Saudi-led Digital Cooperation Organization supports women's participation in Pakistan's digital economy

Digital Cooperation Organization secretary general Deemah Al-Yahya meets students of the COMSATS University Islamabad during her visit to Pakistan on November 17, 2021. (Photo courtesy: Deemah Al-Yahya)
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Updated 18 November 2021

Saudi-led Digital Cooperation Organization supports women's participation in Pakistan's digital economy

  • DCO secretary general Deemah Al-Yahya is in Pakistan to meet top officials, private sector leaders and STEM students
  • The organization was launched last year to strengthen cooperation across innovation-driven sectors and accelerate digital economy growth

ISLAMABAD: The Saudi-led Digital Cooperation Organization (DCO) is supporting women's participation in Pakistan's digital economy, DCO secretary general Deemah Al-Yahya said on Thursday during her visit to Islamabad.

According to the World Economic Forum, women make up 55 percent of the world’s unbanked population, meaning they have no access to banking or insurance products. The World Bank estimates that in Pakistan, where about 100 million adults have no bank account, only 11 percent women have access to overall financial services.

The DCO was launched by Saudi Arabia in November last year to strengthen cooperation across innovation-driven sectors and accelerate the growth of the digital economy. The organization's founding members are also Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Nigeria, Oman, and Pakistan.

A delegation of the Digital Cooperation Organization led by its secretary general Deemah Al-Yahya meets Pakistan President Dr. Arif Alvi in Islamabad on November 18, 2021. (Photo courtesy: DCO)

Al-Yahya arrived in Pakistan for meetings with President Dr. Arif Alvi, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Information Technology Minister Syed Aminul Haque, and private sector leaders to support the inclusive development of the digital economy and to strengthen the organization's partnerships with Pakistan.

"As female digital inclusion is core to DCO's mandate, I endorse the Pakistan Government’s efforts to enable women to benefit from the digital economy, including through the Digital Pakistan Policy and Universal Access Fund," she told Arab News after her delegation's meeting with the Pakistani president.

"These initiatives are making a real impact through including girls in the technology industry and connecting underserved regional communities to the internet."

In a Twitter post, Al-Yahya shared a photo with students of the COMSATS University Islamabad, saying she was inspired meeting "ambitious young women closing the gender gap in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)."


The DCO secretary general has also hosted sessions with Pakistani tech leaders who are developing finance products for the unbanked using mobile technology, and education platforms enabling school students to study online.

"I am delighted to be meeting with young Pakistan entrepreneurs creating digital solutions, and to see innovative IT companies such as including Oraan, Maqsad, and Tez Financial connecting more Pakistanis to the digital economy," Al-Yahya said.

Oraan has recently made headlines for raising $3 million in the largest seed funding closed by a women-led Pakistani startup.

The DCO secretary general earlier this week launched with Islamabad officials the Pakistan Innovation Challenge for 1 million students aged six to 18.

"The students will learn maths, computer science, robotics, artificial intelligence, design and innovation online," she said. "If young people don’t have skills, if women are left out, or if entrepreneurs are strangled by bureaucracy, we will all struggle."

Deemah Al-Yahya, secretary general of the Digital Cooperation Organization (DCO). (Photo courtesy: DCO)

As she highlighted the importance of the digital economy in a world where more and more activities are being done online, Al-Yahya said she was privileged to be entrusted by Saudi leadership and DCO member states to lead the organization and "carry forward this major global outreach."

"Seventy percent of the world’s economic growth will be driven by the digital economy over the next decade, so there are enormous opportunities for people, companies and countries in the digital economy," she said.

"The fact that the DCO is headquartered in Riyadh reflects Saudi Arabia’s position as a constructive, collaborative global leader in the new world economy, and I take this same approach when engaging with governments as leader of the DCO."

PIA pilot refused to continue Riyadh-Islamabad flight over ‘safety of passengers’

Updated 21 January 2022

PIA pilot refused to continue Riyadh-Islamabad flight over ‘safety of passengers’

  • PIA aircraft was scheduled to arrive in the Saudi Arabian capital on Jan. 14 and then return to Islamabad
  • Upon reaching Riyadh with several hours of delay, the pilot decided to stop the journey as his duty timings had ended

