PIA flies foreign journalists to Kabul, returns with staff of World Bank, international media 

Passengers board a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight, the first commercial international flight since the Taliban retook power last month, at the airport in Kabul on September 13, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 13 September 2021

PIA flies foreign journalists to Kabul, returns with staff of World Bank, international media 

  • This is the first flight of PIA to land in Kabul since the formation of the new government in Afghanistan 
  • Flight seeks to 'promote goodwill' between Pakistan and Afghanistan and strengthen operations, PIA says

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane carrying foreign journalists arrived in Kabul on Monday, the first international flight to land in Afghanistan since the Taliban returned to power last month, Pakistan's national air carrier said.

For several weeks after the Taliban captured Kabul on August 15, the United States and its allies engaged in a massive effort to evacuate tens of thousands of officials, diplomats and civilians. The Taliban took control of Kabul airport on August 31, the deadline for the US troop withdrawal.

“PIA staff took international journalists to Kabul [from Islamabad] and brought back a team from the World Bank and international news agencies,” PIA spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez Khan said in a statement. “This was the first international passenger flight since the new government took office in Kabul. The purpose of the flight is to promote goodwill between Pakistan and Afghanistan and to strengthen the operation on the basis of humanitarian sympathy.”

The spokesperson said the flight was possible because of the efforts of Pakistan’s envoy in Kabul and other diplomatic staff, adding that special arrangements were made for Afghan Civil Aviation and local PIA staff to restore services at Kabul Airport

“Trained airport staff joined duty and handled the flight,” Khan said.

PIA launched special flights to Kabul to help evacuate stranded Pakistanis and staff at foreign embassies, media and other institutions just a day after the Taliban seized the Afghan capital. However, the special flights were suspended temporarily on August 25 due to security concerns. 

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

Updated 46 min 44 sec ago

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.

China to invest $15 billion in petrochemical industry at Pakistan's Arabian Sea port

Updated 19 September 2021

China to invest $15 billion in petrochemical industry at Pakistan's Arabian Sea port

  • Investment would include a power pipeline project from Gwadar port to western China
  • Pakistan said last month it is formulating a strategy to improve the security of Chinese companies operating in the country

ISLAMABAD: Chinese companies are ready to invest $15 billion in Pakistan’s petrochemical industry at the port of Gwadar, the investment promotion agency of Pakistan said on Sunday.
China has in recent years played a key role in developing the deepwater port on the Arabian Sea. Located in the southwestern province of Balochistan, Gwadar is at the heart of multi-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) infrastructure projects that began in 2013.
“Chinese companies would invest in the petrochemical sector in Gwadar, including the project of energy pipeline from Gwadar to China,” Board of Investment (BOI) secretary Fareena Mazhar told the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan.
She added that talks related to the projects were underway, as BOI is working on 50 reforms to create a conducive investment environment and improve the ease of doing business in Pakistan.
Chinese business leaders met Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad last week and reposed their confidence in Pakistan’s “policy support and security,” months after a blast killed nine Chinese nationals working on a CPEC project in northwestern Pakistan.
In a statement after the meeting, Khan’s office said he would hold monthly meetings to “review progress regarding issues faced by Chinese investors.”
Last month, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed announced Pakistan was formulating a strategy to improve the security of Chinese nationals and companies operating in the country.
CPEC has seen Beijing’s pledge over $60 billion for energy and infrastructure projects in Pakistan, central to China’s wider Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to develop land and sea trade routes in Asia and beyond.