Pakistani PM pitches investments, improved business climate in stopover visit to UK

Pakistan Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Hag Kakar, right, meets United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary Rt. Hon. James Cleverly, in London on September 25, 2023. (PID)
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Updated 26 September 2023

Pakistani PM pitches investments, improved business climate in stopover visit to UK

  • Kakar meets senior leaders of London’s capital and financial markets, prominent British-Pakistani business heads
  • Discusses “multifaceted bilateral relations and resumption of PIA flights” with British foreign secretary

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar on Monday met the UK’s foreign secretary as well as financial and capital market leaders and top British-Pakistani and other business groups on a stopover visit to London on his way back from New York to attend the UN General Assembly.

Pakistan in June set up a Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) — a civil-military hybrid forum — to fast-track decision making and promote investment from foreign nations. The council has identified five sectors as priority for seeking investment, namely agriculture, mining, information technology, defense production and energy, as the South Asian country deals with a balance of payments crisis and requires billions of dollars in foreign exchange to finance its trade deficit and repay its international debts in the current financial year.

Last week, Kakar used his visit to New York for the UN General Assembly as an opportunity to meet business and thought leaders and stakeholders and make the case for improved business climate in Pakistan and its potential for foreign direct investment in a range of sectors.

On Monday, senior leaders of London’s capital and financial markets called on Kakar in London and expressed “keen interest in exploring promising investment opportunities in the financial and capital market of Pakistan, reflecting a growing mutual interest in expanding economic collaboration,” the PM’s Office said in a statement released after his meeting with notable investment firms, including Fidelity International Limited (FIL), Wellington Management, Ashmore, Jefferies International, Redwheel Capital, Switex Industrial SA, Oxford Frontier Capital, GuarantCo, JP Morgan, Kalrock Capital, and UBL UK.

“Prime Minister Kakar informed the delegation about Pakistan’s current economic landscape, highlighting government measures for external account improvement,” the PM office said.

“He said that recent administrative actions strengthened the Pakistani rupee against the US dollar, fostering optimism for stability. He said positive indicators, including inflows from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and friendly nations, contributed to reduced inflation, stabilized reserves, and revival of industrial growth.”

Kakar also spoke about the potential for foreign direct investment in Pakistan’s key sectors and the positive impact of a Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) with the IMF, agreed in June. He highlighted economic improvements such as reduced inflation and improved trade after the removal of restrictions on imports and fiscal measures for monetary support and medium-term inflation targets.

“Furthermore, the Prime Minister highlighted Pakistan’s pro-investment efforts, introducing the Special Investment Facilitation Council,” the PMO said. “This initiative, led by the Prime Minister himself, streamlines investment processes, attracts investments in key sectors, and fosters long-term growth by simplifying the business landscape.”

Kakar separately met prominent British-Pakistani businessmen in London and highlighted positive economic indicators resulting from reforms pursued by his government, including a strengthening of the rupee, reduced inflation, and expected economic growth.

 “The Prime Minister spoke about Pakistan’s investment-friendly approach, mentioning incentives and ease-of-business reforms,” the PMO said. “He introduced the Special Investment Facilitation Council, chaired by himself, to streamline investment in key sectors through a single-window platform. This initiative aims to enhance ease of doing business, remove bureaucratic hurdles, and create a long-term investment roadmap.”

Kakar also shared the government’s resolve and commitment to privatize loss-making state-owned enterprises and urged overseas Pakistanis to take advantage of the opportunities for investment in Pakistan. He invited diaspora business leaders “to invest, especially in Special Economic Zones, to contribute to Pakistan’s economic recovery.”

The PMO said the business leaders “conveyed their strong interest in expanding their business operations in Pakistan while actively seeking to increase their investments in the country.”

Abdullah Kamani, a leading British businessman and the co-founder and executive chairman of Boohoo Group, separately called on Kakar. Boohoo Group plc is a British online fashion retailer, aimed at 16–30-year-olds. The business was founded in 2006, and had sales in 2019 of £856.9 million. It specializes in own brand fashion clothing.

“Kamani expressed keen interest in establishing long-term buying linkages with Pakistan and the ambition to create a comprehensive supply chain in the country, encompassing organic cotton to apparel production,” the PM’s office said. “They also hoped for improved Pakistan-UK air connectivity to facilitate increased imports from Pakistan.”

Kakar conveyed Pakistan’s commitment to facilitating investment and offered support in establishing manufacturing facilities within the country, particularly within Special Economic Zones (SEZs). He urged Boohoo Group to consider opening buying houses in Pakistan and invited the company to send a buying delegation to Pakistan.

Kakar also met UK’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Monday and discussed “all areas of mutual interest, including multifaceted bilateral relations, and resumption of PIA flights.”

‘Welcome’ sign prompts closure of Afghan-Pakistan crossing

Updated 10 sec ago

‘Welcome’ sign prompts closure of Afghan-Pakistan crossing

  • Development takes place amid increasingly fraught relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan
  • Afghan official says negotiations between both sides are going on to ‘solve this problem’

PESHAWAR: A “Welcome to Pakistan” sign meant to greet travelers from Afghanistan instead caused the shutdown of the busiest crossing between the two nations on Wednesday, as officials on both sides argued over its installation.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have had increasingly fraught relations in recent months, with Islamabad accusing the Taliban government of failing to root out militants staging attacks on Pakistan from Afghan soil — a claim Kabul has denied.

