Dubai startup fighting ‘digital addiction’ to launch in Pakistan on Sept 15

Women wearing protective masks pose for a "selfie" picture on a cell phone in front of Burj Khalifa, the tallest structure and building in the world since 2009 (total heigh with antenna of 829.8 metres), in the city centre of the Gulf emirate of Dubai on March 8, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 08 September 2020

Dubai startup fighting ‘digital addiction’ to launch in Pakistan on Sept 15

  • Lock&Stock app rewards students for not using their phones while studying, working out and spending time with friends and family
  • So far, 50,000 students have spent the equivalent of a combined 586 years and 12 weeks offline due to the app 

KARACHI: Dubai-based mobile app Lock&Stock, which works to curb “digital addiction” among students, is all set to launch its operations in Pakistan on September 15, 2020, the country head of the company said on Tuesday.
The app, founded in 2017 in the United Arab Emirates, rewards students for not using their phones while studying, working out and spending time with friends and family, among other activities. Students can then use their rewards to redeem exclusive discounts from the app’s partner brands, apply for jobs and internships, and secure scholarships.
So far, 50,000 students have spent the equivalent of a combined 586 years and 12 weeks offline due to the app. In 2019 alone, Lock&Stock students secured over half a million dollars in scholarships and fee waivers at various universities around the world.
“In universities and colleges, students mostly remain on devices during the lectures, that is why the app is developed to incentivize the students ... by giving them rewards so they could stay away from these devices and concentrate on education,” Omar Mirza, country head of Lock&Stock, told Arab News. “The app is ready to be launched on September 15, 2020, available as a free download on Android and iOS.”
In a statement released on Monday, Craig Fernandes, the 23-year-old CEO of Lock&Stock, said “digital addiction” among students was on the rise, especially among 16-18-year-olds who spent hundreds of hours glued to their smartphones. 
“Our brand purpose is to improve the lives of students and we aim to fight digital addiction among students from around the world,” Fernandes added.
The Lock&Stock app works by locking up other apps in your phone while you use it.
“Every time you are locked up you can’t use any other app on the mobile phone,” Mirza explained. “The app then rewards students for the amount of time they lock their phones.”
Minutes away from the phone can earn rewards from food, leisure and retail brands, as well as job opportunities and scholarships at top universities around the world.
“In the UAE, we have 400 vendors including retail outlets, cinemas and over 100 restaurants where this key could be used,” Mirza said.
A major objective of the app, the Pakistan country head explained, was to link students with 100 global universities located in the United States, Europe, Turkey, and the UAE and make the admission process simpler. 
“Earlier it was a very complicated process if you want to apply for ten universities, that required offline visits or online visits to these universities’ websites, which was a time-consuming process,” Mirza said. “But now all 100 universities have been uploaded in the app as a single source.”
The developers also intend to provide a one-window platform through the app for students seeking admission in Pakistani universities: “Through this app we are digitizing this process and they will be able to apply from a single platform to any of the [Pakistani] universities,” Mirza said.
Students who apply for admission through Lock&Stock get up to 10 percent discounts on their tuition fees and also earn weekly prizes by competing with one another.


Pakistan thanks Bahrain for facilitating expats, calls defense ties ‘source of support’

Updated 5 min 3 sec ago

Pakistan thanks Bahrain for facilitating expats, calls defense ties ‘source of support’

  • Pakistani FM is in Bahrain to lead second session of Pakistan-Bahrain Joint Ministerial Commission
  • Both sides agree in principle to hold the next JMC meeting in Islamabad in 2022

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi met Bahrain Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa in Manama and thanked his country for taking steps to aid Pakistani expats, saying strong defense ties between the two nations were a “source of support,” the foreign office said on Thursday. 
Qureshi is in Bahrain on a two-day visit that will conclude today, leading Pakistan’s delegation in the second session of the Pakistan-Bahrain Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC).
Qureshi “appreciated the steps taken by the Bahraini government during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure that the Pakistani community in Bahrain did not face any traumatic situation,” the foreign office statement said, saying he also “lauded the steps taken by the Bahraini Ministry of Interior to facilitate the visa amnesty scheme, waiver of fines, extradition and repatriation of Pakistanis awaiting repatriation.”
“Referring to the strong defense and security ties between Pakistan and Bahrain, the Foreign Minister described them as a source of support,” the foreign office said. 
On Wednesday, the second meeting of the Bahrain-Pakistan Joint Ministerial Commission was held in Manama. 
“On the sidelines of JMC, an MoU between Bahrain Development Board and Board of Investment of Pakistan was also signed to promote bilateral investment between the two friendly countries,” a Pakistan foreign ministry statement said, adding that the two sides agreed in principle to hold the next JMC meeting in Islamabad in 2022. 


