PIA expands Saudi Arabia operations as kingdom allows direct entry from Pakistan

A Saudi man stands in front of the flight information display system at the King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on January 11, 2021. (AFP/File)
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Updated 27 November 2021

PIA expands Saudi Arabia operations as kingdom allows direct entry from Pakistan

  • The national flag carrier has decided to operate 35 flights to various destinations in the kingdom on a weekly basis
  • PIA spokesperson says all passengers will have to comply with the Saudi quarantine requirement

KARACHI: Pakistan International Airlines announced to expand its flight operations to Saudi Arabia two days after the kingdom lifted an entry ban on expats from six countries that was introduced to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The Saudi interior ministry allowed fully vaccinated expatriates from Pakistan, Indonesia, Brazil, Vietnam, Egypt and India to enter the kingdom without spending 14 days in transit outside of their countries.
The policy will take effect from December 1.
“The PIA administration has decided to expand its operations to Saudi Arabia by operating 35 flights from the beginning of December to Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam and Al-Qassim,” the airline spokesperson, Abdullah Khan, told Arab News, adding that the decision to further expand the operations would be taken after evaluating the travel demand.
He said the flights would originate from Pakistani cities of Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore, Multan and Karachi.
The Saudi interior ministry said in its statement on Thursday expats arriving from unbanned countries should spend five days in quarantine outside the kingdom regardless of their vaccination status.
It added that all procedures and measures in relation to the pandemic were subject to continuous evaluation by the kingdom’s health authorities.
Saudi officials also instructed the expatriates to undergo all health measures to ensure they are free from coronavirus infection.
The PIA spokesperson maintained all passengers would need to ensure compliance with the Saudi rules.
It may be recalled that Saudi Arabia suspended all flights to and from the kingdom on March 14, 2020, after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic.
Entry to the kingdom by air, land and sea resumed on January 3, 2021, though it imposed a direct entry ban on certain countries of concern the next month.


Pakistan raises $1 bln, offers highest-ever rate for a sukuk of 7.95 percent 

Updated 11 sec ago

Pakistan raises $1 bln, offers highest-ever rate for a sukuk of 7.95 percent 

  • The issuance comes at a time when Pakistan’s gross foreign reserves have fallen to nearly $17 billion from $19 billion in the past two weeks 
  • An IMF review board is meeting on Jan. 29 to approve a $1 billion tranche of a $6 billion loan signed with Pakistan in 2019 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has raised $1 billion with a 7-year sukuk, offering an interest rate of 7.95 percent, the highest return the South Asian nation has ever paid on an Islamic bond, a finance ministry official said on Tuesday.
The issuance comes at a time when Pakistan’s gross foreign reserves have fallen to nearly $17 billion from $19 billion in the past two weeks due to debt repayments.
Ministry spokesman Muzammil Aslam said international debt markets worldwide had suffered shocks since December due to expected increases in interest rates in the United States and Europe.
“So given the situation, we have got the good deal in this uncertain time,” he told Reuters.
Pakistan sees foreign funds inflows as critical given that its external account deficit has widened on back of soaring global commodity prices — in particular oil, which makes up about a third of the country’s payments.
Foreign exchange reserves are also a key buffer to stabilize the rupee. Pakistan only last year adopted a market-based exchange rate, resulting in a sharp depreciation of the rupee.
An IMF review board is meeting on Jan. 29 to approve a $1 billion tranche of a $6 billion loan signed with Pakistan in 2019.
The last sukuk Pakistan issued was a five-year sukuk in 2017 at a rate of 5.6 percent.


New tax regulations make imported phones around 30% costlier in Pakistan

Updated 11 min 20 sec ago

New tax regulations make imported phones around 30% costlier in Pakistan

  • Pakistan imposed uniform 17% sales tax on around 150 items, including imported phones, to meet IMF conditions
  • Local manufacturing increased to 24.66 million units in 2021, Pakistan imported 24.51 million phones in 2020

KARACHI: Pakistan’s imposition of new tax regulations has made imported high-end mobile phones around 30 percent costlier, but record local assembling has largely absorbed the impact, dealers and manufacturers said on Tuesday. 

Pakistan recently imposed a uniform 17 percent sales tax on around 150 items, including imported mobile phones, to meet one of the conditions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the revival of the stalled $6 billion loan program. 

Apart from imposing 17 percent sales tax, the government also increased the fixed tax rate on the import of mobile phones valued more than $200.   

Imported phones valued between $200 and $350 will now be subject to Rs14,661 fixed tax and 17 percent sales tax, while handsets costing above $500 would be subject to Rs37,007 fixed duty and 17 percent sales tax, according to the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).

