PM Shehbaz Sharif visits Saudi Arabia on first foreign trip

Pakistan Prime Minsiter Shehbaz Sharif (left) holds talks with Governor of Makkah Khalid Bin Faisal Al Saud in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on April 29, 2022. (@PakPMO/Twitter)
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Updated 29 April 2022

PM Shehbaz Sharif visits Saudi Arabia on first foreign trip

  • Sharif started his visit on the invitation of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
  • The PM said Pakistan’s relationship with the kingdom was both historic and strategic in nature

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday arrived in Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip since assuming the top political office of his country.

Sharif became Pakistan’s PM on April 11, after his immediate predecessor Imran Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote.

He started the three-day visit to the kingdom on the invitation of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Sharif was received by Governor Faisal bin Salman after he arrived in Madinah.

The prime minister also visited the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah after meeting the Saudi official.
In a video message recorded prior to his departure, he said that he was delighted to be going to the kingdom on his first international visit after becoming Pakistan’s PM.

“This reflects the high importance Pakistan gives to its special relationship with Saudi Arabia which is historic in nature and also strategic in importance,” he continued.

The prime minister thanked Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his “gracious invitation” while admiring his transformational vision for the kingdom.

He also noted that the people of Pakistan held “the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in highest esteem.”

“Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are bound by the deep-rooted and abiding fraternal ties which are built on the solid foundation of mutual trust and mutual support,” he said, adding: “We are profoundly grateful to Saudi Arabia for its consistent support to Pakistan.”

Sharif maintained Pakistan had always stood by Saudi Arabia as well and would continue to support the kingdom and its people.

“We also commend the kingdom’s leadership of the Muslim ummah and for its deep commitment to Muslim causes,” he said. “I look forward to my interaction with the Saudi leadership to review our multifaceted bilateral cooperation and to take this special relationship to unknown heights.”

Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (second left) arrives in Saudi Arabia on a three-day visit on April 28, 2022. (@SPAregions/Twitter)

The prime minister also applauded Pakistani expatriates in the kingdom, saying they made enormous economic contributions for the development of their country while describing them as “a key partner” in further fortifying the Saudi-Pakistan relationship.

The prime minister is accompanied by several members of his cabinet, including Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

“During the visit, the Prime Minister will have bilateral interaction with the Saudi leadership, with particular focus on advancing economic, trade and investment ties and creation of greater opportunities for the Pakistani workforce in Saudi Arabia,” the Pakistani foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

PM Shehbaz Sharif (first left) offers Maghrib prayer in Prophet's Mosque in Madinah, Saudi Arabia, on April 28, 2022. (@GovtofPakistan/Twitter)

“The Prime Minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia will impart a strong impetus to deepening bilateral cooperation in diverse fields and further reinforce the growing partnership between the two countries.”

Pakistan has deep-rooted ties with Saudi Arabia, with nearly 2.5 million of its nationals living and working in the Kingdom.

Pakistan expresses concern over Indian politician’s statement about BJP’s involvement in Gujarat riots

Updated 27 November 2022

Pakistan expresses concern over Indian politician’s statement about BJP’s involvement in Gujarat riots

  • The inter-communal riots that broke out in 2002 led to Muslim killings while Narendra Modi was chief minister
  • Indian opposition leader in Gujarat says the administration in New Delhi came into power due to the carnage

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s foreign office on Sunday expressed concern over a recent statement by a former chief minister of India’s Gujarat state who accused his country’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of facilitating the killings of Muslims in 2002 while claiming the carnage brought the administration in New Delhi into power.

The 2002 riots in Gujarat, which lasted for three days, are counted among some of the worst episodes of inter-communal violence in India in which over 1,000 people, both Hindus and Muslims, were killed. India’s current Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat when the riots broke out and was widely accused of turning a blind eye to the massacre.

Pakistan has always maintained Modi played an active role in Muslim killings which helped him position himself as the future leader of his Hindu nationalist party.

“Pakistan expresses grave concern over confirmation of BJP leadership’s direct involvement in anti-Muslim violence during the horrific Gujarat riots of 2002 that led to killing of over two thousand Muslims,” the foreign office said in its statement.

“The recent statement by the former Chief Minister of Gujarat, Shankersinh Vaghela, has confirmed Pakistan’s longstanding assertion that the BJP-led government under the incumbent Prime Minister [Modi] — who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time of anti-Muslim riots in Godhra — was directly responsible for fomenting violence and massacre of Muslims.”

Vaghela, who is the leader of the opposition in the legislative assembly of Gujarat, issued the statement while responding to the BJP narrative ahead of the state elections at the beginning of the next month.

