Pakistan’s religion ministry proposes expansion of ‘Makkah Route’ project

Muslim pilgrims go through passport control upon their arrival to King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah on July 7, 2019. (AFP/File)
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Updated 22 January 2021

Pakistan’s religion ministry proposes expansion of ‘Makkah Route’ project

  • Under the project initiated by Saudi Arabia, all immigration requirements of Hajjis are to be fulfilled at airport of origin
  • A pilot project was launched at Islamabad airport last year but Pakistan now proposes to expand the facilities to Lahore and Karachi

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry presented a summary to the the top economic decision-making body, the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC), on Wednesday to scale up the Makkah Route project designed to ease Hajj journeys of pilgrims arriving in the kingdom from various Muslim countries. 
Under the Makkah Route project initiated by Saudi Arabia, all immigration requirements of pilgrims are to be fulfilled at the airport of origin. This saves pilgrims several hours upon reaching the kingdom since they can just enter the country, having gone through immigration already at home. The project also includes other Muslim countries, such as Indonesia and Malaysia.
Pakistan implemented a pilot project in 2019 at the Islamabad International Airport. The government now plans to extend the facility to potential pilgrims in Lahore and Karachi, making the two cities part of the expanded initiative.
“One of the pre-conditions for scaling up of Makkah Route Project was grant of special exemption on the import of technical equipments in Pakistan by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the ECC said in a handout after its Wednesday meeting, deciding that the Federal Board of Revenue would hold a separate consultation with the religion ministry to work out the details of the matter before seeking the ECC’s approval on it. 
Pakistan planned last year to widen the scope of the Makkah Route initiative, but the Hajj was performed on a limited scale amid rising coronavirus infection globally.


FATF keeps Pakistan on grey list over inadequate 'terrorist financing' controls

Updated 25 February 2021

FATF keeps Pakistan on grey list over inadequate 'terrorist financing' controls

  • While acknowledging progress made by the country, FATF president says Pakistan's financial system still vulnerable to terror funding
  • Pakistan reiterates commitment to work with global financial watchdog and bring its system in line with international standards

ISLAMABAD: A global watchdog on Thursday announced its decision to keep Pakistan "under increased monitoring" over inadequate terror funding controls after a three-day virtual plenary, giving the South Asian nation until June to fulfill all conditions so it could be removed from a grey list.
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) sets standards and promotes effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terror financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system.
In 2018, FATF placed Pakistan on its "grey list" of countries with inadequate controls over terror financing and gave it a 27-step action plan to implement, which includes passing new legislation.
"The FATF recognizes that Pakistan has made significant progress to improve its anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing framework," FATF president Marcus Pleyer said. "However, some serious deficiencies remain. All of these deficiencies are in areas that relate to terrorist financing." 
Pleyer noted that "out of 27 items on its action plan, three still need to be fully addressed." 
"I again recognize the progress that Pakistan has made, but I strongly urge the completion of the action plan," he added. 
Reacting to the development, Pakistan's finance ministry said in a statement it had "undertaken enormous work" to strengthen its financial framework and address the deficiencies related to strategic counterterrorism financing. 
"The FATF has also acknowledged the continued high-level political commitment of Pakistan to combat terrorist financing which, according to FATF statement, has led to significant progress across a comprehensive countering financing of terrorism plan," the statement added. 
It noted that the country had "made notable progress in the remaining 3 action items" which were now "partially addressed." 
Pakistan's Minister for Industries and Production Hammad Azhar noted in a Twitter post that FATF member states had acknowledged his country was "subject to perhaps the most challenging & comprehensive action plan" ever given to any state. He reiterated Islamabad's commitment to comply with the FATF evaluation process and do everything to bring Pakistan's financial system in line with global standards.

 

 


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.