Taliban close Spin Boldak border crossing with Pakistan, seek visa-free travel for Afghans

People wanting to enter Afghanistan are waiting near the border crossing point in Chaman, Pakistan, on July 14, 2021, after Pakistani authorities temporarily suspended trade and travel between the two countries through the Pak-Afghan Friendship Gate due to the fighting between the Taliban and Afghan border forces in Spin Boldak. (AN Photo)
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Updated 07 August 2021

Taliban close Spin Boldak border crossing with Pakistan, seek visa-free travel for Afghans

  • A Pakistani business leader says Afghan traders are trying to convince the insurgent faction to reconsider its decision
  • The Taliban captured the strategic border town of Spin Boldak in southern Kandahar province on July 14 after clashes with Afghan border forces

QUETTA: The Taliban on Friday closed a key border crossing with Pakistan while seeking visa-free travel for fellow Afghan nationals to the neighboring country, officials confirmed while talking to Arab News.
The insurgent group captured the strategic border town of Spin Boldak in southern Kandahar province on July 14 after clashes with Afghan border forces, prompting Pakistani authorities to temporarily suspend all trade and travel between the two countries through the Pak-Afghan Friendship Gate.
However, there was a resumption of border activities toward the end of July after the business community in both countries complained they were facing huge losses after dozens of trucks carrying Afghan transit trade goods from Pakistani port cities of Karachi and Gwadar got stuck in the country’s Chaman border town.
“Afghan citizens with Afghan refugee cards or Afghan national identity cards should be allowed to cross into Afghanistan without any restriction,” Haji Wafa, the Taliban shadow governor for Kandahar, said in a statement.
“The crossing will remain closed for pedestrians and transit trade until Pakistani border officials allow border movement from morning to evening and restore trade at the same level where it was before the Taliban took control of the Spin Boldak border crossing,” he added.
A Pakistani paramilitary official Ajab Khan told Arab News on Friday the abrupt closure of the Pak-Afghan border had left a large number of people stranded on both sides of the frontier.
He added the Taliban had blocked the border crossing by placing huge concrete blocks on their side.
“Dozens of people who want to travel to Afghanistan are now stranded in [Pakistani border town of] Chaman due to the Taliban decision,” he said.
The Afghan insurgent faction launched a major military offensive across the country, mounting a serious challenge to the administration in Kabul by capturing several towns and key districts, after the United States announced a complete withdrawal of its forces earlier this year.
According to a Reuters report, the group captured the capital of Nimroz province on Friday where it seized the governor's office, police headquarters and an encampment near the Iranian border.
“The cross-border movements, including the Pak-Afghan transit trade, was resumed by Pakistan in the last week of July after the Taliban took over the Afghan side of the frontier, but the insurgent faction recently voiced its reservations over the border crossing procedures before refusing to allow any movement,” a local official in Chaman, who requested anonymity, confirmed while talking to Arab News.
President Chaman Chamber of Commerce Haji Jalat Khan Achakzai said the border closure had once again created significant problems for the business community in the two countries since trucks loaded with goods were piling up on both sides of the border.
“We have spoken with the business community in Afghanistan, and they are trying to convince the Taliban to reconsider the decision since fruit consignments from Pakistan, particularly grapes, are likely to perish on their way to Afghan markets,” he told Arab News over the phone.
 


Pakistan launches animal rights curriculum to shape more tolerant, inclusive society

Updated 11 sec ago

Pakistan launches animal rights curriculum to shape more tolerant, inclusive society

  • Minister for Education Rana Tanvir launched the curriculum along with children from various schools
  • Official says the purpose of the launch is to ensure children can learn what adults were never taught

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government on Friday launched an animal rights curriculum for primary schools, an aide to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said, in a bid to protect animal rights in the country and instill the virtues of tolerance and empathy in children. 

Pakistan's Minister for Education Rana Tanvir along with children from various schools launched the curriculum, which will be applicable to both public and private schools.  

Salman Sufi, head of the prime minister's strategic reforms unit, took to Twitter and shared glimpses of the launch ceremony as well as one of the course books. 

“Proud to announce the official launch of Pakistan’s 1st Animal Rights Curriculum on direction of PM @CMShehbaz,” Sufi tweeted.  

“Our children will shape a more tolerant and inclusive Pakistan.” 

 

Sufi said in September that the curriculum would initially be introduced in schools across the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), but the federal government had plans to work with provincial governments to add courses to their curriculum later. 

