide mafia’

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Wednesday approved a Rs56.6 billion agriculture relief package for farmers to provide them subsidy on fertilizers, cotton seed, pesticides and sales tax on locally manufactured tractors amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The stimulus package is part of the Rs100 billion out of Rs1200 billion coronavirus relief package already announced for small and medium enterprises and the agriculture sector.

The Economic Coordination Committee of the Cabinet (ECC) – an apex federal institution to discuss and decide economic and financial matters – has approved the package as prepared by the Ministry of National Food Security and Research.

Under the package, the government is offering a Rs37 billion subsidy to farmers on the purchase of fertilizers. This amount will include a subsidy of Rs925 per bag on phosphorus fertilizers and Rs243 per bag on urea and other nitrogen fertilizers.

The government is expecting an offtake of about 3.04 million tons for urea and 0.95 million tons for the phosphate fertilizers in the upcoming cultivation season.

The fertilizer share in the cost of production for major crops is estimated to be around 10 to 15 percent. “The provision of subsidy would reduce cost of production for farmers,” the ECC said in a statement, adding that this would also increase farmers’ affordability to use quality fertilizers for their crops.

Other items in the relief package include a reduction of Rs8.8 billion in mark-up of agriculture loans, Rs2.3 billion subsidy on cotton seed and Rs6 billion subsidy on pesticides.

The government has also granted a subsidy of Rs2.5 billion on the sales tax on locally-manufactured tractors for a period of one year.

Provincial governments will be responsible for the utilization of the relief package, though a clear-cut implementation mechanism for it is yet to be devised.

In Pakistan, the agriculture sector contributes 18.5 percent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and provides 38.5 percent employment to the national labor force, though it has always remained a low priority for successive governments.

“Over the last decade, the performance of agriculture sector has fallen short of desirable level, mainly because of stagnant productivity of all important crops,” said the Pakistan Economic Survey 2018-19.

Farmers on the other hand rejected the package, saying it will only benefit “seed and pesticide mafia” in the absence of an effective mechanism for its implementation.

“The government should give interest-free loans to small farmers to help them bear the escalating cost instead of playing these gimmicks,” Mian Muhammad Umair Masood, general-secretary of the Pakistan Kissan Ittihad, told Arab News on Wednesday.

He said the government should also announce a fixed electricity rate for tube-wells along with lowering the cost of phosphorus fertilizers from Rs3,800 to Rs2,400 per bag and urea fertilizers from Rs1,650 to Rs1,200 per bag.

“Farmers are using decades-old bt2 cotton seed which is highly susceptible to pests and other diseases,” Masood said. “The government should invest in seed research instead of doling out funds to mafia in the name of farmers.”


Rain wipes out first Pakistan-New Zealand T20 after just two balls

Updated 18 April 2024
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Rain wipes out first Pakistan-New Zealand T20 after just two balls

  • Fast bowler Mohammad Amir returned to international cricket after nearly four years
  • Having come out of retirement last month, Amir’s participation was limited to just fielding

RAWALPINDI: Heavy rain caused the first Twenty20 international between Pakistan and New Zealand to be abandoned after just two deliveries in Rawalpindi on Thursday.
New Zealand skipper Michael Bracewell won the toss, which had also been delayed by 30 minutes, and opted to bat but no action was possible for two-and-a-half hours.
Umpires Ahsan Raza and Aleem Dar then announced a five-over-a-side game at 10:10 local time (9:10 GMT).
Pakistan paceman Shaheen Shah Afridi conceded two leg-byes to debutant Tim Robinson off the first ball before bowling the batsman with a sharp delivery off the next.
But as soon as the Pakistan fielders started celebrating the wicket, the rain returned to force an abandonment.
Fast bowler Mohammad Amir returned to international cricket after nearly four years, having come out of retirement last month, but his participation was limited to just fielding.
The 32-year-old retired in December 2020 after being dropped from the side but changed his mind last month and decided to restart his career, which had already been stalled by a match-fixing ban in 2010.
Pakistan handed T20I caps to batsman Usman Khan, spinner Abrar Ahmed and all-rounder Muhammad Irfan Khan, while Robinson debuted for New Zealand.
The remaining matches are in Rawalpindi on April 20 and 21 and in Lahore on April 25 and 27.
The series gives a chance to both teams to test their bench strength ahead of the Twenty20 World Cup to be held in June in the United States and the West Indies.
New Zealand are without nine key players, including skipper Kane Williamson, who are playing in the ongoing Indian Premier League.


