Saudi FM’s visit part of ‘concerted efforts’ to close investment deals — Pakistani envoy to Riyadh 

This handout photograph taken on April 16, 2024 and released by Pakistan's Press Information Department (PID) shows Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (R) speaking with Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan upon his arrival at the Prime Minister House in Islamabad. (PID)
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Updated 17 April 2024
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Saudi FM’s visit part of ‘concerted efforts’ to close investment deals — Pakistani envoy to Riyadh 

  • Ahmed Farooq says size and rank of Saudi delegation showed “keenness” of economic engagement plans with Pakistan
  • Saudi delegation briefed about Pakistani legal, procedural, administrative reforms undertaken to facilitate investments

RIYADH: Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud’s visit to Pakistan this week is part of “concerted efforts” to close investment deals that have been under discussion between the two nations in recent years and also discuss new areas of cooperation, Islamabad’s envoy to Riyadh Ahmed Farooq has said. 

Prince Faisal arrived in Pakistan on Monday on a two-day visit aimed at enhancing bilateral economic cooperation and pushing forward previously agreed investment deals. His trip came a little over a week after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Makkah and reaffirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to expedite investments worth $5 billion.

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

Speaking to Arab News on Tuesday, Ambassador Farooq said during Sharif’s recent meeting with the Saudi crown prince, it was decided that the Kingdom would expand its collaboration with Pakistan across various sectors. Both countries also agreed on a roadmap for expediting investments from Saudi Arabia into strategic sectors of the Pakistan economy.

“Guided by this clear direction of the leadership, the economic teams of the two countries are now in advance talks to finalize partnership proposals in diverse sectors such as energy, renewables, connectivity, mining, agriculture, information technology, construction, human resource development and export and strategic investments,” Farooq said.

“Concerted efforts are underway to close the deals that have remained under discussion in recent years, while identifying new areas of cooperation.”

It was as part of such efforts that Prince Faisal visited Pakistan, the ambassador added, accompanied by a team of top officials across Saudi ministries. 

“The size and rank of the visiting delegation showed the keenness with which the Kingdom is pursuing economic engagement plans with Pakistan,” Farooq said. 

Among key highlights of the visit, apart from bilateral meetings between the economic teams, was a special interactive session organized by the newly established Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), set up last year to oversee all foreign investments in Pakistan. 

“Several short, medium, and long-term projects were discussed in the dedicated sector-wise breakout sessions,” the envoy said. “The Saudi delegation was also briefed about the specific legal, procedural and administrative reforms undertaken by Pakistan in recent months to attract and facilitate foreign investments in key sectors of the economy.”

“BEDROCK OF SUPPORT”

Cash-strapped Pakistan desperately needs to shore up its foreign reserves and signal to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that it can continue to meet requirements for foreign financing that has been a key demand in previous bailout packages. Pakistan’s finance minister, Muhammad Aurangzeb, is currently in Washington to participate in spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and discuss a new bailout program. A $3 billion ongoing loan deal expires this month.

Saudi Arabia has often come to cash-strapped Pakistan’s aid in the past, regularly providing it oil on deferred payments and offering direct financial support to help stabilize its economy and shore up its forex reserves.

“For Pakistan, Saudi Arabia has remained a bedrock of support,” Farooq told Arab News when asked about cooperation between the two nations.

“The kingdom has always supported Pakistan and provided much needed economic support and assistance. Kingdom has also played a critical role in helping us with international financial institutions.

“Even today, the Kingdom has a central role in the future economic plans of Pakistan. The new government in Pakistan has a strong desire to attract Saudi investment – both from the public and private sectors – to usher in a new era of economic growth and development.”

Farooq said the Saudi leadership was also keen on seizing this opportunity and further enhancing economic, political and security cooperation with Pakistan.

He said there were many areas for future collaboration including energy, renewables, IT, mining, agriculture, construction, and human resource development and export.

Asked about how investment between the two nations could be further enhanced, Farooq said Pakistan had created SIFC to act as a one window operation to facilitate Saudi and other foreign investments. 

“It is tailor made for this purpose,” he added. “We are developing a lot of projects across all sectors of the economy in which the Saudi public and private sector can invest. 

