Saudi Hajj minister due in Pakistan today to discuss bilateral ties, religious tourism 

Saudi Hajj minister due in Pakistan today to discuss bilateral ties, religious tourism 
This handout picture provided by Saudi Health Ministry on January 7, 2020, shows Saudi Minister for Hajj and Umrah, Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah addressing the media in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Photo courtesy: AFP)
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Updated 21 August 2023
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Saudi Hajj minister due in Pakistan today to discuss bilateral ties, religious tourism 

Saudi Hajj minister due in Pakistan today to discuss bilateral ties, religious tourism 
  • Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah will meet Pakistani president, prime minister and other officials 
  • The Saudi delegates will visit Pakistani port city of Karachi to promote religious tourism 

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Minister for Hajj and Umrah, Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, will arrive in Islamabad today, on Sunday, on a four-day visit to discuss matters concerning the Hajj pilgrimage and the promotion of religious tourism between the two countries, the Pakistani religious affairs ministry said. 

The Kingdom’s envoy to Pakistan Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki, also met with Pakistan’s caretaker religious affairs minister, Aneeq Ahmed, on Saturday ahead of the Saudi Hajj minister’s visit along with a delegation. 

“The visit of the Saudi Minister for Hajj and Umrah and his delegation is of great importance and [he] is given the status of a State Guest,” Muhammad Umer Butt, a spokesperson for the Pakistani religious affairs ministry, told Arab News. 

“During the visit, multiple issues related to facilities to Hajj and Umrah pilgrims and expansion of Route to Makkah project to other Pakistani cities will be discussed.” 

The visiting Saudi minister would be leading a delegation comprising heads of the Saudi civil aviation, airlines and other departments, which is of great importance in terms of enhancing cooperation for religious tourism, civil aviation and airlines, he said. 

In 2019, Saudi Arabia introduced the Makkah Route initiative in Pakistan and four other countries, streamlining Hajj visas, customs and health requirements at their departure airports and thus saving substantial time upon arrival in the Kingdom. This year, over 26,000 Pakistani pilgrims benefited from the project from Islamabad airport. 

On Saturday, Pakistani religious affairs ministry stated that a memorandum of understanding (MoU) will also be signed during the visit to enhance future Hajj arrangements . 

“We will also discuss increase in Hajj quota according to the population of Pakistan under the new census and if they [Saudi delegation] agree, then our Hajj quota will be the highest in the world on the basis of the new census,” Butt said. 

“Along with delegation-level talks with religious affairs minister, the visiting Saudi minister will also meet with the Pakistan’s president, the prime minister and the chief of army staff,” he added. 

During the four-day visit, the delegation plans to visit Karachi and meet with dignitaries and the business community in the Pakistani commercial hub. 

“The Saudi delegation will also meet with people involved in Hajj, Umrah and religious tourism,” Butt said, adding that Pakistan had the highest rate of Umrah for many years and the country stood as number two in terms of the number of Hajj pilgrims. 

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are close allies and enjoy brotherly relations as the Kingdom is home to over 2.5 million Pakistani expatriates and plays a pivotal role in providing remittances and oil supplies to the South Asian country. 

In June this year, Saudi Arabia extended assistance to Pakistan by depositing $3 billion in its central bank, helping Islamabad avert a sovereign default and secure an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout deal. 


In ‘major breakthrough,’ joint venture signed to establish Chromebook assembly line in Pakistan

In ‘major breakthrough,’ joint venture signed to establish Chromebook assembly line in Pakistan
Updated 15 sec ago
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In ‘major breakthrough,’ joint venture signed to establish Chromebook assembly line in Pakistan

In ‘major breakthrough,’ joint venture signed to establish Chromebook assembly line in Pakistan
  • Production capacity to be scaled up from 500,000 to million Chromebooks per year
  • Partnership expected to boost technology sector, generate employment, PID says