In response to the rising militancy, Islamabad has forced the deportation or voluntary transfer of Afghans it says are living illegally in the country, with more than 400,000 crossing over since October, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

A senior Pakistan border official said the Torkham crossing was closed to vehicles on Wednesday after “the Taliban objected to the installation of a billboard in Pakistani territory saying ‘Welcome to Pakistan’.”

The official, who asked to remain anonymous, told AFP the closure was caused by “Taliban who were unhappy with Pakistan’s deportation policy” and “the installation of the billboard was just an excuse.”

On the Afghan side, Quraishi Badloon from Nangarhar province’s information and culture department confirmed that the closure was because “the Pakistani side wanted to install a welcome signboard.”

He said “tension increased” because it was to be erected on “Afghan soil” and there were suspicions the signage was being used as a guise to open a new gate encroaching across the border.

“Talks are ongoing to solve this problem,” he told AFP.

The Nangarhar governor’s office also said the welcome sign caused the closure.

Each side blamed the other for closing the border to vehicles, though it remained open to pedestrians.

This year the Torkham crossing — equidistant between Islamabad and Kabul — has been frequently shut, with tensions sometimes spilling over into armed clashes between border guards across the frontier.

Many of those leaving Pakistan for Afghanistan since Islamabad announced the migrant crackdown left through the Torkham crossing, a vital waypoint for trade between the countries.

No government in Kabul has ever recognized the colonial-era demarcation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, leading to a long history of border disputes.

Pakistan says Gaza war ‘alarming sign of apathy of the world’

Updated 11 min 12 sec ago

Pakistan says Gaza war ‘alarming sign of apathy of the world’

  • Israeli warplanes are bombarding targets across Gaza in one of the heaviest phases of fighting in two months
  • Gaza health ministry has confirmed over 15,800 dead and thousands missing, feared buried beneath rubble

ISLAMABAD: President Dr. Arif Alvi said on Wednesday the ongoing war in Gaza was an “alarming sign of the apathy of the world,” adding that the modern world needed an approach based on “love, empathy, and forgiveness.”

Israeli warplanes bombarded targets across the densely populated coastal territory on Wednesday in one of the heaviest phases of fighting in the two months since Israel began its military campaign in Gaza in October. Palestinian medics said hospitals were overflowing with the dead and wounded, many of them women and children, and supplies were running out. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people driven out of the north were seeking shelter in the dwindling number of places designated as safe areas by Israel. Gaza’s health ministry has confirmed over 15,800 dead and thousands missing, feared buried beneath the rubble, since the war began.

After largely gaining control of northern Gaza, Israeli troops and tanks pushed further south and encircled Khan Younis in the south after a week-long truce collapsed last week. 

“The civilized world today has forgotten the principles of morality and is witnessing the prevalence of wars waged by powerful against weaker segments,” Alvi said while addressing the inaugural session of the Islamabad Conclave 2023, themed, ‘Pakistan in a Changing World’ organized by the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI).

“The situation in Gaza is an alarming sign of the apathy of the world which could not stop the massacre of innocent people including women and children.”

The president regretted that the “gruesome images” coming out of Gaza had failed to “awaken the world’s conscience.”

“The current world urgently requires an approach centered on love, empathy, and forgiveness,” he added.

Pakistan’s Special Representative to Afghanistan, Ambassador Asif Durrani, said the conflict between Hamas, which rules Gaza, and Israel had diverted global attention from war-torn Afghanistan, where over 95 percent of the population was living below the poverty line.

“For instance, humanitarian assistance promised last year was close to $4.2 billion and only one part of that has been committed and has actually been materialized,” Durrani said in his address at the conference.

Yara Mourad, Assistant Director of AUB Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, said the war by Israel had jeopardized growing stability in the Middle East.

“Following the reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran and the establishment of relationships between the Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates with Qatar, this conflict, the most severe since Naqba [1948], has placed the region in greater danger than ever before,” she said.

Pakistan skipper Shan Masood hits century in Australia warm-up

Updated 06 December 2023

Pakistan skipper Shan Masood hits century in Australia warm-up

  • Masood steer Pakistan to 324-6 at stumps on the opening day of the four-day fixture
  • Pakistan will face Australia in three Tests, in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney, from Dec. 14

SYDNEY: New Pakistan skipper Shan Masood hit an unbeaten 156 on Wednesday in a warm-up match in Canberra ahead of their three-Test series against Australia.
After winning the toss and opting to bat against a Prime Minister’s XI, he came to the crease when opener Imam-ul-Haq was dismissed for nine.
Masood batted for the rest of the day, smashing 13 fours and a six to steer Pakistan to 324-6 at stumps on the opening day of the four-day fixture.
Sarfaraz Ahmed made 41 and star batter Babar Azam, who stood down as captain in all formats of the game after their disastrous one-day World Cup, hit 40.
Australia’s bowlers labored on a flat pitch at Manuka Oval with speedster Jordan Buckingham the pick with 3-63.
All-rounder Cameron Green, who has been sidelined from the Test side by Mitchell Marsh, did not turn his arm.
It proved a long day in the field for aspiring Australian Test openers Cameron Bancroft, Marcus Harris and Matt Renshaw, who are vying to replace David Warner when he retires from the longer format after the Pakistan series.
The visitors meet Australia in three Tests — in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney — from December 14.

