Pakistan to face Saudi Arabia in historic FIFA World Cup qualifier in Al Ahsa today

Pakistan to face Saudi Arabia in historic FIFA World Cup qualifier in Al Ahsa today
Pakistani football players during a training session in Al-Hasa, Saudi Arabia on November 12, 2023. (Photo courtesy: @pakistanffofficial/Instagram)
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Updated 16 November 2023
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Pakistan to face Saudi Arabia in historic FIFA World Cup qualifier in Al Ahsa today

Pakistan to face Saudi Arabia in historic FIFA World Cup qualifier in Al Ahsa today
  • Pakistani football players have never advanced so far in World Cup qualifiers in the past
  • They are part of Group G in the second qualifying round and will also face Jordan and Tajikistan

ISLAMABAD: History is in the making as Pakistan take on Saudi Arabia in the FIFA World Cup qualifier in the kingdom on Thursday after getting into the group stage for Asian teams for the first time in over two decades.
Last month, Pakistan men’s football team beat Cambodia 1-0 to win their first ever World Cup qualifier at the Jinnah Stadium in Islamabad after midfielder Harun Hamid scored a stellar goal against the rival squad.
The victory propelled Pakistan to the next level where they would face impressive football teams like Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Jordan in Group G of the second round of the World Cup qualifiers. A total of 36 football squads have been split into nine groups with four teams each. The winners and runners-up from each group would progressing through to the third round of the World Cup qualifiers.
“The national football team has been practicing in Al Ahsa,” the Pakistan Football Federation said in a brief statement on Sunday. “They will play their first match of the second round on November 16 against Saudi Arabia.”
Thursday’s World Cup qualifier is expected to be tough for Pakistan since the Saudi Arabia have already played in the last World Cup organized in Qatar.
They also secured a stunning victory against Argentina that ultimately won the tournament, following an impressive goal by Salem Mohammed Shafi Al-Dawsari.


Pakistan concludes 60-hour joint military exercise with Saudi Arabia, US, other nations 

Pakistan concludes 60-hour joint military exercise with Saudi Arabia, US, other nations 
Updated 27 sec ago
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Pakistan concludes 60-hour joint military exercise with Saudi Arabia, US, other nations 

Pakistan concludes 60-hour joint military exercise with Saudi Arabia, US, other nations 
  • The exercise was held at semi-mountainous terrain of Pakistan’s Punjab province from Feb. 25-27
  • Pakistan’s army chief attends closing ceremony, lauds participating teams for their professionalism

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan concluded a three-day, 60-hour joint military training exercise with participating teams from Saudi Arabia, the United States, Jordan and other countries this week, Pakistan Army’s media wing said on Thursday.
Pakistan opened the 7th International Pakistan Army Team Spirit (PATS) Exercise in the northwestern town of Pabbi on Sunday. The exercise, which ran from Feb. 25-27, was aimed at enhancing combat skills through the sharing of innovative ideas and experiences by participants. 
The exercise would also help hone basic soldierly attributes besides interoperability through the sharing of innovative ideas and mutual best practices, the ISPR said last week. 
Seven teams from the Pakistan Army and 15 teams from Bahrain, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Morocco, Qatar, the US, Uzbekistan, Srilanka, Thailand and Turkiye participated in the exercise. Azerbaijan, China, Germany, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Myanmar witnessed the exercise as observers, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said.
“The exercise was conducted from 25-27 Feb 2024 in the semi-mountainous terrain of Punjab,” the ISPR said. “Over the years, the exercise has gained much prominence as a very competitive professional military activity for friendly countries.”
Pakistan’s army chief General Syed Asim Munir attended the event’s closing ceremony at the eastern city of Kharian, the ISPR said. Munir appreciated the participating teams for their professionalism, and for demonstrating physical and mental endurance during the various stages of the exercise.
“At the end, COAS [chief of army staff] gave away individual and team awards to the participants of the exercise,” the ISPR said.
Pakistan routinely holds joint air, ground and sea exercises with friendly nations to foster interoperability and joint deployment concepts to counter threats to global peace.
Several cadets from these nations annually visit the South Asian country, which has fought back militancy for decades, to undergo specialized military training.