The fixed tax is slightly less for those who purchase phones on passports within 60 days of their arrival in Pakistan.  

“The phone (iPhone 11 pro max) that was available for around Rs165,000 will now be available for around Rs230,000 after adding fixed tax and 17% sales tax,” Shahzad Ahmed, a mobile phone dealer at the Saddar mobile market in Karachi, told Arab News. 

Mobile phone dealers said the budgetary impact on consumers was minimal as such high-end mobile phone penetration was very low in the country. 

“Due to the availability of local alternatives for buyers, the sales impact is negligible as only high-end mobile phone prices have been increased, which are being used by quite a few consumers,” said Malik Khalid Iqbal, chairman of the All Pakistan Mobile Dealers' Association.   

But the dealers resented sudden imposition of higher duty and tax, calling on the government to revisit the decision. 

“They should have given time but it was implemented without that,” Rizwan Irfan, president of the Karachi Electronic Appliances Dealers’ Association, told Arab News.  

“Many dealers who have booked phones and consignments that are in transition will become costlier and may not fetch the right price, so the government should revisit its decision.”  

For the first time, Pakistan has surpassed imports and achieved self-reliance in local assembling of mobile phones of almost all major brands except iPhone.   

The South Asian country manufactured 24.66 million mobile phones in 2021, compared to the import of 10.26 million, according to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). In 2020, the country imported 24.51 million phones, compared to locally manufactured 13.05 million.  

“After the start of Samsung's production, 80% of all mobile phones are being assembled in Pakistan,” Aamir Allawala, senior vice-chairman of Pakistan Mobile Phone Manufacturers’ Association (PMPMA), told Arab News.  

“This will go up to 90 percent, when Xiaomi starts local production in March.”  

Manufacturers said tax on locally assembled phones was quite nominal as compared to the imported high-end devices. 

“On locally assembled phones below $100, the tax rate is only Rs20 per unit,” Allawala said. “Tax on phones costing between $100 and $200 is only Rs420 a unit. The sales tax and excise levy is little higher for the phones valued above $200, but definitely below 10% of total tax incidence.” 

Tax on locally assembled phones ranging between $350 and $500 is Rs13,210 and Rs26,380 for devices valued above $500, according to dealers and manufacturers.   

They said since 80% phones were being locally produced, there was no impact for buyers in terms of pricing. 

“On the other hand, iPhones and high-end Galaxy phones that are still not assembled locally have to face a price hike. This is very logical and fair in my opinion,” Allawala said.   

He ruled out the possibility of iPhone assembling in Pakistan, saying, “Only 10,000-15,000 iPhones are imported every month and at this volume, I don’t think local assembling is possible. iPhone will be manufactured only when its export would be made possible and for that, Pakistan’s ecosystem is at a nascent stage.”  

Mobile phone manufacturing became possible in Pakistan only after the launch of Device Identification Registration and Blocking System (DIRBS) in 2018. The system is designed to identify non-compliant devices operating on local mobile networks. 

The country is still paying high bills for the import of mobile phones. It recorded mobile phone imports worth $2 billion in the last fiscal year, while these imports crossed $1 billion mark from July till December this fiscal year, according to data released by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.


Islamabad repatriates 20 Indian fishermen arrested for entering Pakistani territorial waters 

Updated 25 January 2022

Islamabad repatriates 20 Indian fishermen arrested for entering Pakistani territorial waters 

  • Pakistan says expects New Delhi to ‘reciprocate the gesture in the same spirit’ 
  • Pakistani, Indian authorities frequently arrest fisherfolk over territorial violations 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has repatriated 20 Indian fishermen, who were arrested for entering the country’s territorial waters, to India, the Pakistani foreign office said on Tuesday.
Pakistani and Indian maritime agencies frequently arrest fisherfolk on charges of illegally entering each other’s territorial waters for fishing.
These 20 fishermen, kept in Karachi’s Landhi Jail, were released on Sunday and handed over to Indian officials at the Wagah border crossing the next day.
“These prisoners have been released on completion of their sentences,” the Pakistani foreign office said in a statement. “The issue of prisoners is of humanitarian nature and Pakistan expects the government of India to reciprocate the gesture in the same spirit.”
According to the provisions of the 2008 Consular Access Agreement between Pakistan and India, both countries are required to exchange lists of prisoners in each other’s custody every year on January 1 and July 1.
A list of prisoners shared by Islamabad on January 1 this year suggested that at least 628 Indian prisoners were held in Pakistan, including 577 fishermen and 51 civilians, according to the Pakistani foreign office.
The Indian government also simultaneously shared a list of 355 Pakistani prisoners in India, including 282 civilians and 73 fishermen, with the High Commission of Pakistan in New Delhi.