The Kingdom has shown great keenness and desire to work with Pakistan and realize these projects. I am confident that we will soon see a lot of investment going from Saudi Arabia into Pakistan.”


PM Sharif demands industry status for Pakistan’s gemstones sector

Updated 6 sec ago
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PM Sharif demands industry status for Pakistan’s gemstones sector

  • Pakistan’s exports of gems and precious stones to China saw 47 percent increase in 2023, as per official figures
  • Pakistan possesses immense natural resources in KP, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir regions, says Sharif

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Wednesday stressed developing the country’s gems and precious stones sector, urging authorities to take steps to accord it the status of an industry, a statement from his office said. 

According to a report by Pakistan’s Ministry of Commerce, the country’s exports of pearls and precious stones to China saw a 47 percent increase in 2023, showcasing the rising demand for Pakistan’s precious stones in China. 

“The prime minister gave directions for steps to be taken for the gems and precious stones sector be granted industry status,” the PMO said, as Sharif chaired a meeting of the gems and private stones sector in Pakistan’s capital on Wednesday. 

Sharif said Pakistan possesses immense natural resources, particularly in the regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan, and, Azad Jammu and Kashmir. He called on authorities to properly utilize these resources to Pakistan’s advantage. 

“Efforts should be made to obtain international certifications for precious stones and the products made from them, and to ensure Pakistani representation in global exhibitions,” the prime minister said. 

He directed necessary consultations to be held with the private sector and provinces in this regard.

Separately, the prime minister also presided over a meeting on Information Technology Parks, directing the construction of Islamabad IT Park “as soon as possible.”

The Islamabad IT Park is expected to act as a state-of-the-art facility that would aim to foster collaboration, innovation and product development in teh capital. 

“The establishment of IT parks to promote IT, increase IT exports, and provide facilities to startups is a welcome development,” PM Sharif was quoted as saying by the PMO.

Sharif was told during the meeting that the Islamabad IT Park would be completed next year in collaboration with South Korea. 

“The Islamabad IT Park will feature startups, incubation centers, banks, restaurants, and other facilities,” the statement said. 


Babar holds key for success as unpredictable Pakistan gear up for World Cup

Updated 25 min 36 sec ago
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Babar holds key for success as unpredictable Pakistan gear up for World Cup

  • Pakistan has experienced massive changes in its cricket board since T20 World Cup 2022
  • Pakistani batter will be first person to lead a team for first time in three successive World Cups

ISLAMABAD: The return of tried and tested Babar Azam as captain for the Twenty20 World Cup belies the massive changes in Pakistan cricket over the last 18 months.

Since Babar’s team lost the T20 World Cup final to England in November 2022, the Pakistan Cricket Board has had four chairmen, the selection panel has been overhauled, and the experiment with Shaheen Shah Afridi as skipper was quickly aborted.

A new head coach for the limited-overs formats joined the squad in England just weeks ahead of the June 1-29 World Cup in the US and Caribbean.

And to top it off, Pakistan will be the last team to confirm its 15-member World Cup squad as it continues to experiment with various combinations.

Babar is urging supporters to be patient, and there’s a plan in place for success.

Babar stepped down from all-formats captaincy during the tenure of Zaka Ashraf as head of the PCB after Pakistan failed to qualify for the semifinals of the 50-over World Cup in India last year.

But he was reinstated as T20 captain by Mohsin Naqvi — the fourth PCB chairman in less than 14 months — ahead of home series against New Zealand in April after Afridi lost the series in New Zealand 4-1.

Allrounder Imad Wasim and fast bowler Mohammad Amir came out of international retirement in the hope that their experience of playing in the Caribbean Premier League will benefit Pakistan in the West Indies.

South African Gary Kirsten, who was appointed last month as head coach, will gain some first-hand knowledge of the Pakistan squad during a four-match series in England that both teams are using to rehearse for the World Cup.

All these off-the-field happenings have impacted Pakistan’s preparations for the tournament.

It badly lost the away series to New Zealand, scraped to a drawn 2-2 series at home against the Black Caps and lost a T20 series against Afghanistan 2-1. A shock loss to Ireland in Dublin preceded back-to-back wins and 2-1 series result.