Pakistan PM says Imran Khan free to contest upcoming general elections in February

Updated 06 December 2023

Pakistan PM says Imran Khan free to contest upcoming general elections in February

  • Khan has been disqualified from holding public office on charges of corruption, though he has appealed the verdict
  • Kakar says no evidence of ‘state coercion’ against PTI leaders who went ‘underground’ after May 9 to avoid arrests

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar has said the country’s former premier Imran Khan does not face legal obstacles to contest the upcoming general elections and is likely to participate in them next year in February.

Khan, who has been in jail since August 5 following a conviction in a case involving the illegal sale of state gifts, faces several other cases which he deems “politically motivated” to exclude him from politics.

While his three-year sentence was suspended by the Islamabad High Court, he remains incarcerated on charges of leaking state secrets by revealing the contents of a confidential diplomatic cable which he says proves US involvement in toppling his administration, a claim consistently refuted by American officials.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party alleges a crackdown against its leaders as “pre-poll rigging,” but Kakar, in an exclusive interview with Independent Urdu published Wednesday, dismissed any “state coercion” against political parties.

“His party and up till now, he himself faces no legal restrictions that would keep him from contesting the elections. So, until the schedule is announced or something unforeseen happens which we are not aware of yet, during this conversation, then I can’t say anything. Till today, he is in the position of contesting, and he will contest.”

“There is no legal restriction on him [Khan] or his party that is keeping them away from the political or election process,” the prime minister said. “Until the [election] schedule is announced or something unforeseen happens which we are not aware of at the time of this conversation, then I can’t say anything. Until today, he is in the position of contesting [the polls], and he will contest.”

Khan has been disqualified from holding public office after he was found guilty of corrupt practices in the case in which he was given a three-year sentence. His legal team has appealed the verdict, though the final decision remains pending in the matter.

The former prime minister’s party has also complained about the “disappearance” of its leaders since the violent protests of May 9 when people holding PTI flags targeted government buildings and military installations after Khan was briefly arrested on graft charges.

When asked about the claims, Kakar said these leaders were actually going “underground” on their own to avoid arrests.

Many of them, he added, ultimately decided to quit PTI or politics altogether.

The prime minister described it as their personal decision while pointing out there was no evidence of “state coercion” in all those cases.

Hollywood icons ignite excitement at Red Sea Film Festival in support of Pakistani cinema

Updated 06 December 2023

Hollywood icons ignite excitement at Red Sea Film Festival in support of Pakistani cinema

  • The surprise appearance of Will Smith and Johnny Depp to endorse ‘Umro Ayyar: A New Beginning’ left people ecstatic
  • Ayyar is a famous character from a classical Urdu literary work comprising epic tales, widely read by people in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Hollywood superstars Will Smith and Johnny Depp stole the spotlight at the prestigious Red Sea International Film Festival with a surprise appearance on Tuesday to support the Pakistani film, “Umro Ayyar: A New Beginning.”

The two renowned icons of the American film industry enjoy an extensive fan following worldwide, including in Pakistan, which left the viewers excited about Pakistani film production with their presence.

The Red Sea Festival, set against the picturesque backdrop of Saudi Arabia’s seaside city, Jeddah, serves as a global platform for filmmakers to celebrate and showcase diverse cinematic creations from around the world.

Smith and Depp posed with Umro Ayyar’s executive producer, Huma Jamil Babar, and interacted with the public.

“How exciting it is,” exclaimed a Pakistani journalist, Afshan Younus, who shared a video of Smith getting a locket from Babar. “Hollywood meets Pakistani cinema in style!”

Another social media user, Nazish Alavi, called the cross-cultural support by the Hollywood actors a “big moment” for her.

“Watching Hollywood superstar Will Smith wearing #UmroAyyarANewBeginning pendant and The Johnny Depp supporting a Pakistani movie is such a big moment for me,” she said. “Best of luck to @TheUMROAYYAR.”

Umro Ayyar is one of the most famous characters from the legendary “Dastan-e-Amir Hamza,” a classical Urdu literary work comprising epic tales, widely read by many in Pakistan.

Speaking to Arab News in May, lead actor Sanam Saeed mentioned that Ayyar’s character was being adapted for the screen in a “new-age way” and receiving a “revamp” for modern times.

“Dastan-e-Amir Hamza” is the Urdu version of the Persian folklore written by Ghalib Lakhnavi in 1855, featuring a collection of stories about magic, adventure, and intrigue.

The film “Umro Ayyar” is an attempt to reimagine the story for a new generation of Pakistani and global audiences.