Pakistan to finalize ‘major agreements’ ahead of arrival of ‘higher’ Saudi delegation — commerce minister

Pakistan’s Commerce Minister Jam Kamal Khan speaks during a press conference in Karachi, Pakistan on April 13, 2024. (AN Photo)
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Updated 13 May 2024

Pakistan to finalize ‘major agreements’ ahead of arrival of ‘higher’ Saudi delegation — commerce minister

  • Pakistan has announced Saudi crown prince will visit this month but no dates have been confirmed by either country
  • There have been flurry of high-level Saudi visits to Pakiatan in recent days as Islamabad pushes for foreign investments

KARACHI: Pakistan’s Commerce Minister Jam Kamal Khan said on Monday some “major agreements” will be finalized ahead of the arrival of a “higher” delegation from Saudi Arabia, after various Saudi and Pakistani firms developed an understanding during a recent visit by Saudi delegates to Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar last week said a much-awaited visit of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Islamabad was “on the cards” and could materialize any time during May. But neither of the two sides confirmed any dates.

His statement followed a series of high-level engagements between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, including the visits of Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif to the Kingdom and a visit of Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan to Islamabad.

This month, a high-level Saudi business delegation, led by the Kingdom’s Assistant Minister of Investment Ibrahim Al-Mubarak, visited Pakistan to explore investment opportunities in various sectors, including mineral, energy, agriculture and petroleum.

“More than 100 Pakistani companies participated in the meetings with Saudi counterparts and even today, the process of meetings continues while the outcome of G2G (government-to-government) meetings has been seen in a very positive way in different sectors,” Khan said at a press conference in Karachi.

“A higher delegation from Saudi Arabia will definitely come to Pakistan, so before that, we should make a final form of these things (agreements), so that in the final form of B2B (business-to-business), some major agreements are signed.”

Khan did not specify a date for the arrival of the Saudi delegation. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have lately been working to increase bilateral trade and investment deals, with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last month reaffirming the Kingdom’s commitment to expedite an investment package of $5 billion.

During the visit of the Saudi assistant investment minister this month, a number of agreements were signed and Pakistani companies have been asked to submit details of these agreements, according to the commerce minister.

The government has made various sectors available for facilitation, including agriculture, information technology (IT), energy and ports, and even, construction companies in Saudi Arabia have also shown interest in these sectors.

Along with that, Khan informed, progress was also being made on a free trade agreement with the Gulf countries.

He said a memorandum of understanding (MoU) had been received from Alibaba Group, a Chinese multinational company specializing in e-commerce, retail, Internet and technology, for the improvement of connectivity with the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) to penetrate rural and urban areas of Pakistan.

“They have put their stake in that MoU and if it gets vetted and clarity comes, then the senior-most [official] in Alibaba will come to Pakistan and sign it, which will be a big thing,” the minister said.

Asked about the ongoing wheat crisis, Khan said no one could be held responsible prior to the completion of a probe.

Farmers in Pakistan’s Punjab province, which produces most of the wheat crop, are demanding the government stop wheat imports that have flooded the market at a time when they expect bumper crop. They say the import of wheat in the second half of 2023 and the first three months of this year has resulted in excess amounts of the commodity in the country, leading to reduced prices.

The South Asian country is trying to ascertain the factor that led to the import of wheat during the tenure of the interim government of caretaker prime minister, Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar, despite expectations of a bumper crop.

“It is premature to say who is responsible or due to whose negligence the current situation has arisen,” Khan said.

Zubair Motiwala, the TDAP chief executive, said the country’s food and agriculture exports had witnessed a substantial increase, which would cross $7 billion from $3.5 billion.

The major exports included rice, maize and sesame seeds, while there was a negative trend in the export of textiles, he said.

For the first time in the country, Motiwala shared, a policy was being introduced under which action could be taken against exporters for exporting substandard goods and companies could also be blacklisted.

