Pakistan to build first local iron-ore steel mill with Saudi investment

Pakistan to build first local iron-ore steel mill with Saudi investment
In this file photo, Pakistani laborers carry steel rods at a mill during International Labour Day in Islamabad on May 1, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 06 August 2019

Pakistan to build first local iron-ore steel mill with Saudi investment

Pakistan to build first local iron-ore steel mill with Saudi investment
  • Pakistan, KSA signed MoUs worth $21 bn for cooperation in multiple sectors during the crown prince’s visit this year
  • The project is one of the four countrywide ventures picked for Saudi investment

KARACHI: With the formal approval of Saudi investors, Pakistan’s first local iron-ore steel mill project, under the Punjab Mineral Company (PMC), would be set up in Chiniot within a span of two years, Dr. Samar Mubarakmand, Pakistan’s nuclear scientists and chairman of PMC, told Arab News on Monday.
The PMC project topped the list of the four potential projects selected by the federal government for Saudi investment under the recently agreed investment strategy.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia had signed $21 billion worth of projects including $11 billion oil refinery and petrochemical complex during the visit of Saudi Crown Prince, Muhammad Bin Salman, in February this year.
“When the government informed us that Saudis are interested in investing in mining sector, all the provinces came up with proposals. Punjab government presented the proposal drafted by PMC for steel mill to be set up in Chiniot,” Dr. Mubarakmand added.
The decision to select the projects was held last week in a meeting chaired by Shahzad Syed Qasim, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Coordination of Marketing and Development Resources.
Dr. Mubarakmand said, “the next step would be that Saudi investors will take detailed presentation of the project, visit the site, and inspect the existing facilities.”
“The Germans working on the project and our people would give presentation. Upon confirmation of investment, the steel mill would be set up within two years’ time. Mining and setting up of steel mills will continue simultaneously, Dr. Mubarakmand noted.
Top international consulting firms have been engaged through competitive bidding to complete the tasks on global best practices to facilitate the investors, he said.
All the international companies have confirmed the presence of the deposits of iron ore in the area, added the official.
Dr. Mubarakmand informed that the steel mill can have the capacity of 1 million ton. “The existing deposits of iron ore are enough to last for 50-60 years. Besides, the coal that would be used by the steel mill has also been measured by conducting a feasibility study,” he added.
Other projects that were picked for Saudi investment include Barite-Lead-Zinc project, development of metallic mineral resources in Chagai in southern Baluchistan province and coal gasification in Thar area of Sindh.
Dr. Mubarakmand and his team had initiated a pilot project of underground gasification back in 2012 but a change in the political regime led to the abandonment of the project.
“Brand new machinery is still lying there ready for use. If the government decides to restart the project, we will produce gas immediately,” he told Arab News adding that “we can also produce diesel by setting up a diesel plant.”
The gas can be utilized for power generation or domestic supply for cooking purposes, he suggested.
The provincial governments being major stakeholders in Pakistan-Saudi investment strategy, the federal government has asked them to come up with proposals and identify opportunities for potential investment in respective areas.


Fintech firm to launch Pakistan's first financial 'super app,' plans expansion to Middle East

Fintech firm to launch Pakistan's first financial 'super app,' plans expansion to Middle East
Updated 04 June 2021

Fintech firm to launch Pakistan's first financial 'super app,' plans expansion to Middle East

Fintech firm to launch Pakistan's first financial 'super app,' plans expansion to Middle East
  • TAG Innovation plans to launch the country’s first digital retail bank after functioning as an electronic money institution for a substantial period
  • The company also intends to offer its services to Pakistan’s largest diaspora community in Saudi Arabia by the end of the year to facilitate foreign remittances

