PM Khan to visit China early next month

China's President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan (L) before their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on April 28, 2019. (AFP/File)
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Updated 06 January 2022

PM Khan to visit China early next month

  • Ahead of visit, Khan orders removal of 37 regulations to ensure one-window operation for foreign investors
  • PM to personally take briefings on progress on CPEC projects every 15 days from now on

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan has ordered the removal of obstacles hindering Chinese investment in Pakistan as he prepares to visit Beijing next month, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Khalid Mansoor, told local media. 
CPEC has seen Beijing pledge over $60 billion for 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.
Speaking at a ceremony this week, Mansoor said Khan would visit China in February and had ordered the removal of 37 regulations to ensure a one-window operation for foreign investors, adding that the PM would personally take briefings on progress on CPEC projects every 15 days from now on. 
The CPEC Authority, Mansoor said, “is working tirelessly to remove any bottlenecks which may emerge during the execution of the CPEC projects.”
Speaking at the ceremony, Chinese Ambassador Nong Rong said Pakistan and China had supported each other in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and pushed forward high-quality and fast-paced development of CPEC.
“China had [so far] invested over $25 billion in Pakistan on CPEC projects generating 75,000 jobs, producing 5500kw of electricity and building over 500 kilometers of roads,” Nong was quoted by the Express Tribune as saying. 
Many of the projects under CPEC had been suspended or stalled due to the coronavirus pandemic and over financing disputes, media has widely reported in recent months. The costliest project to date under the CPEC agreement, a $6.8 billion project to upgrade railway lines, has reportedly run into trouble, with Beijing reluctant to fund the project at the one percent rate demanded by Islamabad. And of $19 billion worth of energy projects in Pakistan to produce 11,648MW electricity, only four projects have so far been completed. 
Delay in getting 116 acres of land in Gwadar vacated by law enforcement agencies has also slowed down work on the Gwadar Free Zone and Gwadar Eastbay Expressway — two projects seen as critical for the full functioning of Gwadar Port — Pakistani media has reported.


Pakistan PM reaffirms commitment to enhance security of Chinese nationals

Updated 43 min 1 sec ago

Pakistan PM reaffirms commitment to enhance security of Chinese nationals

  • International media reports say China has asked Pakistan to allow its own security company to protect its nationals
  • Pakistan has set up a special desk at the ministry of interior to ensure the security of foreign nationals, especially Chinese

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in a meeting with Senior Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi on Thursday reaffirmed Islamabad’s commitment to enhance the security of Chinese nationals working in the country.

Beijing has pledged over $60 billion for infrastructure and energy projects in Pakistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) framework that is a central part of China’s initiative to forge new “Silk Road” land and sea ties to markets in the Middle East and Europe.

At the center of CPEC is the impoverished southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan, where Beijing is building the port of Gwadar. Chinese engineers working at the port came under attack from an operation claimed by the separatist Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) last year.

The BLA has claimed a number of major attacks in recent months, including a simultaneous storming of two paramilitary bases in Balochistan earlier this year and an attack outside a university in Karachi in which three Chinese nationals were killed. In July last year, a suicide bomber blew up a passenger bus in northern Pakistan that killed 13 people, including nine Chinese working on a hydro-power plant.

This week, reports in international media suggested following recent attacks China had asked Pakistan to allow it to use its own security company to protect its nationals and assets in Pakistan. The interior ministry did not respond to Arab News requests for comment.

In a meeting with Yang Jiechi, a high-ranking Chinese politician and diplomat, who is serving as a member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, PM Sharif reiterated his strong condemnation of the attack outside the Karachi University and underscored Pakistan’s determination to bring the perpetrators to justice.

“He reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to enhanced measures for safety, security and protection of the Chinese nationals, projects and institutions in the country,” the foreign office said in a statement.

Pakistan has set up a special desk at the ministry of interior to ensure the security of foreign nationals, especially Chinese citizens. A 15,000-strong army division was set up in 2017 specifically to safeguard projects in the CPEC initiative.

Sindh raised a protection unit of about 2,600 police officers to help safeguard 4,000 Chinese working on CPEC projects, and another 1,000 working in other businesses. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province also conducted a census of Chinese nationals and raised a force of about 4,200 officers to protect foreigners.


As life-saving drugs disappear in Pakistan, pharma industry seeks tax break, price revision

Updated 30 June 2022

As life-saving drugs disappear in Pakistan, pharma industry seeks tax break, price revision

  • Industry reps say new sales tax on medicines will annually deprive them of Rs70 billion
  • Number of life-saving drugs unavailable in the market can go up to 200 within weeks

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s pharmaceutical industry has urged the government to abolish a newly imposed one percent sales tax and jack up prices of all medicines to overcome the shortage of over fifty life-saving drugs in the local market.

