Pakistan pre-Hajj flight operation concludes — PIA spokesman

Pakistani pilgrims wait to check in for their Hajj flight to Jeddah at the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi on May 31, 2024. (SPA)
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Updated 11 June 2024
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Pakistan pre-Hajj flight operation concludes — PIA spokesman

  • Hajj flight operations for pilgrims using government scheme started on May 9
  • PIA’s post-Hajj operation will start on June 20 and continue until July 21

KARACHI: A spokesperson for Pakistan’s national carrier said on Tuesday the airline’s pre-Hajj operation had been “successfully completed,” with the last PIA flight operating from Karachi to Jeddah on Monday night.
Pakistan kicked off its Hajj flight operations on May 9 for pilgrims who will perform the pilgrimage under the government’s scheme. 
Pakistan has a Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims this year, of which around 70,000 people are expected to perform the pilgrimage under the government scheme while the rest will use private tour operators. This year’s pilgrimage is expected to run from June 14-19.
“A total of 35,030 pilgrims departed for the holy journey through 171 flights,” PIA said in a statement by its spokesman. “About 19,500 official pilgrims, 14,900 private pilgrims and 630 pilgrims departed for Madinah and Jeddah through these flights.”
Hajj flights departed directly from Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Multan, Sialkot and Peshawar while pilgrims from Sukkur and Quetta traveled to Jeddah via Karachi.
PIA’s post-Hajj operation will start on June 20 and continue until July 21. 
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, requiring every adult Muslim to undertake the pilgrimage to the holy Islamic sites in Makkah at least once in their lifetime if they are financially and physically able.
A 400-member dedicated Pakistan Hajj Medical Mission is also working around the clock to serve Pakistani pilgrims in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan has established two hospitals and 11 dispensaries in the Saudi cities of Makkah, Madinah and Jeddah to provide health care to Hajj pilgrims.
A government official said earlier this month out of Pakistan’s total quota of 179,210 pilgrims, around 160,000 pilgrims are expected to perform the pilgrimage.


Pakistan’s top IT body says government signed ‘death warrant’ of industry with budget 2024-25

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Pakistan’s top IT body says government signed ‘death warrant’ of industry with budget 2024-25

  • Pakistan’s IT sector continued growth momentum in April marking another all-time high of $310 million inflows
  • Chairman of P@SHA says IT industry was already facing a dearth of skilled and highly-skilled workforce

KARACHI: Officials of the Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA) on Thursday expressed “profound apprehensions” about Pakistan’s national budget announced a day earlier, saying the IT Industry’s proposals had been “completely overlooked” and demanding amendments to the finance bill.
Pakistan’s IT sector continued its growth momentum in April this year, marking another all-time high record of $310 million in inflows. Central bank data shows the country achieved 62 percent year-on-year growth in the sector. During the 10 months of the current fiscal year (10MFY24), IT exports clocked in at $2.59 billion, up by 21 percent annual basis as compared to $2.14 billion recorded in 10MFY23.
Pakistani IT exports are expected to rise to above $3.5 billion after the caretaker government allowed a retention limit from 35 percent to 50 percent in the Exporters’ Specialized Foreign Currency Accounts.
Against this background, Ali Ihsan, senior vice chairman of P@SHA, said the government had signed the “death warrant” of the IT industry with the new budget.
“The government should have been aware that the last savior of Pakistan’s economy is the IT industry,” Ihsan said, “be it exports, current account management, employment generation or foreign direct investment.”
Muhammad Zohaib Khan, the chairman of P@SHA, said the IT industry was already facing a dearth of skilled and highly-skilled workforce:
“The government should have given a special package to the human resource pool to enable IT companies to continue with the momentum of double-digit growth in IT exports.”
He said higher income taxes on the salaried class included in the budget would “further fuel the brain drain of the skilled workforce from the IT industry of Pakistan,” adding that an allocation of Rs79 billion ($282.8 million) was primarily for the government’s own projects and IT parks while the industry as a whole and IT companies had been neglected.
“The situation was already alarming vis-à-vis taxes and human resource availability and P@SHA has, time and again, duly presented the facts and relevant proposals to the government,” Khan added.
On taxation measures, the P@SHA chief emphasized that the burden on IT companies was further compounded by the failure to address the challenges posed by the remote worker tax regime.
“Ironically, instead of removing the anomalies in current tax laws, additional taxes have been levied on imports of equipment and GST on hardware has been counterproductively enhanced from 5 percent to 10 percent,” Khan said.
He said the budget “directly” contradicted the Ministry of IT and Telecom’s claims of supporting the industry for investments and exports, demanding “necessary amendments” in the finance bill to ensure that Pakistan’s IT sector continued on its “spectacular growth trajectory.”


Political talks by Pakistan’s Imran Khan-led opposition shouldn’t be perceived as ‘anti-army’ — aide

Updated 13 June 2024
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Political talks by Pakistan’s Imran Khan-led opposition shouldn’t be perceived as ‘anti-army’ — aide

  • Jailed ex-PM Khan had vowed not to hold talks with his political rivals or army
  • Aides say Khan has now okayed talks with political rivals on way forward

ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s confidant Mehmood Khan Achakzai said on Thursday political talks approved by the ex-premier with the coalition government should not be perceived as “anti-army.”

