Pakistan says ties with Saudi Arabia strong, rejects 'baseless insinuations' about rift

In this handout photograph released by Pakistan’s Press Information Department (PID) on October 23, 2018, Saudi King Salman meets with Prime Minister Imran Khan in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
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Updated 03 January 2021

Pakistan says ties with Saudi Arabia strong, rejects 'baseless insinuations' about rift

  • Kingdom’s foreign minister, Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, expected to visit Islamabad this month
  • High-level Saudi delegations also expected to arrive soon to discuss investments in oil and gas

ISLAMABAD: In its first 2021 media briefing, Pakistan’s foreign office said the country’s relations with Saudi Arabia are strong and fraternal, as it rejected reports of a deterioration in ties.
 The statement comes as Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi last week said Islamabad was expecting a Saudi delegation led by the foreign minister of the kingdom, Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, to visit Pakistan in January.

High-level delegations from Saudi Arabia’s energy sector are also expected to arrive in Islamabad to discuss investments in oil and gas, and other sectors.

“Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong fraternal ties and the two countries have always cooperated with each other on all matters of bilateral, regional and international importance. Pakistan greatly values its relations with Saudi Arabia,” foreign office spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said on Friday.

He added that the foreign office rejects “any insinuations regarding deterioration in Pakistan-Saudi Arabia relations as baseless and misleading.”

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy deep-rooted strategic ties. Around 2.5 million Pakistani expats are living in the kingdom, which is the biggest single source of foreign remittances to the South Asian nation.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has made five trips to Saudi Arabia in two years. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also made a two-day visit to Islamabad in February 2019.
 


Cricket crowds in Karachi increased to 50% for Pakistan Super League games

Updated 25 February 2021

Cricket crowds in Karachi increased to 50% for Pakistan Super League games

  • The decision means around 19,000 fans could go to National Stadium to see country’s premier Twenty20 cricket league
  • Government also allowed cricket board to fill Gaddafi Stadium Lahore to 27,000-seat capacity for four playoffs this month

ISLAMABAD: The 14 remaining round-robin matches of the Pakistan Super League at Karachi had their attendance increased from 20% to 50% by the Pakistan Cricket Board on Thursday.
The decision meant that around 19,000 fans could go to the National Stadium to see the country’s premier Twenty20 cricket league.
The government also allowed the board to fill Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore to its 27,000-seat capacity for the four playoffs this month.
But the PCB said it would first assess spectators at Karachi before raising the crowd capacity to 50% in Lahore, which hosts the last 14 games from March 10.
“We will continue to assess how the crowds follow and implement the (coronavirus protocols) before we make a decision on crowd attendances for the Lahore-leg matches,” PCB chief executive Wasim Khan said.
Khan urged spectators to wear masks, maintain social distancing, and regularly use hand sanitizers inside the stadium.


Pakistani foodpreneurs say Dubai's Gulfood 2021 exhibition good for business

Updated 25 February 2021

Pakistani foodpreneurs say Dubai's Gulfood 2021 exhibition good for business

  • Officials say Pakistan's food sector contributes about 20 percent to its overall exports to United Arab Emirates
  • Some Pakistani restaurant owners say high taxation, import restrictions make it difficult for them to run profitable businesses

DUBAI: Pakistani food entrepreneurs who recently flew to the United Arab Emirates to partake in the Gulfood 2021 exhibition on Thursday described Dubai as a place to get new ideas and find new opportunities. 

Sixty Pakistani companies participated in this year's food festival that started on February 21 and ended on Thursday, February 25. It was the 26th edition of the annual exhibition held at the Dubai World Trade Center. 

Speaking to Arab News, Ammar Mohsin, a partner at the Lahore-based Rina's Kitchenette, said it was important to study innovations in the restaurant business, especially in the post-Covid world.

"I see Dubai as a place where we get ideas and look for opportunities in terms of restaurant-specific machinery that can be used in Pakistan," he said, adding that import restrictions and heavy taxes imposed by his country made things difficult for businesses like his. 

"Restaurants in Pakistan have not been given the status of an industry and things sometimes get hard for us due to heavy taxes and import restrictions on ingredients," he said. 

Mohsin also said that he had made several contacts at the exhibition, though he suspected they would not benefit him in the long run.

"We have historically benefited from global vendors for ingredients. If import restrictions are not lifted, however, our work here may not yield us dividends in the long run," he added. 

Pakistan's Consul General in Dubai Ahmed Amjad Ali told an audience while inaugurating the Pakistan pavilion earlier this week that the food sector contributed about 20 percent of his country's UAE export. 