The new sales tax was included in Pakistan’s latest budget, approved by parliament this week. The government has been struggling to levy maximum direct and indirect taxes on different products and businesses to shore up its fragile economy and meet the conditions of the International Monetary Fund to revive a stalled $6 billion loan program.

“We strongly urge the government to withdraw one percent sales tax on medicines to keep the industry viable and overcome shortage of life-saving drugs in the market,” Qazi Mansoor Dilawar, chairman of Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association, told Arab News.

He said the supply of over fifty essential medicines had been disrupted in the market since manufacturers were importing the raw material to produce only those medicines that were profitable to them.

“Our input cost has escalated manifold in the last two years with the appreciation of dollar, increase in freight charges and international raw material, but the government is not willing to increase the prices of medicine,” he said.

The annual total pharmaceutical market in Pakistan is estimated to be around Rs700 billion. Pakistan imports much of the medicinal raw material from China and industrial experts say freight charges have increased around eight times since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In January, the country’s ousted premier Imran Khan’s administration imposed a 17 percent sales tax on the import of raw material, promising that the amount would be refunded to pharmaceutical companies after the consumption of their stock.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government has now withdrawn the 17 percent tax on the import of raw material, but levied one percent sales tax on all medicines.

“This one percent sales tax on medicines means the industry will be collectively paying Rs70 billion in tax this year,” Dilawar said.

Unlike other businesses, the pharma industry cannot increase medicines prices on its own since only the federal government is authorized to revise the rates of lifesaving drugs.

“We have a capping of every medicine and cannot increase their price on our own,” the association chief said, adding if the government failed to withdraw the sales tax and increase medicines prices, there would be a shortage of another two hundred drugs in the market within a couple of weeks.

The government has promised to look into the demands of pharmaceutical companies and address their concerns to ensure smooth supply of medicines in the market.

“We are well aware of the pharma industry’s demands and are trying to address them,” Sajid Hussain Shah, a spokesperson for the health ministry, told Arab News.

However, he warned that the ministry would initiate action in case medicines were hoarded to create an artificial shortage in the market.

“We are closely monitoring the medicine supply,” he said, “and won’t spare anyone who is found guilty of creating artificial shortage of medicines.”


Ahead of Eid, lumpy skin disease spreads fast among cattle in northwestern Pakistan

Updated 30 June 2022

Ahead of Eid, lumpy skin disease spreads fast among cattle in northwestern Pakistan

  • Influx of animals into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from other provinces has intensified problem, officials say
  • Provincial administration says willing to release more funds for procurement of vaccines for animals

PESHAWAR: The livestock department in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has ramped up efforts to control the spread of lumpy skin disease (LSD) among cattle ahead of the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha, a senior official said on Wednesday, adding that he feared the influx of animals into the province from other areas of the country would unleash a larger outbreak of the disease.

The Eid Al-Adha holiday is one of the two most important festivals of the Islamic calendar. Marking the willingness of Ibrahim, or Abraham, to sacrifice his son on God’s command, Muslims mark the holiday by slaughtering animals such as sheep and goats. The meat is shared among family and friends and also donated to the poor.

Cattle markets across Pakistan, the second largest Muslim country in the world, fill up ahead of Eid, with thousands of animals brought to major livestock bazars across the country, including in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

This year, the situation has.been complicated by breakouts of the lumpy skin disease that causes fever and multiple nodules on the skin and mucous membrane of animals. The virus was first reported in Punjab in October last year but later also spread among cattle in Sindh.

Prevalent in Africa since 1929, LSD is transmitted by bloodsucking insects like ticks and mosquitoes. It does not affect people and is rarely fatal.

“With the arrival of Eid Al-Adha, animals have been brought from Punjab and Sindh provinces and we fear the disease will spread further instead of being contained,” Sayed Asad Ali Shah, who works as epidemiologist with the livestock department, told Arab News.

He said precautionary measures, such as the formation of a task force and a cell for online reporting of the disease, had already been taken after LSD was first reported in Punjab and Sindh. Special checkpoints had been set up at various entry points of the province to keep infected animals from entering Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, he added.

However, the infection, which was previously reported in a few districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, had now spread across the province.

“A total of 8,265 LSD cases were reported until Tuesday,” Shah said. “The disease has also claimed the lives of 203 animals.”

“After conducting a series of meetings, the government has released Rs100 million for vaccine procurement,” he said. “We have an estimated population of nine million cattle excluding buffaloes in the province. So far, we have vaccinated 135,761 animals and used anti-tick spray on millions of others.”

