Pakistan launches homegrown WhatsApp ‘alternative,’ slated for public release within a year

Pakistan launches homegrown WhatsApp ‘alternative,’ slated for public release within a year
The graphic shared by Pakistan's National Information Technology Board shows layout of Pakistan launches homegrown WhatsApp ‘alternative,’ Beep Pakistan. (National Information Technology Board)
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Updated 08 August 2023
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Pakistan launches homegrown WhatsApp ‘alternative,’ slated for public release within a year

Pakistan launches homegrown WhatsApp ‘alternative,’ slated for public release within a year
  • Pakistan’s IT minister says the application is currently being utilized only for official communication
  • The application offers text messaging, data-sharing, audio and video calling, as well as conferencing

KARACHI: Pakistan has launched a homegrown messaging application that could serve as a replacement to the globally popular instant messaging and voice-over-IP service, WhatsApp, the country’s IT minister said on Tuesday, describing it as a “formidable alternative.” 

The South Asian country unveiled the application, Beep Pakistan, over the weekend, which has been designed by the Pakistani IT ministry in collaboration with the National Information Technology Board, 

The application, currently exclusive to the government and will be made available to the public within a year, includes security features that position it as a “reliable” option for users, according to IT Minister Aminul Haque. 

“Beep Pakistan, slated for public use within a year, is set to become the most secure communication platform for our citizens, gradually establishing itself as the preferred substitute for WhatsApp,” Haque told Arab News, highlighting that the app was developed and source-coded within the country. 

The ‘made-in-Pakistan’ app stands out not only because of its enhanced security features, but it has also a diverse range of options, including data-sharing and high-quality audio/video calling and conferencing, according to the minister. 

“Its conference feature will ultimately make it an alternative to Zoom and other applications as well,” he added. 

Haque said the project began in 2020 and came to fruition after surmounting various challenges and obtaining necessary security clearances. 

Asked about the challenging task of introducing the app to a population largely accustomed to WhatsApp, Haque replied by drawing parallels with localized apps in neighboring countries that successfully gained prominence, alongside the global giants. He expressed confidence that Beep Pakistan’s security aspects would drive its adoption. 

Saad Shah, a Pakistani tech expert based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), pointed out that countries like the UAE and China had established local apps, like WeChat and Botim in their early stages. 

“By taking timely decisions, they have made the masses accustomed to their local technology,” he said, adding that Pakistan was “very late” in this regard. 

Shah cautioned that introducing a local app in Pakistan, where WhatsApp already enjoys a strong base, might face resistance due to late entry. 

However, Muhammad Zohaib Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA), lauded the launch of Beep Pakistan as a “significant achievement” in the field of communication in Pakistan. 

“The app’s distinction lies in its origin and source-coding within Pakistan, rendering Beep Pakistan a highly secure platform for government departments to share data and communicate while maintaining confidentiality,” Khan said. 

“This is a substantial accomplishment,” he said, adding the government departments will initially utilize it to share official data, facilitate communication and conduct meetings. 

With the passage of time, its features will be further enhanced, Khan noted, citing China’s WeChat and highlighting its multifaceted features beyond just messaging. 


Pakistan’s PM Sharif arrives in flood-battered Gwadar to inspect relief operations

Pakistan’s PM Sharif arrives in flood-battered Gwadar to inspect relief operations
Updated 05 March 2024
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Pakistan’s PM Sharif arrives in flood-battered Gwadar to inspect relief operations

Pakistan’s PM Sharif arrives in flood-battered Gwadar to inspect relief operations
  • Torrential rains in Gwadar over the past week have triggered floods, destroyed homes in the southwestern port city 
  • PM Sharif distributes relief goods among people, announces compensation for those who lost their relatives in the storm

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif arrived in the southwestern port city of Gwadar on Tuesday, which has been severely battered by floods triggered by heavy rains over the past week, to inspect relief activities and express solidarity with the people. 

Streets and neighborhoods in the deep-sea port city continue to remain inundated with floodwater after torrential rains last week destroyed homes and forced authorities to launch rescue operations to save thousands of people. 

According to a report by the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) on March 4, 97 houses have been destroyed by the rains in Balochistan’s Kharan, Kech and Gwadar districts due to heavy rains that began on Feb. 26. 