He said PM Sharif had been pushing for animal welfare reforms through the unit and the move to introduce the course was a step in that direction.   

“The main purpose is to make sure that children can learn what we were never taught,” Sufi told Arab News in September.  

“That stray animals, pet animals, exotic animals, and any animal has rights, and we have to take care of them. And we have to take care of them in the right way, not just by words but through proper actions.” 

The premier’s aide said he and Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman were also working on an animal welfare law that would soon be tabled in parliament.


'Made-in-Sialkot' Adidas ball puts Pakistan in the World Cup

Updated 8 min 5 sec ago

'Made-in-Sialkot' Adidas ball puts Pakistan in the World Cup

  • Sialkot has a rich history of making soccer balls and other sporting equipment dating back to colonial times
  • The eastern Pakistani city made more than 43 million balls valued at $191 million in the 2021-22 financial year

SIALKOT: Even though it is a cricket-mad nation, Pakistan is playing a big part in the soccer World Cup by making the balls used on the training fields in Qatar and the replicas sold to fans worldwide. 

Forward Sports, a multinational sports equipment company in the northeastern city of Sialkot, has been working with Adidas AG for almost 20 years. It is one of the two manufacturers of Adidas’ Al Rihla, the official World Cup ball. 

Hassan Masood Khawaja director of Forward Sports, the official manufacturer of sports goods for Adidas, speaks with Reuters at his factory in Sialkot, Pakistan on November 30, 2022. (REUTERS)

Forward Sports Director Hassan Masood Khawaja said his company had made 5.5 million Al Rihla balls, including 60,000 high-quality replicas of the balls used in matches, only without the real-time technology helping referees with offside and line calls. 

They are used by the teams as they train in Qatar, and sold as a premium product to football enthusiasts across the globe, with the rest sold as lower-priced leisure and souvenir balls. The match balls are made in China. Adidas declined to identify the manufacturer. 

A worker conducts the final check to fix any cavity in the seams of a ball inside the soccer ball factory in Sialkot, Pakistan December 2, 2022. (REUTERS)

For the company, the contract is a source of pride. 

“More than business, it is a matter of prestige and honor for us to make the World Cup ball,” Khawaja said. 

“How do we do it? It’s the skill of the people ... and our love for the sport,” he said. 

Workers check the finish of the soccer balls before packing them inside the soccer ball factory, in Sialkot, Pakistan November 30, 2022. (REUTERS)

While soccer is popular among fans, the national side is ranked 194 out of 211 countries by FIFA. Cricket reigns supreme. 

Sialkot has a rich history of making soccer balls and other sporting equipment dating back to colonial times. 

Pakistan remains one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of soccer balls, along with China and India. The local chamber of commerce said more than 43 million balls valued at $191 million were made in Sialkot in the 2021/22 financial year. 

About 8 percent of Sialkot’s population of around 1 million people work in the industry, but many say they have little time to actually see their product in action. 

“We work all day,” said Forward Sports quality control inspector Amna, when asked if she watched soccer. “At night, when we go home, we need to rest.”


Pakistan’s central bank reserves decline to near four-year low

Updated 09 December 2022

Pakistan’s central bank reserves decline to near four-year low

  • Central bank data shows Pakistan’s liquid foreign exchange reserves stand at $6.7 billion
  • Forex reserves can only cover one month of imports, says finance expert Tahir Abbas

ISLAMABAD: As the forex reserves of Pakistan’s central bank decreased by $782 million to a four-year low of $6.7 billion during the week that ended Dec. 2, a financial expert on Friday said the country needed to employ efforts on a “war footing basis” to manage the crisis.

The State Bank of Pakistan’s (SBP) data showed that it was only left with liquid foreign exchange reserves worth 6.7 billion during the week that ended on December 2. The central bank’s net reserves with other banks remained at $5.867 billion, bringing the country’s total reserves to $12.58 billion.

The last time the central bank’s reserves were this low was on January 18, 2019, when it had some $6.64 billion in reserves.

The South Asian nation is already undergoing a financial crunch, largely aggravated by the unprecedented floods that affected more than 33 million people. Results from a damage assessment survey estimated that the deluges have cost the country more than $30 billion in damages.

“Pakistan’s forex reserves have fallen to a critical level that can only cover one month of imports,” Tahir Abbas, head of research at Arif Habib Limited, a Pakistani security brokerage firm, told Arab News.

