Saudi Tourism Authority launches Nusuk travel app in Pakistan

Special Saudi Tourism Authority launches Nusuk travel app in Pakistan
Muslim pilgrims gather around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Saudi Arabia on June 30, 2023 during the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (AFP/File)
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Updated 22 August 2023
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Saudi Tourism Authority launches Nusuk travel app in Pakistan

Saudi Tourism Authority launches Nusuk travel app in Pakistan
  • Nusuk helps travelers organize their entire visit, from applying for eVisas to booking hotels and flights
  • Business leaders says Nusuk app would allow Pakistani travelers access to more Saudi cities

KARACHI: The Saudi Tourism Authority launched the travel planning and booking app Nusuk in Pakistan on Tuesday, a day after Islamabad and Riyadh signed an agreement to increase the number of flights and boost tourism.

Nusuk is Saudi Arabia's first-ever official planning, booking, and experience platform to create Hajj or Umrah itineraries to Makkah, Madinah, and beyond. With Nusuk, travelers from all over the world can easily organize their entire visit to the Kingdom, from applying for an eVisa to booking hotels and flights.

The platform was launched in Karachi by the Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah who arrived in Pakistan on a four-day visit on Sunday with a delegation comprising the deputy ministers of Hajj and Umrah, tourism and international cooperation, the president of Saudi Airlines, the general authority of civil aviation, and representatives from Saudi Aviation.

Representatives of Pakistan's business community and Hajj and Umrah tour operators attended the launch event.




A screen grab taken from Nusuk's website shows the app's logo and the Holy Kaaba in the background. (Photo courtesy: nusuk.sa)

“This platform is part of Saudi Vision 2030 that aims at opening Saudi Arabia to the world through increasing tourism,” Furqan Abdul Kadir, convener of the Central Standing Committee on Hajj and Umrah at the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) which is organizing the launch event, told Arab News.

Kadir said the platform's launch would allow tourists direct access to many Saudi cities, making it easier for Pakistanis to travel to the Kingdom.

“Apart from the ease of having access to the Saudi visa, this would also increase interaction between the people of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, resulting in a further strengthened relationship,” Kadir added.  

According to the Saudi Tourism Authority, tourism development is an important driver of growth for the Kingdom's future and one of the key pillars at the heart of the Vision 2030 plan to help diversify the country's economy and reduce its reliance on oil.

The Ministry of Tourism, the Saudi Tourism Authority and the Tourism Development Fund were established in line with best international practices to support the growth of the tourism sector.

The launch of the Nusuk app comes on the heels of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia signing an agreement on Monday to increase the number of flights between the two countries, with Al-Rabiah saying the deal would also help bring down the cost of travel.


Net-metering, tax controversies cloud future of solarization in Pakistan despite government clarification

Net-metering, tax controversies cloud future of solarization in Pakistan despite government clarification
Updated 59 min 5 sec ago
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Net-metering, tax controversies cloud future of solarization in Pakistan despite government clarification

Net-metering, tax controversies cloud future of solarization in Pakistan despite government clarification
  • Government says it won’t end net-metering policy for solar power producers, promises to honor commitments made by companies
  • Pakistan’s energy woes stem from high capacity charges consumers pay due to long-term government contracts with power producers

KARACHI: Controversies about net-metering and imposition of a new tax have cast a cloud over Pakistan’s transition to solar energy despite the government’s ambitious plans, stakeholders said on Monday, adding the situation has left them in a state of uncertainty.

Pakistan approved the net-metering policy in 2017 that allows consumers to sell excess electricity produced by their solar systems to power distribution companies, resulting in significant savings in their monthly bills.

However, the energy ministry stirred a controversy last month by declaring that net-metering was promoting “unhealthy investments” in installation of solar power by affluent domestic and industrial consumers, hinting at cutting the buyback rates.

“Before this [controversy], people were shifting to solar [energy] in such a way that we thought that 100 percent Pakistan embraced solar energy,” Zulfiqar Ali, an importer, supplier and installer of solar panels, told Arab News on Monday.

“Now, we’re witnessing a stark contrast, a slowdown in inquiries, stagnation in projects, all amidst a talk of governmental reconsideration of solar energy policies.”

Ali said the net-metering issue had a lot of effect on the market as the purchasing groups suddenly went silent and the deals that were going on became stagnant. “The planned projects have gone into an idle position, people are neither saying yes nor no,” he added.

Recent reports published by local media about new taxes and an end to net-metering policy further compounded the situation and prompted Energy Minister Awais Leghari to explain the government’s position on the matter. 

