Special investment council greenlights establishing Pakistan’s largest IT Park in Islamabad

A general view taken from a hilltop shows the Pakistan's capital city Islamabad and its suburbs, on May 27, 2021.
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Updated 25 March 2024
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Special investment council greenlights establishing Pakistan’s largest IT Park in Islamabad

  • Park to be operated under public-private partnership, will be spread over 3.3 acres in G-10 sector of Islamabad 
  • Will comprise research center, library, software houses, conference and exhibition rooms, work spaces for freelancers, start ups

ISLAMABAD: The Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) has given the go ahead to establish Pakistan’s largest IT Park on an area of 3.3 acres in the G-10 sector of the federal capital of Islamabad, state-run APP news agency said on Monday, in a bid to nurture an already thriving industry. 

Monthly IT exports from Pakistan were recorded at $257 million in February this year, 32 percent more than in the same month last year. Monthly IT exports in Feb. 2024 were higher than the last 12-month average of $233 million, according to central bank data released last week.

Pakistan’s IT exports in eight months of the current fiscal year, which began in July 2023, increased by 15 percent to $2 billion on an annual basis, compared to $1.7 billion recorded during the same period in the last fiscal year (8MFY23).

Pakistani exporters attribute the surge to supportive policies that have encouraged local companies to bring export proceeds back home and the formation of the Special Investment Facilitation Council, a civil-military hybrid forum, aimed at boosting foreign investment in the country. 

“This landmark decision [by the SIFC] marks a significant stride forward for Pakistan’s burgeoning tech landscape, promising unparalleled opportunities for innovation and progress,” APP reported, saying discussions were already being held between key stakeholders such as the Pakistan Software Export Board and the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication to ensure the successful execution of the project.

“The envisioned IT Park is poised to become a nucleus of technological advancement, boasting a comprehensive array of facilities aimed at fostering creativity and entrepreneurship,” APP said.

“Among its features will be a state-of-the-art research center, a well-stocked library, software houses, conference rooms, dedicated work spaces for freelancers and start ups and an exhibition area for showcasing cutting-edge IT products.”

The IT Park project will be operated under a public-private partnership framework and benefit approximately 6,000 freelancers through access to top-notch facilities.

“Crucially, the construction of this pioneering IT hub will be financed through collaboration with private IT companies, which will also lease office spaces within the premises,” APP said. 

“This synergistic partnership model is anticipated to invigorate Pakistan’s tech ecosystem, driving economic growth and job creation in the digital sphere. With the impending realization of the IT Park in Islamabad’s G-10 sector, Pakistan stands on the cusp of a transformative era in its tech evolution, poised to harness the boundless potential of the digital age for the betterment of its people and economy.”

“$3.5 BILLION EXPORTS THIS YEAR”

Last week, Pakistani information technology exporters told Arab News they hoped to hit the $3.5 billion export milestone this year on the back of favorable policies at home and by successfully signing major deals with foreign, especially Saudi, firms.

“The increase in the retention limit by the central bank and formation of SIFC which gives confidence to the people that if they will have any problem, it would be resolved, have led to the export surge from Pakistan,” Zohaib Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA), said.

“This year, we will hit an export target of $3.15 billion to $3.5 billion and next year, we will take it up to $5 billion because with the convenience of cross-border payments, the money of our companies that i lying abroad will come to Pakistan.”

The jump in IT exports has occurred due to a relaxation in the permissible retention limit by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), which increased it from 35 percent to 50 percent in the Exporters’ Specialized Foreign Currency Accounts, and stable currency which encouraged IT companies to repatriate their foreign income and deposit it in local accounts, according to a report by Karachi-based Topline Securities brokerage house.

Khan said the central bank was facilitating exporters with measures that would yield further results in the coming years. 

“The central bank has introduced corporate debit cards, these products have now started coming out,” he said. “These products will allow exporters to bring in the money they have parked in foreign accounts because it will ensure cross-border payments.”

