Pakistan has resolved three of five operational issues for KE stake sale — Al-Jomaih official

An undated file photo of a Karachi Electric power station in Karachi, Pakistan. (Photo courtesy: K-Electric/Facebook)
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Updated 26 February 2024
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Pakistan has resolved three of five operational issues for KE stake sale — Al-Jomaih official

  • Al-Jomaih bought 66.4 percent share in KE in 2005 along with Abraaj Group and Kuwait’s National Industries Group
  • In 2016, consortium decided to sell stake to Shanghai Electric but sale stuck due to regulatory and other issues

KARACHI: The top official of a consortium that owns majority shares of Karachi Electric said on Monday Saudi investors were satisfied with the outcome of a committee formed by the Pakistani government to resolve regulatory hurdles and issues of payables that have been blocking the sale of the Pakistani utility to Chinese powerhouse Shanghai Electric Power (SEP) for years.

Al-Jomaih Holding Group, one of the largest business groups in Saudi Arabia, bought a 66.4 percent share in KE in 2005 as part of a consortium comprising Al-Jomaih, Abraaj Group and Kuwait’s National Industries Group (NIG). In 2016, the consortium decided to sell the stake to China’s Shanghai Electric Power and submitted an application for a National Security Certificate (NSC) to the Pakistani Privatization Commission. However, the group still awaits approval of the deal due to long-standing issues of regulatory approvals and KE’s liquidity constraints as a consequence of mounting circular debt plaguing the country’s power sector.

In January this year, Shanghai Electric reiterated its commitment to the deal. The government of Pakistan currently owns a 24.4 percent stake in K-Electric, which powers the country’s largest city and commercial hub of Karachi.

Shan Abbas Ashary, the Chief Investment Officer (CIO) of Al-Jomaih and a director at KE, said regulatory hurdles and disputes were being addressed at a “high pace” after the Saudi investment minister wrote a letter to the finance minister of Pakistan in December last year.

“After that, we had several meetings and the SIFC [Special Investment Facilitation Council] took up the matter and created a committee of three ministers,” Ashary told Arab News, referring to a civil-military body set up last year to fast-track foreign investments.

“Thanks to the Pakistani government, and thanks to the support from the Saudi government, this interim [Pakistani] government took it [KE’s issues] very seriously,” he said, adding that out of five key issues, three operational issues had been resolved while a committee had been formed to look into the remaining issues and progress was taking place.

“The outcome is satisfactory for us and I have reported it back to Al-Jomaih Group and they understand it and they appreciate it very much that progress is being made by the Pakistan government.”

He said he hoped the issues would be resolved in “several months not several years” due to the seriousness being accorded to the matter by the SIFC, whose committee comprised the ministers of law, energy and privatization.

When asked if Shanghai Electric, which had offered to purchase shares of KE for $1.7 billion six years ago, would revaluate its offer, the Al Jomaih official said:

“Shanghai Electric has just renewed expression of interest …. They will come back, do a complete due diligence because six years have passed, it’s a long time.”


China says ready to strengthen counter-terrorism cooperation after deadly Pakistan suicide attack

Updated 18 sec ago
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China says ready to strengthen counter-terrorism cooperation after deadly Pakistan suicide attack

  • On Mar. 26, suicide bomber hit a convoy of Chinese engineers working on Dasu hydropower project 
  • Five Chinese nationals and their Pakistani driver were killed in the attack in northwestern Pakistan 

ISLAMABAD: Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Jiang Zaidong has said Beijing was ready to enhance counter-terrorism and security cooperation between the two nations, Radio Pakistan reported on Tuesday, two weeks after the killing of five Chinese nationals in a suicide attack in Pakistan’s northwest.

On Mar. 26, a suicide bomber rammed a vehicle into a convoy of Chinese engineers working on a hydropower project at Dasu in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killing five Chinese nationals and their Pakistani driver.

