Pakistan needs innovation and technology to become globally competitive, drive economic growth — US ambassador

A general view of the US-Pakistan Innovation Expo in Islamabad, Pakistan on March 18, 2023. (AN Photo)
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Updated 18 March 2023

Pakistan needs innovation and technology to become globally competitive, drive economic growth — US ambassador

  • US embassy is hosting innovation expo for local startups to share ideas with American and Pakistani investors
  • Ambassador Donald Blome highlights US-Pakistan green alliance for inclusive economic growth and bilateral trade

ISLAMABAD: The top US diplomat in Pakistan emphasized the use of innovation and technology on Saturday while discussing how the South Asian nation could increase global competitiveness and drive economic growth in the coming years.

Addressing a two-day United States-Pakistan Innovation Expo, Ambassador Donald Blome said the event provided a platform to local startups to share their business ideas and prototypes with American and Pakistani venture capitalists to attract further investment.

“Pakistan has historically relied on traditional industries like textiles and agriculture to drive its economy, but the country needs innovation and technology to become globally competitive, and fostering entrepreneurship is key to driving economic growth and job creation for Pakistan,” he said.

The US envoy added promoting inclusive economic growth and increasing trade and investment between the US and Pakistan were among the top priorities of his government.

“One of our most important initiatives is the recently launched US-Pakistan green alliance framework which fosters sustainable economic growth through renewable energy, agriculture, trade and expanded commerce between our countries,” he continued while pointing out the US was already Pakistan’s largest export market.

“Pakistan’s immense potential is clear to everyone, as you have a young and educated population and a location that connects you to some of the most dynamic and rapidly growing markets in the world,” he added.

US Ambassador to Pakistan Donald Blome interacts with Pakistani entrepreneurs at their startup stall in Islamabad, Pakistan on March 18, 2023. (AN Photo)

The US ambassador said it was exciting to see that Pakistan was embracing its entrepreneurs, though he maintained this support must be paired with policies that provide access to capital, mentorship, training and working opportunities.

“Pakistan must remove barriers and make it easier for startups to get off the ground,” he said, adding the US embassy had funded over 181 entrepreneurship-related projects valued at $14.7 million since 2012, and the ongoing innovation expo was also a step to deepen bonds between the Pakistani and US private sectors.

Parvez Abbasi, project director at the National Incubation Center, said the event demonstrated the power of collaboration and the endless possibilities that emerged when talent and resources were combined.

“I am grateful to all the participants and organizers who have made this expo a success and look forward to seeing the incredible innovations that will come out of this partnership,” he said.

Asim S. Hussain, chief executive officer of the national technology fund, IGNITE, said foreign investors could help enhance the future potential of Pakistani startups. He also said his organization was ready to collaborate with the US embassy to boost the startup ecosystem in Pakistan.

“There are some opportunities for collaborations, such as launching our national startup portal later this year, working on a center of excellence in animation in Karachi, and also launching an acceleration program where we will provide funding to around 30 top startups every year,” he added.

Participating startups appreciated the opportunity provided to them by the organizers of the event to explore ways of consolidating their operations through international collaborations and funding.

Azeema Dhanji, co-founder of Connect, a startup that works for the deaf community in Pakistan, said the main aim of participating in the expo was to interact with people and explore ways to build a more inclusive world.

“We are building affordable technology for the deaf community in Pakistan by helping them with their communication and information needs,” she told Arab News. “Now, we are building a sign language recognition artificial intelligence that can help people learn sign language through AI technology.”

Naveera Waheed, CEO of Orbit, said the exhibition provided a platform to local entrepreneurs to meet potential partners and clients for their program.

“Through our startup, we are trying to improve the communication skills of employees through our artificial intelligence engine, which calculates their score on confidence, cohesiveness, and other factors like that,” Waheed told Arab News.

She explained that the program used both web and virtual reality (VR) to improve the communication skills of individuals.

“Our journey started in 2015 from a US State Department-sponsored program under which I visited the USA and cracked my first multimillion-dollar deal to implement this idea,” she added.

Visitors interact with Pakistani tech entrepreneurs at their startup stall in Islamabad, Pakistan on March 18, 2023. (AN Photo) 

Visitors interact with Pakistani tech entrepreneurs at their startup stall in Islamabad, Pakistan on March 18, 2023. (AN Photo) 


Pakistani court grants protection to Imran Khan from arrest

Updated 17 sec ago

Pakistani court grants protection to Imran Khan from arrest

  • Lahore High Court ruling provides relief to embattled Khan, who is now the country's top opposition leader
  • The former prime minister has avoided appearances before courts in Islamabad in at least three cases since November

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani court on Friday shielded from arrest former Prime Minister Imran Khan until at least next week, amid a roiling political crisis that has pitted the celebrity politician against the current government and spilled over into street protests.

Khan was ousted through a no-confidence vote in Parliament last April. Since then, the 70-year-old former cricket player turned politician has become embroiled in more than 100 legal cases against him, including graft while in office.