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government has signed a letter of understanding (LoU) with a local Google partner and a foreign company to establish a state-of-the-art Chromebook assembly line through a joint venture, the Press Information Department (PID) said on Tuesday.
Pakistan’s IT sector has been performing well in recent years, marking another all-time high record of $310 million in inflows in April. 
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 government allowed a retention limit from 35 percent to 50 percent in the Exporters’ Specialized Foreign Currency Accounts.
“In a major breakthrough, National Radio Telecom Corporation (NRTC) Pakistan, Allied Australian, and Tech Valley Pakistan signed a letter of understanding (LoU) at the Ministry of Federal Education, paving the way for a groundbreaking joint venture to establish a state-of-the-art Chromebook assembly line in Pakistan,” PID said in a statement on Tuesday. 
Tech Valley Pakistan is a social enterprise and the official country partner of Google for Education, Google Workspace and Google Cloud in Pakistan.
The statement said the joint venture was aimed at harnessing the expertise, technology and market insights of each party to establish a world-class assembly line at NRTC and Haripur City in the country’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province after receiving regulatory approvals and infrastructure availability.
PID said the partnership would help boost the country’s technology sector, create new opportunities for economic growth, and generate employment.
“The assembly line will have an initial production capacity of 500,000 Chromebooks per year, which will be scaled up to one million per year,” the statement said, adding that the collaboration had the potential to transform Pakistan into a hub for technology manufacturing and innovation in the region.


Pakistan cabinet approves draft MoU for student, teacher exchanges with Saudi Arabia

Pakistan cabinet approves draft MoU for student, teacher exchanges with Saudi Arabia
Updated 12 min 50 sec ago
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Pakistan cabinet approves draft MoU for student, teacher exchanges with Saudi Arabia

Pakistan cabinet approves draft MoU for student, teacher exchanges with Saudi Arabia
  • Spokesperson religious affairs ministry confirms draft approved, agreement to be signed in coming days 
  • Pakistan has a close relationship with Saudi Arabia, which has been its friend and benefactor for decades

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s federal cabinet on Tuesday approved the draft of a memorandum of understanding to be signed with Saudi Arabia for the exchange of students, teachers and delegations, the ministry of religious affairs said. 
Pakistan has a close relationship with Saudi Arabia, which has been its friend and benefactor for decades. 
“On the recommendation of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Division, the Federal Cabinet approved the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Government of Pakistan and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Da’wah and Guidance, Saudi Arabia,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
Speaking to Arab News, the spokesperson of the ministry of religious affairs, Muhammad Umer Butt, confirmed the development. 
“The cabinet has approved the draft of the MOU which will now be signed later on,” he said. “It is about the exchange of teachers, students and delegations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia under both countries’ relevant ministries.”
Pakistanis have made various contributions to Saudi Arabia over the decades. In the 1960s, Pakistani pilots operated RSAF fighter jets during Saudi Arabia’s Al-Wadiah conflict with Yemen as the PAF raised the RSAF (1969). The Pakistan Army was also crucial in helping the Saudi authorities put an end to the 1979 Grand Mosque Seizure. 
The immigration of Pakistanis is believed to have helped create contemporary Saudi Arabia, with doctors, engineers, professors and other professionals from Pakistan spending their lives in Saudi Arabia and making significant contributions to the country’s growth and social advancement.
Pakistanis living in Saudi Arabia are the largest source of remittances to the South Asian nation. According to a 2023 estimate, 2.64 million Pakistanis live and work in Saudi Arabia.


Pakistan court reserves verdict on pleas against ruling Imran Khan, wife violated marriage law

Pakistan court reserves verdict on pleas against ruling Imran Khan, wife violated marriage law
Updated 25 June 2024
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Pakistan court reserves verdict on pleas against ruling Imran Khan, wife violated marriage law

Pakistan court reserves verdict on pleas against ruling Imran Khan, wife violated marriage law
  • Khan, wife Bushra sentenced to seven years in prison in February by court that ruled their 2018 marriage illegal 
  • Criminal complaint against marriage was brought by Bushra’s ex-husband to whom she was wedded for 30 years

ISLAMABAD: A district and sessions court on Tuesday reserved its verdict on pleas filed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) founder Imran Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi seeking the suspension of a ruling that they had violated the country’s marriage law.