The assault was the third major attack in little over a week on China’s interests in the South Asian nation, where Beijing has invested more than $65 billion in infrastructure projects as part of its wider Belt and Road initiative. 

“China stands ready to work hand-in-hand with Pakistan to defeat the evil attempt at disrupting our cooperation,” Jiang was quoted as saying in a report published by state-run Radio Pakistan. 

“We are also ready to work with Pakistan to safeguard development with security and to promote security with development … We should take the promotion of international security as a support, and further enhance China-Pakistan counter-terrorism and security cooperation.”

Jiang said all countries needed to “work together in addressing various security challenges for win-win results.”

He expressed hope that Pakistan would speed up the investigation of the Mar. 26 attack and bring the perpetrators to justice. 

“We should take economic security as foundation, and continue to promote the building of an upgraded version of CPEC,” Jiang said. “For this purpose, China stands ready to further strengthen counter-terrorism and security cooperation with Pakistan, to maintain high pressure and rigorous operation, so as to decisively strike the terrorism.”

The Mar. 26 bombing followed a Mar. 20 attack on a strategic port used by China in the southwestern province of Balochistan, where Beijing has poured billions of dollars into infrastructure projects, and a Mar. 25 assault on a naval air base, also in the southwest. Both attacks were claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the most prominent of several separatist groups in Balochistan.

Dasu, the site of a major dam, has been attacked in the past, with a bus blast in 2021 killing 13 people, nine Chinese among them, although no group claimed responsibility, like the Mar. 26 bombing.
 
Pakistan is home to twin insurgencies, one mounted by religiously-motivated militants and the other by ethnic separatists who seek secession, blaming the government’s inequitable division of natural resources in southwestern Balochistan province.

Chinese interests are under attack primarily by ethnic militants seeking to push Beijing out of mineral-rich Balochistan, but that area is far from the site of the Mar. 26 bombing. 


‘It’s magnificent, it’s beautiful’: Visitors flock to northern Pakistan for ‘Blossom Festival’

Updated 23 min 19 sec ago
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‘It’s magnificent, it’s beautiful’: Visitors flock to northern Pakistan for ‘Blossom Festival’

  • Festival organized for the first time to promote local and international tourism in Gilgit-Baltistan region
  • Area is home to thousands of apricot, cherry, apple and peach trees providing perfect backdrop to spring 

KHAPLU: Hundreds of people have gathered in Khaplu valley in Pakistan’s picturesque Gilgit-Baltistan region in the last few days for a ‘Blossom Festival’ organized for the first time to promote local and international tourism.

Home to five of the world’s 14 mountain summits of at least 5,000 metres, the northern Gilgit-Baltistan region is Pakistan’s only land link to China and at the heart of the $65 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) infrastructure development program. Due to its geographic location and climate patterns, thousands of apricot, cherry, apple and peach trees are found in GB, with their beautiful colors offering the perfect backdrop to spring.

“We are holding this [Blossom] festival to celebrate the upcoming spring,” Rizwan Hussain, an assistant executive engineer at the GB Communication and Works department and a member of the event's organizing committee, told Arab News.

“The blossom festival is mainly in the Baltistan region and starts with cherry blossom as well as apricot blossom ... it’s mainly about celebrating the flowering of apricot and [other trees],” he added. “Mainly in Ghanche [district in GB], we are now celebrating apricot blossoms because cherry blossoms are very rare here."

Locals attend Blossom Festival in Khaplu valley in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region on April 14, 2024. (AN photo)

The festival also featured sword dances and other cultural and musical performances, stalls of handicrafts and polo matches.

“Different festivals, different cultural shows have been organized as part of the celebration and they have their own significance,” Hussain added.

Iftikhar Ali, an assistant commissioner in Ghanche, told Arab News the festival “signified the arrival of spring.”

“This event is celebrated annually on a local scale. But this year the district administration with the support of associated departments has decided to organize the festival at a mega-level,” he added.