KARACHI: An Islamabad-based fintech firm is all set to launch Pakistan’s first financial super app by the end of the month that will help the country’s population open digital accounts and enjoy cross-border payment facility, the company’s top official said on Friday.
“We are planning to launch Pakistan’s first financial super app by the end of June,” Talal Ahmed Gondal, cofounder and chief executive officer of TAG Innovation, said while talking to Arab News. “Our intention is to target women and youth in the first marketing phase who don’t have access to formal bank accounts.”
“In the next stage, TAG plans to launch Pakistan’s first digital bank,” he continued, adding that his organization would operate as an electronic money institution (EMI) for now and offer relevant services to the intended target market.
“The app will enable users to open digital accounts within three minutes,” Gondal explained. “The users will then be able to make peer-to-peer transfers, dispatch money to bank accounts, pay utility bills and recharge their mobile credit. Their phone number will also be their account number.”
The fintech startup has been authorized by the State Bank of Pakistan to operate as an EMI and is launching its pilot phase.
TAG recently closed $5.5 million in a pre-seed round led by venture capitals from the United States, including Quiet Capital Management and Liberty City Ventures. Other participants were Fatima Gobi Ventures, Unpopular Ventures as well as strategic investors like Visa and Angels Investors, the TAG chief informed.
The funding round makes it the largest ever pre-seed in the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan region. The position was previously held by an Egyptian fintech, Telda, which raised $5 million, according to the data compiled by various venture capital institutions.
Gondal said Pakistan was among the difficult markets for funding since the economic ecosystem was still not mature for the purpose.
“In the US, it would have taken us a maximum of five weeks, but it took us five months here to generate the funding,” he said, though he also recognized that Pakistani market was still untapped with a huge potential.
The TAG chief said his company would utilize the funding for its commercial launch and to expand its outreach in the Middle East to facilitate remittance inflows and cross-border payments.
“We will Initially launch our services in Pakistan but offer them in the Middle East by the end of the year,” he said, adding that TAG wanted to begin the process from Saudi Arabia by hiring a local team since that was where “the highest number of expat Pakistanis live.”
“The funds will be transferred between Saudi and Pakistani TAG accounts within a minute at a very low rate,” he continued while pointing out that the facility would be offered with the help of Saudi banks.
Gondal said that large number of women and youth, particularly students, did not have access to formal banking channels.
“Existing players are mainly targeting lower income segments, but we will offer services to all income groups as the first B2C operator across Pakistan,” he said, adding: “The farming community will also be tapped to receive or make payments for wheats or subsidies.”
According to the World Bank, Pakistan has the third largest unbanked adult population in the world with about 100 million people without their own accounts.
“There are 60 million total bank accounts in Pakistan out of which unique accounts are estimated at 20 million,” Muhammad Sohail, chief executive officer of Topline Securities, said. “About 70 percent of Pakistan’s adult population lacks access to bank accounts.”
According to Pakistan’s central bank, the country has a low volume of electronic transactions due to low banking penetration, lack of trust and awareness related to digital payment methods, limited interoperability and high cost of transactions.


Pakistan recalls Abbas and Shah for tests in West Indies

Pakistan recalls Abbas and Shah for tests in West Indies
Updated 04 June 2021

Pakistan recalls Abbas and Shah for tests in West Indies

Pakistan recalls Abbas and Shah for tests in West Indies

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan recalled fast bowlers Mohammad Abbas and Naseem Shah on Friday for the two test matches against the West Indies and named uncapped batsman Azam Khan for the Twenty20s.
Abbas was not considered for the last two test series against South Africa and Zimbabwe, but made his way back into the side after his impressive performances in the English County Championship.
“Mohammad Abbas has regained his form, (while) Naseem Shah and Haris Sohail have reclaimed the required fitness standards,” chief selector Mohammad Wasim said.
“This is an extremely important and critical tour for Pakistan as we will be playing the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Super League ODIs against England as well as the T20Is against England and the West Indies as part of our preparations for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup. The test matches in Jamaica will count towards the ICC world test championship.”
Pakistan is scheduled to play three Twenty20s and as many ODIs against England next month before flying out to the Caribbean for five Twenty20s and two test matches.
Khan, the son of former Pakistan test captain Moin Khan, has impressed the selectors with his power-hitting in the Pakistan Super League and was included for the Twenty20s.
Sohail, a middle-order batsman, was recalled for the ODIs in England after missing the last limited-overs series in South Africa.
All-rounder Imad Wasim, who has been ignored for the last three Twenty20 series, returned to the side as Pakistan eyed the Twenty20 World Cup.
Experienced test leg-spinner Yasir Shah was named in the squad, but his availability depends on his recovery from a knee injury which sidelined him for the two test matches in Zimbabwe. The selectors have retained another leg-spinner, Zahid Mahmood, left-arm spinner Nauman Ali, and off-spinner Sajid Khan as part of their plans for the two test matches in the West Indies.