Speaking to Arab News, the provincial government spokesperson, Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif, said the government was working closely with the livestock department to adopt precautionary measures and release necessary funds to control the disease.

“This is a serious problem and the disease is partly spreading because of the buying and selling of animals ahead of Eid Al-Adha,” he said. “People should cooperate with the government to contain the spread of this viral disease. We will also release more funds to procure more vaccines to protect animals.”

But Rehmat Gul Miani, a resident of Gomal, a dusty village on the outskirts of southern Tank district, said several LSD cases had been reported in his area but authorities were not doing enough to vaccinate animals.

“Several animals in our neighborhood have been infected,” he said. “Livestock officials should take measures to contain the disease before Eid Al-Adha. Otherwise, people will be reluctant to buy sacrificial animals even at cheaper rates.”


Pakistan junior foreign minister calls for easing sanctions on Afghanistan

Updated 30 June 2022

Pakistan junior foreign minister calls for easing sanctions on Afghanistan

  • Taliban takeover last year prompted foreign governments to cut aid
  • Strict enforcement of sanctions has debilitated Afghan banking sector

BERLIN: Pakistan’s junior foreign minister called for an easing of Western sanctions against Afghanistan under the Taliban government, saying the basic functioning of the Afghan economy must not be endangered.

The Taliban takeover last year prompted foreign governments, led by the United States, to cut development and security aid, and the strict enforcement of sanctions has debilitated the country’s banking sector.

In an interview with Germany’s Welt newspaper published on Thursday, junior foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar said isolating Afghanistan economically was pushing the country into economic collapse.

“If the country remains locked out of international banking and its foreign assets remain frozen, then that is what will happen. We must not promote famine,” she added.

Khar said the Western troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, in which Germany was also involved, had serious repercussions because it was not preceded by a negotiated solution, calling on Germany to play an active political role in easing sanctions.

“In the current situation, it is not a good idea to continue to starve Afghanistan and risk an economic implosion in the country,” she said, adding that economic support was necessary to help the Afghan people.

“How is it that we spent $3 trillion on the war, but today don’t even have $10 billion on Afghan survival? I don’t understand this behavior,” she added.


Pakistan acquires land at Mina to accommodate Hajj pilgrims

Updated 30 June 2022

Pakistan acquires land at Mina to accommodate Hajj pilgrims

  • The tent city of Mina remains deserted throughout the year and comes to life only during the five days of each Hajj season
  • It was in this city that Prophet Ibrahim spent the night before he was set to carry out an order by God to slaughter his son

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Hajj mission in Saudi Arabia has acquired land to accommodate its pilgrims at Old Mina near Jamrat this year, Director Hajj Makkah Sajid Manzoor Asadi told state-run media on Wednesday.

The tent city of Mina remains deserted throughout the year and comes to life only during the five days of each Hajj season when it is transformed into a vast encampment for pilgrims.

Situated 12 kilometers outside Makkah, it was in this city that Prophet Ibrahim spent the night before he was set to carry out an order by God to slaughter his son. As Prophet Ibrahim prepared to slaughter Ismaeel, God instructed him to sacrifice a sheep instead. 

Muslims around the world slaughter sheep, cows and camels to feed the poor, marking Prophet Ibrahim’s supreme sacrifice.

“There are six Makatib [place of pilgrims] in Mina, we have got tents near Jamarat which will make it easier for all Pakistani Pilgrims to perform Hajj rituals together,” Asadi said.

Saudi Arabia has allotted Pakistan a quota of 81,132 pilgrims for the Hajj this year. Pakistani pilgrims are also availing the Makkah Route initiative which allows them to fulfil all immigration requirements at the airport of origin. This saves them several hours upon reaching the kingdom since they can just enter the country, having already gone through immigration at home.

Asadi thanked the Saudi government for including Pakistan in the Route to Makkah project, among five countries of the world.

“For the first time, Pakistani pilgrims are being provided ‘Home Check-In’ facility under Route to Makkah project of Saudi Government during their return to the homeland,” Asadi said, adding that under this facility, airline staff would pick up the luggage of each pilgrim from their residence and also issue boarding passes.

“This year, the Hajj Mission Makkah played an important role in providing this facility to Pakistani pilgrims under the Saudi Project during their arrival and departure,” he added.

He said pilgrims used to have to reach the airport sixteen hours before departure but now they have to arrive at the airport just six hours before flights.

Pakistan’s Director Hajj said due to an “effective” testing system, no Pakistani pilgrims had so far been diagnosed with the coronavirus.