In Pakistan’s largest city, women are bound by a common misery: no public toilets

Updated 12 sec ago

In Pakistan’s largest city, women are bound by a common misery: no public toilets

  • Public toilets are a rare sight in Karachi, city of 20.3 million, which activists say severely impacts women’s mobility, safety
  • Sindh High Court this month ordered local authorities to construct bathrooms in markets, parks, hospitals, other public places

KARACHI: For the past eight years, Mariam Hassan’s biggest concern while out doing her work as a TV health reporter in Karachi has been to limit her water intake lest she has to use the toilet.
Hassan’s problem speaks to one of Pakistan’s most serious public health concerns: public toilets. World Bank data shows 79 million people in the country do not have access to a proper toilet while a recent UNICEF study says 25 million people still practice open defecation.
The lack of toilets for public use is not just a matter of public health but also about safety, women’s rights and human dignity, rights advocates and urban planners say. Indeed, the problem is especially difficult for women, who are not allowed to use the same toilet facilities as men in the conservative Muslim country.
“There is no place available for women and the places that are available are so dirty that you can’t even imagine going there,” Hassan told Arab News, echoing the sentiment of dozens of women interviewed on the subject this week in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and home to over 20 million people.
She recounted an instance in 2018 when she worked tirelessly from 7am until 10 at night covering a protest in the city’s Azizabad area without being able to find a single public restroom in the surroundings.
“At last our cameraperson took me to his relative’s house which was quite embarrassing as you’re going to a stranger’s house just to use the restroom,” Hassan said.
The Sindh High Court, troubled by how many Pakistanis don’t have access to public toilets in the country’s commercial hub, has ordered the government to build new facilities and do maintenance work on existing ones. During the proceedings of the case earlier this month, it was revealed that none of the 182 graveyards, 33 prominent markets, 42 roads, 970 bus stops and 133 hospitals in the city has public toilets on their premises.
Asked about the issue, Karachi Mayor Murtaza Wahab Siddiqui, whose Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has been ruling the Sindh province since 2008, acknowledged that access to toilets was an issue that had not received due attention in the provincial capital.
“Whether they are public parks, public spaces, buildings or shopping malls, these washrooms were part of the original plan,” he told Arab News. “And as an end result, today, it is evident that this basic necessity is not available to the public the way it should be in public areas.
“The existing toilets and washrooms that have either been encroached upon or converted [into other structures], we will speak to the relevant building associations through the Sindh Building Control Authority so that those washrooms can be reactivated to ensure that people have access to this basic necessity.”
Siddiqui said even before the high court’s ruling, steps had been taken by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) to refurbish old toilets in the city’s zoo and two parks and there were plans to construct washrooms along Karachi’s main thoroughfares and redo washrooms in shopping areas that had fallen into disrepair or been turned into shops or other facilities.
Rights activists say public toilets are essential infrastructure for cities to guarantee citizens’ right to sanitation and their comfort to circulate in public spaces. In Karachi, the lack of public toilets has particularly impeded women’s ability to go about their daily business, whether as working women out in the field and traveling to jobs or housewives out for shopping or other errands.
“Women also need to travel, women can also go to the market, do shopping, and go to their jobs,” Muhammad Toheed, an urban planner and geographer, said. “Whether women are going on a trip or going to the market, they should mentally prepare themselves that they may not find a restroom facility along the way.”
Javed Ahmed, a city dweller in his 60s, reminisced about a time around three decades ago when the city used to have public toilets but said they had gradually disappeared due to a lack of maintenance and “societal conduct.”
“Later on, perhaps they also introduced mobile toilets. I have seen those vehicles that used to roam around, but they have vanished also,” he said, adding that people from the working classes, especially laborers and rickshaw and taxi drivers, and women, gravely required access to restrooms in public spaces.
“Throughout the city, if I may say, public toilets are nowhere to be seen, and if they are present somewhere, half of them are locked or closed,” Summaiya Khursheed, a working professional, said as she shopped at a local market.
“Just like water and food are your basic necessities, toilets are also among your basic needs. Entire markets have been built for women, but it’s not considered that toilets are also a basic necessity for women.”
Housewife Uzma Hassan outlined the steps women had to take before leaving home, knowing they would not be able to find usable toilets.
“It’s stressful that we have to do it before leaving. We mentally prepare ourselves before leaving, thinking that there won’t be any toilets available. [We worry about] what we would have to do and what not to do, and we shop hurriedly so we may get free quickly to go back home,” she told Arab News.
“There are so many markets open in Karachi, with all kinds of people living here but there should be toilets in these markets and parks. The Sindh government should think about this because it is a very big issue, especially for women.”

