New ‘investment facilitation’ council gives Pakistan army formal seat at economic table

This handout picture taken and released by Pakistan Prime Minister's Office on November 24, 2022, shows Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (R) meets with Pakistan's army Chief General Syed Asim Munir (L) at the Prime Minister House in Islamabad. (AFP/File)
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Updated 21 June 2023

New ‘investment facilitation’ council gives Pakistan army formal seat at economic table

  • Army will be national coordinator for both apex and executive committees of Special Investment Facilitation Council
  • Army chief will be member of apex committee, army official will be director general of implementation committee 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has set up a Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) — of which the army chief will be a member and the military will play a key role — to attract foreign investment, with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif saying on Wednesday the body reflected a “unified approach” to steer the country out of economic crisis.

The South Asian country faces its worst economic crisis to date, with months of delay in securing funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Pakistan, which is also in political turmoil, has been caught up for months in an acute balance of payments crisis, with its central bank’s foreign exchange reserves dipping to as low as to cover hardly a month of controlled imports. Inflation is at an all-time high.

“Employing a whole-of-the-the-government approach, the coalition government has decided to set up a Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) with a mandate to frame economic policies that ensure policy predictability, continuity & effective implementation to revive the economy,” Sharif said on Twitter.

The military will have a significant role in the new body, with the army chief being a member of its apex committee and the army itself serving as the national coordinator for both the apex and executive committees. An army official will also be the director general of the body’s implementation committee.

A notification dated June 17 from the Prime Minister’s Office said SIFC was being set up after a meeting on June 2 to discuss attracting investments in energy, IT, minerals, defense and agriculture from GCC countries.

“Attracting investment from friendly countries remains one of the key goals of the SIFC. The immediate task is to increase FDI to $5 billion,” Sharif said, adding that “collective wisdom” was needed to tackle economic challenges.

At a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office on SIFC on Tuesday, Army Chief Asim Munir “assured Pakistan Army’s all out support to complement Government’s efforts for Economic Revival Plan, considered fundamental to socio-economic prosperity of Pakistanis and reclaiming Pakistan’s rightful stature among the comity of nations.”

The establishment of the SIFC and the inclusion of the military in ley roles is a throwback to June 2019 when then Prime Minister Imran Khan set up a high-powered National Development Council (NDC) of which then powerful army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, was a member. It was the first time the army had been given a formal seat at the economic table.

Karachi Kings, Lahore Qalandars reignite cricket rivalry in PSL clash tonight

Updated 14 min 23 sec ago

Karachi Kings, Lahore Qalandars reignite cricket rivalry in PSL clash tonight

  • Both sides have had a poor outing so far this season and need to step up their game
  • The match, known as El Classico of Pakistan Super League, will begin 7pm Pakistan time

ISLAMABAD: Known as the “El Classico of Pakistan Super League” owing to the intense rivalry between the two cities, Lahore Qalandars will face off Karachi Kings in their Pakistan Super League (PSL) 9th edition match at the Qaddafi Stadium in Lahore on Saturday.

Both sides have had a poor outing so far this season and need to step up their game, though Karachi will be coming in on the back of their victory against Peshawar on Wednesday.

The match will begin at 7pm Pakistan time.

“Ready for our 3rd showdown as #KingsSquad gears up to clash against Lahore Qalandars,” Karachi Kings wrote on X.



Karachi boast a strong bowling line-up, with Mir Hamza and Hassan Ali taking three wickets each.

Lahore, on the other hand, have had a three-match losing streak and are yet to get a victory in the current season.

Their bowling unit has also not been able to perform in crucial moments for the side, with Shaheen Afridi and Fakhar Zaman managing to two wickets each so far.

US spaceship lying sideways after dramatic Moon touchdown

Updated 24 February 2024

US spaceship lying sideways after dramatic Moon touchdown

  • The Odysseus spacecraft landed near the lunar south pole Thursday at 6:23 p.m. Eastern Time
  • The firm behind landing initially posted on social media that its hexagonal spaceship was upright

WASHINGTON: The first American spaceship to the Moon since the Apollo era is probably lying sideways following its dramatic landing, the company that built it said Friday, even as ground controllers work to download data and surface photos from the uncrewed robot.

The Odysseus spacecraft landed near the lunar south pole Thursday at 6:23 p.m. Eastern Time (2323 GMT), after a nail-biting final descent when ground teams had to switch to a backup guidance system and took several minutes to establish radio contact after the lander came to rest.

Intuitive Machines, the company behind this first-ever lunar landing by a private company, initially posted on social media that its hexagonal spaceship was upright, but CEO Steve Altemus told reporters on Friday that statement was based on misinterpreted data.

Instead, it appears that it caught a foot on the surface and tipped over, coming to rest horizontally with its top perched on a small rock — taking some shine off an accomplishment widely hailed as a historic achievement.

A NASA probe called the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter should be able to photograph Odysseus over the weekend, helping pinpoint its exact location.

