At Riyadh Season, Pakistan Cultural Week lights up Saudi capital with colorful performances, art and cuisine

Visitors pose for picture in a rickshaw decorated with truck art during the Pakistan Cultural Week at Riyadh Season in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on December 01, 2023. (Nosheen Wasim)
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Updated 05 December 2023
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At Riyadh Season, Pakistan Cultural Week lights up Saudi capital with colorful performances, art and cuisine

  • Riyadh Season, an annual festival running from Oct. till Mar. 2024, has so far attracted over 2.7 million visitors 
  • The Pakistan Cultural Week drew enthusiastic crowds to the festival from the Pakistani diaspora as well as locals 

ISLAMABAD: Colorful performances, art and mouth-watering cuisine last week dominated the Pakistan Cultural Week that remained a center of attraction for visitors at Riyadh Season, an annual festival in Saudi Arabia, a senior official from the Kingdom’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA) said on Monday. 

The annual festival, part of the Saudi Seasons initiative to promote tourism and national heritage, commenced on October 28 and is set to continue until March next year, according to the GEA. More than 2.7 million people have already attended the season to enjoy exciting festivities. 

At Al-Suwaidi Park, which lies in the heart of the Saudi capital, the festival is spotlighting seven cultures in the first seven weeks for visitors to explore diverse traditions from Pakistan, Sudan, India, Nepal, Philippines, Bangladesh and Indonesia. 

The Pakistan Cultural Week, which ran from November 27 to December 3, drew enthusiastic crowds to the festival from the Pakistani diaspora and locals. The event featured vibrant performances by Pakistani artistes, delicious food and clothing stalls, and the iconic truck art from the South Asian country. 

“Beyond vibrant stage performances, the event featured a cultural bazaar showcasing traditional Pakistani dresses, a food street offering authentic Pakistani cuisine, and a captivating display of truck art, with artistes from Pakistan adorning rickshaws and cars,” Nosheen Wasim, an adviser at the GEA, told Arab News. 

The introduction of a parade highlighted diverse facets of Pakistani culture, including traditional attire and cultural bands, with a portrayal of a Pakistani bride and groom becoming a standout attraction for all, according to the GEA adviser. 

“The multifaceted approach, incorporating various elements of Pakistani culture, not only brought smiles to everyone’s faces but also boosted cultural ties, aligning with the goal of the General Entertainment Authority to spread happiness and smiles,” she said. 




Pakistani female artist perform in their traditional dresses as they take part in the Pakistan Cultural Week at Riyadh Season in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on December 01, 2023. (Nosheen Wasim)

“We had a delightful presence of Saudis, including a talented Saudi singer performing in Urdu, as we actively work toward merging cultures, aligning with our vision 2030.” 

The inspiration for the Pakistan Cultural Week stemmed from over 2.5 million Pakistanis residing in the Kingdom, according to Wasim. It created a joyful and immersive experience for attendees, giving Pakistani expatriates a sense of home. 

“Pakistani diaspora in the Kingdom as well as Saudis thronged the venue to enjoy the events,” she said. “The festival has attracted more than 2.7 million visitors in less than 30 days and the Pakistan Cultural Week remained a center of attraction for all.” 

Waqar Naseem Wamiq, a Pakistani expatriate working as a trade manager in Riyadh, said the overwhelming response from the community reflected their desire to witness their own cultural events abroad. 

“The Pakistani community in the Kingdom always likes and welcomes their Pakistani performers and personalities to Saudi Arabia and enjoys their presence among them,” he told Arab News. 

“It is a very good step by the Saudi government, under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030, to involve the expat community and to project international cultures.” 

Wasim said Pakistan held enough significance as its workforce had actively contributed to the Kingdom’s development, in line with Vision 2030, a strategic development framework intended to cut the Kingdom’s reliance on oil and to develop public service sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation and tourism. 

“Focused on doubling the expat population, the collaborative effort across ministries and authorities aims to attract foreign countries, such as Pakistan, through cultural and entertainment initiatives, reinforcing the trajectory toward achieving the ambitious goal of 13 million expats by 2030,” she added. 


Pakistan PM pledges ‘full support’ for ECO amid push for regional trade, connectivity

Updated 58 min 57 sec ago
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Pakistan PM pledges ‘full support’ for ECO amid push for regional trade, connectivity

  • Economic Cooperation Organization seeks to promote economic interests of member states in West, South and Central Asia
  • Pakistan has increasingly south to position itself as trade and transit hub connecting Central Asian states to rest of the world

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to extend its “full support” to the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) as Islamabad eyes greater regional connectivity and trade to sustain its fragile economy. 

Founded by Pakistan, Iran and Turkiye in 1964, the ECO describes itself as one of the oldest intergovernmental organizations that seeks to improve regional connectivity and enhance economic cooperation for countries in West, South and Central Asia. 

Sharif met the ECO’s outgoing Secretary-General Khusrav Noziri in Islamabad on Thursday during which the two spoke about Noziri’s contributions to the regional platform. 