Pakistan advises Hajj pilgrims to be careful about heatstroke risks during annual pilgrimage

Updated 23 min 59 sec ago

Pakistan advises Hajj pilgrims to be careful about heatstroke risks during annual pilgrimage

  • This year’s Hajj is expected to take place on June 14-19, coinciding with peak of sweltering summer temperatures in region
  • The weather situation has raised concerns about well-being of millions of pilgrims gathering in Makkah from across the world

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Hajj Mission (PHM) on Tuesday advised Pakistani pilgrims to take all-possible precautionary measures against heatstroke, especially during the Hajj pilgrimage, Pakistani state media reported, following a severe heat warning issued by the Saudi National Center for Meteorology.
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and requires every adult Muslim to undertake the journey to the holy Islamic sites in Makkah at least once in their lifetime if they are financially and physically able.
This year’s Hajj is expected to take place from June 14 to June 19, coinciding with the peak of sweltering summer temperatures in the region and raising concerns about well-being of millions of pilgrims gathering in Makkah from across the world.
“We advise Pakistani pilgrims to avoid sun exposure, particularly during the five Hajj days in Mashair from 8-12 ZilHajj,” PHM Director-General Abdul Wahab Soomro told the state-run APP news agency.
“Drink plenty of water, preferably ORS (Oral Rehydration Salts), use umbrellas, and spend maximum time in air-cooled or air-conditioned tents and shaded areas/tracks.”
He emphasized that although the government of Pakistan had made timely and elaborate arrangements, including transport, accommodation, and catering in Mina, Arafat and Muzdalfa, there would be no homelike comfort in the tent villages.
“It will be a hard time amid millions of people and hot weather conditions, so be prepared for it,” he cautioned.
Pakistan has a Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims this year, of which 63,805 people will perform the pilgrimage under the government scheme, while the rest will use private tour operators.
Soomro noted that the mission and its supporting staff, including doctors, nurses and paramedics as well as local and Pakistan-based assistants, were performing duties to extend round-the-clock to the “guests of Allah Almighty.”
Around 40,000 Pakistani Hajj pilgrims have so far arrived in Madinah and Makkah through 164 flights under the government scheme, according to the official. The number of pilgrims who arrived under the private scheme stood at 5,500.
He said the mission was providing best possible facilities in the most cost-effective Hajj package in the region, including residence, round-the-clock transport from hotel buildings to the Grand Mosque, and three meals a day, besides efficient online monitoring of the overall Hajj operation.
“The PHM was in close contact with all the intending pilgrims through the ‘Pak Hajj App,’ two toll-free helplines, and four WhatsApp numbers to address their concerns round the clock,” Soomro added.

Pakistan orders probe after forest fires erupt at 15 locations on Islamabad’s Margalla Hills

Updated 28 May 2024

Pakistan orders probe after forest fires erupt at 15 locations on Islamabad’s Margalla Hills

  • The forest fires initially erupted at three different locations on Hiking Trails 3 and 5 of Margalla Hills
  • Incidents come at time when Pakistan is experiencing heatwave, with temperatures soaring above 52°C

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi on Tuesday ordered an inquiry into forest fires that erupted at 15 different locations on Margalla Hills on the northern edge of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, the interior ministry said, amid a large-scale operation to douse the fires.

The forest fires initially erupted at three different locations on Hiking Trails 3 and 5 of Margalla Hills, according to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

The authority said it had arranged helicopters after firefighters present on the ground faced difficulties in accessing the fire sites. The fires later erupted at nearly a dozen other locations.

Naqvi, while taking notice of the incidents, spoke to Islamabad Chief Commissioner Muhammad Ali Randhawa and called for a comprehensive probe into the matter, according to the Pakistani interior ministry.

“Investigation must be held to bring out the facts whether the fires were deliberately ignited or they erupted accidentally,” Naqvi was quoted as saying by his ministry.

“A committee should be immediately formed to investigate the fire incidents at 15 places in a single day.”

Smoke rises from a fire, which erupted in Margalla Hills forest amid rising temperatures on a hot summer day in Islamabad on May 28, 2024. (AFP)

On the directives of interior minister, the Islamabad chief commissioner and police chief have tasked officials with investigating the matter, according to the statement.

Margalla Hills, which are part of the Himalayan foothills, have an area of 12,605 hectares and several hiking trails that are frequented by hundreds of people on a daily basis and are famous with picnickers.