Khan and his wife were sentenced to seven years in prison and fined in February by a court that ruled their 2018 marriage broke the law. Bushra was accused of not completing the waiting period mandated by Islam, called “Iddat,” after divorcing her previous husband and marrying Khan.

The Khans signed their marriage contract, or “Nikkah,” in January 2018 in a secret ceremony seven months before the former cricket superstar became prime minister for the first time. There was controversy over whether they had wed before the Iddat period was complete. After initial denials of the marriage, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf confirmed it weeks later.

The Khans both deny wrongdoing in the Iddat case.

“Court has reserved the decision till Thursday, June 27,” the PTI said in a text message to reporters. “Iddat case bail petition, with Barrister Slaman Safdar representing Former Prime Minister Imran Khan and former First lady Bushra Bibi, concluded arguments today.”

Khan is currently in jail and faces a string of legal cases. His convictions ruled the 71-year-old out of the February general elections as convicted felons cannot run for public office under Pakistani law. Arguably Pakistan’s most popular politician, Khan says all cases against him are motivated to keep him out of politics.

The criminal complaint against Khan and Bushra’s marriage was brought by her ex-husband, Khawar Maneka, to whom she was married for about 30 years.

Khan has often called Bushra his spiritual leader. She is known for her devotion to Sufism, a mystical form of Islam.

Born Bushra Riaz Watto, she changed her name to Khan after her marriage. Her husband and followers commonly refer to her as Bushra Bibi or Bushra Begum, titles that denote respect in the Urdu language.

Khan’s two previous marriages — to Jemima Goldsmith, daughter of tycoon James Goldsmith, and television journalist Reham Nayyar Khan — ended in divorce.


No new duty to be imposed on solar panels in Pakistan — PM

No new duty to be imposed on solar panels in Pakistan — PM
Updated 25 June 2024
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No new duty to be imposed on solar panels in Pakistan — PM

No new duty to be imposed on solar panels in Pakistan — PM
  • Widespread reports in recent weeks say government planning to amend net metering regulations, impose new taxes
  • Earlier this month, Minister of State for Power Ali Pervaiz Malik also rejected reports of new taxes on solar panels

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Tuesday no new duties would be imposed on solar panels, reiterating his government’s commitment to pursue renewable energy projects in a country considered one of the most vulnerable to climate change.

Local media outlets have widely reported in recent weeks that the government had decided to amend net metering regulations, a billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid, and would impose new tariffs on the sale and purchase of solar energy produced by users. The reports also claimed the government was planning to impose a fixed tax on those who installed solar panels.

“No new duty will be imposed on solar panels to ensure common man’s access to renewable solar energy,” Sharif was quoted as saying in a statement released by his office after a meeting of the federal cabinet. “Will deliver low-cost renewable solar energy to every citizen.”

Earlier this month, Minister of State for Power Ali Pervaiz Malik also rejected reports of new taxes on solar panels.

“There has been no decision related to the imposition of any tax or duty on solar panels or to generate money by imposing a tax on electricity production by people who have installed these panels,” Malik said.

In the proposed budget 2024-25, in a bid to promote local production of solar panels, inverters, and batteries, the government plans to slash import duties on raw materials needed to manufacture these key components.

Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb also highlighted during his budget speech that the government was offering tax concessions to support the import of plant machinery and related equipment and raw materials necessary for the manufacturing of solar panels to foster local production and meet both export and domestic demands, thereby conserving valuable foreign exchange.

The budget document says subsidies are being provided on the import of goods and components required for manufacturing solar panels, inverters, and batteries to stimulate growth in the solar industry and encourage the use of renewable energy sources within the country.