In a Press statement issued on February 21, he said: "This event will further enhance bilateral trade between two countries and provide a platform to connect with buyers from other countries." 

Ali said that after about a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the opening of Gulfood 2021 was good news for international trade in general and the food industry in particular. 

"Keeping in view the COVID-19 situation, [Pakistan's] participation [of 60 companies] is encouraging," he continued, adding that Pakistani food companies were already doing good business with the UAE. 

Zain Qureshi, the chief financial officer of a Lahore-based gourmet bakery, Cocotalia, told Arab News the exhibition gave him the opportunity to connect with various retailers needed for his business. 

"This is my first visit to the exhibition since our restaurant is just a year old, but it will give a huge boost to our business," he said. 

Qureshi noted that the restaurant business had grown in Pakistan, "unlike the rest of the world," during the pandemic. 

"We received massive orders and had to put some on hold for weeks," he said. "This is also the reason why I am here, to invest in more ovens for the restaurant." 


By-poll in Punjab constituency declared null and void, reelection on March 18

Updated 25 February 2021

By-poll in Punjab constituency declared null and void, reelection on March 18

  • Last week's electoral contest for a National Assembly constituency in Daska was marred by violence and irregularities
  • The Election Commission of Pakistan said in a statement results of 20 polling stations had been falsified

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan on Thursday declared a recent by-election in a National Assembly constituency of Punjab null and void while announcing reelection on March 18, local media reported.
Last week's electoral contest for NA-75 in Daska, a small town in Sialkot district, became controversial after two people were killed and three injured in clashes between the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and its rival Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) opposition faction.
The constituency fell vacant after a PML-N lawmaker Syed Iftikharul Hassan Shah died last year.
Nine candidates were in the race for the National Assembly seat, though the real contest was thought to be between PML-N's Nousheen Iftikhar Shah and PTI's Ali Asjad Malhi.
The two parties accused each other of generating violence to manipulate the by-poll.
The PML-N accused its rival faction of intimidating voters and trying to manipulate the election results by influencing the election commission staff.
The ECP also issued a statement the following day, saying that results of 20 polling stations had seemingly been falsified in Daska.
The statement maintained it was not possible to release the initial outcome of the election without a complete inquiry.
The election commission also informed the results of NA-75 were received with "unnecessary delay," adding that it had tried to communicate with presiding officers several times with no success.
Other than that, the ECP suspected that the situation in Daska owed to the weakness of administrative and law enforcement agencies.
On Thursday, the PML-N candidate for the said National Assembly constituency, Nausheen Iftikhar, described the ECP verdict as a "historic decision."
Reacting to the development, information minister Shibli Faraz said that his party's legal team would review the short order and determine PTI's future course of action.
He added that the government had promised to give the country independent institutions "unlike previous administrations," implying that the ECP decision had signified that the PTI leadership had delivered on its commitment.


India, Pakistan militaries agree to stop cross border firing in Kashmir

Updated 25 February 2021

India, Pakistan militaries agree to stop cross border firing in Kashmir

  • Such exchange of gunfire has been frequent in recent months on the disputed border
  • Military operational heads of the two countries spoke over telephone, agreed to discuss each other’s concerns

NEW DELHI: India and Pakistan’s militaries said on Thursday that they had agreed to stop firing along their disputed border in Kashmir, where such gunfire has been frequent in recent months, often killing or maiming people living in the area.
“In the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the borders, the two DGsMO agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns which have propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence,” a joint statement said, referring to the military operations heads of the two countries.
The nuclear-armed neighbors signed a cease-fire agreement along the Line of Control (LoC) — the de facto border in the Kashmir region — in 2003, but the truce has been fraying in recent years.
An official in New Delhi said the cessation was partly aimed at easing the fraught situation for civilians living along the border, who are regularly caught in the crossfire.
“We are cautiously optimistic that the violence levels and tensions along the LoC will come down,” the official said, declining to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
But India will not ease up on deployments along the LoC that aim to stop infiltration or counterinsurgency operations in the Kashmir valley, the official said.
Last summer, Indian and Pakistani troops were locked in their most frequent cross-border fighting in at least two years, amid surging coronavirus outbreaks.
Kashmir has long been a flashpoint between the neighbors, but tension was renewed after New Delhi withdrew the autonomy of the Himalayan region last August and split it into federally administered territories.
Both countries claim the region in full, but rule only parts.


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

Updated 25 February 2021

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.”