Pakistan investment board to have ‘one-window operation’ for Middle East nations — planning minister

This general view shows the commercial district of Pakistan's port city of Karachi on February 3, 2023. (AFP/File)
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Updated 07 June 2023

Pakistan investment board to have ‘one-window operation’ for Middle East nations — planning minister

  • Pakistan has close ties with a number of Middle Eastern countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE
  • Pakistan’s national AI center working in close collaboration with Saudi Arabia, planning minister Ahsan Iqbal says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Minister for Planning and Development, Ahsan Iqbal, said on Wednesday the government was working on setting up a “streamlined one-window operation” for foreign investors, with a focus on investments and joint ventures with Middle Eastern nations.

Pakistan has close ties with a number of Middle Eastern countries, especially Saudi Arabia and UAE, which are the largest source of remittances to the South Asian nation.

“Pakistan is currently striving to establish a streamlined one-window operation within its Board of Investment (BOI) to revitalize the national economy and attain sustained growth, with a particular focus on fostering partnerships and securing direct foreign investment from Middle Eastern countries through joint ventures,” Iqbal said on Wednesday.

He was addressing a conference titled, “Developments in the Middle East: Lessons and Opportunities for Pakistan,” jointly organized by the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) and the digital news platform, We News.

“Pakistan can tap into Middle Eastern countries’ interests and requirements, particularly in the agriculture sector, by attracting investments for modernization and joint projects, aiming to meet domestic needs and boost agricultural exports,” the planning minister said.

Pakistan could also leverage its young population and IT skills to become an information powerhouse, aligning with the fast-growing Middle Eastern market, Iqbal added.

“Our national center for artificial intelligence is working in close collaboration with Saudi Arabia, which is a very welcoming development,” he said, adding that Pakistan could also explore opportunities in green energy projects to benefit from investment by Middle Eastern countries in the energy sector.

“We can enhance mineral exports through joint mining ventures and benefit from Middle Eastern companies’ expertise in tourism development to tap the vast potential in this sector,” he added.

The minister said the Middle East was witnessing “fast-paced development projects” for which skilled manpower was needed, which is why the federal government had recently established a task force to align Pakistan’s workforce and youth with market-based demands.

Dr. Ali Awadh Asseri, former Saudi ambassador to Pakistan, said the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 had successfully diversified its economy, presenting abundant opportunities for friendly nations like Pakistan.

“The region is going through a major shift from geopolitics to geoeconomics as China has emerged as a key partner in the region investing in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and historic turnaround of Iran-Saudi Arabia relations have opened new opportunities, especially in China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and economic integration of Central Asia through it,” Asseri said while addressing the conference through video link from Saudi Arabia.

Former Pakistani ambassador to Riyadh, Vice Admiral (retired) Khan Hasham Bin Siddiqui, said Saudi Arabi’s Vision 2030 emphasized new mega infrastructure projects and the privatization of several state-owned industries including energy, health care, and education, which created a lot of opportunities for allies like Pakistan.

“These developments are creating more demands and opportunities,” he said, “which Pakistan can avail by sending more skilled labor and also exporting its products required in new projects.”

Ex-PM Khan’s bail plea for cipher case to be heard in open court — lawyer

Updated 6 sec ago

Ex-PM Khan’s bail plea for cipher case to be heard in open court — lawyer

  • ‘Sensitive information’ related to the case would be heard during in-camera proceedings, says Khan’s lawyer
  • Khan is accused of leaking the contents of a diplomatic cable for his political advantage in the ‘cipher case’

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has ruled that former prime minister Imran Khan’s bail plea would be heard in an open court, his lawyer confirmed on Wednesday, adding that the court said “sensitive information” related to the case would be heard during an in-camera session.

Khan is accused of making public the contents of a confidential diplomatic cable sent by Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States last year. The case is popularly referred to as the “cipher case” in which Khan is accused of leaking the contents of the cable for his political advantage, according to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). Khan alleges the cable proves the United States had pressed Pakistan’s military to orchestrate the fall of his government because he had visited Russia shortly before it invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Both Washington and the Pakistani military have rejected his accusations.

After the IHC said last week that Khan’s bail plea hearing would be heard in an open court, the FIA requested the court on Sunday to conduct in-camera proceedings of the petition. The FIA argued that if the case would be heard by an open court, it could pose the “risk of deteriorating relations with other countries,” according to local media reports. After hearing arguments from both parties to the case, the high court reserved its verdict on the FIA’s request.