Pakistan’s Rawalpindi administration to deploy over 5,000 cops for next month’s PSL matches

Pakistan’s Rawalpindi administration to deploy over 5,000 cops for next month’s PSL matches
Updated 29 February 2024
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Pakistan’s Rawalpindi administration to deploy over 5,000 cops for next month’s PSL matches

Pakistan’s Rawalpindi administration to deploy over 5,000 cops for next month’s PSL matches
  • Pakistan’s eastern Rawalpindi city will host Pakistan Super League matches from March 2-10
  • Snipers, police to be stationed along ‘critical routes’ and at rooftops near stadium says state media

ISLAMABAD: The administration in Pakistan’s Rawalpindi has taken “extensive measures” to provide security to players and citizens as the city gears up to host the remaining matches of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2024 tournament next month, state-run media reported on Thursday.
Pakistan’s eastern city of Rawalpindi will host PSL matches from March 2-10. PSL matches every year draw thousands of people to stadiums in Lahore, Multan, Karachi and Rawalpindi, where matches are usually held. The PSL also features apart from local cricket stars, international cricketers of renown. 
The Rawalpindi administration has finalized a security plan ahead of the tournament’s matches, the Associate Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report, amid a surge in militant attacks across the country. 
“Under the security plan finalized for PSL matches, over 5,000 police personnel, including elite forces, would be deployed to provide foolproof security cover to the matches,” the APP said. 
It said the security plan includes closing stations, managing traffic, and “strict surveillance” to ensure the safety of the cricketers, officials and spectators. 
It said around 750 police officers would be tasked with managing the teams’ movement from the Islamabad airport across the districts of Attock and Rawalpindi.
“Snipers, along with police equipped with advanced security tools, would be stationed along critical routes and rooftops near the stadium,” the report said. “These measures are designed to ensure a secure environment for the event.”
It said Rwalpindi’s traffic police has also developed a traffic management plan to cope with the expected increase in vehicles during the matches. 
Pakistani authorities have been wary of attacks targeting cricketers and cricket events, especially since 2009 when militants attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. The incident scared international teams from touring Pakistan, forcing the South Asian country to choose the UAE as its home ground for several years before international teams started touring the country again.
Pakistan has seen a surge in militant violence, especially in its western regions bordering Afghanistan, since November 2022 after a fragile truce between the state and the Pakistani Taliban broke down.


India’s basmati rice exports to fall as Pakistan’s surge

India’s basmati rice exports to fall as Pakistan’s surge
Updated 29 February 2024
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India’s basmati rice exports to fall as Pakistan’s surge

India’s basmati rice exports to fall as Pakistan’s surge
  • Pakistan offering basmati rice at competitive prices amid rebound in production
  • India, Pakistan are leading exporters of rice to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and UAE

MUMBAI: India’s basmati rice exports are likely to fall in 2024 after nearing a record high last year, as rival Pakistan is offering the grain at competitive prices amid a rebound in production, industry officials said.
India and Pakistan are the leading exporters of the premium long-grain variety of rice, famous for its aroma, to countries such as Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.
India’s exports of basmati rice surged 11.5 percent from a year earlier to 4.9 million metric tons in 2023, just shy of the record high of 5 million tons hit in 2020, on lower supplies from Pakistan and stocking efforts by importing countries, industry officials said.
Basmati rice shipments helped the world’s biggest rice exporter to garner a record $5.4 billion in 2023, up nearly 21 percent from the previous year, because of higher prices, government data showed.
“Last year, buyers were hustling to stock up when Pakistan was facing production issues. This year, however, Pakistan offers lower prices than India due to increased production,” Vijay Setia, a leading exporter based in Haryana state of India, said.
Islamabad’s total rice exports could jump to 5 million tons in 2023/24 financial year, up from the last year’s 3.7 million tons, Chela Ram Kewlani, chairman of Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP) said last month.
The depreciation of the Pakistani rupee has made Pakistan’s exports more competitive, according to Akshay Gupta, head of bulk exports at KRBL Ltd.
Meanwhile, lower export demand amid an estimated 10 percent rise in India’s basmati rice production has started pulling down basmati prices in that country, said Gupta.
Iran, the biggest buyer of Indian basmati rice, slashed purchases by 36 percent in 2023, but higher shipments to Iraq, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia offset the shortfall, according to data compiled by India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
Indian exports had lost momentum in September and October as the government imposed minimum export price (MEP) on basmati rice, but they quickly recovered, said a New-Delhi-based exporter.
In August, India imposed the MEP on basmati rice shipments at $1,200 per ton, exceeding prevailing market rates, before lowering it to $950 in October.
However, exports began faltering again in January, and may decline further in the near term as buyers delay purchases due to increased freight costs caused by disruptions in shipping via the Red Sea, exporter Vijay Setia said.
“Buyers are holding ample inventory; there’s no need for them to rush,” he said.


Pakistan’s National Assembly convenes for maiden sitting, PM’s election on March 3

Pakistan’s National Assembly convenes for maiden sitting, PM’s election on March 3
Updated 34 min 22 sec ago
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Pakistan’s National Assembly convenes for maiden sitting, PM’s election on March 3

Pakistan’s National Assembly convenes for maiden sitting, PM’s election on March 3
  • Lawmakers backed by ex-PM Khan chant slogans through the session, many carried his portraits and wore Khan face masks
  • Nomination papers for the prime minister’s election can be submitted on Saturday, says National Assembly secretariat

ISLAMABAD: Members of Pakistan’s lower house of the parliament will elect a new prime minister on Sunday, the National Assembly secretariat confirmed on Thursday, hours after the assembly’s maiden session was held amid protests on the floor of the house by supporters of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan.