“The foundation of this [Indian] government rests on the 2002 carnage,” he was reported as saying. “Governments are made, but not on conspiracies.”

The foreign office called it “deplorable” that “crimes against humanity, targeting Muslims, were perpetrated solely for BJP’s political gains.”

It maintained India should constitute an independent commission of inquiry to bring people responsible for the Gujarat riots to justice.

It also asked the international community and human rights activists to take note of the “aggravating situation of Islamophobia in India” while calling on the Indian government to ensure that the rights of minorities were safeguarded.

Government to resume anti-polio campaign in three Pakistani provinces from Monday

Updated 27 November 2022

Government to resume anti-polio campaign in three Pakistani provinces from Monday

  • The country’s health minister says eliminating poliovirus from KP can completely eradicate the disease from Pakistan
  • Pakistan has reported at least 20 polio cases since the beginning of the year, all of which were seen in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

ISLAMABAD: The government will commence a new phase of its anti-polio campaign in three Pakistani provinces and the federal capital from Monday, said an official statement released in Islamabad that urged people to cooperate with vaccination teams to ensure the eradication of the disease from the country.
The immunization campaign is part of the government's effort to vaccinate 13.5 million children under the age of five in 36 Pakistani districts during the course of the year.
The country has so far reported at least 20 polio cases since the beginning of 2022 which has led to international concern about the deteriorating situation of the disease in Pakistan.
Recently, officials expressed concern that more cases could emerge in the flood-affected areas where millions of people had been displaced and it was difficult to access all the families with young children.
“The campaign will start from November 28 across the country involving nine districts of Punjab, eight districts of Sindh, six districts of Balochistan and Islamabad,” said the statement issued by the health department on Sunday. “In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the campaign will be launched on December 5, targeting nine high-risk districts of the region.”
Pakistan’s health minister Abdul Qadir Patel said the country had made “great strides” while trying to eradicate the disease in recent years.
“If we can eliminate the poliovirus from southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, we will succeed in eliminating polio from Pakistan altogether,” he was quoted as saying in the statement. “We are actually quite close to the finish line, and we are determined to get there as soon as possible.”
All the polio cases in Pakistan this year have been reported from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where some parents stop vaccination teams from administering polio drops to their children.
Dr. Shahzad Baig, coordinator of the National Emergency Operation Center, emphasized that the anti-polio campaign required collective action at all levels.
“Our aim is to ensure timely and repeated vaccination of eligible children,” he said. “High-risk districts are our top priority and we are keen to eliminate the poliovirus from the challenging areas while protecting the rest of the region as well.”
“I particularly urge all parents and caregivers to get their children vaccinated instead of hiding them or refusing to take the necessary drops during all vaccination drives,” he continued. “It is important to realize that the poliovirus still exists in our surroundings and no child is safe until all children are truly vaccinated.”
Pakistan has trained over 100,000 people to carry out the vaccination drive and inoculate eligible children by visiting their doorstep.

Film produced by Pakistani expats in Dubai set for global release on UAE national day

Updated 27 November 2022

Film produced by Pakistani expats in Dubai set for global release on UAE national day

  • The story of ‘Yaara Vey’ is weaved around the life of a self-confident female protagonist, says the writer of the film
  • The movie has been described as a ‘UAE product’ and will be globally released on the national day of the Gulf country

DUBAI: A Pakistani film, which is mainly produced by the country’s expatriate community in Dubai and focuses on the unpredictability of life, is all set for a global release on the national day of the United Arab Emirates which falls on December 2, confirmed its writer and actors on Sunday.

Shot in Dubai, Georgia and Thailand, “Yaara Vey” will be simultaneously launched in Pakistan, the Middle East, United Kingdom and the United States.

A poster of an upcoming Pakistani film, Yaara Vey, which was mainly produced by the country’s expatriate community in Dubai and is scheduled to be globally released on December 2. (Photo courtesy: Aleeze Nasser)

Mahwash Ijaz, the co-author of the story, described the film as “UAE product,” saying the storyline was heavily structured around characters based in the Gulf state.

Speaking to Arab News, she said the film “shows that life is unpredictable and can throw curve balls at you.”

“You have to listen to your heart when you want to make the right decision,” she continued, as she hoped that “people will come out of the film feeling loved and having experienced a beautiful journey.”

Ijaz said the central character of the production was an expatriate.

“The film shows many of the struggles and feelings we go through as people on the move,” she said. “It has a global appeal in the sense that love and unpredictability of life are universal themes.”