“The Prime Minister reaffirmed his commitment that Pakistan would continue to lend its full support to ECO in enhancing intra-regional trade among ECO countries as well as on the ECO reforms agenda,” a statement from Sharif’s office said. 

Sharif said Pakistan was proud that the incoming ECO secretary-general was Dr. Asad Majeed Khan, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary. 

“The secretary-general conveyed his gratitude for Pakistan’s consistent support to him during his tenure as secretary-general ECO,” the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said. 

PAKISTAN’S INVESTMENT, CONNECTIVITY PUSH

Pakistan has recently sought to forge deeper trade and economic ties with Central Asian countries. There has been a flurry of recent visits, investment talks and economic activity between Pakistan and these Central Asian countries, including meetings of top Pakistani officials with the leaders from Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan.

Located in a landlocked but resource-rich region, Central Asian countries need better access to regional markets including Pakistan, China, India and countries of West Asia. Meanwhile, Islamabad is seeking to bolster trade and investment ties with allies to stabilize its fragile $350 billion economy as it faces an acute balance of payment crisis amid soaring inflation and rising external debt.

It hopes to achieve this by positioning itself as a trade and transit hub connecting Central Asian countries to other parts of the world. Pakistan recently offered Central Asian states to become part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, under which Beijing has pledged around $65 billion in energy, infrastructure and other projects in Pakistan

Pakistan is seeking to enhance its foreign exchange reserves and bolster its economy as it tries to cut reliance on international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) whose financial bailout packages come at a heavy cost for Islamabad. 

Sharif has repeatedly said his government wants mutually rewarding partnerships, not just loans, from regional allies. 


Police release chairman of Pakistan’s leading rights body after brief detention

Updated 25 July 2024
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Police release chairman of Pakistan’s leading rights body after brief detention

  • Chairman Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Asad Iqbal Butt says police questioned him about his ties to Baloch rights movement
  • Pakistani state has denied allegations by rights activists and politicians it is involved in enforced disappearances of people in Balochistan 

KARACHI: The chairperson of a leading rights body in Pakistan said he was detained by police in Karachi on Thursday who questioned him for raising his voice for the people of oppressed communities, particularly those from Balochistan. 

Asad Iqbal Butt, the chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) told Arab News police officials arrived at his house around noon on Thursday and took him to meet the Station House Officer (SHO) at Karachi’s Gulberg Police Station. 

Butt said the deputy superintendent of police (DSP) at the Gulberg station asked him whether he frequently visited Quetta to organize the Baloch rights movement. 

“I explained that the movement organizes itself and we support them when they face injustice, as we do for oppressed people of any ethnicity,” Butt said. 

Enforced disappearances is an enduring issue in Pakistan where relatives, politicians, and rights activists say many people who have gone missing, especially in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, have been abducted by Pakistani security forces on the pretext of fighting militancy.

The Pakistani state denies involvement in enforced disappearances. 

Butt said the police official accused him of having ties to the Baloch people. The HRCP chief said he responded to the DSP by telling him that he had ties to “oppressed people of every ethnicity, region, and religion.”

“I believe I was taken to police station because HRCP issued a strong statement on the Bannu issue,” Butt said, referring to last week’s shooting at a peace rally in Bannu that triggered a stampede, killing at least two and injuring 20 others. 

He said another reason for his detention could be that the HRCP is trying to prevent people from Karachi’s Lyari area, who wanted to attend an upcoming protest rally for “missing persons” in southwestern Gwadar city, from being detained by police. 

“They feared I would speak out, and HRCP’s support carries weight when it speaks,” he said. 

Karachi police officials did not respond to a request for a comment. 


Pakistan, Saudi Arabia agree to enhance cooperation in IT and cybersecurity 

Updated 25 July 2024
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Pakistan, Saudi Arabia agree to enhance cooperation in IT and cybersecurity 

  • Pakistan’s IT minister urges Saudi envoy to facilitate Pakistani companies in traveling, visa issues 
  • Much of the growth in Pakistan’s IT sector is driven by the work of tech startups and freelancers

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s IT Minister Shaza Fatima Khawaja and Saudi envoy Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki on Thursday discussed enhancing cooperation between the two countries in the fields of information technology and cybersecurity, state-run media said. 

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy close cooperation in various fields, including information technology. Pakistan recorded monthly IT exports of $257 million in February 2024, which were 32 percent more than in the same month last year. 

Dozens of Pakistani IT firms presented their innovative ideas and products at the LEAP tech exhibition in Riyadh from March 4 to 7, helping them secure lucrative deals with Saudi companies and pushing Pakistan’s IT exports to higher figures. 

Khawaja met Malki, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Pakistan, in Islamabad on Thursday to discuss bilateral cooperation in IT, telecommunication and cybersecurity. 

“Minister of State for IT Shaza Fatima said Pakistan intended to boost its relations with Saudi Arabia in the field of IT and Telecommunication,” the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said. 

The minister urged Saudi Arabia to facilitate Pakistan’s IT firms, registered with the Pakistan Software Export Board, in securing visas to the kingdom.