Altemus said that while solar arrays were on the top-facing side, the team’s ability to download data from the science experiments on board was being hampered because of antennas facing downward that “are unusable for transmission back to Earth — and so that really is a limiter in our ability to communicate and get the right data down so we get everything we need for the mission.”

Because of complications associated with the landing, a decision was taken not to shoot out an external camera to capture the descent as it happened, according to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which built the “EagleCam” device.

But the team will still attempt to deploy it from the ground to try to obtain an outside image of Odysseus.

Odysseus is still considered the first success for a new fleet of NASA-funded lunar landers designed to carry out science experiments that will pave the way for the return of American astronauts to the Moon later this decade, under the Artemis program.

A moonshot by another American company last month ended in failure, raising the stakes to demonstrate that private industry has what it takes to repeat a feat last achieved by US space agency NASA during its manned Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

Underlining the technical challenges, Intuitive Machines’ own navigation technology failed and ground engineers were forced to jury-rig a solution, hastily writing a software patch to switch to an experimental NASA laser guidance system that was intended to run only as a technology demonstration.

Altemus later revealed Odysseus’ own laser system failed to turn on because someone had forgotten to flip a safety switch before takeoff, which he described as “an oversight on our part.”

Confirmation of landing was supposed to come seconds after the milestone, but instead around 15 minutes passed before a faint signal was detected, enough to declare the spaceship was in one piece and had met its goal.

NASA paid Intuitive Machines $118 million to ship six experiments under an initiative which delegates cargo services to the private sector in a bid to achieve savings and stimulate a wider lunar economy.

Odysseus also carries cargo for private customers, including a reflective heat wrapping developed by Columbia Sportswear and used to protect the spaceship’s cryogenic propulsion tank.

The United States, along with international partners, want to develop long-term habitats on the south pole, harvesting ice there for drinking water — and for rocket fuel for eventual onward voyages to Mars.

The first crewed landing under NASA’s Artemis program is set to take place no sooner than 2026. China meanwhile plans to put its first crew on the Moon in 2030, opening a new era of space competition.

The mission was the fourth attempt at soft lunar touchdown by the private sector. Intuitive Machines joins the national space agencies of the Soviet Union, United States, China, India and Japan in an exclusive club of landing on the Moon.

X disrupted in Pakistan for seventh day as Internet monitor reports VPN restrictions

Updated 24 February 2024

X disrupted in Pakistan for seventh day as Internet monitor reports VPN restrictions

  • The platform was downed on the night of Feb. 17 amid protests by political parties over alleged vote-rigging
  • Pakistan’s national election this month was marred by a mobile network outage, delays in release of polls results

ISLAMABAD: Social media platform X was disrupted across Pakistan for a seventh consecutive day on Saturday after a general election marred by allegations of rigging, with an Internet monitor reporting restrictions on virtual private network (VPN) services.

The platform was downed on the night of Feb. 17 amid protests by political parties over alleged rigging of Feb. 8 national election in the South Asian country.

The disruption came hours after a senior bureaucrat said he helped rig the polls and accused the country’s chief justice and top election official of rigging polls.

Digital rights activists have attributed the disruption of X to its widespread use by public and political parties to organize demonstrations.

“Live metrics show #Pakistan’s X/Twitter restriction is ongoing into a seventh day,” NetBlocks, a London-based Internet monitor, said late Friday.

“With VPN services also widely restricted, users face increasing difficultly getting online amid heightened concerns over vote rigging after elections conducted under a telecoms shutdown.”

The Feb. 8 election was marred by a nationwide outage of mobile phone networks, with the caretaker government citing security reasons behind the suspension.

The blackout was followed by delays in the release of constituency results, giving rise to allegations of vote-rigging.

Several political parties, including jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), have since been protesting alleged manipulation of election results in the country.

Newly elected lawmakers take oath at Pakistan’s Sindh provincial assembly amid opposition protests

Updated 24 February 2024

Newly elected lawmakers take oath at Pakistan’s Sindh provincial assembly amid opposition protests

  • Ex-FM Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s PPP party won 84 seats in 130-member House in the Feb. 8 elections
  • The PPP party has nominated Murad Ali Shah for the post of chief minister of the southern province

KARACHI: Newly elected lawmakers on Saturday took oath in an inaugural session of the Sindh provincial assembly, amid protests by opposition parties over alleged rigging of Feb. 8 national election in Pakistan.

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) bagged the highest 84 seats in the southern Pakistani province, followed by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) that secured 28 seats, while 14 seats went to independents. The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) religious party and the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) won two seats each.

Supporters of the JI, GDA, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) and other nationalist parties gathered near the provincial assembly in Karachi’s South zone to protest alleged manipulation of Feb. 8 election, which was marred by a mobile network outage and delays in release of constituency results.

Hundreds of police personnel were deployed to keep opposition supporters from heading forward to the Sindh Assembly building, with local media reporting dozens of arrests. Outgoing Speaker of the Sindh Assembly Agha Siraj Durrani administered oath to the newly elected lawmakers during the inaugural session.