Currently, the P@SHA chief said, exporters were unable to make direct payments from Pakistan to companies or individuals abroad, but if the central bank allowed cross-border payments there would be no reason to keep export proceeds abroad.

Pakistani authorities are also focusing on harnessing the potential of IT exports and Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb in a recent interview expressed hope that the country’s IT exports would likely increase to $3.5 billion this year.

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 United States is Pakistan’s largest market for IT, accounting for 54.5 percent in FY 2023, according to the International Trade Administration (ITA). Pakistan’s IT sector consists primarily of software development and IT-enabled services (ITeS) for data centers, technical service/call centers, and telecom services, with 60 percent ITeS serving international customers. Much of the growth is driven by the work of freelancers and tech start-ups.

The export push also comes from Saudi Arabia where dozens of Pakistani IT firms this month presented their innovative ideas and products at the LEAP tech exhibition, according to Khan. 

“Projects ranging from $8 to $10 million have been spot-closed, and a pipeline for projects worth $70 to $80 million has been generated,” he said, adding that Pakistanis who recently attended tech events in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Dubai were registering their companies there.

Last year, LEAP 2023 generated a whopping $9 billion in IT business and Pakistani companies generated leads worth upwards of $100 million on the sidelines in business-to-business (B2B) matchmaking, according to P@SHA

Khan estimated that there had been an increase of up to $100 million IT exports to Saudi Arabia in the last two years.


Pakistan advises its nationals to take precautions amid violent student protests in Bangladesh

Updated 17 July 2024
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Pakistan advises its nationals to take precautions amid violent student protests in Bangladesh

  • Tens of thousands of students have been holding nationwide protests since early July against public sector job quotas
  • PM Hasina has labeled protesters “razakar,” term for those who allegedly collaborated with Pakistani army during 1971 war

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan High Commission in Dhaka on Wednesday advised Pakistani students in Bangladesh to take necessary precautions and stay away from student protests in which at least six people have been killed and scores injured in the last 24 hours. 
Tens of thousands of students have been holding nationwide protests since early July against public sector job quotas, including a 30 percent quota for family members of freedom fighters from the 1971 War of Independence, amid high youth unemployment. 
Demonstrations intensified after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who led Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan, refused to meet the protesters’ demands and labeled those opposing the quota as “razakar,” a term used for those who allegedly collaborated with the Pakistani army during the 1971 war.
“Pakistan High Commission advises students to take all possible precautions for their safety and stay away from protests,” the High Commission said in a statement. “Campus residents have been advised to stay in their hostel rooms.”
On Wednesday morning, Deputy Prime Minister Muhammad Ishaq Dar also spoke to the Pakistani High Commissioner in Bangladesh, Ambassador Syed Maruf, to inquire about the welfare of Pakistanis in Bangladesh.
“Maruf informed the Deputy Prime Minister about the security situation and the steps taken by the High Commission to ensure the welfare of Pakistanis in Bangladesh,” the statement said. “The embassy has opened a helpline for the convenience of people in distress.”
The protests turned violent this week when thousands of anti-quota protesters clashed with members of the student wing of the ruling Awami League party across the country. Six people, including at least three students, were killed during clashes on Tuesday, police said.
The protests are the first significant challenge to Hasina’s government since she secured a fourth consecutive term in January in an election boycotted by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).


Pakistan protests to Afghanistan over militant attack on cantonment, killing eight soldiers

Updated 17 July 2024
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Pakistan protests to Afghanistan over militant attack on cantonment, killing eight soldiers

  • Eight soldiers killed while blocking militants from entering military cantonment in Bannu on Monday
  • Two soldiers, five civilians killed in militant attack on Rural Health Center in Dera Ismail Khan on Tuesday

ISLAMABAD: The deputy head of mission at the embassy of Afghanistan in Islamabad was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs today, Wednesday, to deliver Pakistan’s “strong demarche” over a militant attack at an army cantonment this week in which eight soldiers were killed, the foreign office said.

