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

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.”


Looking forward to Chinese president’s visit this year — Pakistani foreign minister

Updated 02 March 2021

Looking forward to Chinese president’s visit this year — Pakistani foreign minister

  • Qureshi says President Xi Jinping’s visit “will be seminal in further elevating our ties”
  • Says “complete consensus” on indispensability of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor for Pakistan’s development

ISLAMABAD: Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Tuesday Islamabad was looking forward to a visit by the Chinese president to Pakistan this year. 

Qureshi made the remarks at the virtual launch of year-long celebrations to mark 70 years of diplomatic ties between Pakistan and China.

China and Pakistan consider each other “all-weather friends” and have close diplomatic, economic and security ties.

“We are looking forward to receive President Xi Jinping to Pakistan this year,” the foreign office said in a statement, quoting Qureshi. “We believe that the visit will be seminal in further elevating our ties.”

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement has seen Beijing pledge over $60 billion for infrastructure projects in Pakistan, central to China’s wider Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to develop land and sea trade routes in Asia and beyond.

“Pakistan supports President Xi’s visionary Belt and Road Initiative that has become a pivot for connectivity and global economic growth,” Qureshi said. “There is complete consensus across the political spectrum in Pakistan on CPEC’s indispensability for our national development.”

“Our diplomatic relations were formally established on 21st May 1951 and since then have grown from strength to strength,” the foreign minister said. “In the past seventy years, our relationship has turned into an ‘All-Weather Strategic Cooperative Partnership’ which is an anchor for peace, stability, and development in the region.”


Pakistan extends flight bans on United Kingdom, South Africa over COVID-19 fears

Updated 02 March 2021

Pakistan extends flight bans on United Kingdom, South Africa over COVID-19 fears

  • Restrictions apply until March 14 to avoid the spread of more contagious new coronavirus variants
  • Latest development comes as Pakistan reported 42 additional deaths, increasing overall COVID-19 toll to 12,938

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s civil aviation authority is extending restrictions on travel from the UK, South Africa and some other countries until March 14 to avoid the spread of more contagious new coronavirus variants. 
The measures were imposed in January after other countries also applied restrictions on travel from Britain and South Africa.
Later Pakistan also imposed similar restrictions on travel from Portugal, Netherlands, Tanzania, Botswana, Columbia, Comoros, Ghana, Ireland, Kenya, Zambia, Brazil and Mozambique. These restrictions are to remain until March 14.
The latest development comes as Pakistan reported 42 additional deaths, increasing the country’s overall COVID-19 toll to 12,938. Pakistan also reported 1,163 new cases. 


Pakistan election commission establishes monitoring cell to curb corrupt practice in senate polls

Updated 02 March 2021

Pakistan election commission establishes monitoring cell to curb corrupt practice in senate polls

  • Commission has established a three-member committee to finalize recommendations for use of technology in senate elections
  • Legal experts say the commission must enforce campaign finance laws to allow level playing field to all candidates

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) said on Tuesday it would conduct March 3 senate polls through secret ballot, though it also established a special monitoring cell at its secretariat to identify any corrupt practices in the elections.
The ECP made the announcement after the country’s top court encouraged it to use technology to make the electoral contest as fair as possible.
Following the apex court’s opinion in response to a presidential reference, the commission constituted a three-member committee to prepare recommendations for the use of technology in the Senate elections.
The committee will finalize its recommendations within four weeks, the ECP said in a statement on Tuesday. 
“The commission also decided that due to time constraint, ensuing Senate elections scheduled for March 3, 2021 will be conducted as provided in the constitution and law as per past practice,” it said. 
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government sought the apex court’s opinion through a presidential reference filed on December 23, 2020, asking if voting in senate polls could be held through open ballot.
After several court proceedings, the Supreme Court said it was the ECP’s job to ensure transparent senate polls. 
The commission said on Tuesday it had taken numerous steps to ensure transparency in Senate elections including publicizing its email addresses and phone numbers and requesting the general public and all relevant institutions to register complaints in case of any malpractice in the polls. 
The electoral body said it had established a vigilance committee, a complaint management system and a special monitoring cell to curb any corrupt practices in the polls. 
The chief election commissioner also held a meeting with heads of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to seek their suggestions in how to hold fair and free elections. 
The commission directed all relevant agencies and organizations to remain vigilant and inform the election commission for early legal action in case of any illegality in the polls. 
Lawmakers in the national and provincial assemblies constitute the electoral college and vote for 48 Senators. Each member of the Upper House of Parliament is elected for a six-year term. Half of the senate members retire after every three years and new ones are elected. The house has equal representation from all four provinces. 
Political and legal experts said the election commission should use its authority to restore public trust in the transparency of the senate and general elections. 
“Secret voting in senate elections gives legislators an option to decide as per their conscience, instead of just casting their votes in favor of their party candidates,” Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, president of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), told Arab News. 
He said that political leadership should focus on introducing democracy within their parties and make decisions through consultation instead of forcing decisions on their members. 
“If the parties select candidates through a democratic process, the issue of corruption in Senate elections will die down to a large extent,” he said. 
Barrister Saad Rasool, an expert on election laws, said transparency in the polls could not be ensured unless the election commission takes action against those who violate the campaign finance laws. 
“We cannot achieve true democracy in Pakistan if we continue to allow wealthy and influential candidates to trample the election finance laws,” he told Arab News. “It is the responsibility of the election commission to provide a level playing field to all contesting candidates.”