Pakistan has set an ambitious target to generate 60 percent of its energy from clean and renewable energy sources by 2030. The country also plans to have 30 percent of its vehicles running on electricity by the same year, aligning with global environmental targets and efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.


Pakistan budget finalized with IMF inputs, ‘good news’ on bailout soon — PM

Pakistan budget finalized with IMF inputs, ‘good news’ on bailout soon — PM
Updated 25 June 2024
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Pakistan budget finalized with IMF inputs, ‘good news’ on bailout soon — PM

Pakistan budget finalized with IMF inputs, ‘good news’ on bailout soon — PM
  • Pakistan hopes its plan to raise taxes in budget and boost state revenues will help it win approval from IMF
  • Privatizing loss-making public entities also major IMF conditionality, PM says bidding for PIA in first week of August 

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Tuesday Pakistan’s budget for fiscal year 2024-25 was finalized with inputs from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and he hoped for “good news” from the lender soon on a new bailout deal.
Pakistan’s hopes its plan to raise taxes in the proposed budget and boost state revenues will help it win approval from the IMF for a loan to stave off another economic meltdown,
The South Asian country has set a challenging tax revenue target of 13 trillion rupees ($47 billion) for the year starting July 1, a near-40 percent jump from the current year, and a sharp drop in its fiscal deficit to 5.9 percent of GDP from 7.4 percent for the current year.
Pakistan had to reduce its fiscal deficit as part of negotiations with the IMF, with which it is discussing a loan of $6-8 billion, as it seeks to avert a debt default for an economy growing at the slowest pace in the region.
“It is a fact that we finalized the budget together with the IMF, these are inherited conditions but this was their demand,” Sharif said during a cabinet meeting. 
“I won’t say anything premature. I feel that if IMF gives us an answer today, I will present it to you tomorrow. We should hope that we get good news from them.”
Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb, who presented the budget earlier this month, has said he expected to seal a Staff-Level Agreement with the IMF in July.
The big rise in the tax target is made up of a 48 percent increase in direct taxes and 35 percent hike in indirect taxes. Non-tax revenue, including petroleum levies, is seen increasing by a whopping 64 percent.
Taxes have notably been slapped on previously protected export-oriented sectors such as textiles, which consistently make up over half of Pakistan’s exports, and whose receipts keep a persistently high external account deficit in check.
Sharif’s fragile coalition government does not have the luxury of a parliamentary majority to help it pass the budget smoothly. Sticking to the reform measures will require it to resist pushback from key economic sectors as well as a broader public already angry at the prospect of further price hikes. 
Increasing the tax base in an economy where proper documentation is often lacking will require considerable time and effort. Pakistan’s undocumented parallel economy is huge and 44 percent of its nominal GDP does not contribute significantly toward direct tax revenue, according to the Tola Associates, a tax firm.
Traders and agriculturalists in particular, both politically influential, have resisted the government’s push to register themselves and document their sales.

PRIVATIZATION OF PIA

Another key point in the budget and a major precondition for an IMF loan is the privatization of loss-making state entities. Pakistan is looking to make its first major sale in nearly two decades as it sells a stake in its national airline, the first in a series of sales, particularly in the troubled power sector.
Sharif said on Tuesday Pakistan will hold bidding for PIA during the first week of August.
“Companies showing interest in pre-bidding process are visiting various sites of the PIA,” the PMO said in a statement. “The PIA’s bidding will take place during the first week of August.”
Pakistan’s government has previously said it is putting on the block a stake of between 51 percent and 100 percent in the loss-making airline.
A popular airline during its heydays in the ‘60s and ‘70s, PIA has grappled with financial losses, mismanagement, and operational challenges in recent years. It has also been burdened by a high debt load, inefficiencies, and corruption allegations, resulting in an overall decline in its financial performance.
The disposal of the flag carrier is a step that past elected governments have steered away from as it is expected to be unpopular with the masses. However, progress on privatization is key to helping cash-strapped Pakistan pursue a fresh loan agreement with the IMF.

With inputs from Reuters