In a first, Pakistan allocates Rs.1 billion to promote official policies on digital platforms

Pakistani pedestrians wait for transport as they stand in front of an advertisement for a cellular telephone in Rawalpindi on May 14, 2010. (AFP/File)
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Updated 30 July 2021

In a first, Pakistan allocates Rs.1 billion to promote official policies on digital platforms

  • Influencers and bloggers with a minimum following of 35,000 will be eligible to register themselves for government ads
  • Content creators will be paid after half of their subscribers view the promotional material posted on their website or channel

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government has for the first time allocated Rs1 billion ($6.2 million) for promotional advertisements on digital media platforms, making its officials maintain the decision will benefit the country’s media industry.
Under the new advertisement policy approved by the federal cabinet on Tuesday, the government will earmark at least 2.5 percent of the total budget outlay of any development project for running an effective advertisement campaign to create awareness about its policies, projects and initiatives and highlight their potential contribution to the socio-economic welfare of the people.
The government has for the first time included digital media and cinema for “transparent, judicious and merit-based utilization” of its resources on public sector advertisement campaigns.
“Digital platforms have emerged as primary source of information for many people in Pakistan,” Imran Ghazali, who works with the government’s digital media wing, told Arab News on Thursday. “Therefore, we have decided to give them ads like the traditional print and electronic media.”
The advertisement policy, a copy of which is available with Arab News, requires news websites and portals to guarantee minimum viewership of promotional material within 48 hours of its publishing.
The official document also maintains that if the minimum viewership criterion is not met, the digital platforms will have to post additional material until the mandatory numbers are reached to get their payment.
“Only those websites or social media pages will be eligible for government ads which are approved and registered with the Press Information Department and adhere to Article 19 of the constitution,” Ghazali said.
Article 19 of Pakistan’s 1973 constitution guarantees free speech and media freedom, though it also subjects them to “reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan.”
Ghazali informed that social media influencers, bloggers and vloggers would be registered if they had a minimum following of 35,000 and were active for at least 18 months before their registration application.
“We are going to open the registration process soon,” he added. “This will help initiate a healthy competition among content creators who will ensure that people get quality and authentic information.”
He maintained that the government had formulated a transparent mechanism for registration and issuance of digital media ads.
“We believe in merit and judicious use of officials funds, therefore there is no question of any discrimination or favoritism,” he continued.
The policy says digital content creators will have to ensure viewership of half of their total number of subscribers within two weeks.
The government has also included cinema for advertisements in its policy, saying that “cinema media can reach a huge target audience each month and its advertising recalls are four times higher than ads placed on television.”
Currently, there are 148 cinema screens in Pakistan and 7,200 seats with 3.5 million customers annually and 65,000 shows per annum.
Pakistan’s federal body of journalists has welcomed the policy, though it has also urged the government to ensure transparency and merit while registering digital platforms and releasing ads.
“We hope the government will release ads for digital media without any discrimination and bias,” Shahzada Zulfiqar, president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), told Arab News.

Pakistani envoy seeks flights resumption in talks with Saudi civil aviation head 

Updated 4 sec ago

Pakistani envoy seeks flights resumption in talks with Saudi civil aviation head 

  • Lt-Gen Akbar briefs Al-Duailej on Pakistan’s anti-virus vaccination measures, progress in curbing COVID-19 outbreak 
  • Officials also discussed prioritization of flights for separated families, teachers and students stranded in Pakistan 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia held talks with the head of the Kingdom’s civil aviation authority on Sunday to apprise him of progress in the COVID-19 situation across the South Asian nation and its readiness to resume direct flights between the two countries.
Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Bilal Akbar also briefed Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al-Duailej, president of Saudi’s General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA), of the “robust and successful” vaccination program to limit the outbreak, Pakistan’s Embassy in Saudi Arabia said in a Twitter post on Sunday.
Hundreds of thousands of Pakistani workers in Saudi Arabia remain stranded at home due to travel and flight restrictions imposed by the Kingdom since last year.
In August, Saudi Arabia lifted an entry ban on expatriates from 20 countries, including Pakistan, with its Foreign Ministry saying the decision only applied to those individuals who had been fully vaccinated in Saudi Arabia before leaving for their home country.
“[The officials spoke about] resumption of direct flights for people vaccinated with first Covid-19 dose in the Kingdom and second in Pakistan with Saudi approved vaccines,” the Embassy said.
The officials also discussed prioritizing flights for separated families, teachers and students stranded in Pakistan.