The ruling by the Lahore High Court was another reprieve for embattled Khan, who is now the country's top opposition leader. The court order virtually prevents his arrest until March 27 over accusations that he incited supporters from his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party to violence when he failed to appear before a court in the capital Islamabad because of hours-long clashes between his party and the police.

Since November, Khan has avoided appearances before courts in Islamabad in at least three cases, including a graft charge, when he was wounded in a gun attack at a protest rally in the eastern Punjab province. Khan says his life is in danger and that's why he is seeking bail to avoid appearances before judges in multiple cases.

Khan’s standoff with the government of his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, has turned increasingly violent in recent weeks. Last week, his supporters clashed with police in Islamabad, resulting in injuries to dozens of officers.

Because of the violence, Khan could not appear before the judge in person to face indictment in the graft case. He is accused of illegally selling state gifts he had received during his term as premier and concealing his assets.

Khan has denied all charges against him, saying he is being victimized by Sharif's government.

Friday's court order was another reprieve for Khan, who is expected to lead a rally in Lahore on Saturday to pressure the government of Sharif to agree to the holding of snap elections. Sharif has said the next parliamentary elections will be held on time later this year when the parliament completes its five-year term.

Khan has repeatedly alleged that his ouster was a conspiracy engineered by his successor, Sharif, and the United States. Both have denied the charge.

But the ousted premier in recent weeks has adopted a conciliatory approach toward Washington.

On Friday, Pakistan's Defense Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif at a news conference criticized Khan for trying to seek help from diplomats and politicians in the United States, saying for months Khan blamed Washington for his ouster, and now the former premier was approaching America to get help against Sharif's government.

Asif also defended this week's decision by the country's elections oversight body to delay elections for a provincial assembly in the key Punjab province from April 30 to until Oct. 8.

The move has drawn criticism from Khan. Wednesday's decision by the Election Commission comes months after Khan’s party dissolved the regional assemblies in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in a failed bid to force snap national elections.

On Friday, President Arif Alvi wrote a letter to Sharif, urging him to hold elections for the two provincial assemblies on time.

Pakistan origin diplomat becomes first Muslim woman appointed to head UK diplomatic mission

Updated 39 min 51 sec ago

Pakistan origin diplomat becomes first Muslim woman appointed to head UK diplomatic mission

  • Fouzia Younis, currently director communications at British High Commission in Islamabad, appointed consul general in Toronto
  • Younis has significant experience in the Middle East and South Asia, and in managing multicultural and diverse teams

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan origin British diplomat Fouzia Younis, the head of communications and public diplomacy at the British High Commission in Islamabad, has been announced as her country's consul general in Toronto, the first British Muslim woman appointed to head a UK diplomatic mission.

Younis, whose parents are from Pakistan, has significant experience of building international relationships in the Middle East and South Asia, and managing, coaching and developing multicultural and diverse teams. Until March 2020, she was also the co-chair of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Network (BAME) leading a global network of over 250 staff.

“Privileged to be appointed as His Majesty's British Consul General to Toronto,” Younis wrote on Twitter.

“Special moment as we think it's the 1st time (but don't have data) that  a British Muslim woman has been appointed as Head of a UK Diplomatic Post. I won’t be the last.”




Younis thanked her father “who used to drop me at Digbeth Coach Station at 4am so I could get to my work interviews.”

She also paid tribute to her late mother who “stood up for 18 year old me to go to uni & waited at bus stops to walk me home through dark streets.”




In a previous Twitter post in May last year, Younis announced that her mother had passed away from COVID-19, paying tribute to a woman who never went to school herself but raised four successful children, including an award-winning lawyer, a businessman and a career diplomat. 

“To the girls who look like me,  who are battling prejudice, racism & sexism from within communities & outside, who are told they can't do it, or that they don't sound or look the part. Don't let anyone dim your power.  You can change the world.”




Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves reach $10 billion — central bank

Updated 24 min 31 sec ago

Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves reach $10 billion — central bank

  • Last week, Pakistan’s depleting forex reserves shored up slightly after receiving $500 loan from China
  • Central Bank says Pakistan’s official reserves stood at $4.6 billion on March 17 after external support

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s central bank said on Friday the country’s total foreign exchange reserves stood at $10 billion on March 17 after it received $500 million from a Chinese commercial bank.
Cash-strapped Pakistan has been making desperate attempts to secure external financing to stave off a balance-of-payments crisis, with its forex reserves depleting to critically low levels, currency hitting new lows against the dollar, and inflation at a multi-decade high.
The country is trying to secure a $1.2 billion loan tranche from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as part of its $7 billion bailout program, to keep the economy afloat.
Last week, Pakistan’s depleting forex reserves shored up slightly after the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) released the second instalment of $500 million as part of a $1.3 billion facility to the country.
"The total liquid foreign reserves held by the country stood at US$10,139.2 million as of March 17, 2023," the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) said in a statement on Friday.
It added the foreign reserves held by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) stood at US$4,598.7 million, while the net foreign reserves held by commercial banks in the country amounted to US$5,540.5 million.
"During the week ended on March 17, 2023, SBP received US$500 million as [Government of Pakistan] commercial loan disbursement. After accounting for external debt repayments, SBP reserves increased by US$280 million to US$ 4,598.7 million," the bank said.
It may be recalled that Pakistan’s official forex reserves held by the central bank fell rapidly, from $16.3 billion in February 2022 to a nine-year low of $2.92 billion on February 3, 2023. The dwindling reserves, barely enough to cover three weeks of imports, pushed the country to the brink of default.
To prevent the outflow of dollars, Pakistan imposed restrictions on imports, with the move prompting the partial closure of many industrial units and affecting exports, which provide a major source of revenue for the country.