Road to ruin: Double tax and bandits on the Pakistan-Afghan trade route 

Updated 29 July 2021

Road to ruin: Double tax and bandits on the Pakistan-Afghan trade route 

  • The Taliban’s capture of a key Afghan-Pakistan border post has sent trucking costs soaring
  • Taliban are charging drivers about $1,000 as duty in Spin Boldak with Kandahar officials demanding more 

Chaman, Pakistan: The Taliban’s capture of a key Afghan-Pakistan border post has sent trucking costs soaring, with insurgents and government officials separately taxing traders, and bandits demanding bribes to allow safe passage of goods.
Thousands of vehicles cross daily from Chaman in southwestern Pakistan to Spin Boldak on the other side, carrying goods destined for Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-biggest city.
On the way back they usually ferry agricultural produce bound for Pakistan’s markets or ports.
The bilateral trade — worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year if not more — ground to a halt earlier this month after the Taliban seized the dusty border town, but resumed this week with the insurgents seemingly firmly in charge.
They have captured a vast swath of the country since early May after launching a series of offensives to capitalize on the final stages of the withdrawal of foreign troops.
While they have not yet taken any provincial capitals, they have captured a string of key border posts — with Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan — which provide vital revenue from customs duties on goods arriving in the landlocked country.
“We loaded grapes in Kandahar and on the way we have been extorted at least three times,” trucker Hidayatullah Khan told AFP at Chaman.
“Sometimes they charge 3,000 rupees ($20), somewhere else 2,000 rupees, and in some other place 1,000 rupees,” he said.
That was on top of the taxes he had to pay Taliban officials in Spin Boldak and Afghan government customs officials who have opened shop in Kandahar.
Truckers interviewed in Chaman this week told of chaos and confusion on the Afghan side of the border.
Imran Kakar, vice president of the Pak-Afghan Joint Chamber of Commerce, gave one example of a truck carrying fabric from Karachi destined for Kandahar.
The Taliban charged the driver 150,000 rupees (about $1,000) as duty in Spin Boldak, but when the vehicle reached Kandahar government officials were also waiting.
“We had to pay even higher customs duties as they don’t acknowledge the payments made to Taliban,” said Kakar.
The scenes were reminiscent of Afghanistan during its brutal civil war in the 1990s, when a patchwork of militias held stretches of key trade routes and extorted truckers and residents using the roads at will.
Hundreds of trucks were lined up Wednesday on the Pakistan side of the border, waiting for permission to cross.
On a dusty plain this week, with rugged hillocks as a backdrop, drivers and “spanner boy” apprentices tinkered with their vehicles ahead of the journey.
While the distance is just 100 kilometers (60 miles), the journey is fraught with danger.
Vehicles and roads are poorly maintained in Afghanistan, police and army checkpoints routinely demand “tea money” or more from every driver, and bandits also lie in wait — either to steal goods or demand further payment for safe passage.
There is also the risk they could be caught in crossfire during fighting between the Taliban and government forces.
Still, traders and drivers say they have little option but to keep on trucking.
“War has been going on, we know that, but we don’t have any other choice,” said Abdul Razzaq, a driver carrying hatchling chicks to Kandahar.
“Transportation of goods is the only means for us to feed our families,” he told AFP.


UAE suspends flights from Pakistan, India until August 7

Updated 29 July 2021

UAE suspends flights from Pakistan, India until August 7

  • Flights to Pakistan from the UAE have been suspended for months now due to the coronavirus pandemic 
  • UAE is home to 1.5 million Pakistanis and ranked one of Pakistan’s top contributors of foreign remittances

ISLAMABAD: Emirates, the largest airline and the flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates, said on Wednesday flights from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had been suspended until August 7 in line with the government’s orders.
The UAE is home to 1.5 million Pakistanis and ranked one of Pakistan’s top contributors, alongside Saudi Arabia, of foreign remittances. Flights to Pakistan from the Emirates have been disrupted for months now due to the coronavirus pandemic. The date for resumption of travel has also been extended several times now.
“In line with UAE government directives, Emirates will be suspending the carriage of passengers from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to Dubai until 07 August 2021,” the airline said on its website. “Furthermore, passengers who have connected through India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka in the last 14 days will not be accepted to travel from any other point to the UAE.”
UAE Nationals, holders of UAE Golden Visas and members of diplomatic missions who comply with updated COVID‑19 protocols, are exempt and may be accepted for travel, the airline said. 
It advised travelers that if their flight had been canceled or impacted by route suspensions due to COVID‑19 restrictions, “you don’t need to call us immediately for rebooking. You can simply hold on to your Emirates ticket and when flights resume, get in touch with us or your booking office to make new travel plans.”


