Pakistan says Saudi Arabia has not yet communicated final Hajj policy

Muslim pilgrims circumambulate around the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the centre of the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Makkah on August 2, 2020 (AFP)
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Updated 24 May 2021

Pakistan says Saudi Arabia has not yet communicated final Hajj policy

  • Religious affairs minister says kingdom has not finalized number of pilgrims and standard operating procedures for this year’s Hajj
  • Spokesperson says Pakistan to follow all health protocols based on guidelines issued by the kingdom once they are finalized

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia has yet to issue a final policy for the Hajj pilgrimage this year, Pakistan’s religious affairs minister and a spokesman for the ministry have said, saying any final decision taken on number of international pilgrims allowed and standard operating procedures would be communicated to Pakistan in due time.
Saudi Arabia barred foreigners from the Hajj last year due to the pandemic for the first time in the kingdom’s modern history, allowing only a limited number of Saudi citizens and residents to perform the pilgrimage.
On Sunday, Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri said the kingdom’s Hajj ministry had not yet decided on the number of pilgrims and standard operating procedures for the upcoming Hajj, saying Pakistan would be “taken into confidence before making a final decision.”
“Pakistan’s religion ministry will be told about it, but until now ... they have made no final decision,” Qadri said in a video message to the nation.
“Saudi government has not yet issued a final policy on Hajj 2021,” religion ministry spokesman Imran Siddiqui told Arab News, saying Pakistan would follow all health protocols based on guidelines issued by the kingdom once they were finalized.
Last week, Pakistan had requested Saudi Arabia to include Chinese vaccines in its list of approved COVID-19 shots for visitors traveling to the kingdom to perform Hajj and Umrah.
“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,” foreign office spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri had said in a statement. “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.”
Except for a small number of AstraZeneca jabs, Pakistan has mostly administered Chinese vaccines to its citizens in a government-run immunization campaign that began last February. Around five million people have been inoculated so far.
Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis visit Saudi Arabia annually, mostly for pilgrimage. The kingdom is also home to a sizeable Pakistani expatriate community that makes the largest contribution to incoming remittances every year.


Mulberry farmers in Pakistan’s southwest seek official patronage for increased production, market development

Updated 7 min 1 sec ago

Mulberry farmers in Pakistan’s southwest seek official patronage for increased production, market development

  • Dried mulberries produced in Balochistan’s Mastung district is particularly popular in neighboring Sindh province where they are mostly sold at Sufi shrines
  • Mulberry farmers say they have suffered significant losses due to restrictions on Sufi festivals during the coronavirus pandemic

QUETTA: Mulberry farming has been a popular occupation in Balochistan’s Mastung district for about four decades, though most people associated with the trade say they have suffered losses during the coronavirus pandemic.
Located some 43 kilometers south of Quetta, Mastung exports two different varieties of mulberries in their dried form to other provinces.
“Our elders knew little about preserving mulberries and probably never thought of selling them in market,” 56-year-old Hajji Khalil Ahmed, who has two orchards in the district, told Arab News on Friday. “But things changed when residents of the neighboring Sindh province started buying dried mulberries and we decided to enter the trade.”

A local farmer Haji Khalil Ahmed lifts mulberries from ground at one of his orchards in Mastung, Balochistan, on June 18, 2021. (AN Photo)

“Balochistan is famous for its peaches, apples and cherries,” he continued. “However, Mastung is the only place in the province which has nearly 900 mulberry orchards and supplies its yield to other provinces.”
Muhammad Ramzan, 30, who learned mulberry farming from his father said about 85 percent of the fruit was exported to Sehwan Sharif in Sindh where it was mostly in popular demand during an annual festival at the shrine of a 13th century Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar.
However, he added that restrictions on such Sufi gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic had made things difficult for farmers like him.

