Veon, partners to bridge online ‘AI language gap’ in Pakistan, other countries 

Veon's logo is displayed on a cell phone screen in this undated file photo. (Photo courtesy: ALAMY STOCK)
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Updated 15 May 2024
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Veon, partners to bridge online ‘AI language gap’ in Pakistan, other countries 

  • Language models often rely on swathes of online data to generate human-like responses 
  • Veon and partners to develop tools in Pakistan, Ukraine, Bangladesh and other countries 

Telecom company Veon, mobile operator Beeline Kazakhstan, the Barcelona Supercomputing Center and the GSMA lobby group said on Wednesday they would work together to bridge an “AI language gap” for under-represented languages.

Large language models powering ‘bots’ like chatGPT often rely on swathes of online data, such as digital books, websites, articles and blogs to learn how to generate human-like responses. But data and resources in some languages are limited.

“Out of nearly 7000 languages spoken around the globe, only seven are considered high-resource languages in the digital world: English, Spanish, French, Mandarin, Arabic, German and Japanese,” the groups said in a joint statement.

They will collaborate on developing tools and language model documentation in under-represented languages, including those spoken in the countries where Veon operates — Pakistan, Ukraine, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Another language was Catalan, which is spoken by around 10 million people, the statement said.
“The lack of resources in other languages results in an AI language gap which leads to sub-optimal user experience in AI applications, deepens the bias in AI models and risks deepening the digital divide in AI technologies,” they added.


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

Updated 28 May 2024
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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
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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
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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.


Pakistani, Saudi investors to set up $5 million edible oil refinery in Kingdom — Pakistan trade official

Updated 28 May 2024
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Pakistani, Saudi investors to set up $5 million edible oil refinery in Kingdom — Pakistan trade official

  • Official says the joint venture is expected to be signed in next six months and it will allow export of 50 percent edible oil
  • Saudi authorities are offering land and other facilities to investors to encourage investment in the Kingdom, he adds

KARACHI: Pakistani and Saudi investors are establishing a $5 million edible oil refinery in Saudi Arabia through a joint venture (JV), a senior Pakistani trade official said on Tuesday, following recent business-to-business interactions between the two countries.

The development comes weeks after a 50-member, high-level delegation, led by the Kingdom’s Assistant Minister of Investment Ibrahim Al-Mubarak, arrived in Pakistan to explore investment opportunities in the South Asian country.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have been working closely in recent weeks 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.

“We are putting up an edible oil refinery in Saudi Arabia with the local partners. We have shared the feasibility with each other, and we will sign [an agreement] very soon,” Atif Ikram Sheikh, president of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FPCCI), told Arab News on Tuesday. “There will be a joint venture.”

Ikram, who runs edible oil refineries and other businesses in Pakistan, informed that the project cost would be equally shared by investment partners, including himself.

“The project cost will be $5 million and we will share the cost together and this would be materialized within six months,” he said, adding the Saudi authorities were offering land and other facilities for the refinery. 

Saudi Arabia is currently consolidating its economy on modern lines under Vision 2030, a strategic development framework intended to cut the Kingdom’s reliance on oil. Under the framework, the Kingdom is also encouraging investment in diversified sectors to increase its export base.

“Their [Saudi authorities] condition is to maximize oil export up to 50 percent, while the rest you can sell in the local market,” Sheikh said.

The FPCCI chief said Saudi Arabia’s interest in Pakistan’s diversified sectors was “constantly increasing” and both sides had made tangible progress, including Saudi investment inflows in oil, agriculture and other sectors. 

In December last year, Aramco, one of the world’s leading integrated energy and chemicals companies, signed an agreement to acquire a 40 percent equity stake in Gas & Oil Pakistan that followed the signing of an agreement in November 2023 by Shell Pakistan (SPL) with Saudi Arabia’s Wafi Energy to sell its domestic operations after Shell Petroleum Company announced its exit from Pakistan with the sale of 77 percent shareholding in the local business.

Pakistani traders also expect further inflow of investment from the Gulf countries.

The FPCCI president said Pakistan’s Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), a body consisting of Pakistani civilian and military leaders and specially tasked to promote foreign investment in Pakistan, is playing a crucial role in boosting investment in the South Asian country. 

The council, established in June last year, is focusing on investments in energy, agriculture, mining, information technology and aviation sectors, specifically targeting the Gulf nations.


Pakistan PM says ‘deeply concerned’ about Israeli strikes on Rafah, deplores violation of international law

Updated 28 May 2024
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Pakistan PM says ‘deeply concerned’ about Israeli strikes on Rafah, deplores violation of international law

  • Israeli tanks reached the center of Rafah for the first time on Tuesday, three weeks into an operation that has sparked global condemnation
  • Shehbaz Sharif says Pakistan strongly condemns Israel’s bombardment of Rafah, urges international community, particularly UN, to play role

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Tuesday he was “deeply concerned” about Israeli strikes on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, deploring repeated violations of the international law by the Jewish state.

Israeli tanks reached the center of Rafah for the first time on Tuesday, witnesses said, three weeks into a ground operation in the southern Gaza city that has sparked global condemnation.

Overnight, Israeli forces pounded the city with airstrikes and tank fire, pressing their offensive despite an international outcry over an attack on Sunday that sparked a blaze in a tent camp, killing at least 45 Palestinians.

Sunday’s attack on the Rafah refugee camp came two days after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel to end its military offensive in Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s population had sought shelter before Israel’s incursion earlier this month.

“Deeply concerned by the disturbing developments in Rafah. Pakistan strongly condemns Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment that has led to heavy casualties,” PM Sharif said on X.

“It is deplorable that international law is being repeatedly violated, despite ICJ’s recent clear verdict against Israel.”

The case against Israel was initiated by South Africa in December 2023, where it labeled Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip as “genocidal,” asserting that they intended to destroy the Palestinian people in ways specified under the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Pakistan does not recognize the state of Israel and calls for an independent Palestinian state based on “internationally agreed parameters” and the pre-1967 borders with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.

In recent months, the South Asian country has repeatedly raised the issue of Israel’s war on Gaza, launched last October, at the United Nations through its permanent representative, Ambassador Munir Akram.

“The international community, particularly the UN, must play its part in protecting civilians from such brutal aggression,” PM Sharif said in his statement on X.

The war on Gaza broke out after Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7, which killed more than 1,100 people, in response to the deteriorating condition of Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation.

Israel launched a retaliatory offensive, widely viewed as disproportionate, in which more than 35,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have lost their lives, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.