Pakistan discusses with Saudi Arabia approval of Chinese vaccines for Hajj pilgrims

Saudis and foreign residents circumambulate (Tawaf) the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque complex in the holy city of Makkah, on October 4, 2020. (AFP/ File)
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Updated 23 May 2021

Pakistan discusses with Saudi Arabia approval of Chinese vaccines for Hajj pilgrims

  • Media reports suggest people may have to quarantine themselves upon arriving in the kingdom if they have not taken shots developed in the US or Western Europe
  • Pakistan has mostly used Chinese vaccines to run its immunization campaign that began last February and has only now started administering AstraZeneca to its citizens

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has requested Saudi Arabia to include Chinese vaccines to its list of approved COVID-19 shots for visitors traveling to the kingdom to perform Hajj and Umrah, foreign office spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said on Saturday.
"Pakistan has taken up with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the issue of vaccines which are mandatory for travel to Saudi Arabia for visit, Umrah and Hajj," Chaudhri said in response to media queries on the issue. "We have proposed inclusion of some of the Chinese vaccines used in Pakistan in the list of vaccines approved by the Saudi authorities."
"The Ministry [of Foreign Affairs] is actively pursuing this matter with the Saudi side," he continued.
Saudi Arabia's new vaccine condition has raised questions for Pakistani nationals who intend to visit the kingdom for pilgrimage or other purposes.
According to media reports, people who have not been administered Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna or Johnson and Johnson shots may need to quarantine themselves for a substantial period on arriving in Saudi Arabia.
Pakistan has mostly administered Chinese vaccines to its citizens in a government-run immunization campaign that began last February.
The country only started using AstraZeneca to inoculate its citizens after receiving 1.2 million doses of the vaccine earlier this month under the World Health Organization's COVAX program for equitable distribution of COVID-19 shots among developing nations.
Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis visit Saudi Arabia annually, mostly for pilgrimage. The kingdom is also home to a large Pakistani diaspora community that makes the largest contribution to its homeland's incoming remittances every year.


Pakistan’s central bank amends export regulations to benefit from global e-commerce market

Updated 18 June 2021

Pakistan’s central bank amends export regulations to benefit from global e-commerce market

  • The State Bank of Pakistan has invited suggestions from exporters and other stakeholders to simplify use of Amazon and other international digital platforms
  • Local businesses appreciate the central bank’s ‘open-minded’ policy, say it will lead to greater revenue for everyone

KARACHI: As Pakistan’s central bank amends regulations for exporters to simplify trade at international digital marketplaces, such as Amazon, e-Bay and Ali Baba, experts believe the new regulatory framework will help increase the value and volume of the country’s exports.
The State Bank of Pakistan issued a circular earlier this week, inviting feedback from the business community, banking industry and other stakeholders before making amendments to the Foreign Exchange Manual (FEM).
The amendment proposals, said the central bank, were to promote ease of doing business by simplifying existing instructions.
“The proposed changes are part of the SBP’s broader agenda to revise the existing foreign exchange regulations to align them with the changing market dynamics, business needs and global trade practices,” said the circular.
The SBP plans to create space for B2B2C, an e-commerce model which combines business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) arrangements.
The proposed changes to export regulations also seek to implement the Pakistan Single Window Project that will eliminate the requirement of Electronic Form-E which is currently used by exporters to declare and process shipments.
Other than that, there is also a proposal to delegate certain regulatory approvals required from the SBP to other banks to facilitate the business community.
“It is the democratization of exports and process of making SBP regulations compatible with modern requirements of the day,” Badar Khushnood, who is part of the National E-Commerce Council, told Arab News on Friday. “Now the amended regulations will allow any person to become an exporter.”
Khushnood said the SBP intervention was part of the e-commerce facilitation process, adding it was the first time in history regulations were amended through the recommendation of the industry.
“This will have multiple impacts,” he continued. “It will increase the number of exporters which currently stands at about 35,000, encourage the sale of value-added products in the international market and increase the volume and value of goods.”
Last month, Pakistan was officially added to Amazon’s seller list after a successful trial of some 40 companies for which regulations were made by the National E-Commerce Council.
Additionally, the SBP proposed changes to the FEM to allow exporters to receive cross-border payments against the international sales of goods in 270 days against the existing requirement of 180 days since “the exporters will now be selling goods to end consumers.”
Khushnood said the new regulations would encourage small and medium enterprises and women-owned businesses to scientifically market their products at various international e-commerce platforms.
“It is a good precedent that the central bank is seeking feedback from the business community and other stakeholders,” Zulfiqar Thavir, president of the Union of Small and Medium Enterprises, told Arab News. “Such open-minded SBP policy will not only be applauded by exporters but also create a hassle-free system leading to greater revenue for everyone.”
The process, he added, would also encourage documentation of Pakistan’s economy.