Visitors, both local and foreign, marveled at the beautiful colors and cultural shows organized as part of the festival. 

“April is the best time to be here,” said Tshering Digi, a Taiwanese tour guide who was visiting GB for the first time.

“We can see all the different fruits like apricots, the cherry blossom season. That’s why we are here … We see so many flowers blossoming and it’s really beautiful,” she told Arab News as she stood by an apricot tree planted in the garden of Khaplu Palace, an old fort and palace located in Khaplu, a city in Gilgit-Baltistan.

“We can see [blossoms] in our country also, but we found here that everywhere you go, every valley, riverside or village, all are blossoming with flowers, it’s magnificent, it’s beautiful.

“And the view is fantastic, you can see the magnificent Karakorum Mountain Range … you can see different flowers and colours that make everybody very happy. So I would recommend my Taiwanese people to visit here [Pakistan], especially to the northern part, to the Gilgit-Baltistan area.”

A local tourist who identified himself only by his first name Faizan said he was visiting with his parents, wife and children.

“We have come for the first time to the Skardu and Khaplu area,” Faizan told Arab News. “We are especially here to see spring blossoms ... we have seen cherry and apricot blossoms and seen really great colors in this area.”

Visitor Sidra was also in GB for the first time:

“Our experience was very good. We saw cherry blossoms … And definitely, we will recommend our friends and relatives to visit this region and observe its culture, enjoy its weather, especially in this season, and enjoy these spring blossoms.”


Pakistani charities say donations for Palestine have surpassed local causes since Oct. 7

Updated 49 min 52 sec ago
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Pakistani charities say donations for Palestine have surpassed local causes since Oct. 7

  • Al-Khidmat Foundation says donations for Palestine have increased by about 60 percent
  • Baitussalam Welfare Trust also confirms its donations were now more for Palestinians 

KARACHI: Major Pakistani charities have said this week they have received more donations for humanitarian aid to Palestine than for charitable causes at home since the beginning of Israel’s war on Gaza on Oct. 7.

The ongoing Israeli air strikes and ground offensive have killed more than 33,000 Palestinians with tens of thousands more wounded, and many feared still trapped under the rubble of destroyed buildings and infrastructure. The majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been displaced and international aid agencies and concerned nations have warned famine is imminent.

As the human toll of the war continues to rise, Pakistani charities say people in Pakistan have “overwhelmingly” supported their efforts to provide aid to Gazans. 

“The people are now contributing more for Palestine than the local cause as the flow of donations has increased by about 55-60 percent for the people of Palestine,” Syed Waqas Jafri, secretary-general of the Al-Khidmat Foundation Pakistan, one of Pakistan’s largest charities, told Arab News.

The Al-Khidmat Foundation Pakistan, which has an international footprint, distributes food stamps, runs orphanages, and does rehabilitation work during natural disasters in Pakistan.

Since Oct. 7, the organization, which was already working in Palestine through local and international partners, has expedited its efforts to collect donations and send humanitarian aid for the people of Palestine, Jafri said.

“As soon as we came to know that there is a humanitarian crisis on a large scale and the space we had in a given situation was only for food and medicine, so we worked with Pakistan’s NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority) and Pakistan Air Force to send aid,” Jafri said.

“There have been five chartered flights and the sixth one is via a vessel which has 20 containers containing 300 tons of goods. So these six consignments have gone from Pakistan. The value of the goods sent to Palestine is about Rs1.6 billion ($5.7 million).”

The picture shared on February 6, 2024, shows Pakistani authorities loading boxes of humanitarian aid onto a plane in Islamabad, Pakistan, for the people of Palestine. (NDMA)

The organization has rented warehouses in Cairo and is now purchasing goods from the local market for delivery to the besieged Palestinian territory, Jafri said, adding that the need for tents had multiplied as roughly 90 percent of Gaza had been rendered inhabitable by the Israeli military actions.

