PIA slashes Umrah fares to support pilgrims amid financial aid boost

Muslim worshippers and pilgrims gather around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia on June 24, 2023. (AFP/File)
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Updated 03 November 2023
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PIA slashes Umrah fares to support pilgrims amid financial aid boost

  • Last month, the government approved an Rs8 billion lifeline to address the airline’s financial woes
  • PIA’s reduced rates are expected to incentivize local pilgrims to travel through the national airline

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s national flag carrier announced its decision to reduce Umrah pilgrimage fares in a brief statement issued on Friday, saying the new rates would be implemented immediately.
The cost adjustment, which appears to be an attempt to ease the financial burden for the faithful embarking on the sacred journey, has come at a time when the government has approved an Rs8 billion lifeline to address the airline’s financial woes.
Prior to that, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) was beginning to find it difficult to meet its operational expenses and canceling regular flight operations.
“PIA has announced an immediate reduction in Umrah fares,” an official statement circulated by the airline’s spokesperson said. “Two-way Umrah fare from Lahore, Islamabad, Sialkot, Peshawar, Multan, Faisalabad to Jeddah is Rs87,000 plus tax. Umrah fare from Karachi and Quetta is Rs79,000 plus tax.”
“These fares will be effective immediately,” the statement added.
The airfares for international travel significantly increased due to multiple factors after countries lifted lockdowns in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
PIA’s reduced rates are expected to incentivize pilgrims to travel through the national airline.


PepsiCo. reports double-digit revenue growth in Pakistan, China and other nations

Updated 7 sec ago
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PepsiCo. reports double-digit revenue growth in Pakistan, China and other nations

  • The company reported better-than-expected revenue in first quarter on strong demand for snacks, beverages
  • PepsiCo. has leaned heavily into price increases over the past two years to combat higher ingredient costs

PepsiCo. reported better-than-expected revenue in the first quarter on strong international demand for its snacks and beverages.

The Purchase, New York-based company said revenue rose 2 percent to $18.3 billion for the January-April period. That was higher than the $18 billion Wall Street forecast, according to analysts polled by FactSet.

Pepsi reaffirmed its financial guidance for 2024, including organic revenue growth of 4 percent. The company has said it expects to return to more normal rates of growth this year after several years of inflation-driven price increases.

That may have disappointed investors who have grown used to stronger growth at PepsiCo. Last year organic revenue grew 9.5 percent, for example. PepsiCo’s shares fell more than 2.5 percent in morning trading Tuesday.

In North America Frito-Lay revenue rose 2 percent while Pepsi beverage sales were up 1 percent. Sales were hurt by a recall early in the quarter of Quaker Oats cereal, bars and snacks because of potential contamination with salmonella. Quaker Foods sales dropped 24 percent during the quarter.

But the company saw 11 percent sales growth in Asia Pacific and 10 percent sales growth in Europe.

PepsiCo. Chairman and CEO Ramon Laguarta said the company is optimistic that consumer demand will continue to rise this year in the US and elsewhere.

“The consumer, globally, we think is very resilient,” Laguarta said during a conference call with investors. “It’s basically supported by two facts: very low unemployment or quite low unemployment globally and wages growing at a good pace in the majority of the countries where we participate.”

In Europe, sales were driven by demand in Eastern Europe, Laguarta said. In Western Europe, consumers saw fewer PepsiCo. snacks and drinks on grocery shelves during the quarter. Carrefour, one of Europe’s largest supermarket chains, announced in January that it was pulling PepsiCo. products from stores in France, Belgium, Spain and Italy due to unacceptable price increases. The two companies resolved their pricing dispute and Carrefour began restocking PepsiCo. products in early April.

The company said it also saw double-digit organic revenue growth in Mexico, Brazil, Egypt, Pakistan, China and Australia.

But Laguarta added a note of caution. Consumer spending in China remains cautious, he said, and PepsiCo. is also keeping a close eye on lower-income consumers in the US, who are buying fewer snacks or switching to store brands in the face of higher prices.

“The lower-income consumer in the US is stretched,” he said. “That’s a consumer that we are emphasizing in our commercial programs and we are learning how best to keep that consumer in our categories.”

PepsiCo. has leaned heavily into price increases over the past two years to combat higher ingredient costs. The fourth quarter of 2023 was the company’s eighth straight quarter of double-digit percentage price increases.