“The torrential rains that started on Feb. 26 have wreaked destruction in Gwadar and other areas of Balochistan,” Sharif told media representatives and victims of the floods gathered in the city. “Thank God no person in Gwadar died but five people from all over Balochistan lost their lives to these storms.”

Flanked by Balochistan’s newly elected Chief Minister Sarfaraz Bugti and other officials, Sharif said he had arrived in Gwadar to express solidarity with the victims of the floods and to assure them that the government would pay for the damages suffered by the people. 

Sharif announced that 7,000 bags of food would be sent to Gwadar daily starting from Wednesday. 

“I would request my brother [Balochistan chief minister] to distribute them in an efficient way with your organization,” Sharif said. “And this process of providing food will continue till the people do not return to their homes.”

Pakistan's Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif receives a briefing from chairman of the country's National Disaster Management Authority, Chairman Lt. General Inam Haider Malik, on his way to Gwadar, Pakistan, on March 5, 2024. (Government of Pakistan)

The prime minister said the government distributed cheques of Rs750,000 ($2,683) to people whose homes were completely destroyed by the floods while those whose houses were partially damaged were provided Rs350,000 ($1,252). 

“I have decided that those who lost their loved ones [due to the storms] they would be given Rs2 million ($7,155) per head while Rs500,000 ($1,788) will be issued to those who have been injured,” Sharif said. 

Separately, the prime minister also distributed relief goods among the affected people. 

Other parts of the country also remain affected by heavy rain and snowfall. Pakistani officials said on Monday at least 36 people were killed and dozens injured in five days as heavy rains and snowfall battered Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and northern Gilgit-Baltistan region. 

In Balochistan, heavy snowfall brought daily life to a standstill in Quetta and other northern parts of the southwestern province, with main highways and inter-provincial roads blocked since Saturday, disconnecting the province from other parts of the country.

Large swathes of Pakistan were submerged in 2022 due to extremely heavy monsoon rains and melting glaciers, a phenomenon linked to climate change that damaged crops and infrastructure and killed at least 1,700 people and affected over 30 million.

The South Asian country consistently ranks among one of the most adversely affected countries from the effects of climate change. 


Pakistani court issues notices to information ministry, telecom authority over X ban

Pakistani court issues notices to information ministry, telecom authority over X ban
Updated 05 March 2024
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Pakistani court issues notices to information ministry, telecom authority over X ban

Pakistani court issues notices to information ministry, telecom authority over X ban
  • X first went down on Feb. 17 when a government official confessed to manipulating votes in last month’s election
  • The unannounced ban has raised widespread concerns about the state of democratic freedoms in the country

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani high court on Tuesday issued notices to the country’s information ministry and its telecommunication authority on a plea challenging the ban on social media platform X, local media widely reported. 

X first went down on Feb. 17 when a government official confessed to manipulating votes in Pakistan’s Feb. 8 general election. The admission came as former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and other political parties staged protests countrywide, alleging the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had rigged elections, which it denies. 

Pakistani authorities remain tight-lipped about the ban, with Caretaker Information Minister Murtaza Solangi saying last week the government did not impose any ban on the platform. 

X’s disruption has raised widespread concerns about the state of democratic freedoms in the country, with the United States and several international organizations urging Pakistan to provide unhindered Internet access and leading digital rights activists calling the blockade a “blatant violation” of civil liberties. 

Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Aamer Farooq took up a plea challenging X’s restriction, Pakistani English language newspaper Dawn reported. Lawyers Sardar Masroof and Amna Ali appeared before the court on behalf of the petitioner, an Islamabad resident named Ehtisham Abbasi. The judge asked if X was accessible for Pakistani users to which Masroof responded that it has been banned since Feb. 17. 

“Subsequently, the IHC issued notices to the respondents, including the information ministry and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), and adjourned the hearing till next week,” Dawn said. Other Pakistani media also widely reported on the development. 

The ban continues to remain in force despite a Sindh High Court (SHC) order on Feb. 21, in which the court ordered the PTA to restore X and other social media platforms in the country. The SHC is holding a contempt of court hearing against the PTA for allegedly violating the high court’s orders on restoring X. 

Before the latest blockade, Pakistan experienced multiple Internet disruptions in recent weeks that made social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, X and Instagram inaccessible. Recent occurrences were on Jan. 20, Jan. 7, and Dec. 17, when Khan’s PTI party was holding virtual events. The government had blamed those disruptions on “technical glitches.”