“Islamabad High Court has given the verdict to hold Mr. Imran Khan’s bail plea hearing in an open court,” Panjutha wrote on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. “It has also said that any information which is pointed out by the lawyers as sensitive would be heard during an in-camera session.”

Panjutha criticized the verdict, saying that it would be a cause for “shame” for the country.

Khan has been in jail since Aug. 5 after a trial court in Islamabad found him guilty of “corrupt practices” in a case involving the unlawful sale of state gifts during his tenure as prime minister from 2018 to 2022. However, he served his sentence at a high-security prison in Attock instead of Rawalpindi jail. On Aug. 29, the IHC dismissed Khan’s conviction in the sale of unlawful state gifts case but he continued to remain in prison for the cipher case.

Last Tuesday, the former prime minister was shifted from the Attock prison to Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail on the IHC’s orders.

Khan, ousted via a parliamentary vote in April 2022, has accused Pakistan’s powerful military and his political rivals of colluding to keep him in jail so that he is unable to contest the upcoming elections. The former prime minister has repeatedly cited the PTI’s recent successes in by-elections held in various parts of the country as evidence of his growing popularity among the masses.

Pakistan is racked with political instability as the South Asian country faces an economic meltdown that has seen its reserves dwindle to dangerous levels and its currency weaken significantly against the US dollar. Political analysts have urged the caretaker government to hold free, fair and transparent elections to pull Pakistan out of its current crises.

Pakistan eye easier ride on World Cup rollercoaster

Updated 04 October 2023

Pakistan eye easier ride on World Cup rollercoaster

  • The green shirts will tackle outsiders Netherlands in their opening match of the World Cup on Friday
  • Babar Azam says the first tournament match is always important and the team wanted a winning start

HYDERABAD: Pakistan tackle outsiders Netherlands in their opening match of the World Cup on Friday desperate to avoid a repeat of the disastrous start of four years ago which undermined their campaign.

In 2019, Pakistan lost to the West Indies first up in Nottingham.

Shot out for a paltry 105 in 21.4 overs, Pakistan went down by seven wickets. They eventually missed out on a semifinal spot on net run-rate.

Four years on and Pakistan are already riding a familiar tournament rollercoaster.

They crashed out of last month’s Asia Cup after a big defeat against arch-rivals India before being ousted by Sri Lanka in the Super Four stage.

They also lost both their recent World Cup warm-ups against New Zealand and Australia.

Despite the sketchy form, captain Babar Azam insists his team are ready for the World Cup in a country which only two of the squad have ever visited.

Pakistan last played in India in 2016 at the Twenty20 World Cup.

“We had good practice in the last week since our arrival and two useful workouts in the warm-up games,” said Azam.

Bangladesh's Shakib Al Hasan and Sri Lanka's Dasun Shanaka, South Africa's Temba Bavuma, New Zealand's Kane Williamson and India's Rohit Sharma, presenters former India captain Ravi Shastri and former England captain Eoin Morgan, England's Jos Buttler and Pakistan's Babar Azam, Australia's Pat Cummins, Afghanistan's Hashmatullah Shahidi and Netherlands' Scott Edwards speak during the captain's day ahead of the 2023 Cricket World Cup in Ahmedabad, India, on October 4, 2023. (REUTERS)

The captain is the top-ranked batsman in ODI cricket and reinforced his credentials with knocks of 80 and 90 in the two warm-ups, returning to form after a dismal Asia Cup.

“The first match of a tournament is always very important so we are definitely looking forward to a winning start,” he said.

Babar insisted 1992 champions Pakistan will not underestimate the Dutch, a team they have defeated six times in six meetings.

The Netherlands, ranked 14 in the world, had to come through the qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe earlier this year and made it to the World Cup alongside Sri Lanka.

“I want to congratulate the Netherlands for playing in this World Cup. They played some good cricket in the qualifiers and that is why they are here,” added Babar.

“There is no room for complacency and we will be on the ball from the first match.”

Pakistan will hope their spin trio of Shadab Khan, Usama Mir and Mohammad Nawaz, backed by part-timers Iftikhar Ahmed and Agha Salman, expose opponents’ weaknesses against slow bowling at the tournament.

Although they are without the injured Naseem Shah, spearhead Shaheen Shah Afridi and Haris Rauf will pose a formidable new ball threat.

The Netherlands have only ever won two matches at the World Cup since their maiden appearance in 1996.

