Pakistan welcomes Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt becoming new SCO dialogue partners

Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari during the Shanghai Council of Foreign Ministers in Tashkent on July 29, 2022. (Photo courtesy: @BBhuttoZardari/Twitter)
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Updated 29 July 2022

Pakistan welcomes Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt becoming new SCO dialogue partners

  • Foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is in Tashkent to for the SCO’s Council of Foreign Ministers
  • Currently, SCO has six dialogue partners, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal and Sri Lanka

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Friday welcomed UAE’s desire to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and welcomed new Dialogue Partners Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt, saying the developments were a reflection of the organization’s growing importance in the world.  

FM Bhutto-Zardari is in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, leading the Pakistani delegation for a two-day Shanghai Council of Foreign Ministers which started yesterday, Thursday. He is also expected to hold meetings with his counterparts from the SCO during his stay in Tashkent.  

The SCO is an inter-governmental organization whose permanent members include China, Russia, Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.  

On July 4, SCO Secretary-General Zhang Ming met UAE Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ali Obaid Al Dhaheri during which the UAE diplomat said he followed the activities of the SCO closely and with interest and highly appreciated its achievements in ensuring stability in the region.  

“We welcome new Dialogue Partners Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt and look forward to brotherly Iran taking its place soon as a full member,” Bhutto-Zardari said during his address at the council of foreign ministers.  

“We also welcome the UAE’s desire to join the SCO family,” he added, saying the SCO's membership expansion was a testimony to its growing importance "in the global multilateral architecture."

The foreign minister also supported the applications of Bahrain and Maldives as new dialogue partners and Azerbaijan and Armenia as new observers of the group.  

Currently, the SCO has four observer states, namely Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia, and six dialogue partners namely Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

US humanitarian agency announces $16.4 million for flood-affected people of Sindh

Updated 11 sec ago

US humanitarian agency announces $16.4 million for flood-affected people of Sindh

  • USAID delivered nearly 630 metric tons of life-saving relief commodities to Pakistan in the aftermath of floods
  • Its new funding will reach more than 20 million people and assist with recovery, risk reduction and resilience

ISLAMABAD: The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has announced $16.4 million in additional development and humanitarian assistance to support the flood-affected population of Pakistan’s Sindh province, an official statement from the agency confirmed on Tuesday.

Pakistan witnessed torrential rains last year which were followed by devastating floods that claimed 1,700 lives, impacted 33 million people, killed livestock, and washed away swathes of agricultural land. According to official estimates, the devastation caused losses of about $30 billion, putting the economy of the cash-strapped country under further stress.

Sindh and Balochistan were the worst-affected provinces where flood waters have still not receded from certain areas.

“Today in Sindh, Pakistan, USAID Deputy Administrator Isobel Coleman announced $16.4 million in additional development and humanitarian assistance to support the resilience of communities in Pakistan that experienced 2022’s historically severe floods,” the statement said.

It added that the new funding will reach over 20 million flood-affected individuals and assist with recovery, risk reduction, and resilience.

“The assistance will address worsening food insecurity and malnutrition and help curb the spread of disease,” the statement continued while informing the funding would also support humanitarian partners to provide nutritious food to mothers and their children, help families rebuild local infrastructure to protect them from future disasters, and increase protection services to prevent gender-based violence and support survivors.

In the aftermath of last year’s floods, USAID also deployed a disaster-assistance response team to lead the US humanitarian response and rapidly provide aid to the affected communities.

The agency worked with partners to quickly scale up vital humanitarian assistance, including through partnering with the US Department of Defense, to successfully complete an air bridge that delivered nearly 630 metric tons of life-saving relief commodities to Pakistan.

“The US is one of the largest donors to Pakistan, providing more than $200 million in humanitarian and development assistance since 2022’s catastrophic floods,” the statement added.

“The United States continues to stand with the people of Pakistan as they recover from the impacts of the historic floods.”