“The government needs to manage the foreign exchange reserves on a war footing basis by expediting the process to complete the impending review of the International Monetary Fund (IMF),” he added.

He added that the completion of the IMF review will not only help inflows from the global money lender, but also from other multinational lenders.

Abbas said to meet the deficit, the government is also trying to arrange $4.2 billion from Saudi Arabia under an emergency relief package, including $3 billion in deposits and $12 billion worth of oil on deferred payments.

“In addition, the government needs to stop the bleeding on the Current Account Deficit (CAD) because the country has to run the CAD at a minimum side,” Abbas said.

The IMF review for the release of Pakistan’s next tranche of funding has been pending since September, which has left the country in dire need of external financing.

Islamabad has said all targets for the IMF review have been completed and that withholding a tranche despite that would not make sense.


Pakistan’s top court declares agreement for Reko Diq revival legal

Updated 09 December 2022

Pakistan’s top court declares agreement for Reko Diq revival legal

  • Pakistan’s top court blocked Reko Diq’s implementation in 2013 over contractual issues
  • Government consulted experts, Balochistan Assembly taken into confidence, observes court

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top court on Friday declared an agreement between the country and two international firms, for the development of the Reko Diq mine, as legal, local media reported.

The Reko Diq mine is located in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province which is said to have one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper and gold deposits. The development of the project was suspended in 2011 after Pakistan denied the Tethyan Copper Company, a joint venture between Barrick Gold of Canada and Antofagasta Minerals of Chile, license to continue work.

The country’s Supreme Court blocked the Tethyan Copper Company in 2013 from developing Reko Diq following a court case on how the contract had been awarded. However, Pakistan reached an out-of-court settlement with the mining firms in March this year to avoid paying the $9 billion penalty announced by the World Bank’s arbitration court, and the government said it was hopeful that Barrick and its partners would invest $10 billion in the project.

The verdict was announced by a five-member bench headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial.

“In its 13-page short order issued today, the court observed that the government had entered the agreement after consulting experts, as per the court order, and the Balochistan Assembly was taken into confidence regarding the agreement,” Dawn, a leading newspaper in Pakistan, reported.

The court observed that the Balochistan Assembly lawmakers were briefed on the matter and they did not raise any objections to the agreement, Dawn said. It said the court order noted that Barrick Gold Corporation had assured labor rights would not be violated during the project’s implementation and that the agreement met environmental requirements.

“There was nothing illegal in the new Reko Diq agreement, the court concluded, adding that it was also not in violation of its 2013 judgment,” Dawn reported.

The revival of Reko Diq project is expected to give a fillip to the economy by creating a more positive investment sentiment and increasing employment opportunities in the country.


FM Bhutto-Zardari urges world to shed ‘stereotypical’ image of Pakistan

Updated 09 December 2022

FM Bhutto-Zardari urges world to shed ‘stereotypical’ image of Pakistan

  • Bhutto-Zardari urges countries to lift travel advisories against Pakistan
  • The foreign minister is on a three-day visit to Indonesia and Singapore

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari urged the world to let go of Pakistan’s “stereotypical” image and invited countries to look at the country with a fresh perspective, Singaporean English-language daily The Strait Times reported on Friday.

Bhutto-Zardari, who embarked on a three-day visit to Indonesia and Singapore from December 7-9, told the Singaporean publication that Pakistan had many opportunities to offer to the world, therefore, countries should revive their travel advisories against it.

On Friday, the minister held a meeting with his Singaporean counterpart, Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, reviewing the state of bilateral relations, enhancement of bilateral engagements and cooperation.

Pakistan also offered support to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) led processes in the Asia Pacific region.

“As a young political leader, I strongly feel that the world needs to have a fresh look at Pakistan, away from its stereotypical image,” Bhutto Zardari said.

“There are so many opportunities in Pakistan awaiting the world, for which the first step is to lift the travel advisories against the country,” he added.

The foreign minister said he felt strongly that the world “needs to look at us more objectively, as a promising emerging market.”

He said exchanges between Singapore and Pakistan over the years had lost momentum.

“[I am going to] to revive that momentum and intensify our bilateral exchanges. Pakistan is keen to strengthen this relationship in all dimensions,” he said.

Highlighting the political and socioeconomic challenges that Pakistan had been facing for the last few decades, Bhutto-Zardari said the country had come a long way.