Al-Duailej, for his part, assured ambassador Akbar that “the proposals will be considered favorably” after consultation with health authorities in the Kingdom, and a solution will be “worked out” to address the plight of Pakistanis stranded in Saudi.

It follows a meeting in July between the foreign ministers of the two countries who discussed how to ease COVID-19 travel curbs.
Pakistan’s Shah Mahmood Qureshi took up the issue with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, who was on a one-day visit to Pakistan.
The Kingdom’s direct entry ban was imposed after a global surge in cases linked to variants detected in England, South Africa and Brazil and fears that vaccines being rolled out worldwide might be less effective against them.
Those seeking to return to the Kingdom must undergo all health measures to ensure they are free from infection.
“Approval for PIA’s [Pakistan International Airline] arrangements for institutional quarantine in KSA to help facilitate direct flights for individuals vaccinated with Sinovac & Sinopharm,” the Embassy said.
Thousands of Pakistanis visit Saudi Arabia annually, mainly for the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage to Makkah and Madinah.
The Kingdom is home to over 2.5 Pakistanis who make the largest contribution to the country’s foreign remittances each year.

Record food, energy imports pose challenge to Pakistan’s balance of payments

Updated 20 September 2021

Record food, energy imports pose challenge to Pakistan’s balance of payments

  • Pakistan’s energy and food import bills increased by 102 percent and 50 percent respectively in July-August 
  • Analysts forecast CAD will exceed 3 percent of Pakistan’s GDP by the end of current fiscal year 

KARACHI: Swelling energy and food import bills are posing a challenge to Pakistan’s balance of payments, experts say, as the country’s current account deficit may reach unsustainable levels by the end of the ongoing fiscal year.

Pakistan’s imports in the first two months of the current fiscal year 2021-22 grew by 74 percent to $12.2 billion, compared with the same period last year. The main contributors to the growth were energy and food, whose import bills have increased by 102 percent and 50 percent respectively. 
During July-August, the South Asian nation imported petroleum goods worth $3 billion and food worth $1.5 billion, mainly wheat and sugar.
The growth in imports has widened the country’s current account deficit during July-August to $2.29 billion, as compared with $838 million in the same period last year. 

“Tt shows that the economy is consuming more than producing,” Samiullah Tariq, head of research at Pakistan Kuwait Investment (PKI), told Arab News on Sunday. “The CAD more than 3 percent of GDP will not be sustainable.”

While the central bank attributes the rise in CAD to increasing global commodity prices and Pakistan’s economic recovery, analysts forecast it will cross the 3 percent mark by the end of the current fiscal year.
“We expect CAD to clock-in at $10 billion to $11 billion in FY22,” Tahir Abbas, head of research at Arif Habib Limited, said. “Any further uptick in the overall food and energy import will only put further pressure on the external account.”

To arrest the rise in CAD, Tariq added, Pakistan should increase production.

“Pakistan needs to increase production from agriculture and industrial sectors, substitute imports and curtail non-essential consumption/imports like automobiles etc.,” he said.

But Arif Nadeem, chief executive of Pakistan Agriculture Coalition (PAC), a body that works for the transformation of the agriculture sector, says agricultural production is already high.

“Pakistan has produced bumper wheat crop, highest ever, this year and there is no shortage of the sugar as well in the country,” he told Arab News. “Pakistan is also beefing up stocks of the commodities as other countries did in wake of lockdowns imposed after the coronavirus pandemic to avoid inflation.”

He said rising commodity prices in the international market were responsible for the high food import bills and to address the country’s food security farmers should be offered better prices for their produce.

“If international prices are given to our farmers they will work more,” Nadeem said, “(they will) use good quality fertilizers and seeds, resultantly produce more wheat, oil seeds, sugarcane, and cotton.”

Pakistan government says election body derailing electoral reform

Updated 19 September 2021

Pakistan government says election body derailing electoral reform

  • Government wants to introduce electronic voting in the next general elections in October 2023
  • Election Commission of Pakistan says use of electronic voting machines could jeopardize the polls

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani ministers on Sunday accused the country’s election body of derailing electoral reform by trying to prevent the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the next general elections.

Electoral reform has become a hot-button issue in Pakistan where political parties frequently raise rigging allegations against their rivals.

The government says it wants to address the problem by allowing electronic voting in the next general elections in October 2023, though the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and opposition parties say technology alone cannot ensure free, fair and transparent polls in the country.

“A campaign has been launched to discredit the EVMs," Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said while addressing a press conference alongside Science and Technology Minister Shibli Faraz in Islamabad.

