Pakistan’s lonely elephant serenaded one last time at farewell party 

Kaavan, an elephant waiting to be transported to a sanctuary in Cambodia, is seen during a farewell ceremony at the Marghazar Zoo in Islamabad, Pakistan November 23, 2020. (REUTERS)
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Updated 24 November 2020

Pakistan’s lonely elephant serenaded one last time at farewell party 

  • Kaavan is finally set to be airlifted to an elephant sanctuary in Cambodia on Sunday
  • Singer Cher due to arrive in Islamabad to meet the elephant she had worked for years to rescue and see him off

ISLAMABAD: Officials and well-wishers gathered at Islamabad Zoo on Monday for a farewell party for Pakistan’s lonely elephant Kaavan before he sets off for a new life in Cambodia this week.
After years of campaigning by animal rights advocates and pop star Cher to rescue him from grim conditions with no companion, Kaavan was finally set to be airlifted to an elephant sanctuary on Sunday.
To mark the occasion, officials, including lawmakers and Pakistan’s climate change minister, gathered among balloons and signs saying “Farewell Kaavan, we will miss you.”
Children posed for photos and musicians performed in front of the enclosure, with Kaavan at one point serenaded while he snacked on some grass.
Kaavan is known to be a fan of music and Amir Khalil, a vet from animal rescue organization Four Paws, bonded with the elephant, who has been aggressive to humans in the past, by singing him Frank Sinatra songs.
Four Paws spokeswoman Marion Lombard said that though it was never easy to move a wild animal weighing 4.8 tons, Kaavan was responding well to training and was ready to leave.
“We decided to organize an event to give the opportunity to the people of Pakistan and the government to say goodbye to Kaavan, before his new life in Cambodia. So we want to wish him a happy retirement,” she said.
Kaavan will be airlifted to Cambodia after training for weeks with international specialists armed with treats such as bananas to get him used to the small enclosure and loud noises of the 10-hour flight.
Cher was due to arrive in Islamabad later in the week to finally meet the elephant she had worked for years to rescue and see him off.


Wheelchair athlete’s dream to see Peshawar Zalmi play upended, again, by coronavirus 

Updated 6 min 50 sec ago

Wheelchair athlete’s dream to see Peshawar Zalmi play upended, again, by coronavirus 

  • Despite childhood polio, Amjad Ali is Pakistan no. 4 in wheelchair tennis and a national-level player of wheelchair cricket, basketball and handball
  • But for years now, security reasons and now the coronavirus have kept Ali from fulfilling his dream of watching his favorite team play in a stadium

KARACHI: Amjad Ali has been a fighter all his life: despite losing control of his legs after childhood polio, he was able to fulfil his dream of becoming a successful wheelchair athlete.
But one dream keeps eluding him. For six years now, one reason or another — ‘home’ matches played abroad for years due to security risks and now limited spectators allowed at stadiums because of the coronavirus — has kept him from being able to watch his favorite cricket team play in a stadium.
Ali, a resident of Karachi, is a diehard fan of Peshawar Zalmi, one of the teams playing in Pakistan’s hugely popular Super League cricket tournament. It represents the city of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — Ali’s home province.
The inaugural national cricket league was launched in 2016 and has been a spectacular success, even though many of the matches in the first five editions had to be played in the United Arab Emirates due to security risks, preventing fans like Ali from attending.

Amjad Ali teaches children from his neighborhood in Farid Colony, Karachi, Pakistan, on February 24, 2021. (AN photo)

Last year, however, all matches of the series were played in Pakistan for the first time, and an overjoyed Ali bought a ticket to see Peshawar play against the Multan Sultans. But he never made it to the stadium on that March 13: the coronavirus pandemic broke out in February and lockdown restrictions were imposed, including a ban on spectators at stadiums.
This year again, Ali said, with only 50% spectator capacity allowed at stadiums due to the coronavirus, getting his hands on a ticket was no easy task.
“Last year, I had purchased a ticket to watch the match of my favorite Peshawar Zalmi but unfortunately I couldn’t go due to the coronavirus outbreak,” Ali told Arab News. “This time around, the government has allowed [limited] crowds only which has made obtaining tickets difficult.”