Two more foreign cricketers positive for virus in Pakistan 

Updated 02 March 2021

Two more foreign cricketers positive for virus in Pakistan 

  • They bring to four the number of known infections in Pakistan Super League 
  • Pakistan Cricket Board official says league will continue with testing every three days 

KARACHI: Two more foreign cricketers and one staffer tested positive for the coronavirus in the Pakistan Super League on Tuesday. 
One unnamed player was from Islamabad United, while the other two’s names and teams were not identified by Pakistan Cricket Board media and communications director Sami Ul Hasan.

They bring to four the number of known infections in the league after Australian leg spinner Fawad Ahmed tested positive on Saturday. His Islamabad side had its scheduled game against Quetta Gladiators on Monday postponed to Tuesday.

Hasan said that game will go ahead, and the league will continue with testing every three days. Spectators will also continue to be allowed.

All four people who tested positive are in 10-day isolation. 


'Pawri' power: five-second social media clip pulls Pakistan, India closer

Updated 02 March 2021

'Pawri' power: five-second social media clip pulls Pakistan, India closer

  • Video shot by Dananeer Mobeen in Nathaigali mountains shows a group of youngsters enjoying themselves by a roadside
  • She deliberately mispronounces “party” as “pawri” to poke fun at South Asians with Western accents, sparking trending hashtags and millions of views 

KARACHI: A 19-year-old Pakistani student who shot to fame after her five-second video went viral on social media across the subcontinent, hopes numerous renditions of her monologue will translate into more dialogue between rival neighbors India and Pakistan.
The short video shot by Dananeer Mobeen in the Nathaigali mountains of northern Pakistan and uploaded onto Instagram shows a group of youngsters enjoying themselves by a roadside.
Swinging around the device she is filming on, Mobeen gestures behind her and says in Urdu, “This is our car, this is us, and this is our party taking place.”
Seemly innocuous, she deliberately mispronounces the English word “party” as “pawri” to poke fun at South Asians who adopt Western accents. It immediately struck a chord in both India and Pakistan, sparking top trending hashtags on social media, and garnering millions of views and hundreds of spin-offs.
“It was the most random video. I initially had no intention of uploading it,” Mobeen said, expressing surprise at how viral it had gone and adding the trend showed the power and reach of social media.
“Pawri” monologue renditions have been used by police in India and the Delhi Commission for Women in their social media outreach campaigns.
In one video, two Indian soldiers deployed in snowy mountains give it their own spin with “This is us, this is our gun, and we are patrolling here,” while popular Bollywood actors Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone each did a version that also went viral.
Indian dairy company Amul, known for inculcating trendy takes on current issues in its advertisements, did a “this is our pav-tea” version, in a nod to a popular bread snack eaten with tea.

Even politicians jumped on the bandwagon, with a leader from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party using the catchy hook at an election rally.
“I’m honored and grateful for all the love across the border,” said Mobeen, expressing her happiness at fostering some rare friendly cross-border dialogue.
India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed nations, have fought three wars and often had tense relations since gaining independence in 1947.
Relations had most recently soured over developments in the northern region of Kashmir, which both countries control in parts but claim in full.
Last week, their militaries released a rare joint statement saying they had agreed to observe a cease-fire along the disputed Kashmir border, after exchanging fire hundreds of times over past months.
Since the video went viral, Mobeen said she has been inundated with acting and modelling offers, along with requests for product endorsements. Instead, she says she aspires to join Pakistan’s foreign services.