"That is against the spirit of reforms the government wants to introduce."

Earlier this month, the ECP submitted to the Pakistani Senate a list of 37 objections, warning that a hasty use of EVMs could jeopardize the upcoming polls.

The ECP said a largescale deployment of these devices was not possible in a short span of time, especially when they had not been properly tested and provided no ballot secrecy, voter anonymity and necessary transparency at various levels.

“It seems as if the chief election commissioner is speaking the opposition’s language,” Chaudhry said, as he accused the election body of excluding from its report data that is in favor of EVMs.

As following the ECP's report Pakistan's Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs voted against the Election Act Amendment Bill that would introduce the use of voting machines, Chaudhry said it "will be passed through a joint sitting of the parliament" if the government and the opposition do not find a common stand on the issue.

NZ tour pullout to cost Pakistan millions of dollars, credibility — cricket board CEO

Updated 19 September 2021

NZ tour pullout to cost Pakistan millions of dollars, credibility — cricket board CEO

  • New Zealand was visiting Pakistan for first time in 18 years for three ODI and five Twenty20 matches
  • Pakistan Cricket Board rules out New Zealand World Cup boycott despite the abandoned tour

ISLAMABAD: New Zealand's abrupt pullout from their Pakistan series has set a "dangerous precedent" that will cost the host side millions of dollars, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chief executive said on Sunday.

The Black Caps were in Pakistan for the first time since 2003. They said they were abandoning the tour over security fears just as they were to face the host side at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium in the first of three one-day internationals (ODIs) on Friday.

New Zealand Cricket said on Sunday the team was warned of a “specific, credible threat” against them. 

But the visitors did not provide any details about the threat, PCB chief Wasim Khan told reporters in an online conference.

"This is going to cost us millions of dollars. This has severely affected us from the cricket credibility perspective and has set us back," he said. "I think it sets a very dangerous precedent, when countries are unilaterally making decisions that potentially can have long-term consequences for countries." 



"When we contacted our security agencies, they clarified that there was no security threat to the visiting team," Khan said, adding the threat notice came from the Five Eyes intelligence alliance of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and US, and was not followed by any dialogue with the Pakistani side.

"I think the abrupt departure of the team has left many scars for us," he said. "We certainly hope that it is not going to have long-term consequences for us moving forward."

The New Zealand decision sparked calls for a boycott of the Black Caps as Pakistan are due to meet them in the Twenty20 World Cup in Sharjah on October 26.

But Khan said no such action is on the cards.

"Right now, there is no issue of us not playing NZ," he said. "We have a duty to the fans and we have to fulfill that."

Pakistan has been trying to revive tours by foreign squads after home internationals were suspended in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan side in 2009. It has ever since managed to attract many foreign players, especially with the Pakistan Super League (PSL).

New Zealand's withdrawal has put an unwanted question mark over the South Asian nation's ability to host international matches.

Pakistan is awaiting a decision from the England and Wales Cricket Board over the fate of scheduled short tours by the England men's and women's teams next month.

The West Indies is also due to tour Pakistan in December and Australia in February.

Pakistani forces complete Bright Star drill in Egypt after 12-year gap

Updated 19 September 2021

Pakistani forces complete Bright Star drill in Egypt after 12-year gap

  • Bright Star is the largest set of multinational army maneuvers in the Middle East
  • Pakistan contingent comprised the Army, Navy and Air Force troops

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani forces have completed the Bright Star drill in Egypt, the military said on Sunday, as Pakistan participated in the multinational exercise after a 12-year gap.

Bright Star is the largest set of multinational army maneuvers in the Middle East, which began in 1981 between Egypt and the US, before a large number of countries joined them, reaching 21 this year, with participants from Saudi Arabia, Greece, Jordan, Pakistan, UK and Cyprus, as well as 13 observer nations.

Bright Star exercises involve various branches of naval and air defense forces, as well as infantry, armored vehicles, and electronic warfare.

"Pakistan contingent comprising Army, Navy and Pak Air Force troops participated for the first time since 2009," the Pakistani military's media wing said in a statement.

The exercise that started on September 2 was focused on countering regional hybrid threats and strengthening regional stability through combined force interoperability, the military said.

The closing ceremony held at the Mohamed Naguib military base in northwestern Egypt on Friday was attended by Lt. Gen. Moazzam Ejaz, commander of the Pakistan Army Corps of Engineers.

Bright Star drills are held in Egypt every two years, but were postponed last year over the coronavirus pandemic.