A digital poster made by Amjad Ali, a Peshawar Zalmi supporter, for the 2021 edition of the Pakistan Super League. (Photo courtesy: Amjad Ali)

Ali was born in Shangla, a hilly district in northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and now lives in a sprawling slum neighborhood in the seaside metropolis of Karachi. He was only one years old when he contracted polio and never walked.
But disability did not dampen his dream to become a sportsman: he is now Pakistan no. 4 in wheelchair tennis and a national-level player of wheelchair cricket, basketball and handball. He also works as an accountant at a school during the day and teaches neighborhood children in the evenings.
“I have struggled a lot in my life and have become a sportsman despite my disability,” Ali said, adding that his favorite player was Darren Sammy, a Saint Lucian-Pakistani cricketer who played international cricket for the West Indies. “I see a fighter in him.”
He hopes to one day meet Sammy as well as Pakistani players Shoaib Malik, Wahab Riaz and Haider Ali.
“Now coronavirus is a hurdle between me and Peshawar Zalmi,” Ali said. “But I believe, God willing, one day we will defeat coronavirus and I will be able to meet Peshawar Zalmi players.”


Pakistan eases coronavirus restrictions, regular school restarts March 1

Updated 25 February 2021

Pakistan eases coronavirus restrictions, regular school restarts March 1

  • Time limits on commercial activities lifted and indoor dining allowed from March 15
  • 50% spectators allowed at Pakistan Super League pool matches, full attendance at semifinals and final 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan this week announced it would ease a number of coronavirus restrictions, including lifting time limits on commercial activities, allowing indoor dining at restaurants from March 15 and restarting regular five-day classes at schools from March 1.
Pakistan recorded 1,361 news cases on Thursday, taking the total number of COVID-19 infections to 575,941, with 12,772 deaths.
Education minister Shafqat Mahmood said on Thursday regular classes would restart at schools from March 1.
“Important announcement. All schools will go back to regular 5 day classes from Monday March 1,” he said on Twitter. “Restrictions imposed in some major cities on schools to conduct staggered classes was only till Feb 28.”


The National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), which oversees Pakistan’s coronavirus response, said in a statement on Wednesday that it had devised new rules after a “comprehensive review” of the coronavirus situation.
“Time-limit lifted from commercial activities and amusement parks, condition of 50% work from home removed,” NCOC said. “Indoor wedding ceremonies will be allowed from 15th March 21 … Indoor dining allowed from 15th March subject to the review on 10th March.”
The NCOC also allowed cinemas and shrines to reopen from March 15, with coronavirus guidelines in place.
“Wearing of mask, social distancing, smart lockdowns will continue and will be ensured,” the body said.
It said Pakistan Super League pool matches would be allowed with 50% spectators while “full attendance” would be permitted at semifinals and the final match of the tournament.
The NCOC added that these rules could be reviewed and revised whenever necessary.


$316 mln inflows in Roshan Digital Accounts from Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia, UAE 

Updated 25 February 2021

$316 mln inflows in Roshan Digital Accounts from Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia, UAE 

  • Roshan Digital Accounts enable overseas Pakistanis to open bank account online from anywhere outside Pakistan without visiting branch 
  • Since initiative’s launch in Sept 2020, overseas Pakistanis have opened 92,500 accounts and remitted $554 million 

KARACHI: Pakistan has received $554 in five months from Roshan Digital Accounts, a banking initiative for non-resident Pakistanis launched last year, with 57 percent of the remittances, or $316 million, coming from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the central bank has said.
A Roshan Digital Account (RDA) enables overseas Pakistanis to open a bank account online from anywhere outside Pakistan without visiting a branch and permits account holders to send money into the account. Account holders can perform transactions like funds transfer and bill payment via online banking, debit card or cheque books. Online banking is available for all RDA customers.
Since the initiative’s launch in September 2020, overseas Pakistanis have opened 92,500 accounts and remitted $554 million. Thirty four percent of the accounts were opened by Pakistanis living in Saudi Arabia and 24 percent by UAE residents, according to a presentation given by the central bank on Wednesday.
“Out of $554 million put into Roshan Digital Accounts, 22% funds were received from Saudi Arabia and 35% from Pakistani living in UAE,” Syed Irfan Ali, Managing Director of Deposit Protection Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of the State Bank of Pakistan, said at a ceremony to mark Dubai Islamic Bank (DIB) joining the RDA initiative.
Roshan Digital Account services were being offered by nine banks including Saudi Samba Bank. Dubai Islamic Bank, the world’s first Islamic bank, is the tenth to join.
“Our existing customer base of over 200,000 in UAE gives us an all-important advantage to capture the potential for Roshan Digital Accounts,” DIB CEO Junaid Ahmed said at the joining ceremony in Karachi. “Moreover, non-resident Pakistanis working in UAE will also benefit from this product. Our focus is on a seamless experience and prompt response time for the customers.”
Roshan Digital Accounts enable overseas Pakistanis to deposit and invest in Pakistan. They also offer an additional financial instrument, Naya Pakistan Certificates (NPCs), through which overseas Pakistanis can invest in USD and Pakistani currency with returns of 75% and 11% on five years maturity.
NPCs offer attractive risk-free returns over different maturities and are available in both conventional and Shariah compliant versions administered by the central bank. So far, central bank officials say overseas Pakistanis have invested $358 through NPCs.