Pakistan's COVID-19 positivity ratio above 10% for sixth consecutive day

Updated 25 January 2022

Pakistan's COVID-19 positivity ratio above 10% for sixth consecutive day

  • Omicron-driven fifth wave of infections continues to sweep the South Asian nation
  • The country reported 17 fatalities and 6,357 new infections in the last 24 hours

ISLAMABAD: The coronavirus positivity ratio in Pakistan remained above 10 percent for the sixth consecutive day on Tuesday, with the omicron-driven fifth wave of infections sweeping the South Asian nation. 

The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), which oversees the country's pandemic response, recorded the virus positivity rate at 12.81 percent on Tuesday. 

The South Asian nation reported 17 fatalities and 6,357 new cases of coronavirus in the last 24 hours, according to official figures. 

Pakistan is currently battling the fifth wave of the pandemic, as officials maintain the fresh surge in the number of cases has been driven by the highly transmissible omicron strain. 

Pakistan’s planning minister Asad Umar, who also heads the NCOC, last week urged people not to take the omicron strain lightly. 

“More than two thousand people dying of covid daily in the US. So, when you hear omicron is mild, it can still kill you,” he said in a Twitter post. 

The minister said latest research showed booster dose provided significant protection against the disease. “So if it’s been 6 months since 2nd dose, get a booster,” he urged people. 

Pakistan has so far administered at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine to 103,805,835 people, according to official figures.  

Over 80 million individuals have been fully vaccinated in the country.


Saudi-funded campus in Azad Kashmir helps close gender gap in science

Updated 25 January 2022

Saudi-funded campus in Azad Kashmir helps close gender gap in science

  • The campus hosting mainly science departments started classes in September 2020
  • It was completed with funding from the Saudi Development Fund worth $51 million

MUZAFFARABAD: A Saudi-funded campus of the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir is fostering science education in the region and female enrollment into the male-dominated field, as nearly half of its students are women — higher than the global average.

The multimillion-dollar King Abdullah Campus in Chhatar Kalas, 22 kilometers from Muzaffarabad, the regional capital was financed by Saudi Arabia, which has funded several development projects in Azad Kashmir, helping it return to normalcy after a devastating earthquake in 2005 destroyed most of its infrastructure, including the university. 

Built on nearly 100 hectares, the campus was completed in late 2019, and started classes in September 2020.

"King Abdullah Campus was completed with the financial help of Saudi Development Fund worth 9 billion rupees ($51 million)," Raja Abdul Qayyum Khan, director of the campus, told Arab News.

The campus now hosts most of the university's 9,000 students and is home to its science departments, including physics, computer science, mathematics, chemistry, and geology, which see female enrollment higher than in other parts of Pakistan, or even the world.

A student stands in front of the Department of Mathematics at King Abdullah Campus of the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir in Chhatar Kalas, Pakistan, on January 14, 2022. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

Globally, only 35 percent of STEM students in higher education are women, according to UNESCO data. At King Abdullah Campus, women constitute 47 percent of all students.

"Out of a total 5,440 students enrolled in King Abdullah Campus, there are 2,877 males and 2,563 females. That speaks volumes about girls' participation," Khan said. "We would like to see that ratio further increase."

After the earthquake destruction, many students of the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir had to travel far to other campuses — some even to Islamabad — to attend courses. 

With social norms and safety concerns limiting women's mobility across Pakistan, traveling alone tens of kilometers from home was nearly impossible for girls. 

Students attend a class at a computer lab of King Abdullah Campus of the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir in Chhatar Kalas, Pakistan, on January 14, 2022. (AN photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

"The establishment of King Abdullah Campus at Chhattar Kalas has given advantage to me and many other girl students," 19-year-old mathematics student Samar Qayum told Arab News, explaining that traveling long distance was for them a major burden.

"It was possible that the number of female students would have gone down in this region," she said. "This facility has made life easier for girls."

Boys, too, are happy.

Physics student Waqar Younis said the establishment of the campus allowed him to save on transportation and accommodation, as those were major costs for the students.

"Establishment of King Abdullah Campus has given me multiple advantages," he added.

In the near future, the campus is likely to become even more attractive as $8.5 million computer science labs should be ready this year

The nine labs will be equipped with 600 computers, allowing the study of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

"We are hopeful that by this year in August we may get the equipment," Dr. Rabia Riaz, head of the Department of Computer Science and Information Technology, told Arab News.

"I may say that this sort of equipment and building structure is not only unavailable in whole Azad Kashmir, but also in all over Pakistan."