Such shutdowns have previously had a devastating impact on Pakistan’s economy. The day after Khan’s arrest in May last year, Reuters reported that point-of-sale transactions routed through Pakistan’s main digital payment systems fell by around 50 percent according to the region’s two largest payments system operators, 1LINK and Habib Bank Limited.

According to the Internet Society’s monitor Pulse, it is becoming an increasingly common tactic for governments to shut down the Internet on a national or sub-national level to either control civil unrest, stem the flow of misinformation, sway the results of general elections or to gain strategic advantages in territories with ongoing wars.


Pakistan invites UAE’s business community to invest in energy, agriculture, IT sectors

Pakistan invites UAE’s business community to invest in energy, agriculture, IT sectors
Updated 05 March 2024
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Pakistan invites UAE’s business community to invest in energy, agriculture, IT sectors

Pakistan invites UAE’s business community to invest in energy, agriculture, IT sectors
  • Over 100 Pakistani, UAE businesspersons attended a business conference in Dubai on Monday 
  • Both countries enjoy “exemplary relationship,” says Pakistan’s Ambassador to UAE Faisal Tirmizi

KARACHI: Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Faisal Niaz Tirmizi invited Emirati businesspersons to invest in key economic sectors of the South Asian country, including agriculture, information technology and energy, Pakistan’s consulate general in Dubai said on Tuesday. 

Over 100 Pakistani and Emirati businesspersons attended the “Business Opportunities Conference Dubai” held in Dubai on Monday. The conference explored potential areas for business collaborations between the two countries and featured detailed panel discussions by business experts. 

“We deeply encourage business-to-business collaboration among the business community of Pakistan and UAE,” Tirmizi was quoted as saying by the consulate general at the event. “We warmly invite Emirati investors to invest in Pakistan’s real estate, energy, agriculture, I.T and other sectors.”

Tirmizi said over 60 percent of Pakistan’s population comprised people who were younger than 30 years old, adding that the country of 241 million people offers immense opportunities for investment in diverse fields. He said Pakistan and the UAE enjoy an “exemplary relationship” and that the Pakistani diaspora has contributed significantly to the UAE’s progress and development.

Dr. Abdulrahman Hassan Al Muaini, the assistant undersecretary for intellectual property rights sector at the UAE’s Ministry of Economy, welcomed Pakistani delegates at the conference. 

“He [Al Muaini] highlighted that UAE and Pakistan offer immense potential and opportunities for business communities of both the countries,” the Pakistani consulate general said. “He hoped for positive outcomes from the ongoing interactions between the businessmen of both the countries.”

Pakistan and the UAE are close allies, with the Gulf nation being Pakistan’s third-largest trade partner after China and the United States. It is also viewed as an ideal export destination by policymakers in the South Asian country due to its geographical proximity with Pakistan.

In January, Pakistan and the UAE signed multiple agreements worth over $3 billion for cooperation in railways, economic zones and infrastructure at the World Economic Forum summit in Davos. 

The UAE is also home to an estimated 1.8 million Pakistani expatriates and, after Saudi Arabia, is the second-largest source of remittances for the South Asian nation. 
 


Pakistan’s UN envoy calls for International Peace Conference to end Israeli aggression in Palestine

Pakistan’s UN envoy calls for International Peace Conference to end Israeli aggression in Palestine
Updated 05 March 2024
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Pakistan’s UN envoy calls for International Peace Conference to end Israeli aggression in Palestine

Pakistan’s UN envoy calls for International Peace Conference to end Israeli aggression in Palestine
  • Pakistan’s top UN diplomat Munir Akram warns of mass starvation in war-ravaged Gaza
  • Israeli defense forces have killed over 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza since October last year

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top diplomat at the United Nations on Tuesday called for an International Peace Conference on Palestine to halt Israeli aggression in Gaza, saying that the conference’s aim should be to demand implementation on the UN’s resolutions that seek a two-state solution in the Middle East. 

The development takes place amid the latest push for peace in Gaza, as envoys from Qatar, Egypt, and the United States hold talks with Hamas to end hostilities in the Middle East. Israel has so far not taken part in the discussions. 