‘Alarming’ surge: Pakistan reports over 4,000 new COVID-19 infections second day running

Updated 29 July 2021

‘Alarming’ surge: Pakistan reports over 4,000 new COVID-19 infections second day running

  • Thursday was first time since June 9 that Pakistan recorded 76 new deaths due to coronavirus
  • “Alarming and critical” situation in Karachi city as positivity ratio crosses 26 percent

KARACHI: Pakistan reported more than 4,000 new coronavirus cases for the second day running, data from the National Command and Operation Center showed on Thursday, with the national positivity rate shooting past 7.5 percent.
As per the NCOC pandemic response body, 59,707 tests were conducted in the last 24 hours, of which 4,497 returned positive. The new cases take the nationwide tally of COVID-19 cases to 1,020,324, with a current positivity rate of 7.53 percent.


Thursday was also the first time since June 9 that Pakistan recorded 76 new deaths due to the coronavirus, taking the countrywide death toll to 23,209. Around 28 million vaccine jabs have been administered so far in a country of 220 million people.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s southern Sindh province is witnessing an “abnormal” surge in COVID-19 cases and an “alarming and critical” situation as the positivity ratio in the city shot past 26 percent.
Pakistan’s director general health, Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar, told Arab News the National Command and Operations Center (NCOC), which oversees the country’s pandemic response, was closely working with the Sindh administration to stop the spread of the virus.
“The NCOC is working closely with the Sindh government to support the NPI [non-pharmacological interventions] implementation, vaccination ramp up and upbuilding hospital capacity,” Safdar said.
The infection rate in Karachi has consistently remained high, with 8,513 coronavirus cases recorded during the last week and an average daily positivity rate of 21.73 percent.
Secretary General of the Pakistan Medical Association Dr. Qaiser Sajjad has suggested imposing a 15-day lockdown in the metropolis, saying if untested people were counted, the positivity rate had likely reached 40 percent.


Pakistanis sacrificed animals worth around $2.5 billion on Eid Al-Adha, tanners say 

Updated 29 July 2021

Pakistanis sacrificed animals worth around $2.5 billion on Eid Al-Adha, tanners say 

  • Up to 9 million animals including cows, sheep, goats and camels, were slaughtered this Eid 
  • Number of sacrifices on the rise since last year as people unable to go to Saudi Arabia for Hajj pilgrimage

KARACHI: Pakistanis sacrificed around nine million animals worth $2.5 billion on the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha last week, tanners and leather exporters have said, at least a one-billion-dollar increase from last year.
Eid Al-Adha, the second most important festival of Islam, was observed in Pakistan last Wednesday. Muslims traditionally mark the occasion by sacrificing livestock and distributing the meat among friends, family and the poor.
In Pakistan, the number of sacrificial animals has been on the rise since last year as people have been unable to go to Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj pilgrimage due to coronavirus restrictions and have thus offered the ritual sacrifice in their home country.
Last year, the worth of sacrificial animals was estimated to be $1.5 billion.
“We estimate that around eight million to nine million animals including cows, sheep, goats and camels, were slaughtered on this Eid Al-Adha,” Abdul Salam, senior vice-chairman of the Pakistan Tanners Association (PTA), told Arab News. “Large number of Pakistanis who were unable to go for Hajj have offered the sacrifice rituals here in the country ... Sacrifices are more than our estimate of six million to seven million for this year.”
M. Danish Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Leather Garments Manufacturers and exporters Association (PLGMEA), told Arab News Rs400 billion ($2.5 billion) worth of animals were slaughtered this year. No official data was available.
“This growth is due to the restrictions on travel for Hajj,” Khan said.
Former PTA chairman Ejaz Ahmed Sheikh, who is chairman of leather supplier Bombal Leathers, said while exact figures were as yet unavailable, the overall value of sacrificial animals could be even higher than tanners’ estimates.
“It is estimated that around 3-4 million cows were slaughtered this year,” he told Arab News. “So, keeping average price at Rs 100,000, the overall value goes up to Rs300 billion, while if we add the value of goats, sheep, and camels, the value exceeds Rs400 billion.”
The rate of waste has also been higher this year, with data from the Lahore branch of PTA showing that Rs2 billion worth of hides and skins was wasted. 
PLGME’s chief Khan said material wastage was an annual problem.
“Huge quantities of hides and skins are wasted every year due to lack of proper facilities required to preserve the material,” he said.
Skins and hides from sacrificial animals are usually collected by Islamic seminaries and welfare organizations which sell them to leather exporters and tanners to meet their financial expenditures.
Qazi Sadaruddin, director at the Al-Khidmat Foundation, a non-governmental organization that provides humanitarian services across Pakistan, told Arab News the collection of skins, as well as their rates, had increased this year.
“The rates are comparatively higher this year and the collection of skins and hides has also increased,” he said.
Eid Al-Adha contributes around 20-30 percent of raw material to Pakistan’s leather industry, which PLGME expects will cross the $1 billion mark this year. In the previous fiscal year 2020-21, the leather sector contributed $833 million to Pakistan’s overall exports of $25.3 billion.
“Despite COVID-19, Pakistan’s export sector has performed very well during the last fiscal year,” PLGME’s Khan said. “We hope that this year Pakistan’s leather exports will hit the $1 billion mark”.