SQUADS

ODIs: Babar Azam (captain), Shadab Khan, Abdullah Shafique, Faheem Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Haris Sohail, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Saud Shakeel, Shaheen Afridi and Usman Qadir.
Twenty20: Babar Azam (captain), Shadab Khan, Arshad Iqbal, Azam Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Shaheen Afridi, Sharjeel Khan and Usman Qadir.
Tests: Babar Azam (captain), Mohammad Rizwan, Abdullah Shafique, Abid Ali (Central Punjab), Azhar Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Fawad Alam, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Imran Butt, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Nawaz, Naseem Shah, Nauman Ali, Sajid Khan, Sarfaraz Ahmed (wicketkeeper), Saud Shakeel, Shaheen Afridi, Shahnawaz Dahani, Yasir Shah (subject to fitness) and Zahid Mahmood.


Pakistan asks UN to deploy 'protection force' for Palestinians against Israeli attacks

Pakistan asks UN to deploy 'protection force' for Palestinians against Israeli attacks
Updated 20 May 2021

Pakistan asks UN to deploy 'protection force' for Palestinians against Israeli attacks

Pakistan asks UN to deploy 'protection force' for Palestinians against Israeli attacks
  • Foreign Minister Qureshi calls upon UN General Assembly to hold Israel accountable for 'war crimes'
  • UN chief says ‘deeply shocked’ by continued air and artillery bombardment by Israeli forces in Gaza

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Thursday urged the United Nations General Assembly to deploy an international protection force to safeguard Palestinians against Israeli aggression and take urgent steps to ensure a cessation of hostilities in the area.

Since the crisis began on May 10, Palestinian health officials say 228 people have been killed in Israeli aerial bombardments that have worsened Gaza’s already dire humanitarian situation. Israeli authorities put the death toll to date at 12 in Israel.

“We should deploy an international protection force that was called for in the General Assembly resolution ES10/20 and as demanded by the Islamic Summit Conference on 18 May 2018,” Qureshi said while addressing a special UNGA session in New York.

The foreign minister reached New York on Wednesday evening on a Palestine peace mission to attend a UNGA emergency meeting called by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Arab League.

Qureshi called upon the General Assembly to take concrete steps to protect the people of Palestine and hold Israel accountable for its "war crimes."

“If the Security Council cannot agree to send the protection force, a coalition of the willing can be formed to provide at least civilian observers to monitor a cessation of hostilities and supervise the provision of humanitarian help to Palestinians,” he said. 

“Israel’s crimes against humanity should not escape accountability,” he added. “There should be no impunity for violation of international law.” 

So far, over 50,000 Palestinians have been rendered homeless in the Gaza Strip where they already have limited access to water, food and health services.

The foreign minister urged the international community to mobilize all possible humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian population in Gaza and other parts of the occupied Palestinian territories.

“Israel must open all access points to Gaza to ensure timely and urgent delivery of international assistance,” he said. “The voice of the Palestinian people cannot and will not be silenced.”

“It is appalling that the Security Council has been unable to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security,” Qureshi said, adding that the Council had even failed to demand a cessation of hostilities.

“Those preventing the Council from doing so bear a heavy responsibility,” he added.

Qureshi said the international community must not fail the Palestinian people at such a critical juncture.

“Our first priority must be to halt the Israeli aggression,” he noted. “Let’s be clear: There is no military equivalence between the beleaguered and occupied Palestinian people … and the Israeli war machine, one of the most powerful in the world.”

“This is a war between a military occupier and an occupied people,” Qureshi said. 

The minister said there was a need to implement the UNGA and Security Council resolutions for a “viable, independent and contiguous Palestinian state with Al Quds Al Sharif as its capital.” 

Earlier, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Israel and Palestinians to call an immediate ceasefire and pledged to launch a full humanitarian appeal for funding.

“The past ten days have witnessed a dangerous and horrific surge in deadly violence in the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly Gaza, and in Israel,” Guterres told the special UNGA session. “I am deeply shocked by the continued air and artillery bombardment by the Israeli defense forces in Gaza.”


Pakistan to seek Tehreek-e-Labaik party’s dissolution through Supreme Court — interior minister

Pakistan to seek Tehreek-e-Labaik party’s dissolution through Supreme Court — interior minister
Updated 15 April 2021

Pakistan to seek Tehreek-e-Labaik party’s dissolution through Supreme Court — interior minister

Pakistan to seek Tehreek-e-Labaik party’s dissolution through Supreme Court — interior minister
  • Muhammad Younus Soomro, a TLP lawmaker in Sindh Assembly, said he would use his legal options to retain his seat in parliament
  • TLP Karachi chief warns he will disown his party chief and members of central consultative body if they did not call off the protests

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: Pakistan's federal cabinet has approved the interior ministry's recommendation to outlaw the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), a religious party whose supporters have been holding nationwide protests since Monday, a senior government minister told a news conference on Thursday, adding that the government would take the case to the Supreme Court to ensure the dissolution of the religious party. 

Sheikh Rashid Ahmed announced on Wednesday that his ministry would send a proposal to the federal cabinet to impose a ban on TLP for killing two policemen, attacking law enforcement forces and disrupting public life through nationwide protests. 

The demonstrations erupted in major Pakistani cities and quickly turned violent after Saad Rizvi, the religious party’s head, was arrested on Monday after he threatened to launch a major campaign against the government if it did not expel France’s envoy to Islamabad over blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) printed in a French publication. 

"We have proscribed [the TLP] and the notification for that will be issued shortly," said federal interior minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmed. "Tomorrow, we will send another summary to the cabinet to file a reference in the Supreme Court since we are moving toward [TLP's] dissolution." 

Muhammad Younus Soomro, a TLP lawmaker in the Sindh Assembly, said he would use his legal options to retain his seat in parliament. 

“We'll see our options once the notification [regarding the ban] is issued,” Soomro said while distancing himself from the TLP protests. 

On Thursday, the TLP chief in Pakistan’s southern city of Karachi, Allama Razi Hussaini, also warned that he would disown his party chief and members of the central consultative body if they did not call off the protests.

“If the party’s central Shura and Saad Hussain Rizvi Sahib continue to show stubbornness and insist that they do not want to resolve this issue through talks, the nation will be disappointed and we will have no association with the TLP leadership,” he announced in a video message.

The TLP gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 federal elections, campaigning to defend the country’s blasphemy law, which calls for death penalty for anyone who insults Islam. The party also has a history of staging protests and sit-ins to pressure the government to accept its demands. 

In November 2017, Rizvi’s followers staged a 21-day protest and sit-in after a reference to the sanctity of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was removed from the text of a government form. 

In the 2018 elections, the party managed to win two seats in the Sindh Assembly from Karachi and got a female member elected on a reserved seat of the assembly. 

Commenting on the government’s move to ban TLP, legal experts said the government was required to refer the matter to the Supreme Court within fifteen days of making a declaration to ban a political party while presenting its reasons for doing so.

“The Supreme Court may decide on the government’s reference in a week or ten days and its decision will be final,” Justice (retired) Shaiq Usmani told Arab News. 

He said the law regarding the dissolution of a political party was “very clear” and if the apex court upheld the government’s declaration against the TLP, “the party shall stand dissolved forthwith.” 

Legal experts said the three elected TLP members in the Sindh Assembly could retain their seats by resigning their party membership and publicly announcing their dissociation with the TLP before a final Supreme Court decision. 

“If the TLP lawmakers dissociate themselves from the party before the apex court’s verdict, they will be able to complete their constitutional term as independent members in the house,” Ashtar Ausaf Ali, a former attorney-general of Pakistan, told Arab News. 

He said if a member of the parliament or provincial assemblies was disqualified in case of the dissolution of a party, they could not run for electoral office or a legislative body for four years from the date of their disqualification from being a lawmaker. 

“There is no ambiguity in law,” Ali said, “and it’s up to the party lawmakers now as to what they choose in case of the dissolution of their party.”


Rights activists, opposition politicians demand apology from PM Khan over rape remarks

Rights activists, opposition politicians demand apology from PM Khan over rape remarks
Updated 09 April 2021

Rights activists, opposition politicians demand apology from PM Khan over rape remarks

Rights activists, opposition politicians demand apology from PM Khan over rape remarks
  • Khan said rising “vulgarity” was responsible for an increase in the number of cases of sexual violence, during a live broadcast last Sunday
  • Arslan Khalid, the prime minister’s focal person on digital media, told Arab News Khan "never engaged in victim blaming"

ISLAMABAD: Civil society activists organized a protest at the National Press Club on Thursday, demanding an apology from Prime Minister Imran Khan for a recent statement on sexual violence against women, where he said wearing the veil, the traditional Islamic head covering, would protect women from sexual assault and not lead men into temptation.
In a statement that has caused outrage among activists and opposition politicians, Khan said rising “vulgarity” was responsible for an increase in the number of cases of sexual violence.
Members of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party have said Khan’s statement was misinterpreted and misunderstood.
Arslan Khalid, the prime minister’s focal person on digital media, told Arab News the prime minister had “never engaged in victim blaming,” adding that certain segments of his interview were lumped together, causing “misunderstanding.”
“Initially, he spoke about how the government had put in place robust rape laws to deal with the rising cases of sexual assault,” Khalid said in a phone interview. “And then, in a different context, he spoke about society, mentioning pardah [veil] which is not just a piece of cloth for women but also [a symbol of] respect.”
“People understand it as being specific to women, but it applies to both genders,” Khalid said. “It is about respecting other people’s space, about yourself when you interact with others.”

Protestors gather at the National Press Club in Islamabad to demand an apology from Prime Minister Imran Khan for his controversial remarks regarding rising sex crime cases in the country on April 8, 2021. (AN photo)

Asked what the prime minister meant when he spoke about “vulgarity” giving rise to sexual assault cases, ruling party senator Faisal Javed Khan said the PM could not be accused of victim-blaming.
“He did not put the responsibility on the victims [of sexual violence] or what they were wearing when he used that word,” Khan said in a phone interview. “Nowhere did he explicitly say that. He said that the root cause was the presence of such media being readily available on phones which everyone has, and we need to fight this together as a society.”
The government issued an official statement on Wednesday saying Khan’s comments had been “distorted to mean something that he never intended.”
“The Prime Minister said that our strict anti-rape laws alone will not be able to stem the rise in sex crime,” the statement said. “The whole society has to fight it together.”
Major clerics and religious bodies also announced their support on Thursday for PM Khan’s statement, saying “obscenity and nudity played a key role behind instances of molestation and abuse” and the prime minister’s stance would be “lauded” at Friday congregation prayers around the country.
But women’s rights activists say they were dismayed.
“The prime minister needs to have some gender awareness,” said Farzana Bari, an organizer of Thursday’s protest. “How can a head of a government make such irresponsible statements which are indirectly creating sympathy for rapists? This is why we are here since we demand something better from him and the state.”
Bari said Khan’s comments reflected a lack of understanding about crimes of sexual violence.

Protestors gather at the National Press Club in Islamabad to demand an apology from Prime Minister Imran Khan for his controversial remarks regarding rising sex crime cases in the country on April 8, 2021. (AN photo)

Renowned women’s rights activist Tahira Abdullah said the prime minister’s statement betrayed a “misogynistic” mindset.
“He has gone beyond the pale, absolutely, of what is acceptable,” she told Arab News.
Abdullah said Khan not only owed an apology to women but also to Pakistani men.
“To say that men cannot control themselves and resist the temptation of women without a veil in the public is to imply that men cannot control their ‘rapist tendencies,’” she said.
The demands made by activists for an apology in Thursday’s protest were also mirrored by opposition leaders like Senator Sherry Rehman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
“Blaming vulgarity for the rise in rape cases is ridiculous as this removes the onus of responsibility from the rapist,” she said in a written message. “Rape is an act of violence where the rapist wants to establish his power and authority. A person’s body and autonomy are violated. Is the PM telling the women of this country that it is their fault if they get raped?“
Muhammad Zubair, a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) politician, had the same query.
“His analysis is not just completely wrong, but it is dangerous for the prime minister of a country to suggest that the blame [for sexual assaults] falls on women and the way they dress up,” he told Arab News over the phone. “Victims of rape can be as young as 5 or 6 years of age … How can you blame them or imply that they somehow provoked men into committing such act of violence?“
“Without question, there must be an apology,” Zubair added.