Israel’s war in Gaza since October last year has killed over 30,000 Palestinians, which includes women, children and the elderly. The Jewish state has ignored angry calls from Muslim countries around the world, the UN and peace activists, to halt military offensives in Palestine. 

Ambassador Munir Akram, Pakistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations, urged the international community to uphold its responsibility in ending Israeli aggression “immediately.” Akram was addressing the 193-member UN General Assembly as the acting chair of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) at the UN. 

“Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Islamic countries, has called for convening an International Peace Conference on Palestine, aimed at implementing UN resolutions on the restoration of Palestinians’ inalienable rights to self-determination within a two-state solution,” the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report. 

Akram deeply regretted the US decision to veto a UN Security Council resolution last month that demanded a ceasefire in the Middle East, saying that the world has followed the “monumental and unending” sufferings of the people of Palestine since last year. 

“This situation has resulted in the colossal loss of lives and wanton destruction of homes, schools, hospitals and religious sites in Gaza, due to the incessant attacks by the Israeli occupying power on the territory,” he said. 

The Pakistani ambassador said there was an imminent threat of mass starvation in Gaza, which he said was caused by inadequate food supplies and essential services for Palestinians living in the densely populated territory. 

“Notwithstanding the foregoing efforts by the various actors within the United Nations as well as members of the international community, there are ominous signs of even greater dangers ahead,” he noted. 

Pakistan does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. The South Asian country has consistently accused Israel of genocide and called for an independent Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital. 


India’s Modi, Qatari emir congratulate Shehbaz Sharif on becoming Pakistan’s PM

India’s Modi, Qatari emir congratulate Shehbaz Sharif on becoming Pakistan’s PM
Updated 05 March 2024
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India’s Modi, Qatari emir congratulate Shehbaz Sharif on becoming Pakistan’s PM

India’s Modi, Qatari emir congratulate Shehbaz Sharif on becoming Pakistan’s PM
  • Shehbaz Sharif was sworn in for a second time as Pakistan’s prime minister on Monday after a contentious election 
  • Pakistan’s relations with India have been fraught since 2019 after New Delhi unilaterally revoked Kashmir’s special status

ISLAMABAD: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, congratulated Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday, a day after Sharif was sworn in as the country’s 24th premier following a contentious election. 

Sharif secured a comfortable win on Sunday over Omar Ayub of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) party, which is backed by former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. He secured 201 votes from Pakistani legislators while Ayub polled 92.

Pakistan’s outgoing president, Dr. Arif Alvi, administered the oath of office to Sharif on Monday. The Pakistani prime minister has since then received congratulatory calls from world leaders, including the Saudi crown prince, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Chinese President Xi Jinping. 

“Congratulations to Shehbaz Sharif on being sworn in as the Prime Minister of Pakistan,” Modi wrote on social media platform X. 

Al-Thani also felicitated Sharif on becoming Pakistan’s prime minister for a second time through a cable, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report. 

“The emir, who sent a cable of congratulations to the prime minister, wished him success and for further development and growth of bilateral relations, according to the state-run Qatar News Agency,” the report said. 

The disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir has been a bone of contention between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan since 1947, when the two countries gained independence from British colonial India following a violent partition of the sub-continent. 

The picturesque valley is administered in parts by both countries, though they claim it in full. A sliver of the territory is also held by China. Pakistan and India have fought three full-scale wars in 1948, 1965 and 1971. Two of these wars were over Kashmir. 

India accuses Pakistan of supporting a decades-old armed rebellion in the part of Kashmir that is under its authority. Pakistan denies the allegation and calls for a plebiscite for the people of the region. Islamabad says it provides only diplomatic support for the region’s struggle for self-determination.

Pakistan downgraded diplomatic ties with India in August 2019 after New Delhi scrapped the special status of Indian-administered Kashmir, which gave it semi-autonomy. 

Pakistan’s newly elected prime minister and his older brother, Nawaz Sharif, are seen as close to New Delhi by political analysts. Sharif’s older brother, who was elected Pakistan’s prime minister thrice, had sought to build economic and trade ties with India during his previous tenures. 

In 2014, Nawaz Sharif traveled to New Delhi as Pakistan’s prime minister to attend Modi’s oath-taking ceremony. Modi, in return, made a surprise trip to Pakistan a year after taking office to attend a Sharif family wedding in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore.