Pakistani pharmaceutical firms stop importing COVID-19 vaccines, say no longer ‘viable’ business

Workers off load boxes of COVID-19 vaccine from Pakistan International Airlines' (PIA) aircraft in Islamabad, Pakistan, on May 9, 2021. (Photo courtesy: PIA/File)
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Updated 06 September 2021

Pakistani pharmaceutical firms stop importing COVID-19 vaccines, say no longer ‘viable’ business

  • Local production of vaccines and government speeding up its procurement process diminished need for private imports
  • Vaccines privately imported by AGP and AJM Pharma were used at public and private medical facilities earlier this year

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani private pharmaceutical firms have halted efforts to import coronavirus vaccines for commercial use, officials at two major companies said on Monday, as the government has started locally producing jabs and expedited its vaccine procurement drive.
The government allowed private sector firms to import vaccines in December 2020, opening the possibility that people who could afford it would be able to buy the vaccine before a government rollout, which officially begin in February, prioritizing the elderly and health care workers.
After getting government permission, two privately owned pharmaceutical companies in Pakistan, AGP and AJM Pharma, had imported 50,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and 10,000 of the single-dose Chinese Convidecia vaccine, respectively. All jabs were used at private hospitals and other medical facilities in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. 
“We are not bringing any new vaccine shipment as this is no longer viable for business,” Umair Mukhtar, the communications head at AGP Pharma, told Arab News. 
He said the scope for privately procured vaccines was limited after a massive rollout by the government and the rapid lowering of the age limit for vaccine eligibility.
“After the use of our first batch, we tried to book more vaccines, but it couldn’t materialize due to some supply issues,” Mukhtar said. 
AGP Pharma had sold the vaccine to private hospitals that administered two doses per individual for over Rs12,000. 
Amitab Suresh, an official at AJM Pharma, said the company sold its initial shipment to the government to use at public hospitals: “Later, the government started producing it locally. Therefore, we aren’t importing the vaccine anymore.” 
The commercial use of vaccines triggered a debate about social divide and privilege in the country while public health experts warned that allowing the commercial sale of vaccines would open the door to fraud and fake jabs.
The government later picked up its procurement of vaccines from multiple sources, including purchases from Chinese companies like SinoVac, SinoPharm and CanSino Bio. It has also received millions of doses through COVAX – a global initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, especially for developing countries like Pakistan. 
More than 61.8 million people, out of Pakistan’s 125.85 million eligible population aged above 18, have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine since February, according to official figures. On Monday, fully vaccinated people constituted around 16 percent of the target population. 
All provinces across the country have ramped up efforts to boost their daily vaccination rate by launching door-to-door campaigns and restricting unvaccinated people from using public transport, buying fuel at petrol stations and availing other essential services. 

Pakistan sets up parliamentary committee to oversee talks with local Taliban, ensure process constitutional

Updated 5 sec ago

Pakistan sets up parliamentary committee to oversee talks with local Taliban, ensure process constitutional

  • PM Shehbaz Sharif chairs in-camera meeting attended by over 100 lawmakers
  • Use of force sole prerogative of state, says parliamentary committee

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Tuesday set up a parliamentary committee to oversee talks with the local Taliban and to ensure the process does not exceed the limits of the constitution, as Islamabad looks to end years of conflict with militants through negotiations. 

Pakistan’s Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) on Tuesday gave its formal approval to the government to conduct peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). 

The TTP is a separate group from the Afghan Taliban but shares common roots with them. The militant outfit has carried out some of the bloodiest attacks in Pakistan since 2007, seeking to impose its own brand of Islamic law via force. 

However, on June 4, the TTP extended a cease-fire with the government for an indefinite period, after two days of talks with a delegation of Pakistani tribal elders that were facilitated by the Afghan Taliban. 

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chaired an in-camera meeting in Islamabad attended by over 100 lawmakers and officials to deliberate on peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban.  