“We completely reject these stories. The agreements our companies have made with net-metering users, whether they are for five years, six years, or seven years, will not be altered in any way and the government will not damage its reputation, nor will it cause any inconvenience to those investors,” Leghari said at a press conference in Lahore on Sunday.

He said the government was fully committed to renewable energy and solarization and was in favor of continuing the net-metering policy. 

“If, after studying it over the next few months, there is a need to revise it, it will be done very responsibly and in consultation with stakeholders,” Leghari said.

“After the approval of the entire government, if necessary, we will rationalize this. At this moment, we are committed to fulfilling all the contracts we have signed with various people. We will uphold the integrity of the entire government and move forward together.”

But despite the government’s assurances, an atmosphere of uncertainty prevails in the South Asian country with regard to solarization.

“I wanted to install solar panels at my rooftop to mitigate the impact of high electricity bills but now I am unable to take a decision because of the government’s intended moves of either taxing panels or curtailing net-metering benefits,” said Khalid Abbas, a resident of Karachi, adding that he would wait for clarity on the subject.

Solar panel suppliers said people, who were buying solar panels by selling their cars or jewelry, had stopped purchasing the equipment. 

“Residential consumers who wanted to install 5-20KW panels have stopped and are waiting for clarity,” Zulfiqar said.

Pakistan’s energy woes stem from the substantially high electricity bills, mainly due to the capacity charges that are as high as 65 percent and the nation is bound to pay these to power producers, even though their plants stand idle. 

The power purchase price (PPP), or the average per unit price based on the generation cost, is Rs20.60, which includes Rs14.09 capacity charges, and Rs6.21 fuel and variable charges, according to Pakistan’s reference tariff for fiscal year 2023-2024.

Pakistani energy experts believe the volume with which solar energy is increasing is still “insignificant” and does not even make 1 percent of the total power generation in the country.

“But the way it is going on in Pakistan, perhaps a significant portion of our net-metering will be done from it,” Dr. Khalid Waleed, an expert on energy economics, told Arab News. “Around 2,000MWs will be coming from net-metering. So, it should not be discouraged at all.”

When consumers switch to solar power, Waleed said, capacity charges are borne by other consumers that ultimately increases their power burden. 

Experts say the country won’t be able to get rid of the capacity charges before 2050 due to long-term contracts made with power producers.


Pakistan Deputy PM arrives in Kazakhstan to attend SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting

Pakistan Deputy PM arrives in Kazakhstan to attend SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting
Updated 20 May 2024
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Pakistan Deputy PM arrives in Kazakhstan to attend SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting

Pakistan Deputy PM arrives in Kazakhstan to attend SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting
  • The SCO is a major trans-regional organization and its member states collectively represent nearly half of world population
  • Deputy PM Ishaq Dar will meet Kyrgyz FM Jeenbek Kulubaev tonight to discuss the latest situation after Bishkek mob violence

ISLAMABAD: Ishaq Dar, Pakistan’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, on Monday arrived in Kazakhstan to attend a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Pakistani foreign ministry said.

Founded in 2001, the SCO is a major trans-regional organization spanning South and Central Asia, with China, Russia, Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan as its permanent members. The SCO member states collectively represent nearly half of the world’s population and a quarter of global economic output. 

The organization’s agenda of promoting peace and stability, and seeking enhanced linkages in infrastructure, economic, trade and cultural spheres, is aligned with Pakistan’s own vision of enhancing economic connectivity as well as peace and stability in the region.

Upon arrival at the Astana airport, Dar was received by Director of the Kazakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nursalimuly Yergalym, Pakistan’s Ambassador in Astana Nauman Bashir Bhatti and Pakistan’s National Coordinator for the SCO, Ambassador Marghoob Saleem Butt.

“In Astana, a meeting has been arranged between the Deputy Prime Minister Dar with the Foreign Minister of Kyrgyz Republic, Jeenbek Kulubaev, this evening in order to discuss the latest situation in Bishkek with a view to ensure the well-being of Pakistani students,” the Pakistan foreign ministry said in a statement.

Frenzied mobs targeted hostels of medical universities and private lodgings of international students, including Pakistanis, in Bishkek last week after videos of a brawl between Kyrgyz and Egyptian students went viral on social media.

Pakistan has since then ramped efforts to repatriate its students from the city and more than 600 Pakistani students have returned home via three different flights. According to official statistics, around 10,000 Pakistani students are enrolled in various educational institutions in Kyrgyzstan, with nearly 6,000 residing and studying in Bishkek.

In Astana, Dar will represent Pakistan at the two-day meeting of the SCO Council of Foreign Ministers. He will also hold bilateral meetings with his counterparts on the sidelines of the summit.

Since becoming a full member of the SCO in 2017, Pakistan has been actively contributing toward advancing the organization’s core objectives through its participation in various SCO mechanisms.

During his visit to China last week, Dar also met SCO Secretary-General Ambassador Zhang Ming and reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to the organization’s charter and its ideals, the Pakistani foreign ministry said in a statement.

“He expressed Pakistan’s strong commitment to advancing SCO’s security and development cooperation agenda,” the statement said.


Pakistan gear up for FIFA World Cup Qualifiers matches against Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan

Pakistan gear up for FIFA World Cup Qualifiers matches against Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan
Updated 20 May 2024
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Pakistan gear up for FIFA World Cup Qualifiers matches against Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan

Pakistan gear up for FIFA World Cup Qualifiers matches against Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan
  • Pakistan will play a home match against Saudi Arabia on June 6 in Islamabad
  • It will be followed by an away match in Tajikistan on June 11, the PFF says

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan football team has begun practicing in Islamabad for the upcoming matches against Saudi Arabia and Tajikistan as part of the FIFA World Cup qualifier round-2, the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) said on Monday.

The Pakistan side is scheduled to play a home match against Saudi Arabia on June 6 in Islamabad, which would be followed by an away match in Tajikistan on June 11. Pakistan is in Group G along with Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Jordan.

A total of 36 football squads have been split into nine groups with four teams each in the second round of qualifiers. The winners and runners-up from each group would progress through to the third round of the World Cup qualifiers.

“Head coach Stephen Constantine is leading the team’s efforts, focusing on refining their skills and tactics for the encounter against one of the football powerhouses (Saudi Arabia),” the PFF said in a statement.

“Goalkeeping coaches Rogerio Ramos and Noman Ibrahim have been dedicating their efforts to the goalkeepers, while fitness coach Claudio Altieri is ensuring peak performance in preparation for the crucial match.”

Preliminary Pakistan squad

Goalkeepers: Hassan Ali and Tanveer

Defenders: Haseeb Khan, Mamoon Moosa Khan, Huzaifa, Waqar Ihtisham, Abdul Rehman, Umar Hayat, Muhammad Adeel, Muhammad Saddam and Zain ul Abideen

Midfielders: Yasir Arafat, Alamgir Ghazi, Ali Uzair, Rajab Ali, Moin Ali, Junaid Ahmed and Fahim

Forwards: Adeel Younas, Shayak Dost, Ali Zafar and Fareedullah

The PFF said the names of diaspora players joining the national training camp later would be included in the final squad.


Pakistan heat wave to ‘intensify’ from May 23 onwards — chief meteorologist

Pakistan heat wave to ‘intensify’ from May 23 onwards — chief meteorologist
Updated 20 May 2024
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Pakistan heat wave to ‘intensify’ from May 23 onwards — chief meteorologist

Pakistan heat wave to ‘intensify’ from May 23 onwards — chief meteorologist
  • Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, has announced school closures from May 25-31 due to heat wave
  • KP, Balochistan provinces, Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan regions to witness higher than average temperatures

KARACHI: A heat wave is expected to hit parts of Pakistan starting today, Monday, Pakistan’s chief meteorologist said, warning that it will “intensify” from May 23 onwards in the South Asian nation at the searing edge of climate change.

Pakistan’s disaster management authority warned last Thursday temperatures in certain areas of Pakistan’s southern Sindh and eastern Punjab provinces could surge to 40 degrees Celsius between May 15-30. On Sunday, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) warned of an “intense” heat wave in the southern districts of Punjab, with severe risk identified in Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Dera Ghazi Khan and Multan districts from May 21 to May 27.

Heatwaves, which occur in summer, are caused by slow-moving high-pressure systems leading to prolonged high temperatures. The World Meteorological Organization defines a heat wave as five or more consecutive days during which the daily maximum temperature surpasses the average maximum temperature by 5 °C (9 °F) or more.

“Heatwave conditions are expected from today over Sindh, except Karachi, and the plain areas of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces,” Dr. Sardar Sarfaraz, the chief meteorologist at the Met Department, told Arab News. 

“Maximum temperatures are expected to remain 4-6 degrees Celsius above average until May 22 and then intensify from May 23rd with temperatures 6-8 degrees above average,” he said, urging citizens to exercise caution.

Pakistan experienced its first severe heat wave in June 2015 when temperatures as high as 49 degrees Celsius struck the country’s south, causing the deaths of about 2,000 people from dehydration and heatstroke. A heat wave in Sindh’s provincial capital of Karachi that year alone claimed 120 lives. 