Islamabad beats Karachi in high-scoring PSL game 

Updated 25 February 2021

Islamabad beats Karachi in high-scoring PSL game 

  • Left-handed Sharjeel Khan plundered eight sixes and nine fours in his 105 off 59 balls 
  • Lahore Qalandars and Islamabad share the leaderboard with two wins from as many games in the six-team event 

KARACHI: Islamabad United overcame a blistering century by Karachi Kings opener Sharjeel Khan to record their second successive victory in the Pakistan Super League on Wednesday.
The left-handed Khan, who scored only six runs in the first six overs, plundered eight sixes and nine fours in his 105 off 59 balls to give defending champions a strong total of 196-3.
But the depth in Islamabad’s batting, led by Iftikhar Ahmed’s unbeaten 49, and an early onslaught by Alex Hales (46 off 21 balls) helped the former champions cruise to 197-5 for a five-wicket win in 19.1 overs.
“It was obviously a really big chase and I thought we had to knock the teeth out of it early,” Hales said. “I felt like the pitch was getting slower as the game went on, so my plan was to be really attacking in the Powerplay, get the run rate below 10 and fortunately that worked tonight.”
Hales set up a strong platform for Islamabad by smashing fast bowler Aamer Yamin for 29 runs in only the third over — the most expensive over bowled in the history of PSL.
Hales was caught out at mid off in the sixth over, but the Englishman’s clean hitting had provided a solid base of 75 runs inside the batting powerplay.
Iftikhar and Hussain Talat (42) then combined for a match-winning stand of 94 runs off 67 balls as Karachi’s fast bowlers couldn’t get the breakthrough, with Mohammad Amir (1-44) returning with expensive figures.
Afghanistan’s experienced Twenty20 allrounder Mohammad Nabi (1-26) pegged back Islamabad’s run-chase through his offspin in the middle overs before Asif Ali finished off the game with a rapid 21 off nine balls.
“You don’t lose the tournament if you lose the second game so it’s just the start of the tournament,” Karachi skipper Imad Wasim said. “I think we’ll rectify the errors and come back very hard.”
Earlier, after being put into bat, Khan and Pakistan all-format skipper Babar Azam featured in a PSL record-breaking 176-run opening wicket stand against the erratic Karachi bowlers.
Khan forced Islamabad United captain Shadab Khan out of the attack by smashing the legspiner for four successive sixes in the ninth over but Karachi’s bowlers overstepped at least three times which could have broken the partnership.
Babar was twice caught off Hussain’s no-balls in one over and Karachi also missed out to dismiss Khan on 70 when fast bowler Mohammad Wasim overstepped.
Both batsmen fell on successive deliveries in the penultimate over of Hasan Ali (1-36), but not before Karachi erred once again in the field.
Hales dropped a sitter of Babar at long-on before throwing the ball in time to run out Babar, who went for the second run. Babar made 62 off off 54 balls with six fours and a six.
Khan was trapped leg before wicket off the next ball when Hasan successfully overturned the decision through television referral.
Lahore Qalandars and Islamabad share the leaderboard with two wins from as many games in the six-team event.


Pakistan faces an unexpected dilemma: too much electricity 

Updated 25 February 2021

Pakistan faces an unexpected dilemma: too much electricity 

  • Large-scale construction of new power plants funded by China has dramatically boosted energy capacity
  • But even as supply surges, electric power is still not reaching up to 50 million people in Pakistan

KARACHI: After suffering decades of electricity shortages that left families and businesses in the dark, Pakistan finds itself with a new problem: more electrical generating capacity than it needs.
Large-scale construction of new power plants — largely coal-fired ones funded by China — has dramatically boosted the country’s energy capacity.
“It’s true. We are producing much more than we need,” Tabish Gauhar, a special assistant to the prime minister on power, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone.
But even as supply surges, electric power is still not reaching up to 50 million people in Pakistan who need it, according to a 2018 World Bank report, though expansion of tranmission lines is planned.
Power outages also remain common, with a transmission problem just last month leaving many of the country’s major cities in the dark.
Excess fossil fuel energy capacity also is boosting electricity costs — and raising questions about whether the country will now manage to achieve its climate change goals, with scientists saying coal needs to rapidly disappear from the world’s energy mix to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