“The Parliamentary Committee on National Security formally approved the process of negotiations and approved the formation of a ‘Parliamentary Oversight Committee’ which would be responsible for overseeing the process within the constitutional limits,” an official statement said. 

“The session also endorses the importance of the ‘National Grand Reconciliation Dialogue’ and said the [Parliamentary Committee on National Security] meeting was the first step in that direction,” the statement added. 

It added that with the support of the Afghan government and led by Pakistan’s civilian and military officials, the government is negotiating with the outlawed TTP within the constitution’s framework to ensure peace in the country and the region. 

“The meeting stated that the final outcome would be implemented after the completion of the procedure within the ambit of the Constitution of Pakistan and the approval of the Government of Pakistan,” the statement said. 

Participants of the meeting reiterated that Pakistan has made remarkable achievements against terrorism and extremism which have been recognized globally. 

 “The meeting reiterated that under the Constitution of Pakistan, the use of force is the sole prerogative of the state,” the statement said. 

Pakistan military leadership held an on talks with the TTP and on national security issues. 

 Last month, Pakistan’s top civil and military leadership after a meeting in Islamabad agreed that talks with the Pakistani Taliban were taking place within the ambit of the constitution and any decision on negotiations with the outlawed group would be taken with parliament’s approval.

The TTP is asking Pakistan to scrap a 2018 law that did away with the semi-independent status of the former tribal regions that dates back to British colonial rule. The law aimed to grant equal rights to millions of residents in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) once they were incorporated into Pakistan’s authority as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The Pakistani Taliban also want the country’s troops to pull out of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, release all TTP fighters in government custody and revoke all cases against them. 

Pakistani mountaineers missing overnight on Nanga Parbat spotted descending to camp

Updated 06 July 2022

Pakistani mountaineers missing overnight on Nanga Parbat spotted descending to camp

  • 20-year-old Shehroze Kashif became youngest person ever to summit Nanga Parbat this week
  • Separately, Pakistani Imran Shamshali from Hunza was killed during an expedition on Gasherbrum

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani mountaineers Shehroze Kashif and Fazal Ali, who were reported missing overnight on Pakistan’s Nanga Parbat, were spotted descending to a camp on the mountain on Wednesday, according to Kashif’s social media accounts.  

Kashif, 20, who hails from Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore, became the youngest Pakistani in May 2021 to scale Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world. Earlier this month, he became the youngest person to summit Mount Kanchenjunga in Nepal, and on Tuesday, yesterday, the youngest person to summit Nanga Parbat. 

Ali, who hails from Shimshal of Hunza district of Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan’s north, was also reported missing with Kashif after getting stuck in a blizzard, according to the Alpine Club of Pakistan. 

“Shehroze Kashif and Fazal Ali are seen descending from Camp 4 to Camp 3 on Nanga Parbat 8,126m,” Kashif’s Twitter account said, adding that the two had spent the night in the open to wait for the weather to clear before beginning their descent. 

“The duo is showing great resilience and willpower to manage things themselves in death zone and now approaching Camp 3 soon,” read the post. 

In a video statement on Tuesday, Kashif’s father appealed to Pakistan’s army chief to launch a rescue operation to retrieve his son, saying Nepalese climbers were ready to launch an operation if they were provided helicopters.  

“I request the army chief: what are we waiting for? What are we waiting for,” he asked, pointing out that his son had paid tribute to the soldiers of the Pakistan Army after summiting the world’s third-highest mountain peak, Kangchenjunga, in Nepal. 

“He has achieved a lot, he has made Pakistan proud. Please launch a [rescue] operation.” 

Separately, the Alpine Club of Pakistan confirmed that Imran Shamshali, a Pakistani mountaineer from Hunza, was killed during an expedition on the Gasherbrum, a remote group of peaks in Pakistan’s northeast area, while another climber, Muhammad Sharif, had been missing since Tuesday.