Islamabad against Taliban rule in post-NATO Afghanistan — report

Updated 18 June 2021

Islamabad against Taliban rule in post-NATO Afghanistan — report

  • Circulated by NATO’s Defense College in Italy, the document says Pakistan wants to maximize its influence in Afghanistan while keeping India at bay
  • Prime Minister Imran Khan recently said his government was not pursuing ‘strategic depth’ in the neighborhood and would work with any administration in Kabul

ISLAMABAD: A report released by a military training facility in Europe earlier this week claimed that Pakistan wanted a broad-based interim government in Afghanistan that also included the Taliban, though it added that the administration in Islamabad did not want the insurgent group to return to power since it thought it was against its interests.
United States President Joe Biden announced to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan last April, saying his country would complete the military exit by the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks later this year.
The announcement was following by an escalation of violence in Afghanistan, making various international powers and neighboring countries indulge in situation assessment to devise an enduring strategy for peace in the region.
“The former Taliban regime … did not respond positively to Pakistani demands, foremost the recognition of the Durand Line as an international border,” the report prepared by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Defense College in Italy said. “The potential reestablishment of an Emirate – with the abolishment of the Republic, the constitution, and guaranteed fundamental and political rights – could also lead to a major influx of refugees into Pakistan.”
The document maintained the Taliban rule could once again turn Afghanistan into a hub of terrorist outfits, adding that some of them could specifically target Pakistan.
It identified Islamabad’s primary objective in the war-battered country to gain maximum influence while keeping India at bay.
“Pakistan continues to use its influence over the Taliban so as to achieve these goals,” said the report. “But it has also pursued a rapprochement in Afghanistan-Pakistan relations, gaining leverage among key players at the expense of [President Ashraf] Ghani’s government.”
Pakistani officials have frequently denied that their country intends to meddle in Afghanistan’s domestic affairs in any way possible.
In a recent interview, Prime Minister Imran Khan said his government had changed Pakistan’s policy of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan and was willing to work with any administration in Kabul.
Pakistan’s national security advisor also highlighted his concern regarding a “hostile” international media recently, saying that his country was doing everything for peace in the region and would not allow anyone to “scapegoat” it for any possible failings in Afghanistan.


Coronavirus restrictions led to sharp decline in polio cases in Pakistan — polio chief

Updated 18 June 2021

Coronavirus restrictions led to sharp decline in polio cases in Pakistan — polio chief

  • While the country reported 84 wild poliovirus cases in 2020, it has only recorded one such case since the beginning of the year
  • Health officials hope to bring down the number of polio cases to zero by December next year, though vaccine refusal remains a challenge