Asked how “Yaara Vey” planned to set itself apart from other films focusing on similar subjects, she said its central character was a modern, self-confident female which was a rarity in most Pakistani big-screen productions that heavily relied on male protagonists and heroes.

Ijaz maintained this pattern was unlike television productions “where most stories are centered on women.”

“This is a film written by two women,” she continued. “I feel we have a unique grasp of female psyche. When we were writing the film, we were very mindful of how women talk and behave with their male counterparts. So, I think one of the key ideas in the story is how women see women and love as well. A lot of inspiration comes from there.”

Aleeze Nasser, a Dubai-based actor, debuts in the film as the female lead and appears with popular Pakistani television actor Sami Khan.

She described acting as her passion in an email interview with Arab News.

“After my business graduation, I went on to New York Film Academy to graduate in acting,” she said. “I have always had this deep-rooted desire to act. Hence, I prepared myself by professionally, learning various forms of dancing and horse riding etc.”

Nasser maintained many girls would identify with her role.

“My character has a lot of elements that resonate with me and I am sure it is the story of many girls who can relate to it,” she said without sharing further details.

She was previously associated with the Dubai Film Commission and actively participated in its growth. She also made appearances in short films and commercials in the past.

Nasser, who was also involved in the production of the film, said she enjoyed acting more than anything else.

This screenshot captures a scene from an upcoming Pakistani film, Yaara Vey, which is scheduled to be globally released on December 2. (Photo courtesy: Asad Raza Khan)

Another Dubai-based Pakistani actor, Asad Raza Khan, who plays the friend and love interest of the protagonist in the film, said many international projects were shot in the UAE after its government started giving facilities, such as the golden visa and subsidies.

“Dubai is a melting pot of cultures,” he said. “That is why the 300-odd people working onscreen and behind are from different nationalities.”

“People can expect to see a spectrum of emotions, stunning visuals and locations while the music is a treat to the ears,” Khan continued.

A creation of Beeline Productions, “Yaara Vey” is directed by Manish Pawar, an Indian filmmaker who has previously done successful projects for Zee 5 and Amazon Prime.

The writer of the film promised that “audiences will get breathtaking views of Dubai” and see “how truly cosmopolitan it is.”

Among its several strengths, she added, were the vocals of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, who has a massive fan following in South Asia.

Pakistani telecom experts seek solution to payment issues faced by Google, Amazon, Meta

Updated 27 November 2022

Pakistani telecom experts seek solution to payment issues faced by Google, Amazon, Meta

  • The central bank recently revoked the direct carrier billing mechanism while saying it violated foreign exchange regulations
  • Experts say payment suspension to Google, Amazon and Meta could lead to international mistrust, hurt Pakistan’s IT exports

KARACHI: Pakistan’s information technology and telecommunication stakeholders on Sunday called for a solution to a billing issue that recently suspended payments to Google, Amazon and Meta through cellphones after the central bank said the mechanism violated foreign exchange regulations.
Direct Carrier Billing (DCB) is an online payment method which allows users to make purchases by adding payments to their cellphone bill. The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) said late Saturday some information technology services had been misused by cellphone operators in violation of the foreign exchange regulations.
Entities desirous of utilizing the facility designate a bank which is then approved by the SBP. Subsequently, such payments can be processed without further regulatory approval.
The central bank said in a recent statement that “Telcos [telecommunication companies] were remitting a bulk of the funds for video gaming, entertainment content etc. purchased by their customers” under the DCB in addition to utilizing the mechanism to remit funds for IT related services for their own use.
The statement added that these companies were acting as intermediaries and payment aggregators by facilitating acquisition of services by their subscribers. It added that in view of the violation of foreign exchange regulations, the SBP had revoked designation of banks for the companies for such payments.
Telecom sector experts said millions of dollars were stuck in the system due to the measure taken by the central bank since September this year.
“I think around $34 million payment has been accumulated during last one month or so,” Parvez Iftikhar, an international telecom consultant, said while talking to Arab News. “Mobile phone users will still be able to download apps from Google Play Store but they will not be able to pay for them using their mobile balance. The payments can still be made through credit cards but a majority of people don’t use them.”
Iftikhar maintained the central bank took the decision to restrict the outflow of dollar, fearing the step would also impact the country’s IT exports since freelancers and other small information technology players would not be able to pay for some of the tools and apps required.
“The value of the acquisition of such services is around $60 million annually which is negligible,” he continued while demanding an “amicable solution” to deal with the situation which was likely to impact IT exports and small technology businesses.
Zohaib Khan, Chairman of Pakistan Software Houses Association ([email protected]) said the impact of holding back the payments of global companies was hurting their trust.
“The global companies which have footfall in Pakistan are losing their trust in the country is withholding their payments,” he told Arab News, adding that his organization wanted the government to remove such hurdles to enable technology companies to freely pay and receive dollars.
“If these issues are not resolved, how will our exports increase,” he asked. “While Pakistan grapples with economic crisis, IT and information technology enabled services can potentially stabilize the country’s economy.”
Pakistan’s IT minister Amin Ul Haque also expressed his concern over the payment suspension on Saturday.
“The process of payment halt to foreign institutions may impact Pakistan’s image,” his ministry quoted him as saying.
Haque also wrote a letter to the finance minister, requesting him to ask the central bank to revisit its decision and resume payments.
Google, on the other hand, has decided to suspend the DCB services from November 30 until its outstanding payments are cleared.
The central bank, however, maintained media reports saying that the global IT giant’s payments were stuck at the State Bank were baseless and misleading.
“The SBP strongly refutes all such assertions,” it said in a statement.