Pakistan police arrest TV journalist on outskirts of capital

Updated 06 July 2022

Pakistan police arrest TV journalist on outskirts of capital

  • Arrest comes weeks after a court in Islamabad ordered police not to arrest him
  • TV anchorperson Imran Riaz Khan known for publicly supporting former PM Imran Khan

ISLAMABAD: A prominent Pakistani TV anchorperson known for publicly supporting former Prime Minister Imran Khan was arrested Tuesday on the outskirts of the capital, his colleagues said.

It was unclear on what charges police arrested Imran Riaz Khan, who is not related to the ex-premier.

The arrest of the TV journalist comes weeks after a court in Islamabad ordered police not to arrest him and several other journalists after complaints were lodged accusing them of inciting hatred against the military.

There was no immediate comment from the government.

Khan, the former premier, took to Twitter to condemn the arrest of the anchorperson.

Khan was ousted as prime minister through a no-confidence vote in the parliament in April. He contends his removal was part of a US plot, a charge Washington denies. 

Pakistan, GCC expected to hold technical talks for free trade agreement by July-end — official

Updated 06 July 2022

Pakistan, GCC expected to hold technical talks for free trade agreement by July-end — official

  • Last year, Pakistani and GCC officials resumed talks on a delayed FTA after a gap of almost 12 years
  • The South Asian country currently has free trade agreements with China, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka

KARACHI: Pakistan and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are expected to hold the second round of technical-level talks for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in the last week of July, a senior Pakistani diplomat said, with local traders saying a deal would help boost exports to the six-country bloc comprising the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait. 

Last year, Pakistani and GCC officials resumed talks on a delayed FTA after a gap of almost 12 years. The South Asian country currently has free trade agreements with China, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka.

“First technical round is completed, tariff lines lists have been shared between Pakistan and GCC, and the private sector and FBR [Federal Board of Revenue] are analyzing these tariff lists,” Azhar Ali Dahar, Minister Trade and Investment at the Embassy of Pakistan in Riyadh, told Arab News on Tuesday.

“GCC has asked for a second technical meeting and the commerce ministry is waiting for a response from private sector. It is expected that in the last week of July this second meeting may take place.”

Pakistani industrialists and traders said the FTA was very important for the country to increase multilateral trade volumes, and the apex body of the private sector, the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI), was “fully involved” in pushing forward the process.

“Our Research and Development is working on it and we want to take it forward in a better way that is good for Pakistan,” FPCCI president Irfan Iqbal Sheikh told Arab News on Saturday. 

“FTA is very important if you need to enhance your trade, but we have to keep in view all aspects, including economic value and our economic conditions, before signing the agreement so that we [Pakistan] could benefit.” 

The FPCCI president said the FTA was important to tap markets other than the traditional EU, United States and United Kingdom, where Pakistan exports around 80 percent of its goods. 

“We have not yet tapped the other markets.. and we want to tap the other markets.. we want to work with GCC,” Sheikh added. “New markets and products that would increase Pakistan’s exports … that is what we need.”

The FTA with the GCC has remained in the cold storage since the signing of the Framework Agreement (FA) on August 26, 2004 in Islamabad. Only two rounds were held between 2006 and 2008. 

The first round of negations took place in Riyadh in March 2006 where both sides agreed to jointly declare the establishment of a Trade Negotiating Team (TNT). The parties also agreed to concessions in services under the World Trade Organization’s framework. 

The second round of negotiations was also held in Riyadh from September 7-8, 2008, where both sides agreed to a broader outline in the areas of Market Access in Goods & Services, Rules of Origin and some General Provisions, according to the Dahar in Riyadh.

“The FTA with GCC should have been signed much earlier because these are major economies, especially the UAE is our major trading partner, as our high-end imports are mostly coming from UAE,” Dr. Vaqar Ahmed, a joint executive director at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), told Arab News.

“We have been engaged with GCC countries since 2008 and still after a lapse of around 15 years this [FTA] has not materialized … we discuss with them security and other issues but FTA remains off the agenda.