And so unpredictable Pakistan enters another world tournament as a team to watch because of its rich history in the T20 World Cup. It has featured in three finals, winning the title in 2009, and also reached the semifinals three other times.

One of Kirsten’s coaching tips has already resonated with the players.

“Gary told us, don’t play for the name on the back of your jersey but for the badge in front of your shirt,” Afridi told a PCB podcast. “And that stayed with me.”

The depth in its pace bowling, with the likes of Afridi, fit-again Haris Rauf, Naseem Shah and Amir, can pose a threat to any team. But Pakistan’s top-order batting was still unsettled going into the series in England. Left-hander Saim Ayub is yet to fire in his role after selectors decided to separate the successful T20 opening pair of Babar and Mohammad Rizwan.

Babar has faced criticism for not pushing the scoring rate in the T20 power play, particularly while batting first. Pakistan has mostly aimed for totals in the 170-180 range while other teams have crossed 200 on regular basis.

Political tensions between Pakistan and India means there hasn’t been a bilateral series for over a decade, but the ICC tournaments always attracts a huge TV audience when the archrivals meet.

Pakistan and India will play a group game on June 9 at a newly built 34,000-capacity Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York that will be the center of attention for South Asian communities.

Both teams are expected to advance to the Super 8 stage from a group that also contains tournament co-host US, Canada and Ireland.

Babar has twice gone close to lifting the trophy as captain, losing to eventual champion Australia in the 2021 semifinals and to England in the final in the Melbourne final the following year.

And for that, he’ll get the distinction of becoming the first player to lead a country in three successive T20 World Cups and will be aiming for third time lucky if his Pakistan lineup can reach the June 29 decider in Barbados.


Saudi aid agency distributes 9,000 shelters, non-food items among Pakistan’s flood-hit families

Updated 22 May 2024
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Saudi aid agency distributes 9,000 shelters, non-food items among Pakistan’s flood-hit families

  • The relief kits containing solar panels, blankets, kitchen sets, water coolers and soaps will benefit 63,000 individuals
  • These items have been distributed among people of Upper Dir, Lower Chitral, Swat, Gwadar, Chaghi and Pishin districts

ISLAMABAD: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) announced on Wednesday it has distributed 9,000 shelters and non-food items to flood-affected families in Pakistan’s two western provinces to meet the needs of people affected by recent rains.

The death toll from rain-related incidents in Pakistan’s Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provinces surged to 78 last month.

Heavy rains in these provinces inundated the streets of several districts, damaging thousands of houses. The casualties included at least 33 children and 15 women, while many others were also injured and displaced.

“These relief kits, containing vital items such as shelters, solar panels, blankets, plastic mats, kitchen sets, water coolers, and antibacterial soap provided comprehensive support to 63,000 individuals,” KSRelief said in a statement.

The Saudi aid agency added the “vital assistance during this critical time” would benefit flood victims in Upper Dir, Lower Chitral, Swat, Charsada and Dera Ismail Khan districts of KP and Gwadar, Chaghi and Pishin districts of Balochistan.

“This initiative was executed in close collaboration with the National Disaster Management Authority and the respective provincial governments of KP and Balochistan through the Hayat Foundation,” the statement concluded.


Pakistani security forces kill 29 militants in Balochistan, say violence originating from Afghanistan

Updated 22 May 2024
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Pakistani security forces kill 29 militants in Balochistan, say violence originating from Afghanistan

  • Security forces say these militants were killed in intelligence-based operations within the last one month
  • Pakistan also lost one officer in firefight, asks Afghan authorities to ensure effective border management