Ten soldiers and five civilians were killed this week in two separate attacks in the country’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. In the first attack on Monday, militants tried to enter a cantonment in the city of Bannu and a suicide bomber rammed a vehicle loaded with explosives into a perimeter wall. Eight soldiers and ten militants were killed, the army said. 

In a second, separate, attack early Tuesday, five civilians, including two female health workers and two children, were killed in an attack on a health facility in the Dera Ismail Khan district. Two soldiers and all three militants were killed in subsequent clashes, the military said.

Pakistan has seen a surge in militancy in recent months that it blames on militants operating out of Afghanistan. Kabul denies that it allows its territory to be used by insurgents and says Pakistan’s security woes are a domestic issue.

“The terrorist attack [in Bannu] was carried out by the Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group based in Afghanistan. Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group, along with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of civilians and law enforcement officials in multiple terrorist attacks inside Pakistan,” the foreign office said in a statement.

“The Interim Afghan Government was urged to fully investigate and take immediate, robust and effective action against the perpetrators of the Bannu attack and to prevent the recurrence of such attacks against Pakistan using the territory of Afghanistan.”

The foreign office said it had “serious concerns” about the presence of militant outfits inside Afghanistan that continued to threaten Pakistan’s security. 

“Such incidents also go against the spirit of bilateral relations between the two brotherly countries,” the foreign office added. “The Bannu Cantonment attack is yet another reminder of the serious threat posed by terrorism to regional peace and security. Pakistan reiterates the call for decisive action against terrorism and remains steadfast in its commitment to combat this menace and to uphold its security against all threats.”


Pakistan issues glacial lake flood warnings for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan regions

Updated 17 July 2024
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Pakistan issues glacial lake flood warnings for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan regions

  • Floods in 2022, brought by record monsoon rains and glacial melt, killed over 1,700 people and impacted 33 million people
  • NDMA recently launched Pak NDMA Disaster Alert application to provide timely alerts, adviseries and guidelines

ISLAMABAD: The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) on Wednesday issued a glacial lake outburst flooding (GLOF) alert for Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the mountainous northern region of Gilgit-Baltistan.

Floods in 2022, brought by record monsoon rains and glacial melt in northern mountains, killed over 1,700 people and impacted 33 million people out of a population of 220 million, sweeping away homes, vehicles, crops and livestock in damage estimated at $30 billion. 

“National Emergencies Operation Center (NEOC) has warned of possible glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF) in the mountainous regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan due to rising temperatures and expected heavy rainfall from July 17 to 23, 2024,” the NDMA said in a statement. “This may lead to increased water levels in local rivers and streams, landslides, and flash flooding.”

The disaster management authority said it had directed the Provincial Disaster Management Authority of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well as the Gilgit-Baltistan Disaster Management Authority to coordinate with relevant departments to ensure necessary preparations and emergency response measures. 

“Departments have been instructed to alert local communities, tourists, and travelers in the areas at risk and to avoid unnecessary travel. Mock drills should also be conducted in vulnerable areas to ensure timely evacuation and safety of people,” NDMA said. 

The authority recently launched the Pak NDMA Disaster Alert application, available on Google Play Store and iOS App Store, to provide timely alerts, adviseries and guidelines to the public.


Yaum-e-Ashura processions held across Pakistan amid heightened security

Updated 17 July 2024
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Yaum-e-Ashura processions held across Pakistan amid heightened security

  • Ashura is tenth day of Muharram when Shiite Muslims commemorate death of Imam Hussein
  • Interior ministry had approved army deployment across Pakistan to ensure peace during Muharram

ISLAMABAD: Hundreds of thousands of mourners took out processions across Pakistan on Wednesday amid heightened security measures to observe Yaum-e-Ashura, the holiest day on the Shiite Muslim calendar.

Yaum-e-Ashura is the tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram when Shiite Muslims commemorate the seventh-century battlefield death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), in Karbala, Iraq. 

“The martyrdom of Imam Hussain teaches us to stand firm against oppression,” Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said in a message to the public. “In today’s world, we witness the people of Palestine enduring immense hardships and making immense sacrifices for a great cause. Similarly people of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir are also suffering the atrocities of the oppressive forces.”