Spinners Colin Ackermann and Roelof van der Merwe, and pacer Paul van Meekeren are back after missing the qualifiers.

Wesley Barresi, the only surviving member of the 2011 World Cup on the sub-continent, lends experience to the batting which also boasts prime run-getters Max O’Dowd, Vikramjit Singh, Teja Nidamanuru and skipper Scott Edwards.

But their hopes will rest largely on all-rounders Bas de Leede and Logan van Beek, key performers at the qualifiers.

De Leede scored 285 runs and picked up 15 wickets in Zimbabwe while Van Beek smashed 30 runs and took two wickets in the knife-edge Super Over win against the West Indies.

“The opportunity to play in a World Cup is something that a lot of these guys have dreamt of,” said Tonga-born Edwards.

Despite their status as rank outsiders, the Dutch do not lack confidence.

“We hold high hopes going into this World Cup that we can put in a couple of really big performances and those can result in wins,” coach Ryan Cook told AFP.

“We’ll be putting everything that we can in to getting five or six wins to take us into the semifinals.”

From scenic valleys to cityscapes: How Gilgit App is reshaping Pakistan’s online marketplace

Updated 04 October 2023

From scenic valleys to cityscapes: How Gilgit App is reshaping Pakistan’s online marketplace

  • The app was originally designed to serve the local residents of Gilgit-Baltistan but was later launched in other cities
  • Unlike mainstream applications, Gilgit App is not ‘seller-centric’ and provides equally comfortable buying experience

GILGIT: A group of young programmers developed an online consumer app three years ago to serve the local community members in Pakistan’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) region, more famous for its stunning landscapes than technological prowess.

Yet, the app garnered surprising attention and business from major urban centers across Pakistan after a successful test run in Karachi last year in January, challenging the norm of tech start-ups typically emerging from big cities. Gilgit App, having expanded its reach in recent months, now finds more of its business originating outside its native region than within it.

Originally a part of uConnect Technologies, a local firm offering software solutions since 2016, the app emerged from a pre-marketing strategy on Facebook where it assisted locals in buying and selling vehicles.

Its debut not only shook the local market but also made ripples in cities far removed from GB, a beautiful but resource-limited area not commonly associated with Pakistan’s burgeoning tech sector.

“We started a service on Facebook under the name of Gilgit App where we used to technologically assist people with the buying and selling of bikes and other vehicles,” Ejaz Karim, one of the founders and CEO of Gilgit App, told Arab News in a recent conversation.

Team of Gilgit App poses for a photograph in Pakistan’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) region on September 9, 2022. (Photo courtesy: Gilgit App)

He informed the digital service was trending among the top app soon after its launch, adding that it was downloaded between 10,000 and 20,000 times within a brief span of 24 hours.

With an easy-to-use interface, the users of the online tool can buy and sell products, including cars, motorbikes, cellphones, laptops, home appliances, furniture, fashion products, property and pets, to meet their basic consumer needs.

“This app was initially designed and launched for the people of Gilgit,” Karim said. “But then our test run in Karachi got us a positive response. That’s when we released it in Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi and across Pakistan.”

“It now has more users in other cities compared to Gilgit,” he added.

Asked how his app was different from other mainstream platforms like OLX, he said that most online marketplace programs were “sellers-centric,” adding that his application also provided a comfortable experience to buyers since there were safety features in the app that protected them from fraudsters.

The Gilgit App CEO described frequent power breakdowns in his native region as one of the biggest problems faced by his company.

“This is especially true for the winter season when there is little to no electricity,” he said.

Additionally, he flagged the paucity of technical prowess around him as yet another issue while also mentioning the challenge of Internet connectivity.

“Nowadays, the Internet [issue] has almost resolved after the offices started to get fiber optics,” he said. “But many of our users [in GB] complain about the connectivity at their end. When the app runs slowly, the pace of downloading reduces as well.”

Discussing the expansion plans, Karim said the app was performing quite well, though his company wanted to strengthen itself further in the local market before making a move to the Middle East.

Shazia, who only goes by a single name, told Arab News she was the frontend developer.

“At Gilgit App, as a female, we get a favorable work environment to learn and hone our skills,” she said. “Our team leads deal with us respectfully and provide timely assistance to enhance our programming abilities.”

With the online consumer tool beginning to gain traction in local market, many of its users have started recommending it to others.

“I have been using Gilgit App for a year now, and my experience has been excellent,” Adnan Ali, whose job requires him to buy and sell sophisticated gadgets, told Arab News. “I’ve sold more than 10 products in the last year using this platform. Recently, I even sold a drone worth Rs120k.”