“Now it must be on top of the agenda and the joint working group needs to set the deadline to finalize the FTA as we did in case of FTA with China,” he added. “Our exports, mainly services, are being processed from UAE where companies, especially the IT companies, have set up backend offices. We have a big advantage with the FTA so this needs to be taken very seriously.”

Pakistani investors in GCC countries have also called on their home government to aggressively pursue GCC authorities for the FTA.

“Pakistan has very special relations with GCC countries and they have been supportive. The FTA will largely benefit Pakistani traders through ease of tariff and non-tariffs measures,” Muhammad Iqbal Dawood, a director at the Pakistan Business Council Dubai, told Arab News via phone from Dubai. 

“Currently, India is going on the top of the countries signing FTAs ... We need to aggressively move on and sign these kinds of agreements.” 

Pakistani experts said the country had a limited list of products to offer the GCC bloc but the government should demand zero or reduced import duties on certain goods from Pakistan.

“We should demand zero or reduced customs duty from GCC for textile and garments, on processed food, rice, leather, sports and surgical goods,” SDPI’s Ahmed said. “In the services sector, we want incorporation fee waiver for example for our IT companies that set up back-end offices in Dubai, Doha, and Bahrain.”

“In return we should be very open about what we can offer them, we would not be in a position to restrict flow of goods coming from there as recently we have done to restrict imports,” he added, referring to recent ban on the import of luxury items to save foreign reserves. “We should be prepared that this would be reciprocal.” 

Pakistan issues fresh guidelines for Eid Al-Adha as COVID-19 cases rise

Updated 05 July 2022

Pakistan issues fresh guidelines for Eid Al-Adha as COVID-19 cases rise

  • Pakistan has had very few COVID-19 cases in recent months and did away with almost all precautions
  • In 24 hours, Pakistan recorded 653 positive cases, nearly double the number at the start of last Monday

ISLAMABAD: The National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), Pakistan’s federal pandemic response body, on Tuesday issued fresh guidelines for Eid Al-Adha, urging people to follow standard operating procedures (SOPs) as coronavirus cases rise across the country.

Pakistan has had very few COVID-19 cases in recent months and did away with almost all precautions.

But over the past 24 hours, the country recorded 653 positive cases, nearly double the number at the start of last Monday, according to NIH data. Over 162 people were reported to be in critical care.


“Eid UI Adha prayers should be organized in open spaces under stringent COVID protocols. In case of any compulsion to offer the prayers inside mosques, then all windows and doors should be kept open for ventilation / to minimize the chances of disease spread,” the NCOC said in a statement.

The body said up to three Eid prayers should be organized at a single venue with staggered timings to allow maximum people to offer prayers with COVID-19 protocols in place.

“All ulemas leading Eid prayers should be sensitised to keep sermons ... short so that people remain present in the prayer venues for a brief duration,” the guidelines said. “Efforts should be made to discourage sick, elderly and young children from attending Eid prayers.”

People without face masks should not be allowed to enter the prayer venue, the NCOC said, adding that prayer venues should have multiple entry and exit points and venue organizers should ensure the availability of hand sanitisers.

“It should be mandatory for all coming for prayers to use sanitisers before entering the venue,” the guidelines said.

“To ensure social distancing protocols, venue organizers to ensure prominent marking (6 feet apart) to allow sufficient space/distance between individuals. People should be encouraged to perform abulution at home before coming for the prayers and also bring their own prayer mats to the venue. Efforts should be made to sensitise people to refrain from embracing and handshaking after the prayer to avoid chances of disease transmission. There should not be any gathering at the prayer venue before the prayer and people should be asked to disperse immediately after the prayer.”

The NCOC said efforts would be made to promote and encourage central and collective sacrifices through various public, private and community organizations, while ensuring adherence to COVID-19 protocols of mask-wearing, social distancing and avoidance of crowds.