Pakistan’s top court says gender discrimination form of harassment

Updated 53 min 49 sec ago

Pakistan’s top court says gender discrimination form of harassment

  • The Supreme Court maintains workplace harassment is not just limited to sexual behavior
  • A 14-page judgment written by Justice Ayesha Malik sets aside a 2021 high court verdict

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top court has ruled this week that discrimination against people on the basis of their gender at the workplace is also a form of harassment as the relevant law is not just confined to sexual behavior.

Cases related to harassment of women at the workplace are common in Pakistan, and according to the Islamabad-based non-profit organization, Alliance Against Sexual Harassment, about 93 percent of Pakistani working women, in both private and public sectors, acknowledge facing some kind of harassment in professional settings.

Moreover, the 2022 report of Pakistan’s Federal Ombudsman Secretariat for Protection Against Harassment at Workplace states that from 2018 to 2022, there were 2,169 complaints of harassment filed in the government sector, 582 lodged by women and 148 by men. In the private sector, there were 994 complaints from women and 445 by men.

The Pakistani parliament ratified the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) Act, 2022 as a law in January 2022. The amended law expanded the definition of workplace harassment, giving protection to informal workers, students, and freelancers, and redefining the workplace, among others.

Based on the upgraded law, a three-member Supreme Court bench, led by Justice Yahya Afridi and comprising Justices Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Ayesha Malik, heard a review petition against a 2021 judgment related to workplace harassment which had been passed by the court in 2019.

“The purpose of harassment laws is to address gender-based discrimination at the workplace and not to limit it to sexual forms of harassment,” a 14-page judgment, authored by Justice Malik and uploaded on the website of the top court on Tuesday, said.

The judgment added that the law included a broad range of conduct and behavior that results in workplace-related problems with serious consequences, one of the main being gender inequality.

“Being an issue grounded in equal opportunity and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment, sexual harassment in any form violates the dignity of a person as it is a demeaning practice that aims to reduce the dignity of an employee who has been forced to endure such conduct,” it said.

“Sexual harassment as gender-based discrimination is gender-based hostility, which creates a hostile work environment. It is a reflection of the unequal power relations between men and women which translates into a form of abuse exploitation and intimidation at the workplace which makes it a violation of a basic human right.”

In view of the definition of workplace harassment, the court ruled that a 2021 judgment of the Islamabad High Court appeared to have “an error” owing to the interpretation of harassment displayed by the court, the definition of which was “patently against the Act and its statement of objects.”

“Both the president [of the country] and the Islamabad High Court decided the case of [complainant] Nadia Naz on the understanding that harassment means sexual harassment having a sexual nature and form and did not examine the facts in the context of Nadia Naz’s perspective and her understanding of the injury caused,” the judgment read.

The court observed that in cases of harassment, the victim’s perspective on the issue was relevant.

“The standard of a reasonable woman should be considered to determine whether there was harassment, which rendered the workplace hostile and all relevant factors should be viewed objectively and subjectively,” it added.

“In doing so, the order of the president and the judgment of the high court had failed to give due emphasis on the injury claimed and the harmful nature of the events to the complainant.”

Under the circumstances, since harassment was understood in a limited context, it said, both the order as well as the judgment decided the cases on a mistaken understanding of the law,” the verdict said while setting aside the previous orders.

United States seeks access to detained fashion designer in Pakistan

Updated 07 June 2023

United States seeks access to detained fashion designer in Pakistan

  • Khadija Shah, a PTI loyalist, was arrested following protests over ex-PM Khan’s arrest on May 9
  • US State Department confirms Shah’s dual nationality whose family claims she was non-violent

WASHINGTON: The United States called Tuesday on Pakistan to grant consular access to a prominent fashion designer with dual citizenship who was detained in a wave of protests.

The State Department said its diplomats have not had access to Khadija Shah, the founder of the luxury fashion brand Elan, who was produced before an anti-terrorism court following protests over the May 9 arrest of ousted prime minister Imran Khan.

“We have asked Pakistani officials for consular access to her,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters, confirming Shah’s dual nationality.

He indicated that more US citizens have been arrested.

“Whenever a US citizen is arrested overseas, we stand ready to provide all appropriate assistance and we expect Pakistani authorities to respect all fair-trial guarantees owed to these detainees,” Patel said.