The fires have erupted at a time when Pakistan is witnessing a heatwave, with temperatures soaring above 52 degrees Celsius in parts of the country.

Pakistan has reported an increasing number of forest fire incidents amid increasingly hot weather, blamed on climate change, in recent years.

Earlier in the day, senior Islamabad officials visited the site of the forest fires to inspect efforts to extinguish them

“Firefighters are using all resources to put out the fires,” Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Irfan Nawaz Memon said in a statement.

“Assistance has also been sought from other agencies to put out the fires, which will soon be brought under control.”

After ICUBE-Q, Pakistan to launch modern communication satellite into space on May 30

Updated 28 May 2024

After ICUBE-Q, Pakistan to launch modern communication satellite into space on May 30

  • The satellite will help usher in digital era in Pakistan by providing Internet to country’s remote areas, the national space agency says
  • The satellite launch from Xichang Satellite Launch Center (XSLC) will be broadcast live from agency centers in Islamabad, Karachi

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will be launching its latest modern communication satellite, PAKSAT MM1, into the space on May 30, Pakistani state media reported on Tuesday, weeks after it launched ICUBE-Qamar (ICUBE-Q) into the lunar orbit.

Pakistani satellite ICUBE-Q was launched on May 3 aboard China’s Chang’e-6 lunar mission from Hainan, China. A major milestone in Pakistan’s space exploration efforts, the satellite successfully entered the moon’s orbit on May 8, and shortly after began transmitting the first images from lunar orbit.

The Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco), Pakistan’s national space agency, now plans to launch the communication satellite with Chinese assistance on May 30.

“The satellite PAKSAT MM1 would be launched from Xichang Satellite Launch Center (XSLC), China,” the Radio Pakistan broadcaster reported.

“The SUPARCO MM1 Satellite is a result of the tireless efforts of Pakistani scientists and engineers and it is conceived keeping in sight the growing needs of the country in the broad spectrum of communication and connectivity.’

The satellite would help usher in a digital era in Pakistan by helping provide Internet to remote areas, the report read, citing Suparco officials.

The launch ceremony would be broadcast live from Suparco’s offices in Islamabad and Karachi.

Established in 1961, Suparco manages Pakistan’s space program, enhancing the nation’s capabilities in satellite communications, remote sensing and meteorological science.

Pakistan confers civilian award on Islamic Development Bank chief for his eminent services

Updated 28 May 2024

Pakistan confers civilian award on Islamic Development Bank chief for his eminent services

  • The IsDB is an international financial development institution that aims to foster socio-economic development in Muslim member countries
  • Pakistan is also among 56 members of the IsDB where the IsDB has invested in various projects and third largest beneficiary of its financing

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ahmad Farooq on Tuesday conferred the ‘Hilal-i-Quaid-i-Azam’ medal on Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) head Dr. Mohammed Sulaiman Al-Jasser in the Saudi city of Jeddah, the Pakistani consulate said. 

The Hilal-i-Quaid-i-Azam medal is one of Pakistan’s highest civil awards that is awarded to foreign nationals for their eminent services to Pakistan. 

The award ceremony was attended by representatives from Pakistan’s missions in the Kingdom and to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

“The President of Pakistan has conferred this medal on Dr. Al-Jasser for his instrumental role and for IsDB Group’s leadership in supporting Pakistan’s economic and development agenda and support at important world forums,” the Pakistani consulate in Jeddah said in a statement. 

The IsDB is a multilateral and international financial development institution that aims to foster socio-economic development in Muslim member countries. Pakistan is also among the 56 members of the IsDB where the IsDB has invested in various projects. 

In March, Pakistan and the IsDB signed a financing agreement worth $200 million for the Sindh Flood Emergency Housing Reconstruction Project. The project aims to construct 700,000 houses, benefiting an estimated 4.2 million people in rural areas of the southern province, and will support the creation of 75,000 water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities for over 1.3 million individuals.

The Bank announced a $100 million loan to support Pakistan’s polio eradication efforts in December 2023, on the sidelines of the COP28 United Nations climate summit in Dubai. 

After the devastating floods of 2022 killed 1,700 people and inflicted losses worth $30 billion on Pakistan, the IsDB pledged $4.2 billion for the South Asian country over the next three years.