“Ambassador Nawaf bin Saeed Ahmad Al-Malki said that Saudi Arabia will fully cooperate with Pakistan in the field of IT and Telecommunication,” APP said. 

“He also ensured to support and facilitate Pakistani tech companies in getting visa and traveling.”

Pakistan’s market for computer software has also seen steady growth for the past several years, with the total size of the software sector at approximately $3.2 billion. The US is Pakistan’s largest market for IT, accounting for 54.5 percent in the 2023 financial year, according to the International Trade Administration.

Pakistan’s IT sector consists primarily of software development and IT-enabled services for data centers, technical service/call centers, and telecom services, with 60 percent serving international customers. Much of the growth is driven by the work of freelancers and tech start-ups.


Pakistan says has ‘taken note’ of UK parliamentarians demanding ex-PM Khan’s release

Updated 25 July 2024
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Pakistan says has ‘taken note’ of UK parliamentarians demanding ex-PM Khan’s release

  • Members of Khan’s party on Tuesday spoke at British parliament about his incarceration, censorship in Pakistan
  • Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson urges members of Britain’s parliament to promote “positive” bilateral ties

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson on Thursday said it has “taken note” of the discussions that took place at the British parliament this week where lawmakers demanded former prime minister Imran Khan be released from prison. 

The UK parliament held a hearing on Tuesday that saw over a dozen British parliamentarians listen to members of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party speaking about his incarceration, deteriorating law and order as well as growing censorship in Pakistan.

The event, jointly hosted by Conservative Peer Lord Daniel Hannan and British-Pakistani Labour MP Naz Shah, was attended by former Tory home secretary Priti Patel, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Labour MP Naushaba Khan, Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon and others.

The hearing resolved that the parliamentarians will call on British PM Keir Starmer and State Secretary David Lammy for the UK government to take note of a recent United Nations report into Khan’s incarceration and demand his release from prison, Khan’s PTI party said.

During a weekly press briefing, Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said the hearing was a private event in a side room of the House of Lords, adding that it was organized by a “political party.”

“We have taken note of the discussions that took place,” she said. “As we have said on several occasions, it is important that members of legislative bodies contribute to promoting positive dynamics in bilateral relations and contribute to developing mutual understanding and mutual respect between Pakistan and the home country.”

Khan has been in jail since August last year, even though all four convictions handed down to him ahead of a parliamentary election in February have either been suspended or overturned.

After being acquitted on the last of those four convictions, authorities rearrested Khan and his wife in an old corruption case on charges of selling state gifts unlawfully. 

He also faces an accusation of inciting his supporters to attack military installations in May last year. Khan denies all the accusations.

A UN panel of experts this month found that Khan’s detention “had no legal basis and appears to have been intended to disqualify him from running for political office.”

Khan’s PTI party secured the largest number of seats in parliament in the February general election despite what it says is a military-backed crackdown that aims to keep him out of power. It also won nearly two dozen extra parliament seats after a court ruling last week.


Pakistan court sets aside ex-PM Khan’s physical remand in May 9 riots cases

Updated 25 July 2024
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Pakistan court sets aside ex-PM Khan’s physical remand in May 9 riots cases

  • Anti-terrorism court in Lahore last week granted police Khan’s 10-day physical remand 
  • Khan, wife to remain in prison due to another reference which accuses them of “misusing powers” 

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani high court on Thursday set aside a physical remand of former prime minister Imran Khan in a dozen new cases related to the May 9, 2023 riots, his lawyer confirmed.

An anti-terrorism court in Lahore last week granted police a 10-day physical remand of the former prime minister in a dozen fresh cases related to the May 9, 2023 attacks, when angry Khan supporters attacked military installations and government buildings across the country in response to his brief arrest. 

Khan had approached the Lahore High Court (LHC) on July 18, challenging his physical remand in the cases and requesting the court to declare it null and void. 

“The physical remand granted has been declared null and void,” Khan’s lawyer Naeem Haider Panjutha said in a video message. “This will prove to be a major setback for those who got elected through Form 47s,” he added, referring to the government. 

Khan was convicted in four cases ahead of a February national election and has been in jail since August last year, but all of the sentences against him, the last of them in a case in which he and his wife were convicted of violating Pakistan’s marriage laws, have since been overturned or suspended. 

Earlier this month, however, hours after being acquitted in the marriage case, a fresh corruption reference was filed against Khan and his wife by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

The new reference is related to the alleged “misuse of power in acquiring Toshakhana gifts.”

Khan and his wife are charged in the Toshakhana case with selling gifts worth more than 140 million rupees ($501,000) in state possession, which he received during his 2018-2022 premiership. The gifts included diamond jewelry and seven watches, six of them Rolexes — the most expensive being valued at 85 million rupees ($305,000).

Pakistani media widely reported on Sunday that an accountability court had approved an eight-day physical remand each for Khan and Bushra in the new NAB reference. 

Khan and his wife are expected to remain in prison due to their remand in the Toshakhana reference, which they have challenged at the Islamabad High Court.