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has observed a sharp decline in polio cases this year, Pakistan's national polio coordinator said on Friday, attributing the low numbers to COVID-19 restrictions, back-to-back polio vaccination drives, improved security and the organized cross-border movement of children between Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.
The country reported 84 wild poliovirus cases in 2020 and 147 cases in 2019. But official data shows Pakistan only reported one wild poliovirus case since the beginning of this year.
Pakistan is one of the two polio-endemic countries in the world along with neighboring Afghanistan. Officials in Islamabad say they are optimistic about bringing the number of these cases to zero by December next year.
“The COVID-19 restrictions helped curtail movement of children and we decided to take the benefit by completing eight immunization drives,” Dr. Shahzad Baig, a national polio coordinator, told Arab News on Friday.
“Most children were easily accessible, making it possible for our teams to administer polio drops,” he said. “This also helped us overcome the virus.”
Baig informed that about 40 million children were covered in each national campaign, including four of them conducted this year.
Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by poliovirus that mainly affects children under the age of five. It invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis or even death.
While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from the crippling disease. Each time children under the age of five are vaccinated, their protection against the virus further strengthens.
However, Baig warned the health authorities should not lower their guard since that could result in a resurgence of virus in high-risk areas.
“We have made progress against the virus, but we don’t want to be complacent at this stage,” he said. “The virus is cornered and exhausted, which implies it is the most crucial time to administer polio drops to our children to get rid of the disease.”
Last week, the World Health Organization and UNICEF applauded Pakistan’s continued efforts to eradicate polio. The UN agencies particularly highlighted the fact that the country continued with its vaccination program amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the same time, the two agencies urged the government to sustain the momentum and reach every child with the lifesaving drops.
Talking about other factors behind the government’s success, the national polio coordinator said the improved security situation in the country and organized cross-border movement of children from Afghanistan also helped the polio teams reach maximum children during the immunization drives.
“Pakistan’s hundred percent area is now accessible to our teams due to the improved security situation,” he said. “Dozens of our law enforcement personnel have sacrificed their lives for the noble cause.”
He said polio vaccination teams had also been deployed at border crossings in Torkham and Chaman to administer drops to children up to the age of 10 who were leaving or entering Pakistan while traveling to or from Afghanistan and Iran.
“Vaccine refusals are now the only impediment to the complete eradication of the disease,” he said, adding that parents of about two to three percent children still refused vaccination during each immunization campaign.
“This is the major hurdle, and we are trying to overcome it with the help of religious clerics and notables of specific areas,” he continued.
According to a recent WHO report, the wild poliovirus transmission is still ongoing in traditional reservoir areas, namely the northern corridor (Peshawar/Khyber) and Karachi and the southern corridor (Quetta block, Balochistan).
The report claimed this had also led to an expansion of virus to previously polio-free areas (Punjab and Sindh) along with the detection of virus in other parts of the country.
To overcome the challenge, the government has designed one sub-national immunization campaign that will focus on high-risk areas in July and two national campaigns in September and the second week of December to eradicate the disease.
“We are aiming to bring down the number of polio cases in Pakistan to zero by December next year,” Baig added, “and we are hopeful for our success due to our progress so far.”


Pakistan plans to set up exclusive market for women entrepreneurs in Islamabad

Updated 18 June 2021

Pakistan plans to set up exclusive market for women entrepreneurs in Islamabad

  • President Islamabad Women Chamber of Commerce says most businesswomen cannot afford high rents at commercial plazas
  • Women-owned businesses have suffered during pandemic as exhibitions and expo events were cancelled across Pakistan

RAWALPINDI: The Pakistan government plans to set up a market exclusively for women entrepreneurs in the federal capital where they will be able to promote and sell their products, a senior interior ministry official said on Friday.
The decision was made on Thursday after interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed met a delegation from the Islamabad Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IWCCI) and acknowledged the necessity of including women in economic activity in the country.
“Yes, a market exclusively for women is coming,” an interior ministry spokesperson told Arab News, declining to provide a formal launch date for the project.
Samina Fazil, the founding president of the IWCCI, said it was a “much needed” development which was likely to have a positive economic impact.
“There is no place in Islamabad for women to do business,” she said, adding that high rents at commercial plazas kept women home-bound and forced independent businesses owned by women out of the mainstream.
“These rents are so high that they are not affordable to women who work with their own hands within the confines of their homes,” Fazil added. 
She said things had become even more difficult for businesswomen during the coronavirus pandemic since exhibitions and expo events had been cancelled across the country.
“This is why we want a place where women can comfortably run their businesses and sell their wares,” she said. 
The IWCCI president said her organization had been communicating with various state institutions and had ultimately reached out to the interior minister to ask for a market area for women entrepreneurs. 
“We have now spoken to the Capital Development Authority chairman and asked him if he can do something about this,” she said. “We are hopeful he will get us a place where we will be able to establish a women’s bazaar.”
Fazil added that a market that promoted women-owned businesses would also open new possibilities for young girls and inspire them to become economically independent.
“The market is just the beginning,” she said, adding the initiative was likely to have a positive socio economic impact.