ISLAMABAD: Security forces in Pakistan lost one officer and killed 29 militants within the last month while carrying out intelligence-based operations in the country’s southwestern Balochistan province, an official statement said on Wednesday, adding the violence was generated by armed groups operating from Afghanistan.
Pakistan has blamed the Taliban administration in Kabul in recent months for not doing enough to clamp down on militant outfits that have allegedly taken sanctuary in the neighboring state.
The top official of the military’s media wing, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), said on May 7 a deadly suicide car bombing targeting Chinese nationals in Shangla earlier this year was also planned in “terrorist sanctuaries” in Afghanistan.
However, Afghan authorities denied the claim the very next day.
“Pakistan has witnessed a surge in terrorist incidents orchestrated from Afghan soil, wherein, terrorists from Afghanistan attempt to infiltrate through Pakistan-Afghanistan Border and target Security Forces as well as the innocent civilians,” the ISPR said in a statement.
“In this context, in addition to other areas along Pakistan-Afghanistan border, Security Forces are conducting operations in general area Sambaza in Zhob District of Balochistan, since 21 April 24,” it continued. “As a result of effective engagements, 29 terrorists have been successfully neutralized by the Security Forces in past one month. In the same series of operations, during an intelligence based operation on 14 May 2024, Maj Babar Khan also embraced Shahadat [martyrdom], while fighting gallantly.”
Balochistan is a strategically significant province where Pakistani and Chinese governments are jointly working on a series of infrastructure and regional connectivity projects. However, the area has also witnessed a low-level insurgency carried out by Baloch nationalist groups seeking independence from the central government in Islamabad.
The security situation in the province is further complicated by armed networks such as the proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), whose leadership broke a fragile ceasefire with Pakistan in November 2022.
“Pakistan has consistently been asking Interim Afghan Government to ensure effective border management on their side,” the ISPR statement continued. “Interim Afghan Government is expected to fulfill its obligations and deny the use of Afghan Soil by terrorists for perpetuating acts of terrorism against Pakistan.”


Pakistan forms inquiry committee to probe mob attacks in Kyrgyzstan, says over 4,000 students evacuated

Updated 22 May 2024
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Pakistan forms inquiry committee to probe mob attacks in Kyrgyzstan, says over 4,000 students evacuated

  • Ishaq Dar says the inquiry committee will coordinate with the Kyrgyz authorities and submit report in two weeks
  • Deputy PM says he asked his Kyrgyz counterpart to legalize 1,100 Pakistani workers being pursued for deportation

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Wednesday constituted an inquiry committee to establish what led to the mob attacks on its students in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, said the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar, as over 4,000 Pakistani nationals were brought back from the Central Asian state.
Dar visited Bishkek on Tuesday to address the concerns of young students from his country enrolled in various educational institutions who witnessed the mob violence last week.
According to some media reports, the situation went out of hand in Bishkek last Friday after videos of a brawl between Kyrgyz and Egyptian students went viral on social media, prompting groups of local residents to target university hostels and private lodgings of international students, including those from Pakistan.
Official figures shared by the Pakistan embassy in Kyrgyzstan reveal nearly 10,000 Pakistani students are enrolled in the Central Asian country, with about 6,000 in Bishkek. The frenzied violence forced them to confine themselves for several hours in their rooms without food and drinking water, prompting many of them to make evacuation requests online.
“The additional secretary administration of the foreign ministry, Muhammad Saleem, will head a fact-finding committee to look into the incident, including the reason for such developments and subsequent reaction of the Pakistani mission and the government,” Dar told the media in a news briefing.
He said the committee would coordinate with the Kyrgyz authorities to review all the findings and developments in Bishkek and submit its report within two weeks.
The deputy prime minister informed a total of 4,036 students had returned from Bishkek by last night.
“To date, 3,233 students have returned on commercial flights, while 513 have benefitted from special flights arranged by the federal government,” he added. “The special flights arranged by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government have also brought back 290 students.”
Dar said during his meeting with the Kyrgyz deputy PM, he inquired about the fate of the perpetrators of the violence and was told that the administration in Bishkek had zero tolerance in such matters.
“My counterpart told me that the Kyrgyz President had publicly announced that action would be taken [against those involved in the mob violence],” he added. “Many people have already been arrested by law enforcement agencies.”
Asked about the future of the returning students, he informed he had called for a meeting of the all stakeholders on Friday to look into the possibility of accommodating them in the Pakistani medical institutions.
Dar said he also found out that nearly 1,100 workers from Pakistan residing in Kyrgyzstan were being pursued for deportation by the government due to their illegal stay.
“I requested the Kyrgyz deputy prime minister to legalize them instead of deporting them and he agreed by saying that he would seek approval from the National Security Committee and Ministry of Immigration to make that possible,” he continued.
Dar said he had instructed the foreign secretary and the country’s diplomatic mission in Bishkek to pursue the issue until its implementation.
“This will benefit around 1,100 families in Pakistan,” he added.