KARACHI: A Pakistani pilot who last week refused to complete a Riyadh-Islamabad flight because his duty timings had ended, made the decision in compliance with aviation rules and for the safety of passengers, airline officials have said.
A plane with Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) was scheduled to arrive in the Saudi Arabian capital on Jan. 14 and then return to Islamabad, but technical issues delayed the its departure from Pakistan, and later bad weather in Riyadh forced it to make an emergency landing in Dammam, where it stayed another six hours before clearance.
Upon finally reaching Riyadh, the pilot of PK 9754 decided to end the journey and did not fly the aircraft back to Islamabad. The pilot’s announcement triggered a protest by passengers, who eventually had to be calmed by airport security personnel.
PIA spokesperson Abdullah Khan told Arab News the captain’s action was in line with the airline’s policy and aviation rules.
“An impression has been created if the airline wanted the captain to operate the flight and he refused. This is completely wrong. The pilot didn’t operate the flight because his duty hours had exceeded due to diversion of the flight to Dammam,” he said on Thursday evening. “Upon reaching Riyadh the duty time of the pilot had completed.”
According to the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority rules, a person whose duty time has been exceeded is not permitted to act as a crew member and must be provided a specified period of rest.
A PIA official familiar with the matter said the captain’s “prime concern was the safety of the passengers.” 
“When asked to fly, the captain refused and said: ‘What I’m doing, I am doing it as per rules. The prime responsibility as captain is to protect aircraft and the passengers,’” the official told Arab News.
All of the 200 to 250 passengers were dependent upon him,” he said. “This was prime responsibility of captain is to protect aircraft and the passengers. Then the reputation of your company — the airline — and your country is also important. The compliance with rules is important for their image as well.”
“One takes a decision keeping all these things in mind.”

Reunited 74 years after India-Pakistan split, brothers hope to spend rest of life together

Updated 21 January 2022

Reunited 74 years after India-Pakistan split, brothers hope to spend rest of life together

  • Partition in 1947 following India’s independence from Britain triggered one of the biggest forced migrations in history
  • Brothers Sikka and Sadiq Khan, who remained on opposite sides of India-Pakistan border, were reunited last week

PHULEWALA: When British India split into two independent states in August 1947, Sikka Khan’s father and elder brother, Sadiq, left Phulewala village in what became the Indian part of Punjab, and returned to their paternal village of Bogran, which found itself in Pakistan.
Just two years old at the time, Sikka was too young to go and stayed behind in India with his mother. The family was to be reunited soon. The parents only wanted to wait until it was safe for the toddler to travel.
But the promise of being together again was cut short by violence and communal rioting that marred one of the biggest forced migrations in history. Following the partition, about 15 million Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs swapped countries in a political upheaval that cost more than a million lives.
Sikka and Sadiq lost their father, mother — who committed suicide when she found out about her husband’s death — and the bond that was only restored last week.
“I told you we would meet again,” Sikka, 76, said through tears, as he embraced his 84-year-old brother when they met in Kartarpur, Pakistan on Jan. 10.
Kartarpur is a border city where Pakistan, in late 2019, opened a visa-free crossing to allow Indian Sikh pilgrims access to one of the holiest sites of their religion, Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, which after the partition, the site found itself on the Pakistani side of the border.
The brothers’ reunion did not last long, as each of them had to return to their countries. For the past seven decades, India-Pakistan cross-border visits have been limited by tensions and conflict.
“It was an emotional moment for us, and I could not believe that I was meeting my brother and his family,” Sikka told Arab News in Phulewala village, where he has remained since 1947.
“Life has given me the opportunity to reunite with my brother and I don’t want to live without him,” he said. “I need the company of my brother more than ever before. I want to live the rest of my life with my elder brother.”
They got in touch in 2019, when Pakistani YouTuber Nasir Dhillon visited Bogran village, where Sadiq still lives, and heard his story. He shared the footage on social media and soon received a message from Jagsir Singh, a doctor in Phulewala, who connected him to Sikka.

Sikka Khan sits at his home in Phulewala village, Punjab, India on January 16, 2022. (AN photo by Sanjay Kumar)

The YouTuber and the doctor helped the brothers meet virtually.
“The brothers for the first time saw each other over a video call two years ago,” Singh told Arab News. “Since then, they have remained in touch with each other through WhatsApp.”
They have been talking to each other at least 15 minutes every day, but it took them two years to meet in person as even the visa-free Kartarpur corridor was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic until late last year. 
“The opening of the Kartarpur corridor in November last year allowed us the opportunity to organize the meeting between the brothers,” Singh said.
When he arrived in Kartarpur, Sikka, who does not have his own family, was accompanied by a dozen villagers from Phulewala.
“For me, my village has been family,” he told Arab News, as he chatted with Sadiq through a video call. “Now I want to go to Pakistan and live with my elder brother for some time. I hope the Pakistani government gives me a visa.
Sadiq, too, wants to visit his brother. 
“I want to meet Sikka in his village,” he said during the video call with his brother. “We want to live together and make up for the time we have lost.”