Those increases moderated in the first quarter. PepsiCo. said net pricing was up 5 percent globally during the quarter, while volumes fell 2 percent. PepsiCo. has said some of that volume decline is strategic. The company has been shrinking package sizes to meet consumer demand for convenience and portion control.

PepsiCo. said its net earnings rose 5.6 percent to $2 billion in the first quarter. Excluding special items, the company earned $1.61 per share. That beat Wall Street’s forecast of $1.52.


Pakistani families urge visiting President Raisi to release cargo crew detained in Iran

Updated 23 April 2024
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Pakistani families urge visiting President Raisi to release cargo crew detained in Iran

  • Jalal Ahmed, the cargo boat captain, was on his way from Dubai to Somalia when he was caught by Iran four years ago
  • The families of detained Pakistanis say they have not been informed of the charges against Ahmed, others on the boat

KARACHI: Families of Pakistani crew members aboard a cargo boat, which set sail from Dubai to Somalia but was detained by Iran four years ago, appealed to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Tuesday for their release, citing a lack of cooperation from Iranian authorities.
Raisi, who arrived in Pakistan on Monday for a three-day visit, flew to Karachi today after a brief stopover in Lahore. During his stay in Karachi, the Iranian president is slated to meet with government officials and businessmen.
The family of Jalal Ahmed, the captain of the cargo boat, along with others, staged a demonstration in front of the Karachi Press Club to highlight the difficulties they have faced in securing the release of their loved ones, who have been incarcerated in Iran’s Minab city for the past four years.
“We have come here because my brother is imprisoned in the city of Minab in Iran,” Gul Saba, Ahmed’s sister, told Arab News while urging Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif to intervene in the matter to secure the release of the detained crew members.
“We also appeal to Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi to release our brother and the other ten [people] who accompanied him,” she continued.
Saba added her 45-year-old brother, who has three children, was transporting cargo from Dubai to Somalia when his ship was stopped by the Iranian authorities.
She said her family members had traveled to Iran, but there had been no response from Iranian authorities.
“No statement has come [from Iranian officials] regarding why [the Pakistani crew members] have been imprisoned,” she added. “There may be no crime involved as their cargo ship was legal.”
Arab News could not independently verify the claims made by the affected family.
Jawad Jalal, Ahmed’s 10-year-old son, also participated in the protest along with his mother, Sadia Ahmed, and aunt Saba.
“When I was six, my father was imprisoned in Iran,” he said while reminiscing how Ahmed escorted him to school before being detained.
“He should be released so he can drop me off at school once again,” he continued, holding a placard emblazoned with the demand for his father’s release from Iranian prison.


Pakistan says will reconstitute panel on ‘enforced disappearances’ after US report points out rights abuses

Updated 23 April 2024
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Pakistan says will reconstitute panel on ‘enforced disappearances’ after US report points out rights abuses

  • Pakistan has long been plagued by disappearances of political workers, rights activists and professionals
  • Families say people picked up by security forces often disappear for years, security agencies deny involvement

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will be reconstituting a committee to address the longstanding issue of “enforced disappearances,” Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said on Tuesday, hours after the release of a US report highlighting rights abuses in the South Asian country.

Over the years, hundreds of political workers, rights activists and professionals have gone missing in Pakistan, particularly in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the southwestern Balochistan provinces, where militants have waged a war against the state for decades.

Families say people picked up by security forces often disappear for years, and are sometimes found dead, with no official explanation. Pakistani security agencies deny involvement in such disappearances.

Speaking at a press conference in Islamabad, Tarar noted the former Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government had formed a committee on the issue with the representation of all stakeholders.

“Now the work is being initiated on this again on the directives of the prime minister. A committee is going to be reconstituted, there will be parliamentary presence in that committee,” he said. “There is no lack of seriousness on the government’s part to resolve this issue.”

The minister said they visited the Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, met with stakeholders there as well as reviewed reports on the matter from the tenure of the caretaker government.

Tarar said 10,200 cases of “missing persons” had been registered in the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (CIoED), out of which around 8,000 cases had been addressed.

He, however, said the issued could not be resolved “overnight,” adding that there had been no “concrete evidence” of the involvement of state agencies in these cases.

The law minister’s comments came hours after a report released by the US State Department said Pakistan’s government “rarely” took steps to identify and punish officials who may have been involved in rights abuses in 2023, pointing out incidents of extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances, violence against journalists and restrictions on media freedom.