President Alvi writes to PM Sharif, expresses concern over ‘glaring violation’ of fundamental rights

Updated 38 min 14 sec ago

President Alvi writes to PM Sharif, expresses concern over ‘glaring violation’ of fundamental rights

  • The president says ‘frivolous cases’ against politicians and journalists are tarnishing Pakistan’s image internationally
  • He also describes the election commission’s decision to postpone Punjab polls as ‘flagrant violation’ of constitution

ISLAMABAD: President Arif Alvi wrote a letter to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday, expressing concern over recent political developments in the country while mentioning the “glaring violation” of the fundamental rights of opposition activists and media personnel to stifle dissenting voices in Pakistan. 

Alvi’s letter comes at a time when the government has registered a slew of cases against former Prime Minister Imran Khan and leaders of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. Khan has also criticized the police and other law-enforcing agencies for abducting and torturing his party supporters and charging them with terrorism and sedition. 

The president, a close Khan ally, quoted various constitutional provisions related to freedom of speech, dignity of citizens, and the right to fair trial in his letter, adding that their spirit and mandate had been “clearly transgressed.” 

“Events have taken place in the recent past highlighted by the print, electronic and social media about glaring violations of Fundamental and Human Rights that need to be brought to your notice to ensure remedial measures and preventive action,” he said. 

“Multiple fake and frivolous cases have been registered against politicians, workers, journalists and media persons,” he added. “Houses of political workers have been raided and citizens abducted without warrants and lawful justification.” 

The president said such incidents had tarnished the image of the country, adding they could have serious repercussions for the future of democracy and the state of human rights in Pakistan. 

He also mentioned the Election Commission of Pakistan’s decision to postpone the Punjab polls from April 30 to October 8 in a recent proclamation while describing it as a “flagrant violation of the Constitution ... by the executive authorities and government departments.” 

Alvi said Article 220 of the Constitution required state institutions to help the election commission hold free and fair polls, though the relevant departments had seemingly failed to extend such cooperation. 

He also blamed the prime minister for not holding any meaningful consultation with him over policy issues. 

“The Prime Minister, being head of Government, is responsible for the safeguard of Human Rights as well as Fundamental Rights of every citizen of Pakistan as enshrined in the Constitution,” he said. 

The president added: “It is further emphasized that all concerned executive authorities of Federal and Provincial Governments should be directed to refrain from abuse of Human Rights and also to assist the [Election Commission of Pakistan] to hold general elections in provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, within the timeframe in compliance of Supreme Court’s Order dated 1st March, 2023, to avoid further complications including Contempt of Court.”

Pakistan presents prestigious gallantry award to Saudi defense attaché

Updated 24 March 2023

Pakistan presents prestigious gallantry award to Saudi defense attaché

  • Major General Awad Bin Abdullah Al-Zahrani was given Hilal-e-Imtiaz for strengthening security ties between the two countries
  • Commander of Bahrain National Guards Shaikh Mohammed Bin Salman Al-Khalifa also received Nishan-i-Imtiaz from the president

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government has given the second highest civilian award to Major General Awad Bin Abdullah Al-Zahrani, the Saudi defense attaché in the country, to acknowledge his services in promoting and strengthening security ties between the two countries.

The Hilal-e-Imtiaz or Crescent of Excellence is bestowed upon both civilian and military officials, and is open to Pakistani nationals and foreign citizens who have made significant contributions to the country’s security or national interests, world peace, cultural or other public endeavors.

The award is given to prominent individuals on Pakistan Day, celebrated annually on March 23 to commemorate the adoption of the Lahore Resolution in 1940, which called for the creation of an independent sovereign state for the Muslims of the Subcontinent.

“Heartiest felicitations to Maj Gen (Pilot) Staff Awad Bin Abdullah Al-Zahrani, the Defense Attache of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on being awarded Hilal-e-Imtiaz (Military) by the President of Pakistan,” Senator Sehar Kamran, a former Pakistani parliamentarian, wrote in a Twitter post.

Al-Zahrani also received the award for his personal efforts in facilitating the early supply of relief goods during the unprecedented floods in Pakistan last year, which claimed 1,700 lives and affected over 33 million people.

In addition to the Saudi official, Shaikh Mohammed Bin Salman Al-Khalifa, the commander of Bahrain National Guards, was also awarded the Nishan-i-Imtiaz or Order of Excellence award.

During Thursday’s ceremony, President Dr. Arif Alvi presented awards to 135 citizens and foreign nationals in recognition of their contributions to their respective fields.

Among the recipients were 49 officers and soldiers of Pakistan’s army, navy, and air force, including the families of four martyred troops.