Shiite Muslims take part in a religious procession to mark Ashura on the tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram, in Lahore on July 17, 2024. (AFP)

President Asif Ali Zardari said the martyrs of Karbala had given a lesson to the Muslim Ummah “to remain steadfast in the face of all kinds of brutalities and raise their voice against all evils,” state-run Radio Pakistan reported.

The interior ministry had approved army deployment across the country to ensure peace and security during the holy month of Muharram and had banned the use of drones during processions and gatherings.

The main procession in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore set out from Nisar Haveli in the Mohalla Chillah Bibian on Wednesday morning and will culminate at the Karbala Ghamay Shah Imambargah.

In Karachi, the main procession departed from Nishtar Park and will conclude at the Hussainiya Iraniyan Imam Bargah.

Shiite Muslims shout anti-Israel slogans during a religious procession on the ninth day of the Islamic month of Muharram, in Karachi on July 16, 2024. (AFP)

In Peshawar, the main procession began from GT Road and passed through Mukri Bazaar service road and is expected to conclude at 4pm, according to the City Traffic Police.


Daesh claims responsibility for mosque attack in Oman, four Pakistanis killed

Updated 17 July 2024
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Daesh claims responsibility for mosque attack in Oman, four Pakistanis killed

  • Attack took place at Shiite mosque in Wadi Al-Kabir in Omani capital of Muscat
  • Attack raises fears that Daesh may be trying to gain a foothold in new territory

ISLAMABAD: The Daesh group claimed responsibility for an attack at a Shiite Muslim mosque in Oman, the group said on Tuesday, which left at least nine people dead, including four Pakistanis, a rare security breach in the oil-producing Gulf state.

The attack on Monday, which is unusual in the wealthy Gulf state, raises fears that Daesh may be trying to gain a foothold in new territory.

“Three suicide attackers from the Islamic State attacked last night a gathering of Shiite (Muslims) while they were practicing their annual rituals at a temple in the Wadi Al-Kabir district in the (Omani) capital,” according to the group’s statement, which cited three security sources.

The Daesh fighters fired on Shiite worshippers and exchanged gunfire with Omani security forces until morning, the statement added.

Daesh late on Tuesday published what it said was a video of the attack on its Telegram site. The group also said that the attack left more than 30 Shiite Muslims and five Omani forces, including a police officer, killed or wounded.

“According to the latest information received from the Omani authorities, four Pakistanis were martyred as a result of gunshots in the dastardly terrorist attack on the Ali bin Abi Talib mosque in Wadi Kabeer area in Muscat,” the Pakistani foreign ministry said. “Another thirty Pakistanis are under treatment in hospitals.”

Videos shared by the embassy in Oman showed Pakistan’s ambassador to Oman Imran Ali visiting the injured in hospital. 

“This is my message to the Pakistani community that in this emergency situation, please don’t go toward Wadi Al-Kabir, that area is cordoned off,” Ali said in a video message recorded at a hospital. “If anyone has injured relatives, kindly please don’t give up on your patience.”

He said he had visited up to four hospitals and the injured people he had met were in “relatively” stable condition. 

“People in their homes, please stay safe, and don’t go there [toward Wadi Al-Kabir] because our information is that the emergency situation is still ongoing,” the ambassador concluded.

A handout from the embassy said the “terrorist” attack by “unknown assailants” took place around 11pm on Monday night on the Imam Bargah Ali bin Abu Talib in Wadi Al-Kabir. Authorities evacuated people from the area following the attack and started an operation around 230am.

“Assailants have taken worshippers hostages while reportedly [there are] several casualties; authorities have cordoned off the area,” it added. “Hostage evacuation has started now. Military units have reached.”

The Pakistani embassy’s Facebook page said emergency had been imposed at the Khulla Hospital, Nahida Hospital and Royal Hospital, which Ambassador Ali had visited. 

The attack comes during the Islamic month of Muharram, when Shiite Muslims commemorate the seventh-century battlefield martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).