“The government rarely took credible steps to identify and punish officials who may have committed human rights abuses,” the State Department said, pointing out Pakistan last year had seen incidents of restrictions on freedom of expression and media, violence against journalists, unjustified arrests, disappearances of journalists, censorship and criminal defamation laws.

Pakistan’s actions in recent months to restrict Internet and mobile services throughout the country, especially on days when elections are held, have invited criticism from rights organizations and Washington.

The interior ministry last week confirmed it had banned social media platform X in February to protect national security, maintain public order, and preserve the country’s “integrity.”

The South Asian country has seen an uptick in violence, mainly suicide attacks, since November 2022 when a fragile truce between militants and the state broke down.

Pakistan has since then carried out military operations against the Pakistani Taliban or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and a Baloch separatist militant organization, the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) in the country’s two western provinces that border Afghanistan.


Saudi Arabia to invest $5 billion to boost Pakistan’s economy – planning minister

Updated 23 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia to invest $5 billion to boost Pakistan’s economy – planning minister

  • Ahsan Iqbal says the national economy can reach a $3 trillion mark by 2047 with 9% growth rate
  • He informs a summit the government plans to maximize investment from UAE, Kuwait and Qatar

KARACHI: Federal Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal announced on Tuesday Saudi Arabia was expected to invest $5 billion in Pakistan, adding the administration in Islamabad was also trying to secure investment from other Gulf states to strengthen the national economy.

Amid economic challenges, Pakistan has been actively trying to attract foreign investment and established the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), a civil-military hybrid body, last year for the purpose.

The SIFC was created to serve as a single window for all foreign investment activities, offering a simplified and more direct route for international investors interested in various sectors such as mining, agriculture, energy, information technology and defense manufacturing.

The body was tasked to address procedural bottlenecks, accelerate policy reforms and create a more favorable investment climate, with a special focus on Gulf economies.

“Saudi Arabia will soon invest $5 billion in Pakistan and in this regard, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif will soon visit Saudi Arabia, followed by an expected visit of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Pakistan,” the Planning Commission of Pakistan quoted the minister as saying in an official statement.

Iqbal issued the statement while speaking at a business summit in Islamabad.

He mentioned that discussions were ongoing with the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar to maximize investment in Pakistan.

The planning minister said if Pakistan managed to increase its exports to $100 billion in the next seven to eight years, it would achieve a significant economic takeoff.

He maintained that Pakistan could become a $2 trillion economy by 2047 with 7 percent growth, adding it could also reach a $3 trillion mark by maintaining 9 percent growth.
 


Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan ink ‘landmark’ agreement to promote trade, investment

Updated 23 April 2024
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Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan ink ‘landmark’ agreement to promote trade, investment

  • As per agreement, Uzbekistan’s largest bank and a Pakistani firm will support investors in all three countries
  • Partnership to attract foreign investment particularly in key sectors of energy, infrastructure and agriculture

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan have signed a “landmark” partnership agreement to boost economic cooperation and create new opportunities for investors in the region, Pakistan’s state-run television reported on Tuesday.

As per the terms of the agreement, Uzbekistan’s largest bank Ansher Capital will work closely with KASB Securities Limited (KASB), a leading Pakistani stock and commodity brokerage firm, to provide financial advisory and corporate finance services to investors in all three countries, the state media said. 

Both firms will support investors and traders in Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia by providing expert guidance on navigating financial markets, the Pakistan Television (PTV) said. 

“In a significant development, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia have signed a landmark partnership agreement aimed at promoting investment and trade between the three countries,” PTV said. 

“The partnership is expected to expand the market and attract foreign investment, particularly in key sectors such as energy, infrastructure, and agriculture.”

The report said that the agreement is also expected to strengthen trade ties between the three countries, with a focus on increasing trade volumes and promoting economic integration. 

“The partnership will enable businesses to tap into new markets and access new investment opportunities, creating jobs and driving economic growth,” PTV said.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong trade, defense and cultural ties. The Kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates and serves as the top destination for remittances to the cash-strapped South Asian country.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan arrived in Pakistan last week for a two-day visit aimed at strengthening bilateral economic cooperation and pushing forward previously agreed investment deals. Pakistan has said it pitched investment projects worth $30 billion to Riyadh during Prince Faisal’s visit.

Islamabad has sought trade and economic partnerships with bilateral partners and allies as it seeks to navigate a macroeconomic crisis that has seen its reserves plummet to historic lows and its currency weaken significantly.