Body of Pakistani killed in Houthi attack on UAE arrives in Peshawar

Updated 20 January 2022

Body of Pakistani killed in Houthi attack on UAE arrives in Peshawar

  • Houthi rebels launched an aerial strike on the United Arab Emirates on Monday, killing three people including the Pakistani worker
  • Moomor Khan of North Waziristan had been serving ADNOC oil company as a driver for the last five years

ISLAMABAD: Body of a Pakistani worker who died in an attack in Abu Dhabi by Yemen’s Houthi rebels arrived in Peshawar on Thursday, confirmed Pakistani officials.

Moomor Khan was killed along with his two Indian colleagues while serving ADNOC oil company after the rebel group launched on Monday what it said was a missile-and-drone strike, setting off explosions in fuel trucks and causing a fire near the Abu Dhabi airport.

An ambulance carrying mortal remains of a Pakistani man died in an attack in Abu Dhabi by Yemen’s Houthi rebels arrives in Peshawar, Pakistan on January 20, 2022. (Courtesy: Overseas Pakistanis Foundation)

“The human remains of martyr Moomor Khan [son of] Umar Khan were received at the Bacha Khan International Airport in Peshawar today,” the foreign office of Pakistan told Arab News in a statement, adding the body was received by senior officials of the Overseas Pakistanis Foundation (OPF) along with the victim’s family.

A senior OPF official confirmed the information, saying the organization made the local transportation arrangements.

“OPF regional head of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and its other senior officials received Khan’s dead body and arranged for its local transportation through ambulance to his hometown near the Pak-Afghan border town in North Waziristan,” director general of OPF’s welfare division Mustafa Haider told Arab News.

He added his organization remained in contact with the country’s diplomatic mission in Abu Dhabi to expedite the process of bringing back Khan's body.

“Khan had been working as a driver with Al Mansoor Company, a third party of Abu Dhabi’s ADNOC oil company, for the last five years,” he said. “He was a poor man whose life was affected by the military operation in Pakistan’s tribal region of Wana.”

Haider maintained the OPF would consider Khan's family for financial grant from the foundation’s funds.

“We will also facilitate the family in getting the insurance amount, salary and other financial compensations since it was an accidental death,” he added.

Javed Khan, the deceased’s brother, thanked the UAE authorities and Pakistan’s mission in Abu Dhabi for facilitating the repatriation of the body in the shortest possible period.

“We are thankful to the UAE government and Pakistan embassy in Abu Dhabi since they facilitated the transportation of my brother’s body in the shortest possible time,” he told Arab News. “All the transportation expenses, including the special flight, were taken care of by Pakistan’s diplomatic mission in Abu Dhabi.”

Pakistan plans to double insurance coverage, financial benefits for overseas workers – officials

Updated 20 January 2022

Pakistan plans to double insurance coverage, financial benefits for overseas workers – officials

  • The country’s state-own insurance company wants to increase the coverage period to ten years and take monetary benefit to Rs2 million
  • It also intends to provide organ insurance coverage for those nationals who suffer kidney or liver failures abroad

KARACHI: Pakistan plans to increase insurance coverage period along with financial benefits for its overseas nationals and add organ insurance to its product list, officials said on Thursday.
State Life Insurance Company, the only state-owned entity in the life insurance business, currently covers over half a million Pakistani workers, mostly in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other gulf countries.
Officials are now planning to enhance the coverage of overseas Pakistani workers through the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment.
“We have presented a proposal to the government by working with the Bureau of Emigration to provide maximum monetary benefits to our laborers,” Shoaib Javed Hussain, the company’s chairman, said while briefing members of the Council of Economic and Energy Journalists on Thursday.
“The major insurance usage comes from our labor force based in the UAE and other gulf countries,” he said, adding: “On the whole, about 130 million lives of Pakistanis are covered by the company.”