Five custom officials among six killed in gun attack in northwest Pakistan

Updated 18 April 2024
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Five custom officials among six killed in gun attack in northwest Pakistan

  • Officials of the custom department attacked while on routine patrol in Dera Ismail Khan 
  • Latest killings come amid renewed violence in northwestern and southwestern regions

PESHAWAR: Six people, including five officials of the customs department, were killed and another wounded on Thursday when gunmen opened fire on their vehicle in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, police and rescue officials said.
Officials of the custom department were out for routine patrol in Dera Ismail Khan city when their vehicle came under attack in the jurisdiction of Draban Police Station, Regional Police Officer Nasir Hussain Satti told Arab News.
“As terrorists started firing on the custom officials, the driver lost control of the vehicle,” Hussain said. 
“As a result, their car collided head-on with another vehicle coming from the opposite direction, leaving five officials and a girl dead on the spot while one person suffered injuries.”
KP Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur condemned the incident.
“The incident is extremely tragic. Police should take all measures to arrest elements behind the attack,” a statement quoting the chief minister said.
Aziz Dotani, a spokesman at DI Khan district’s Rescue 1122 service, said a relief team promptly rushed to the area to transport bodies to the nearest medical facility.
The latest killings come at a time of renewed militant violence in Pakistan’s northwestern and southwestern regions, especially after the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) called off its fragile, months-long truce with the government in November 2022.
While there has been a spike in militant attacks across the northwest and southwest of the country, militants have particularly attacked policemen in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in recent weeks. 
Earlier this month, unidentified gunmen shot dead a policeman in the restive North Waziristan tribal district. Separately, an official working with the provincial counterterrorism department and a senior cleric affiliated with the Jamiat Ulema Islam religious political party were shot dead in two separate incidents of “targeted killings” in the North Waziristan tribal district, according to police.
While no group immediately claimed responsibility for the latest killings, suspicion is likely to fall on the TTP, which has had a significant presence in KP before being driven out as a result of successive military operations over the years. Pakistan says the TTP is now mostly based in hideouts in neighboring Afghanistan, which the Taliban denies. 
Last month, seven Pakistani soldiers, including two army officers, were killed in a militant attack in North Waziristan, according to the Pakistani military. The attack led the Pakistani military to carry out rare airstrikes against suspected TTP hideouts inside Afghanistan on March 18, killing eight people. The strikes prompted Afghan forces to fire back at Pakistani soldiers along the border.
Afghan Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Nabi Omari has urged Pakistan and the banned TTP to start negotiations afresh but Pakistan has rejected the Afghan minister’s suggestion, urging Kabul to take action against militant groups operating from its soil.
Both Pakistan and Afghanistan have traded blame in recent months over who is responsible for the recent spate of militant attacks in Pakistan. 
Islamabad says the attacks are launched mostly by TTP members who operate from safe havens in Afghanistan. Kabul denies this and blames Islamabad for not being able to handle its own security challenges.


Seven killed in southwest Pakistan as heavy rains continue to wreak havoc nationwide

Updated 18 April 2024
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Seven killed in southwest Pakistan as heavy rains continue to wreak havoc nationwide

  • At least 33 people killed and 46 injured in various rain-related incidents in northwestern Pakistan
  • Pakistan is ranked fifth most vulnerable country to climate change according to Global Climate Risk Index

QUETTA: Seven people including a woman were killed in southwestern Pakistan as rains continue to wreak havoc in the South Asian nation ranked as the fifth most vulnerable country to climate change according to the Global Climate Risk Index.
Heavy rains in the last three weeks have triggered landslides and flash floods in several parts of Pakistan. 
On Thursday, seven people were killed in the southwestern Balochistan province, officials in the town of Chaman here the deaths took place said. 
“In the first incident a car drove into flood waters in Mashan Talab situated on the outskirts of Chaman,” Deputy Commissioner Chaman Raja Atthar Abbas told Arab News.
“Five men sitting inside the vehicle drowned in flood water while two people including a woman were killed after a mud wall fell on them on College road.” 
Torrential rains had caused “severe damage” in Chaman and its surrounding areas as dozens of mud house collapsed in the last two days of rains, Abbas added. 
Separately, at least 33 people were killed and another 46 injured in various rain-related incidents in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province in the last six days, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) said on Thursday.
Rains that began last Friday had completely destroyed 336 houses and partially damaged another 1,606 in different districts across the province, according to the PDMA.
The incidents occurred in Khyber, Upper and Lower Dir, Upper and Lower Chitral, Swat, Bajaur, Shangla, Karak, Tank, Mardan, Peshawar, Charsadda, Hangu, Battagram, Dera Ismail Khan and other districts.
“The deceased include 17 children, eight men, eight women, while the injured included 32 men, six women and eight children,” the PDMA said in its daily situation report on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the authority had warned of another spell of heavy rains in the province from April 17 till April 21, which could trigger landslides and flash floods.
In 2022, downpours swelled rivers and at one point flooded a third of Pakistan, killing 1,739 people. The floods also caused $30 billion in damages, from which Pakistan is still trying to rebuild.