Mastung is the only district in Balochistan that is famous for the harvest and export of mulberries to other provinces. Picture taken in Mastung on June 18, 2021. (AN Photo)

“Dried mulberries worth millions of rupees are currently stocked in our warehouses with no one to buy,” Ramzan said.
Asked about the provincial administration’s response to the situation, Ramzan said he was confident the Balochistan government did not know the fruit was produced in one of its districts or exported to other places like apples, cherries and peaches.
Back in 2012, the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched a livelihood project in Mastung to assist famers producing mulberries.

Mastung is the only district in Balochistan that is famous for the harvest and export of mulberries to other provinces. Picture taken in Mastung on June 18, 2021. (AN Photo)

The program lasted for three years during which the FAO trained the farmers how to pack and export the fruit to markets in other cities.
Ramzan said the project instilled a new business sense among people associated with the trade, though he added they were back on their own after the UN initiative ended in 2015.
The provincial administration of Balochistan, he maintained, should realize the business potential of mulberry farming and take necessary measures to increase the production of the fruit and create a bigger market for it across the country.
Masood Baloch, who works as director general at the provincial agricultural department, said the authorities were already conducting research on the trade while planning a project to help the farmers.

A sack of mulberries weighing 70 kilograms sold for Rs17,000 ($108) before the pandemic, though its present market rate is only Rs6,000 ($38). Picture taken in Mastung, Balochistan, on June 18, 2021. (AN Photo)

“Indeed, dried mulberries are in huge demand in other provinces, making its production lucrative for local farmers,” he told Arab News. “But the agricultural program for mulberry needs to be included in the provincial public sector development program [to receive the government’s assistance].”
Imran Khan, a mulberry contractor who has warehouses in Sehwan Sharif, informed that a sack of mulberries weighing 70 kilograms sold for Rs17,000 ($108) before the pandemic, though its present market rate was only Rs6,000 ($38).
“We have sold one kilogram of dried mulberries for about Rs500 ($3) during the annual festival of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar,” he said. “Now the same quantity is only sold for Rs130 ($.83).”


Dhani takes 4-5 to sink another Lahore run chase in Pakistan Super League

Updated 19 June 2021

Dhani takes 4-5 to sink another Lahore run chase in Pakistan Super League

  • Multan managed to put up a strong total of 169-8 despite fast bowler Shaheen Afridi’s brilliant performance for 3-23
  • Lahore’s four successive defeats have pushed the team in a tight corner in the race to the playoffs

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates: Multan Sultans fast bowler Shahnawaz Dhani grabbed 4-5 as Lahore Qalandars fumbled another run chase in losing by 80 runs in the Pakistan Super League on Friday.
The fourth successive defeat while chasing pushed last year’s finalist, Lahore, in a tight corner in the race to the playoffs.
Defending champion Karachi Kings could edge Lahore on better net run-rate if it beats bottom-placed Quetta Gladiators in its last league game on Saturday.
Despite fast bowler Shaheen Afridi’s brilliant performance for 3-23, Multan managed to put up a strong total of 169-8.
Lahore stumbled against Dhani’s pace to be bowled out for 89 in 15.1 overs, losing its last seven wickets for just 41 runs.
Sohaib Maqsood scored yet another brilliant 60 off 40 balls, but it was the little cameo by Twenty20 veteran Sohail Tanvir — 29 off 9 balls — that gave Multan’s total heft. Tanvir smacked Haris Rauf for three fours and two sixes in the last over.
In reply, Lahore lost its three key batsmen within the batting powerplay: Ben Dunk (5), Fakhar Zaman (13) and Mohammad Hafeez (14) all fell to pace.
When Imran Tahir had captain Sohail Akhtar (5) stumped in the 10th over, Dhani returned to take three more wickets and wrap up the innings quickly.
Islamabad United, which takes on Multan in its last league game on Saturday, and Peshawar Zalmi have already qualified for the playoffs. Peshawar is certain to finish among the top four as it has a better net run-rate than Lahore.

 

 


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.”