The Baitussalam Welfare Trust (BWT), another non-profit organization working to provide relief to Palestinian refugees, confirmed donation inflows to the charity were now more for Palestine.

“The flow of donation is about 50-60 percent for Palestine while the number of donors has also increased in recent months,” Huzaifa Rafique, a BWT spokesman, told Arab News on Monday.

The BWT is operating in Palestine in coordination with Turkish government organizations and providing health care, education and emergency relief, Rafique said. 

“The Baitussalam Welfare Trust is operating bread plants, taking care of orphans, and providing ready food to the people in affected areas,” Rafique said.

BWT also distributed cash among Palestinian children during the Eid Al-Fitr holiday last week.

Saylani Welfare International, another large Pakistani charity, also said donations were coming in for Palestine, while people were also supporting local projects.

“The flow of funds for Palestine is about 5-10 percent, while the rest of the donations are coming for local projects,” Muhammad Ghazzal, SWI chief operating officer, told Arab News, adding that his organization had so far dispatched goods worth Rs200 million for the people of Palestine.

Ghazzal said the SWI was working with Turkish and Pakistani government entities, including the NDMA, to dispatch aid via Egypt and Turkiye.

“The goods dispatched to Palestine included food, medicine and tents,” he added.


Pakistan and IMF discussing new multi-billion-dollar program, finance minister says

Updated 16 April 2024
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Pakistan and IMF discussing new multi-billion-dollar program, finance minister says

  • Muhammad Aurangzeb says Pakistan will at least be requesting for a three year program to help execute structural reform agenda
  • Government of PM Shehbaz Sharif tasked with engineering economic turnaround by implementing unpopular belt-tightening measures

Washington: Pakistan has initiated discussions with the IMF over a new multi-billion dollar loan agreement to support its economic reform program, its new finance minister told AFP on Monday.

The South Asian nation is nearing the end of a nine-month, $3 billion loan program with the International Monetary Fund designed to tackle a balance-of-payments crisis which brought it to the brink of default last summer.

With the final $1.1 billion tranche of that deal likely to be approved later this month, Pakistan has begun negotiations for a new multi-year IMF loan program worth “billions” of dollars, Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb said during an interview in Washington.

“The market confidence, the market sentiment is in much, much better shape this fiscal year,” said Aurangzeb, a former banker who took up his post last month.

“It’s really for that purpose that, during the course of this week, we have initiated the discussion with the Fund to get into a larger and an extended program,” he added.

An IMF spokesperson told AFP that the Fund is “currently focused on the completion of the current Stand-by Agreement program,” referring to the ongoing nine-month program scheduled for completion shortly.

“The new government has expressed interest in a new program, and Fund staff stands ready to engage in initial discussions on a successor program,” the spokesperson added.

During his visit to Washington, Aurangzeb will also attend the spring meetings organized by the IMF and World Bank, which kick off in earnest Tuesday, with two clear objectives: to help countries combat climate change, and to assist the world’s most indebted nations.

The meetings — which bring central bankers together with finance and development ministers, academics, and representatives from the private sector and civil society to discuss the state of the global economy — will kick off with the IMF’s publication of its updated World Economic Outlook.

Pakistan held elections in February this year which were marred by allegations of rigging, with opposition leader Imran Khan jailed and barred from running, and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party subject to a crackdown.

The shaky coalition that emerged, led by Shehbaz Sharif, is now tasked with engineering an economic turnaround by implementing a raft of unpopular belt-tightening measures.

“I do think that we will at least be requesting for a three year program,” Aurangzeb said. “Because that’s what we need, as I see it, to help execute the structural reform agenda.”

“By the time we get to the second or third week of May, I do think we’ll start getting into the contours of that discussion,” he added.

Pakistan has close economic ties to both the United States and China, which has put it in a tricky position as the two countries have embarked upon a costly trade war.