Amir returns to international cricket as New Zealand bat in first T20I

Updated 18 April 2024
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Amir returns to international cricket as New Zealand bat in first T20I

  • Amir retired in December 2020 after being dropped from the side but changed his mind last month
  • Fast bowler decided to restart his career, which had also been stalled by a match-fixing ban in 2010

RAWALPINDI: Pakistan fast bowler Mohammad Amir returns to international cricket from an absence of almost four years after New Zealand won the toss in their rain-delayed first Twenty20 in Rawalpindi on Thursday.
The 32-year-old retired in December 2020 after being dropped from the side but changed his mind last month and decided to restart his career, which had also been stalled by a match-fixing ban in 2010.
Pakistan have handed T20I debuts to batter Usman Khan, spinner Abrar Ahmed and allrounder Muhammad Irfan Khan to gauge their bench strength ahead of June’s World Cup in the United States and the West Indies.
New Zealand, missing nine players due to the Indian Premier League, handed a T20I debut to batter Tim Robinson.
The remaining matches are in Rawalpindi on April 20 and 21 and in Lahore on April 25 and 27.
Teams:
Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Usman Khan, Abrar Ahmed, Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Amir, Muhammad Irfan Khan, Naseem Shah, Saim Ayub, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi
New Zealand: Michael Bracewell (captain), Mark Chapman, Josh Clarkson, Jacob Duffy, Dean Foxcroft, Ben Lister, Jimmy Neesham, Tim Robinson, Ben Sears, Tim Seifert, Ish Sodhi
Umpires: Ahsan Raza (PAK) and Aleem Dar (PAK)
Tv umpire: Faisal Afridi (PAK)
Match referee: Andy Pycroft (ZIM)


US says Pakistan’s prosperity and security remains a ‘top priority’

Updated 18 April 2024
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US says Pakistan’s prosperity and security remains a ‘top priority’

  • Blome’s comments come amid a spike in militant attacks in Pakistan
  • Pakistani finance chief has launched negotiations for a new IMF bailout 

KARACHI: US Ambassador Donald Blome met Pakistani Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar on Thursday and said the South Asian nation’s prosperity and security remained a ‘top priority’ for Washington.
Blome’s comments come amid a spike in militant attacks in Pakistan and while its finance chief is in discussions with the International Monetary Fund in Washington on a potential follow-up program to its nine-month, $3 billion stand-by arrangement.
“US Ambassador Donald Blome met today with Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar to discuss recent events in the region,” Acting US Mission Spokesperson Thomas Montgomery said. 
“Ambassador Blome conveyed the United States’ commitment to working with the government and people of Pakistan, underscoring that prosperity and security for Pakistan remains a top priority for the United States.”
Pakistan went to the polls on February 8 in a vote marred by a mobile Internet shutdown on election day, arrests and violence in its build-up and unusually delayed results, leading to accusations that the vote was rigged. 
However, the US has repeatedly said it will work with the new government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, though it has expressed concerns about reported election irregularities and urged a probe.
Although defense and key foreign policy decisions are largely influenced by Pakistan’s powerful military, Sharif will have to juggle relations with the US and China.
Islamabad has close economic ties to both the nations, which has put it in a tricky position as the two countries have embarked upon a costly trade war.
“From our perspective it has to be an and-and discussion,” finance minister Muhammad Aurangzeb said in an interview this week when asked how the Sharif government plans to conduct its trading relationships with the world’s two largest economies.
“US is our largest trading partner, and it has always supported us, always helped us in terms of the investments,” he said. “So that is always going to be a very, very critical relationship for Pakistan.”
“On the other side, a lot of investment, especially in infrastructure, came through CPEC,” he said, referring to the roughly 1,860-mile-long China-Pakistan Economic Corridor designed to give China access to the Arabian Sea.
Aurangzeb said there was a “very good opportunity” for Pakistan to play a similar role in the trade war as countries like Vietnam, which has been able to dramatically boost its exports to the US following the imposition of tariffs on some Chinese goods.
“We have already a few examples of that already working,” he said. “But what we need to do is to really scale it up.”
Militancy has also spiked in recent months, creating a major challenge for the new government, with religiously motivated groups like the Pakistani Taliban as well as ethnic separatists showing an enhanced ability to hit high-value targets.
In an attack last month that has so far been unclaimed, a suicide bomber rammed a vehicle into a convoy of Chinese engineers working on a hydropower project at Dasu in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killing five Chinese nationals and their Pakistani driver. 
The Mar. 26 assault was the third major attack in little over a week on China’s interests in the South Asian nation, where Beijing has invested more than $65 billion in infrastructure projects as part of its wider Belt and Road initiative.