Ex-PM Khan ‘running out of options’ as party set to quit all assemblies

Updated 27 November 2022

Ex-PM Khan ‘running out of options’ as party set to quit all assemblies

  • The former prime minister said his PTI party was getting out of a ‘corrupt system’
  • Announcement was made to create possibility of political disruption, expert says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan is trying to create more pressure on the government, experts said on Sunday, as he announced that his party was quitting all assemblies while addressing a mammoth public rally in Rawalpindi a day before.

Khan, who was removed in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in April, has since held several anti-government rallies while demanding early elections. He has frequently maintained that his ouster was part of a US-backed “foreign conspiracy,” a claim denied by Washington and Khan’s opponents who are now in power.

The leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party made his first public appearance on Saturday since being wounded in a gun attack earlier this month, when he called off a protest march that began from the eastern city of Lahore and was set to culminate in Islamabad.

He announced at the recent rally that his party was going to resign from all assemblies, telling tens of thousands of his cheering supporters that PTI was getting out of this “corrupt system.”

The announcement was a new move taken after months of calling for early elections, said political analyst Dr. Huma Baqai, which saw Khan’s narrative “getting weaker due to repetition.”

“Economy is the main concern of all, and after mass resignations by the PTI, the situation will further deteriorate and put the government on the back foot and can force them to announce early elections,” she added.

Pakistan, faced with high inflation and dwindling foreign reserves, has been battling an economic crisis exacerbated by devastating floods that killed over 1,700 people.

Former attorney-general of Pakistan, Anwar Mansoor Khan, also said the latest political development “can build pressure” on the current government.

“But they [the PTI] tried it [the resignation move] in the national assembly but did not succeed. It is a matter of wits and how long the government can sustain pressure,” Khan told Arab News.

PTI lawmakers resigned from the national assembly en masse in April, ahead of a vote to elect a new premier after Khan was removed from office.

Khan’s decision could “create a lot of problems” for the federal government, said senior journalist Arifa Noor, and was taken because of the recent change in military leadership.

“[He] wants to increase the pressure on the new army chief to make some decision in favor of his demand of calling early elections,” Noor told Arab News.

Pakistan named Lieutenant-General Asim Munir on Thursday as chief of its army, a major power center that plays a vital and influential role in the governance of the nuclear-armed nation. The appointment coincided with a dispute between Khan and the military, who the former premier blamed for playing a part in his ouster.

PTI’s mass resignation was intended to “create the possibility of political disruption,” said Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, president of Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency.

“By doing this he maintains pressure on the government and sends a message to the army as well that they should use their influence to prevent the possible disruption,” he continued.

Khan, who said he canceled his protest march because he feared it would cause havoc in the country, was “running out of options,” Mehboob added.

“Threat to resign from provincial assemblies is all he could do at this time to keep the momentum of his campaign.”

But there remain uncertainties with Khan's announcement, with political analyst Mosharraf Zaidi saying that “resignations from the assemblies would not have the same effect as a dissolution.”

“PTI’s threat of the dissolution of the KP and Punjab assemblies would need to actually happen for it to actually challenge the federal government,” he told Arab News, alluding to PTI’s stronghold in the northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the coalition government Khan has in Punjab with ally PML-Q.

Former secretary of Pakistan’s election commission Kanwar Dilshad highlighted that Khan’s announcement was incomplete, as he did not clarify whether “he will dissolve assemblies or will just resign,” also noting that each would have different consequences.

“Dissolution of assemblies can bring a real constitutional crisis and force the federal government to call early elections,” he said.