Increased exposure to heat, and more heat waves, have been identified as one of the key impacts of climate change in Pakistan, with people experiencing extreme heat and seeing some of the highest temperatures in the world in recent years. The South Asian country of more than 241 million, one of the ten most vulnerable nations to climate change impacts, has also recently witnessed untimely downpours, flash floods and droughts.

Climate change-induced extreme heat can cause illnesses such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and hyperthermia. It can make certain chronic conditions worse, including cardiovascular, respiratory, and cerebrovascular disease and diabetes-related conditions, and can also result in acute incidents, such as hospitalizations due to strokes or renal disease.

Dr. Sarfaraz said other than Karachi, the rest of Sindh province would remain in the grips of scorching heat this month.

“While Karachi will not face a heat wave, the rest of the province and the plain areas of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will be in the grip of the heatwave from today,” he said.

“In Jacobabad, the hottest city of the [Sindh] province, the temperature is expected to reach 50 degrees Celsius during this wave.”

Jacobabad is considered one of the hottest places in the world, with temperatures rising to 50 degrees Celsius between May and August, forcing nearly half the city’s 200,000 people to leave for cooler cities and towns, officials say. 

The federal capital of Islamabad, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces and the Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan regions would also see temperatures 4 to 6 degrees Celsius above average from May 21-27, Dr. Sarfaraz said. 

SCHOOLS CLOSURES 

Separately, the Punjab government announced on Monday it would close public and private schools from May 25-31. 

“In view of the surge in temperature and heat wave in the province, all public and private schools shall remain closed for seven days with effect from 25th May 2024 to 31st May 2024,” a notification from the provincial education department on Monday read, adding that exams could be conducted during these days with necessary precautions in place. 

Punjab Education Minister Rana Sikander Hayat shared the notification on social media platform X, saying the safety of children would always remain the government’s “priority.”

According to the Global Climate Risk Index, nearly 10,000 Pakistanis have died while the country has suffered economic losses worth $3.8 billion due to climate change impacts between 1999 and 2018. 

In 2022, torrential monsoon rains triggered the most devastating floods in Pakistan’s history, killing around 1,700 people and affecting over 33 million, a staggering number close to the population of Canada. Millions of homes, tens of thousands of schools and thousands of kilometers of roads and railways are yet to be rebuilt.


Pakistan government says won’t take ‘unilateral’ decision on new digital media authority 

Pakistan government says won’t take ‘unilateral’ decision on new digital media authority 
Updated 20 May 2024
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Pakistan government says won’t take ‘unilateral’ decision on new digital media authority 

Pakistan government says won’t take ‘unilateral’ decision on new digital media authority 
  • Government drafting new law for social media platforms, including setting up digital rights body
  • Digital rights activists fear new authority could be used to stifle criticism and quell freedom of speech

ISLAMABAD: Minister for Information and Broadcasting Attaullah Tarar said on Monday the government had no intention to pass legislation “unilaterally” to set up a new digital media authority, reassuring journalists that all stakeholders would be consulted in the process.

The government initiated consultations this month over a new draft law aimed at regulating social media platforms, including by setting up a new digital rights protection body, prompting concerns from rights activists that the council would be used to stifle criticism and freedom of speech.

The popular social media platform X has been blocked in Pakistan for over three months after widespread allegations of election manipulation and calls for protests in the wake of Feb. 8 general polls.

Earlier this month, the government launched a new National Cybercrimes Investigation Agency to probe electronic crimes and confirmed that it was working on a draft law to regulate social media content.

“The government has no intention of unilateral legislation regarding the establishment of Digital Media Authority,” state-run Radio Pakistan said in report quoting Tarar after he met a delegation from the National Press Club Islamabad.

“He said all journalist organizations and press clubs will be taken into confidence on the matter.”

Last week, ruling party Senator Afnan Ullah Khan told Arab News the government was working on a draft law to regulate social media content “as we want to curb disinformation and hate speech being spread through these platforms.”

“A committee led by the federal law minister is discussing the draft law as we have to ensure people’s right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression as well,” he added, ruling out concerns the government wanted to muffle its rivals and critics.

Khan said the draft law would be tabled in parliament for debate within four weeks.

“Opposition parties or any parliamentarian can object to any clause of the bill once it is presented in parliament for vote,” he said.

“We want to protect digital rights of our users instead of imposing any restrictions, but at the same time we want those to be prosecuted who violate the law by inciting hate speech and pedaling disinformation, or any content against the national security,” he added.

The draft law may propose the establishment of a digital rights protection authority to ensure effective enforcement of laws, Khan said but “all this will be disclosed to the media and public once the bill is tabled in parliament for discussion.”