“From our perspective it has to be an and-and discussion,” Aurangzeb said when asked how the Sharif government plans to conduct its trading relationships with the world’s two largest economies.

“[The] US is our largest trading partner, and it has always supported us, always helped us in terms of the investments,” he said. “So that is always going to be a very, very critical relationship for Pakistan.”

“On the other side, a lot of investment, especially in infrastructure, came through CPEC,” he said, referring to the roughly 1,860-mile long China-Pakistan Economic Corridor designed to give China access to the Arabian Sea.

Aurangzeb said there was an “very good opportunity” for Pakistan to play a similar role in the trade war as countries like Vietnam, which has been able to dramatically boost its exports to the US following the imposition of tariffs on some Chinese goods.

“We have already a few examples of that already working,” he said. “But what we need to do is to really scale it up.”

As part of the structural reform program agreed to by the previous government, Pakistan is in the middle of a privatization drive to sell off its poorly-performing state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

The first SOE on the list is Pakistan International Airlines, the country’s flag carrier.

“We will get to know in the next month or so with respect to interest from prospective bidders,” Aurangzeb said.

“Our desire is to go through with that privatization and take it through the finishing line by the end of June,” he added.

If the PIA privatization goes well for the government, other companies could soon follow.

“We’re creating an entire pipeline,” he said, adding: “Over the next couple of years we want to really accelerate that.”


Cop who thrashed woman on train in viral video cleared of mysterious death — Pakistan Railways

Updated 16 April 2024
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Cop who thrashed woman on train in viral video cleared of mysterious death — Pakistan Railways

  • Beautician Maryam Bibi was traveling home to Punjab when she was allegedly beaten by a cop
  • Two days later, the woman’s body was discovered near the Chani Goth railway station in Punjab

KARACHI: A policeman, who was allegedly seen beating a woman on a train last week in videos that have since gone viral, has been cleared of her mysterious death, a Pakistan Railways spokesperson said on Monday about the latest incident in what rights activists say is a long series of episodes of police brutality in Pakistan. 

Maryam Bibi, who worked as a beautician in Karachi, left the southern port city to spend last week’s Eid holiday with her family in Jaranwala in the Punjab province via Millat Express on April 7. During the journey, the woman was subjected to torture by Constable Mir Hasan near Hyderabad, according to a video of the incident and media reports. Two days later, her body was discovered near the Chani Goth railway station in Punjab.

She was subsequently buried by her family who initially thought she died after falling off the train in an accident, but the video of her torture forced railways authorities to set up a fact-finding committee to investigate the death.

The committee concluded that Constable Mir Hasan was present in Hyderabad at the time of the incident and not involved in the murder, according to Pakistan Railways spokesperson Babar Raza.

An earlier press release by Railways said the police constable got involved after Maryam started scattering the belongings of other passengers and that the policeman was forced to move her to another compartment. Railways said he was on duty on the train from Karachi to Hyderabad, in Sindh province, while the woman’s body was later found in Punjab. The press release said she had jumped from the moving train near Channigoth station. 

“The call record, station attendance, and witnesses’ testimony confirmed that the constable was in Hyderabad when the woman fell or jumped from the train, and her body was found in the Multan division,” Raza told Arab News. 

The Railways’ earlier press release said the policeman was arrested once the video of him allegedly beating up the woman was posted online. He has been suspended from duty and was out on bail in the Hyderabad area.

On Monday, Pakistani media widely reported the victim’s nephew as saying the constable had objected to the woman reciting verses from the Holy Qur’an out aloud and subsequently beat her. The nephew alleged that the constable forcibly took the woman with him and pushed her from the train at the next station.

Amnesty International’s National Corruption Impact Assessment Report released last year said the police department was among the most corrupt in Pakistan, with a staggering 30 percent corruption rate. Rights bodies over the years have documented hundreds of cases of police brutality, especially police heavy handedness against political and civil rights protesters.