Shah’s family said that she took part non-violently in protests on May 9. Some demonstrators took aim at the powerful military, alleging a plot to sideline Khan, who was arrested on corruption allegations.

Shah’s family said that she voluntarily showed up to an investigation only to be arrested. When she appeared in an anti-terrorism court, her face was covered.

Thousands of people, including grassroots supporters and key Khan aides, have been rounded up since the Supreme Court declared that his detention was illegal and allowed him to walk free.

Pakistani industrialists demand tax relief, incentives for growth in federal budget

Updated 07 June 2023

Pakistani industrialists demand tax relief, incentives for growth in federal budget

  • Industrialists want income tax to start from Rs1.2 million, demand incentives to channel dollars from lockers to bank accounts
  • Pakistani economists dismiss the likelihood of significant incentives following the fragmentation of ex-PM Imran Khan’s PTI party

KARACHI: As Pakistan gears up in these challenging times to present the fiscal budget for the next year, the country’s industrialists hope to receive maximum relief, though economists dismiss the possibility of significant incentives under the evolving political circumstances.

Pakistan’s finance minister Ishaq Dar is all set to present the fiscal budget for the year 2023-24 on June 9 in the National Assembly, amid an inconclusive deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) under a bailout program signed back in 2019.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has expressed hope the budget would bring economic prosperity, business-friendly policies, and public welfare to the country. He has also promised to increase Public Sector Development Program (PSDP) from Rs700 billion to Rs950 billion to boost growth and create jobs.

Unlike the past few years, Dar interacted with a number of industrialist groups and representatives from various trade bodies to get their input and discuss budget proposals.

“He was receptive and listened to our proposals and assured to consider,” Abdul Aleem, general secretary of the Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OICCI), a representative body of multinational companies operating in Pakistan, told Arab News.

A Pakistani labourer works at an iron factory in Lahore on April 30, 2019, on the eve of the International Labour Day celebrated on May 1.(AFP/File)

“We proposed to broaden the tax net to boost revenue collection and not burden people with more taxes as they are already reeling under super inflation and high taxes. We also proposed to enhance the annual income tax threshold from Rs600,000 to Rs1.2 million,” he continued, hoping the OICCI recommendations would be considered by the government.

In another meeting with the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) delegation, the finance minister assured that “the most difficult reforms have been done and the bleeding is over,” according to a statement issued after the meeting.

As the South Asian nation faces dire dollar liquidity crunch, the KCCI suggests that importers be allowed to arrange payments of foreign exchange through their own sources amid declining forex reserves.

Tariq Yousuf, KCCI president, said the chamber has called for “introducing a tax-friendly environment so that the maximum number of individuals could be encouraged to get into the tax net.”

The KCCI has also proposed to reduce the rates of customs duty to two percent, sales tax to 12 percent, and waive the value addition sales tax of three percent on commercial importers.

The Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FPCCI) in its proposals strongly suggested an “agriculture emergency” and recommended the formation of a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) for the agriculture sector.

“Agri REIT has the potential to significantly transform the Pakistani agricultural landscape,” Irfan Iqbal Sheikh, FPCCI president, said.

A Pakistan textile labourer checks the quality of the yarn at a power loom in Karachi, on January 25, 2019, the financial capital and the largest industrial city of Pakistan. (AFP/File)

According to an estimate, Pakistan’s agriculture sector has the potential to overcome the current account deficit and balance-of-payments crisis within six years if the agriculture sector grows at six percent to achieve the necessary economic growth and job creation, he said.

The FPCCI called for budgetary measures for the growth of micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises, the industrial and commercial segment, and tax policies and reforms.

To end the uncertainty, chaos and rumors in the market, the FPCCI suggested the government should launch an incentive scheme to channel dollar holdings from lockers and personal safes into bank accounts, exempting such deposits from any taxes.

Upon withdrawal of the Pakistani rupee, a one or two percent profit should be offered as an incentive.

The government will be presenting the budget for FY24 amid stagflation and a lot of uncertainties related to the upcoming elections and the fate of inflows from the IMF and other lenders, according to Topline Securities.