Khan, who is jailed in Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail since August after being convicted on corruption and other charges, had vowed not to hold talks with his political rivals and rejected the possibility of any “deal” with the incumbent government or the military, a major player in Pakistan’s tumultuous politics.

However, earlier this week, local media reported Khan had accepted a Supreme Court judge’s advice to engage in a dialogue with his rival political parties, especially the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), which heads the coalition government in the center, and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), a main coalition partner. 

Khan was ousted as Pakistan’s prime minister in April 2022 via a parliamentary vote of no confidence. The former premier alleged the vote was orchestrated by Washington in cahoots with his political rivals, whom he accused of colluding with then Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, now retired, to remove him from power. All the accused deny the charge.

“The political talks should never, never be perceived as anti-army,” Achakzai said on Thursday during an interview with a local Pakistani media outlet, accepting that Khan had now given the go-ahead for talks.

Mahmood Khan Achakzai, chairman of the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami party, arrives at the Parliament House in Islamabad, Pakistan, on March 3, 2024. (AFP/File)

The sole purpose of the talks led by him would be to “let bygones be bygones” and strive for a solution together with the entire political elite, Achakzai said, adding that the solution would not be perfect but would “at least move toward perfection.”

When asked if the PML-N and PPP chiefs, PM Shehbaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari respectively, were willing to join political talks, Achakzai said: 

“We are striving for supremacy of the Constitution. If they don’t want to come, don’t, but there will come a time when they won’t be able to leave their houses.”

Political tensions in Pakistan came to a head last year on May 9 when allegedly angry supporters of Khan attacked military and government installations in many parts of the country. The attacks were in response to Khan’s brief arrest from the Islamabad High Court earlier the same day. 

Subsequently, the government launched a crackdown on Khan’s Pakistane Thereek-e-Insaf party, rounding up hundreds of its leaders and supporters across the country. The party has distanced itself from the attacks, rejecting the government’s allegations that it instigated them. Some prominent leaders of Khan’s party remain incarcerated.


Unusually heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan will affect 200,000 people, top UN official warns

Updated 13 June 2024
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Unusually heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan will affect 200,000 people, top UN official warns

  • UN, with help from local authorities, has prepared contingency plan, with $40 million set aside to respond to any emergencies
  • Devastating floods in 2022 killed 1,739 people, destroyed 2 million homes, and covered as much as one-third of the country 

ISLAMABAD: An estimated 200,000 people in Pakistan could be affected by the upcoming monsoon season, which is expected to bring heavier rains than usual, a top UN official warned on Thursday.

The United Nations, with help from local authorities, has prepared a contingency plan, with $40 million set aside to respond to any emergencies, said Mohamed Yahya, the newly appointed Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Pakistan.

Yahya told journalists in Islamabad that the weather forecasters in Pakistan are projecting above-normal rainfall in the coming weeks. However, the rains would not be as heavy as in 2022 when devastating floods killed 1,739 people, destroyed 2 million homes, and covered as much as one-third of the country at one point.

Pakistan is one of the countries in the world most vulnerable to climate change, in part because of its immense northern glaciers, which are now melting as air temperatures rise. Warmer air can also hold more moisture, intensifying the rains of the monsoon.

Until recently, public opinion and even some government officials took little account of the possible negative impact from climate change on daily life. Pakistan’s weather patterns have changed in recent years, forcing cities to strengthen their infrastructure and farmers to adapt their practices.

The 2022 floods caused more than $30 billion in damage to Pakistan’s already cash-strapped economy.

Analysts and government officials say Pakistan in recent years failed to achieve goals for economic growth because of man-made disasters, which have repeatedly hit the country in the form of droughts, heatwaves and heavy rains, which badly damaged the road network, bridges, power system and other infrastructure.

Pakistan says despite contributing less than 1 percent to carbon emissions worldwide, it is bearing the brunt of global climate disasters. This year, Pakistan recorded its wettest April since 1961, with more than double the usual monthly rainfall.

Yahya said he was in contact with officials at Pakistan’s ministry of climate change, who were preparing their contingency own plans for monsoon season, which in Pakistan runs from July to October.

Earlier this week, weather forecasters in Pakistan urged people to stay indoors as the third heatwave in a month began. A recent study by the United Nations children’s agency said that Pakistan could avert 175,000 deaths by 2030 by developing resilient energy systems to power its health facilities.

On Thursday, temperatures in various parts of Pakistan soared as high as 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit), forcing many people to stay indoors. Authorities are asking people to hydrate and avoid unnecessary travel.