Chairman State Life Insurance Shoaib Javed Hussain is briefing members of the Council of Economic and Energy Journalists about the performance of the country's only state-owned insurance company in Karachi, Pakistan, on January 20, 2022. (AN photo)

Hussain informed the insurance coverage was currently provided for five years which was proposed to be increased to 10 years while exceeding monetary benefits to two million rupees.
“Currently, Pakistani workers pay a premium of Rs2,500,” Dr. Mushtaq Ahmed Memon, who works with the company as divisional head (group and pension), told Arab News. “We provide the Rs1 million insurance coverage against that amount in case of loss of life or limb.”
“We have proposed to increase the coverage to 10 years and financial benefits to Rs2 million so that overseas Pakistanis can get maximum benefit,” he added.
The company officials said they had also planned to provide insurance coverage to Pakistani workers who suffer organ damages abroad and are eventually repatriated.
“We are going to add organ insurance to our list,” Memon said. “When Pakistanis move abroad, their work environment changes. We frequently hear from them instances of kidney and liver failures. Many of them come back after losing their jobs in such instances. In this case, we have proposed to compensate them with Rs500,000 against a payment of only Rs300.”
Life insurance penetration is only 0.6 percent of Pakistan’s gross domestic product with a total market size of about Rs243 billion as of 2020. About nine organizations are operating in life insurance in Pakistan, but the state-owned company has the major market share of 54 percent.
The company officials said their net income had increased by more than 34 percent to Rs160 billion after its assets posted a growth of about 14 percent to Rs1.36 trillion.
“The company has paid Rs103.25 billion in claim payments to policy holders which is 60 percent more than the previous year,” its chairman told journalists, adding: “Social protection rather than profit maximization is the core purpose of the company.”
He said that state life was in process of launching health insurance in the country which would be cost effective and provide extensive coverage.

Doctors declare Zahir Jaffer fit to stand trial in Noor Mukadam murder case

Updated 20 January 2022

Doctors declare Zahir Jaffer fit to stand trial in Noor Mukadam murder case

  • Police brought the prime suspect in the case to the courtroom on a stretcher, handcuffed and in a shabby condition
  • Investigation officer told the court during cross-examination the victim was in touch with her mother on the day of the murder

ISLAMABAD: A team of doctors at Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi on Thursday declared Zahir Jaffer, a prime suspect in the murder of 27-year-old Noor Mukadam in July last year, mentally and physically fit to stand trial.

The key suspect was arrested from the crime scene on the day of the murder and has since been incarcerated.

The police on Thursday presented him before the trial court on a stretcher. Jaffer was also handcuffed and in a shabby condition.

“Zahir Jaffer is mentally and physically fit [to stand trial],” the doctors said in a report submitted to additional sessions judge Ata Rabbani who is hearing the case.

During the previous hearing on Monday, the police brought the accused to the court in a plastic chair, making his lawyer demand his client’s medical treatment.

“His mental health has deteriorated seriously,” Jaffer’s lawyer maintained.

The suspect was examined by a team of doctors at the prison facility in Rawalpindi following the judge’s instruction which later submitted its report in the court.

“The accused has undergone medical checkups numerous times,” the doctors said. “A psychiatrist has also declared him healthy after a complete checkup.”

The case is now said to be entering its final stage wherein defense counsels are cross-examining witnesses.

Last week, the court was informed that Jaffer was facing “some medical issues” in the prison and was not able to walk, stand and move for the last ten days.

“The accused Zahir is on wheelchair but prison authorities are not providing him proper medical treatment and playing with the life of a prisoner whose custody is under the control of this court,” said an application submitted by the father of the prime suspect on Saturday.

Earlier in January, the court rejected an application seeking the constitution of a medical board to determine Jaffer’s mental health after he was expelled from the courtroom twice for disrupting the trial hearings.

Islamabad police also registered a criminal case against Jaffer for using “abusive language” and attempting suicide on the court premises.

On Thursday, when Jaffer was presented in the court on a stretcher, advocate Sajjad Bhatti pleaded the court to send him back to the lockup, saying that the suspect was unwell.

The judge remarked that he did not want to summon the accused due to “humanitarian” reasons, but the prosecution insisted on his presence.

Jaffer was later sent back to the judicial lockup after a brief attendance in the court.

During the cross-examination by defense lawyers, the investigative officer of the case Inspector Abdul Sattar said the victim was in touch with her mother over the phone on the ill-fated day according to a call detail record.

“On July 20 at 1:53, the plaintiff [Noor’s father] and Zakir Jaffer spoke for 668 seconds over phone,” he continued, adding the plaintiff never revealed this information to him during the interrogation.

The police officer said the victim was continuously in touch with a specific number on July 19 and 20, but this person was not made part of the investigation.

He did not provide any further details.

The court will now resume the hearing on January 24.