Amid these circumstances, Pakistani economists rule out any significant incentives under the evolving political situation after recent actions taken by the state against former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

“I don’t think the government will dole out any significant incentives,” Dr. Abid Qaiyum Suleri, executive director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), told Arab News.

“It was thought the government would give a pre-election budget, even if it would be unrealistic, to raise public expectations. But after the political developments that led to the disintegration of a major opposition party [PTI], it is most likely the next government will be formed by parties from the [ruling] PDM [Pakistan Democratic Movement alliance].”

Suleri said after the next elections, the new government would have to negotiate an IMF program, adding that the budget would therefore not have too many “adventurist measures.”

“I think the budget will have a net-zero impact, giving from one hand and taking from the other,” he added.

The budget outlay for FY24 is estimated at Rs13-15 trillion, against Rs9.6 trillion proposed for FY23, assuming a record-high markup cost due to the high-interest rate.

The government is likely to set a tax revenue collection target of Rs9-9.2 trillion for FY24, 8.6 percent of GDP, which is up 21 percent from the target of Rs7.5 trillion set for the current fiscal year and 29 percent higher than expected tax collection, according to Topline Securities.


Tough Karachi cop, expert in Lyari gang wars, turns to art for respite

Updated 07 June 2023

Tough Karachi cop, expert in Lyari gang wars, turns to art for respite

  • Naeem Khan started painting after he met a renowned artist brought in over a domestic violence complaint in 1990s
  • Currently serving as police DSP, Khan hopes to devote himself entirely to painting after retiring in September

KARACHI: It was a typical work day for a cop named Naeem Khan sometime in the 1990s when a renowned artist was brought in over a domestic violence complaint to the Ajmer Nagri Police Station in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi.

Though his interaction with the artist that day lasted only a few hours before the case was closed, the two went on to form a mentor-student bond that lasted decades, turning the tough officer into a skilled artist.

“Throughout this relationship, I had the opportunity to learn a great deal from [the artist],” Khan told Arab News as he returned from patrolling the city in a police van. He declined to name the artist, who died in 2018.

The still image taken from a video shows cop named Naeem Khan working on a painting at his residence in Karachi, Pakistan on June 6, 2023. (AN Photo)

Initially, the artist guided the police officer in how to use shades and create color palettes but later taught him to paint portraits also, with Khan going on to paint stills of both senior police officers and top politicians.

But though he was brimming with passion for art, Khan’s demanding job fighting crime in Karachi — especially his years working in Lyari, a poor neighborhood known for crime and gang wars — did not allow the police officer to devote much time to painting. But once he was posted to a relatively calmer police station in the city in 2013, he had spare time to pursue art once again.

That was when he began creating portraits of Pakistani leaders like Benazir Bhutto and Imran Khan, and the rulers of Dubai, as well as exploring the art of calligraphy.

“Currently, I am working on various other art forms. I work on landscapes, calligraphy, portraits, and other contemporary styles, as I have made significant progress,” Khan said.

The still image taken from a video shows a painting of Pakistan's ex prime minister Benazir Bhutto made by cop named Naeem Khan at his residence in Karachi, Pakistan on June 6, 2023. (AN Photo)

When asked why his paintings did not depict crimes and the dark world he dealt with as a cop, Khan said: “I will do what I have learned from my master, who used to create portraits of beautiful girls, beautiful horses, and human beings.”

In terms of striking a balance between his tough job as a police officer and his passion for art, he said the latter allowed him some time to relax.

“In fact, my police job is hard and tiring, so whenever I find even a small amount of free time, be it five minutes or half an hour, I turn to my artwork,” he said.

Khan said that it was not difficult for him to shift his focus, as he took inspiration from his crime scenes and patrol work in so far as it had taught him to be able to fully immerse himself in any environment he found himself in th middle of. 

Currently serving as a deputy superintendent of police (DSP), Khan will retire this September after which he hopes he will be able to devote himself entirely to art.

“I will be able to spend more time with colors,” he said, “which is what I truly enjoy.”