Two missing Japanese climbers spotted in Pakistan’s north

Updated 13 June 2024
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Two missing Japanese climbers spotted in Pakistan’s north

  • Japanese climbers Ryuseki Hiraoka and Atsushi Taguchi were attempting to summit 7,027-meter Spantik mountain in Karakoram range 
  • Pakistan is home to five of the world’s 14 mountains higher than 8,000 meters, including K2, the world’s second highest

SKARDU, Pakistan: Two missing Japanese climbers were spotted by helicopter on Thursday in Pakistan’s mountainous north, home to some of the world’s tallest peaks, but their condition remains unknown, a tour operator said.

The Japanese climbers Ryuseki Hiraoka and Atsushi Taguchi were attempting to summit the 7,027-meter (23,054-foot) Spantik mountain in the Karakoram range before they went missing.

“The rescuers saw the climbers and recognized them by their clothes, but they could not determine their condition,” Naiknam Karim, the CEO of Adventure Tours Pakistan (ATP) which organized the tour, told AFP.

The two were spotted during a military helicopter search on Thursday that was called off due to poor weather conditions.

“There has been no communication between the two Japanese climbers and officials at basecamp since they started their expedition,” Karim earlier said.

“They were seen on June 10 (for the) last time at above 5,000 meters.”

Another team of Japanese climbers raised the alarm on Tuesday after arriving at Camp 2, at around 5,650 meters, where Hiraoka and Taguchi were scheduled to be.

The search is scheduled to resume on Friday.

“An 8-member rescue team including five Japanese climbers will ascent on foot and search for them,” Karim Added.

The pair had reached base camp on June 3 and were attempting the climb without the help of porters.

Spantik, also known as the Golden Peak, is described as a “relatively accessible and straightforward peak” on the website of a separate tourist company, Adventure Tours.

The country is home to five of the world’s 14 mountains higher than 8,000 meters — including K2, the world’s second highest.

More than 8,900 foreigners visited the remote Gilgit-Baltistan region in 2023, according to official figures from the government, where the summer climbing season runs from early June to late August.


‘Elite must pay,’ PM says as Pakistan sets big tax target amid IMF talks

Updated 13 June 2024
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‘Elite must pay,’ PM says as Pakistan sets big tax target amid IMF talks

  • Pakistan has to find ways to increase revenues to reduce fiscal deficit as part of reforms being discussed with IMF
  • IMF is demanding fiscal consolidation, broadening tax base, improving tax administration and debt sustainability

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Thursday the elite classes of Pakistan needed to pay their share of taxes, a day after the government announced its national budget and set a challenging tax revenue target of 13 trillion rupees ($46.66 billion) for the year starting July 1, a near 40 percent jump from the current year. 

Pakistan has to find ways to increase its revenues to reduce its fiscal deficit as part of reforms being discussed with the IMF, with whom Islamabad is in talks for a bailout of up to $8 billion. The IMF wants Islamabad to carry out gradual fiscal consolidation, broaden its existing tax base, and improve tax administration and debt sustainability while protecting the vulnerable.

“During the budget preparation, I made it clear that the elite must pay taxes,” Sharif was quoted as saying in a statement by the PM Office after a meeting on tax reforms, digitization of the economy and measures to increase revenue. 

“We will eliminate tax evaders and those who assist them.”

Calling the national tax watchdog, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), the “most pivotal wheel” of the national economy, Sharif said the incumbent government would provide all resources for the uplift and digitalization of FBR’s human resources.

The top priority was to lower the tax rate while increasing the number of taxpayers, Sharif added, reiterating his government’s resolve to impose minimal taxes on the poor and middle class.

“We are prioritizing the complete digitization of the tax system and enhancing the capacity of the workforce,” Sharif said. “We are taking steps to bring eligible taxpayers into the tax net as soon as possible.”

The rise in the tax target in the national budget is made up of a 48 percent increase in direct taxes and 35 percent hike in indirect taxes over revised estimates of the current year. Non-tax revenue, including petroleum levies, is seen increasing by a whopping 64 percent while sales tax would increase to 18 percent on textile and leather products as well as mobile phones. A hike in the tax on capital gains from real estate has also been announced. 

Key objectives for the upcoming fiscal year include bringing the public debt-to-GDP ratio to sustainable levels and prioritizing improvements in Pakistan’s balance of payments position, the government’s budget document shows.

Pakistan has projected a sharp drop in its fiscal deficit for the new financial year to 5.9 percent of GDP, from an upwardly revised estimate of 7.4 percent for the current year. 

On Monday, the central bank warned of possible inflationary effects from the budget, saying limited progress in structural reforms to broaden the tax base meant increased revenue must come from hiking taxes.

The bank, in a bid to boost growth, cut interest rates for the first time in four years on Monday, slashing them by 150 basis points, in the face of a sharp decline in inflation from a high of 38 percent last year to 11.8 percent in May.

GDP would expand 2.4 percent in the current year, missing the budgeted target of 3.5 percent, the government said, despite revenues rising 30 percent on the year, and the fiscal and current account deficits being under control.

The upcoming year’s growth target has been set at 3.6 percent and inflation projected at 12 percent, Aurangzeb said.

With inputs from Reuters