Ali called the app “user-friendly,” saying whenever he encountered an issue, the support team responded promptly and effectively.

“I highly recommend this app to anyone who’s looking to sell their products,” he continued. “I find it very reliable for finding the required items as well.”

Karamat Ali, another user, told Arab News he had been using the app for nearly three years.

“It has many good features to sell products,” he said. “But I would recommend the company to introduce inbox chatting and activate comments under photographs and images.”

Taliban criticize Pakistan’s plan to expel Afghan nationals, say refugees not causing security problems

Updated 04 October 2023

Taliban criticize Pakistan’s plan to expel Afghan nationals, say refugees not causing security problems

  • Pakistan blamed Afghan nationals for carrying out a majority of suicide attacks in its cities, asking illegal immigrants to go
  • Zabiullah Mujahid says Pakistan should continue to ‘tolerate’ Afghan refugees until they voluntarily decide to leave the country

ISLAMABAD: A senior official in Kabul on Wednesday criticized Pakistan’s decision to start expelling illegal immigrants, mostly Afghans, from next month amid mounting security concerns, saying that refugees from his country were not responsible for causing militant violence in Pakistani cities.

Pakistan has hosted a significant number of Afghan refugees for several decades, with their influx beginning in 1979 following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and continuing through various conflicts that afflicted the war-ravaged state.

Hundreds of thousands of Afghans also traveled to Pakistan since the US-led international forces left the neighboring country and the Taliban took over Kabul in 2021. While Pakistan hosts some 1.5 million registered refugees, more than a million others are estimated to be residing in the country unregistered.

Pakistan’s interim interior minister said on Tuesday Afghan nationals were involved in 14 out of 24 suicide bombings that took place in Pakistan since the beginning of this year, asking all foreigners residing illegally in the country to leave by the end of the month.

“The behavior of Pakistan against Afghan refugees is unacceptable,” Zabiullah Mujahid, Afghan government’s official spokesman, said in a social media post. “The Pakistani side should reconsider its plan.”

“Afghan refugees are not involved in Pakistan’s security problems,” he continued. “As long as they leave Pakistan voluntarily, that country should tolerate them.”

Pakistan witnessed a surge in extremist attacks, particularly in its two western provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, following the 2021 Taliban return to power in Kabul.

The recent spike in violence also owed to the breakdown of a fragile truce between the government and the proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militant network, whose leadership is said to be based in Afghanistan, last November.

Pakistan lost over 60 people in two suicide bombings that targeted a mosque and a religious congregation on Friday, prompting the government to ask all illegal immigrants to leave by November 1 or face forced expulsion.

US defense secretary holds call with Pakistan army chief to discuss regional developments

Updated 04 October 2023

US defense secretary holds call with Pakistan army chief to discuss regional developments

  • A statement issued in Washington says the two officials ‘discussed areas of mutual interest’
  • The Pakistan army’s media wing has not issued a statement to share details of conversation

ISLAMABAD: United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin held a phone call with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Asim Munir, a brief statement issued in Washington announced on Tuesday night.

The US statement did not share details of the conversation between the two officials, though their exchange comes at a time when both countries are trying to rebuild relations that came under strain during the government of former prime minister Imran Khan.

The ex-premier accused the administration in Washington of orchestrating his downfall in a no-trust vote since he was trying to pursue an independent foreign policy. The US official have, however, repeatedly denied the claim.

“Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke by phone today with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Gen. Asim Munir,” Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a brief statement. “Secretary Austin and Gen. Munir discussed areas of mutual interest as well as recent regional developments.”

Pakistan army media wing, ISPR, is yet to issue a statement about the phone call.

However, the caretaker administration gave a deadline to all illegal immigrants, mostly Afghan nationals, to leave the country by the end of the month.

The decision was announced after two militant attacks on a mosque and a religious procession left more than 60 people dead in the country’s western provinces bordering Afghanistan.

Officials in Islamabad have frequently blamed the proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), whose leadership is said to be based in the neighboring state, for launching such attacks.

The country’s caretaker interior minister Sarfaraz Bugti also blamed Afghan nationals for their involvement in several militant attacks during a media briefing.

“From January till now, there have been 24 suicide bombings [in Pakistan],” he said. “Of those 24, 14 suicide bombings were carried out by Afghan nationals. They were Afghans who attacked us.