RENEWABLES AIM?
Last year, Prime Minister Imran Khan promised that Pakistan by 2030 would produce 60% of its electrical power from renewable sources.
Currently the country gets 64% of its electricity from fossil fuels, with another 27% from hydropower, 5% from nuclear power and just 4% from renewables such as solar and wind, Gauhar said.
The country has already scrapped plans for two Chinese-funded coal plants — but another seven commissioned as part of the sweeping China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project have gone ahead, and are expected to add up to 6,600 megawatts of capacity to the grid.
China has also funded new renewable energy but at a smaller scale, with six wind farms set to generate just under 400 MW of power, a 100 MW solar project and four hydropower plants expected to produce 3,400 MW by 2027.
CPEC aims to boost road, rail and air transport links and trade between China, Pakistan and other countries in the region, as well as boosting energy production.
Vaqar Zakaria, the head of Hagler Bailly Pakistan, an environmental consultancy firm based in Islamabad, said Pakistan’s coal-heavy power expansion was in line with its own former national aims.
“I think blaming the Chinese may not entirely be fair as setting up projects on local and imported coal was our country policy and priority,” he said.
Officials at the Chinese embassy in Islamabad did not respond to calls and email asking for comment.
As new largely coal-fired plants come online, Pakistan is expected by 2023 to have 50% more power capacity than currently needed.
Because the government must repay loans taken to build the plants and has signed contracts to buy their power, the overcapacity is producing costs “the government has to pay to the power producers under binding contracts, regardless of actual need,” Gauhar said.
“Our fixed-capacity charges have gone through the roof,” he added.
Those costs currently stand at 850 billion rupees ($5.3 billion) a year, but will rise to almost 1,450 billion rupees ($9 billion) a year by 2023 as new largely coal-fired power plants still being built come online, he said.
That is driving up rates consumers pay for power — 30% in the last two years, Gauhar said — a problem likely to continue unless Pakistan can find more buyers for its new generating capacity, such as by boosting manufacturing or pushing use of electric vehicles.
The government plans to decommission some older fossil fuel plants to cut overcapacity, he said — but it also pushing ahead to add new wind, solar and hydropower capacity to the grid to meet its climate goals.
The government is holding talks to renegotiate tariff rates with the country’s independent power producers, including fossil fuel, hydro, wind and solar companies, he said.
Whether it will seek similar rate renegotiations on Chinese-funded plants still in the pipeline, or longer debt repayment periods, remains unclear.

GAINING POWER
When electricity projects now in the pipeline are completed in the next few years, Pakistan will have about 38,000 MW of capacity, Gauhar said.
But its current summertime peak demand is 25,000 MW, with electricity use falling to 12,000 MW in the winter, he said.
Saadia Qayyum, an energy specialist with the World Bank, said energy over-production was a better problem to have than undersupply as it allowed for growth — but the country needed new ways to use the electricity.
But incentivising electric transport, for instance, will be less than a green solution if a big share of the country’s new electricity is produced by coal plants, energy analysts said.
Gauhar said the government is offering discounted electricity tariffs to industrial customers, to try to lure those now dependent on their own gas-fired plants back to the national grid.
But demand for grid power “is a function of price, availability and reliability,” noted Zakaria, the environmental analyst — and high prices are likely to suppress demand and incentivise power theft, a serious problem in the country.
He predicted high-end residential and commercial customers would end up footing the bill for the excess generation capacity, as industries and agriculture receive power subsidies.
That could mean “paying customers will use less electricity, further worsening the situation,” particularly as more see an economic advantage in buying their own solar panels.
Despite the country’s energy surplus, the World Bank is investing $450 million over the next four years in renewable power in Pakistan, to try to cut the nation’s reliance on fossil fuel imports and lower energy costs, Qayyum said.
Gauhar said Pakistan would need some level of fossil-fuel-powered energy in coming years to help balance “intermittent” sources like solar and wind which do not generate electricity 24 hours a day.
But he said the long-term plan, still being discussed, was to have coal plants contribute no more than 15% of the country’s electricity capacity.