“I do solemnly swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan, that as a member of the provincial assembly of Sindh, I will perform my functions honestly, to the best of my ability, faithfully, in accordance with the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the law and the rules of the assembly, and always in the interest of sovereignty, integrity and solidarity, well-being and prosperity of Pakistan,” Durrani said as he read out the oath to the lawmakers.

“May Allah Almighty help me and guide me.”

In view of the protest calls, the Sindh caretaker government on Friday imposed a ban under Section 144 on public assembly, gatherings, protests, processions, and demonstrations in Karachi’s South zone, where the provincial legislature is located, for a period of 30 days, according to the provincial home department.

Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) empowers the administration to issue orders in public interest and place a ban on any activity for a specific period of time.

The oath-taking ceremony came a day after the PPP nominated Murad Ali Shah, former Sindh chief minister, for the top provincial office once again, Syed Owais Shah for the role of speaker, and Anthony Naveed for the post of deputy speaker of the Sindh provincial assembly.

“We will not only compete with the governments of other provinces but also with the Center in performance,” Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, a former foreign minister and the PPP chairman, said at a meeting of newly elected party lawmakers in Karachi.

The PPP chairman announced that his party would forge a working relationship with all opposition parties in Sindh and address their legitimate grievances, according to a PPP statement. He urged the newly elected lawmakers to play their role in resolving the people’s problems in their respective constituencies.

“Be my eyes and ears,” Bhutto-Zardari was quoted as saying. “You play the role of a bridge between the people of your constituency and me; you are my ambassador to the people.”

India and Pakistan drive US ticket demand for T20 World Cup

Updated 24 February 2024

India and Pakistan drive US ticket demand for T20 World Cup

  • The highly anticipated clash in New York was over-subscribed by 200 times in public ballot for tickets
  • A 34,000-seat temporary venue has yet to be completed but is already assured of a sell-out crowd

Fort Lauderdale: Organizers of June’s T20 Cricket World Cup games in the United States say that early ticket sales have shown there is a huge demand for the sport among cricket lovers in the country.

The highly anticipated clash in New York between cricket rivals Pakistan and India was over-subscribed by 200 times in the public ballot for tickets, the International Cricket Council said.

The 34,000-seat temporary venue, Nassau County International Cricket Stadium on Long Island, has yet to be completed but is already assured of a sell out crowd for the June 9 encounter.

The tournament is being co-hosted by the West Indies and the United States.

While big crowds are expected in the traditional cricket countries in the Caribbean, this will be the first time that an international tournament is held in the United States with the 16 games in the country also including matches in Lauderhill, South Florida and Grand Prairie Stadium, near Dallas.

“We had amazing ticket interest. The ballot process showed there’s a really big demand,” T20 World Cup USA, Inc. chief executive Brett Jones told AFP on Friday.

“India-Pakistan is obviously a game that at every World Cup carries great interest. I think it’s really pleasing to see those two countries come to the USA,” he added.

Powerhouses India and Pakistan will play all their group games in the USA and are sure to attract packed crowds from the diaspora living in the country.

While organizers hope that they can “convert” some Americans to the game, they are well aware that there is already huge interest among immigrant populations and their focus is on serving those fans.

“I think, number one, we want to celebrate those that are already fanatical lovers of cricket. They deserve to see the best players in the world come into their backyard and have that chance,” said Jones.

“So, number one, we want to make sure that happens and they get to feel like they’re close to a game they love. Number two, I think it’s about spiking curiosity in the game,” he said.

Americans have never fallen for the charms of cricket, preferring baseball for their bat and ball action, but the sport is set to get an unprecedented platform in the country with the T20 format, including in the Los Angeles Olympics in four year’s time.

“Obviously there’s a great runway to the Olympics in LA in 28 and then on into Brisbane in 2032 for cricket, which again will keep it in the global view and the consciousness of a big country like the US. I think we’ve got those two things working for us,” said Jones.

“We’re saying we want to reward our cricket fans and lovers of cricket in the US, which is a huge market.

“Then we want to spike curiosity and really hopefully start a bigger conversation about the game and its benefits at the community level,” he added.

Ireland, Sri Lanka, South Africa, the Netherlands, Bangladesh and Canada will also play in the USA along with the host nation themselves.

While there is no lack of interest, organizers still have plenty to do to create the facilities and infrastructure needed for a global tournament.

Lauderhill, just outside Fort Lauderdale, has already played home to international cricket matches but is undergoing significant upgrades.

Grand Prairie opened last year as the venue for the new domestic tournament, Major League Cricket, but is also being enhanced for the tournament.

“We’re still going to have a lot of work to do to make sure we can provide access to our cricket fans,” Jones said.

“We want to show people that in a sports-mad country that demands entertainment, cricket is a great entertainment product,” he added.

The tournament will start on June 1 with the USA facing Canada in Texas.

USA vice-captain Aaron Jones says he hopes the team’s performances will offer inspiration to youngsters starting out in the sport.

“We want to show everybody in the world that the USA can be a cricketing country as well and be a role model for kids coming up,” he said.