Pakistan javelin-thrower sharpens hopes of rare Olympic medal

Updated 18 June 2021

Pakistan javelin-thrower sharpens hopes of rare Olympic medal

  • 24-year-old Arshad Nadeem comes from a humble background and ditched cricket for athletics as a teenager
  • With the world’s sixth-best javelin throw of the year and a personal best of 86.38 meters, Nadeem is hopeful for individual medal in Tokyo Games

LAHORE, Pakistan: Arshad Nadeem once dreamed of becoming a star cricketer, but after switching to athletics he has the opportunity to grab Pakistan’s first individual Olympic medal in more than 30 years.
“Right now, there is a chance for me,” Nadeem told AFP as he prepared for next month’s COVID-delayed Tokyo Games.
“If I throw my best then, God willing, I will win a medal.”

In this picture taken on June 2, 2021, Pakistan's athlete Arshad Nadeem practices the javelin throw during a training session in Lahore to prepare for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. (AFP)

Since its first Olympics in London in 1948, Pakistan have won three gold, three silver and two bronze medals in field hockey.
The bronzes won by wrestler Mohammad Bashir in Rome in 1960 and boxer Hussain Shah in Seoul in 1988 are Pakistan’s only individual Olympic medals.
But ahead of next month’s games, Nadeem has the world’s sixth-best javelin throw of the year — a personal best 86.38 meters achieved in April in Iran, where he was forced to travel in order to seek top-flight competition.
The strapping 24-year-old, who ditched cricket for athletics as a teenager, will face tougher opponents in Tokyo, but he said he won’t be fazed.
“I don’t look at any of the other javelin throwers... I don’t focus on them,” he said after a training session in Lahore.
“I focus on myself and how I throw and I try my best — and that is how God honors me.”
Nadeem already has a taste for gold, having stood atop the podium at last year’s South Asian Games in Nepal.

In this picture taken on June 2, 2021, Pakistan's athlete Arshad Nadeem warms up with a javelin during a training session in Lahore to prepare for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. (AFP)

He took bronze at the 2018 Commonwealth Games behind gold-winner Neeraj Chopra of India, the farmer’s son who has thrown the third-longest distance this year.
It hasn’t been an easy path for the 1.87 meter-tall (six feet two inches) Nadeem, who comes from a village in a wheat and cotton-producing area of Punjab.
With sons and daughters put to work early, he had little time for his first love, cricket, and facilities and proper training were scarce.
Despite the difficulties, Nadeem shone as an all-rounder. “I was good,” he said.
“There was a chance for me to be part of the national team, but conditions were such that I couldn’t do it.”
On the advice of a brother, Nadeem turned to athletics — which took less time than days-long cricket matches — trying his hand at a variety of events.
“There was shot put, javelin, discus, hammer, long jump, high jump and triple jump,” he said.
“I even ran in the 100 meters, 200 meters and relay — and thankfully I won about seven to nine events at divisional level.”

In this picture taken on June 2, 2021, Pakistan's Arshad Nadeem practices the javelin throw during a training session in Lahore to prepare for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. (AFP)

Nadeem’s big break came in 2015 when he was taken on by Pakistan’s water and power board, a government authority with a modest budget for nurturing sports talent.
There he was taken under the wing of coach Fayaz Hussain Bukhari.
“He threw well so we gave him a job,” said Bukhari, who has been Nadeem’s coach ever since.
Still, sacrifices had to be made in order to produce a world-class athlete — not least in getting the right diet.
“Yes, food is a big problem... But that is something that needs to be dealt with as part of life,” he said.
Bukhari said getting Nadeem in the right condition for the Games had been difficult during the pandemic.
“Training is the real challenge. He sat at home for a year because of corona,” said the coach.
“All the gyms and stadiums were closed. I had to work him hard to bring him to a point where he could compete and win again.”
Bukhari, who is paid just 15,000 rupees a month (around $100) to look after his charge, said Nadeem was a great student.
“He trains well and is a good learner,” he said, adding: “We are going to do our best, and the rest is in God’s hands.”
Whatever the result in Tokyo, Nadeem knows he can count on the support from his family and neighbors.
“We have a small village which has become famous not just in all of Pakistan but the entire world because of Arshad Nadeem,” he said.
“They are very happy.”