The assembly’s secretariat said legislators can submit nomination papers for the prime minister’s election at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 2. It added that scrutiny of the nomination papers would begin from 3:00 p.m. on Saturday.

“The prime minister will be elected on Sunday, March 3, 2024,” the National Assembly secretariat said.

Pakistan’s Feb. 8 national elections were followed by widespread allegations of rigging and vote fraud, leading to nationwide protests by a number of political parties but most prominently by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) that won the most seats in the National Assembly despite a state-backed crackdown against the party and the arrests of its leaders in the run-up to the vote.

The split mandate in parliament led to an agreement between Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of three-time premier Nawaz Sharif on Feb. 20 to form a coalition government, ending days of uncertainty and negotiations.

PML-N’s 79 and the PPP’s 54 seats together make a simple majority in parliament to form a government, and they have also roped in smaller parties in the coalition. Candidates backed by Khan’s PTI won 93 seats, but do not have the numbers to form a government.

Thursday’s session started with ruckus as soon as the national anthem ended and Khan-backed lawmakers, who have joined the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), surrounded the speaker’s podium.

“Who will save Pakistan? Imran Khan, Imran Khan!” PTI lawmakers chanted after the oath taking ceremony and as newly elected MNAs signed the NA register roll.

PTI lawmakers were carrying placards inscribed with the slogan, “Release Imran Khan,” and some were carrying his portraits and wearing Imran Khan face masks.

RESERVED SEATS

Not all members of the 336-member house took the oath on Thursday, with the apportioning of 70 reserved seats for women and minorities still pending adjudication by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

The commission will decide on allocating reserved seats to the SIC, which did not win any seats in the polls but was later joined by Khan’s successful supporters, who had contested as independents. The ECP completed hearings on the matter on Wednesday but has yet to deliver a ruling.

Other major parties including the PPP and PMLN have opposed the allocation of the reserved seats to the PTI-SIC alliance, saying the SIC was not a parliamentary party and could not claim seats.

Speaking on the floor of the house, PTI lawmaker Barrister Gohar Khan said parliament was “incomplete” as his party was yet to be allocated its share of reserved seats.

“You become the elected member when you enjoy trust of the public, and trust of the people is earned,” he said, alleging that rigging in the elections had compromised the PTI’s mandate and it had won 180 seats in parliament.

Barrister Khan said the PTI-SCI alliance deserved 20 women and three minority seats out of 70 reserved seats in the assembly.

The National Assembly will elect the speaker and deputy speaker on Friday.

“CHALLENGES AHEAD”

The coalition alliance has announced Shehbaz Sharif, the brother of three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, as its candidate for the PM’s slot. Shehbaz is himself a former premier and replaced Khan when he was ousted in a no-confidence vote in parliament in 2022. Since then, Khan has been convicted of several offenses in what his supporters call politically motivated cases to keep him out of office.

The coalition alliance is backing Asif Ali Zardari of the PPP as their joint candidate for president when the new parliament and all the four provincial legislatures elect the successor of the outgoing President Arif Ali, a close Khan ally, in the coming weeks.

Shehbaz is expected to take over the country at the time when the new government would need to take tough decisions to steer the country out of financial crisis, including negotiating a new bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund. The current IMF program expires in March.

A new program will mean committing to steps needed to stay on a narrow path to recovery, but which will limit policy options to provide relief to a deeply frustrated population and cater to industries that are looking for government support to spur growth.

Other big moves include privatization of loss-making state-owned enterprises such as the flagship carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).

Pakistan is also facing a troubling rise in militancy, which any new government will have to tackle. Lowering political temperatures will also be a key challenge as Khan maintains mass popular support in Pakistan, and a continued crackdown on his party and his remaining in jail would likely stoke tensions at a time when stability is needed to attract foreign investment to shore up the economy.


Speaker, deputy speaker elected for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan provincial assemblies in Pakistan

Speaker, deputy speaker elected for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan provincial assemblies in Pakistan
Updated 29 February 2024
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Speaker, deputy speaker elected for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan provincial assemblies in Pakistan

Speaker, deputy speaker elected for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan provincial assemblies in Pakistan
  • Babar Saleem Swati won 89 out of 106 votes against his rival who got 17 votes
  • Suraiya Bibi becomes first women ever to be elected as deputy speak of KP assembly 

QUETTA: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly on Thursday elected lawmakers backed by former prime minister Imran Khan as the new speaker and deputy speaker of the provincial legislature, a day after it held its first session following general elections earlier this month. 

Independent candidates backed by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party swept provincial polls in Feb. 8 elections, bagging over 90 of 111 general seats on which voting was held. Since independent candidates cannot form a government, PTI loyalists have joined the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) to make their government in the province for a third consecutive term.

Khan’s PTI previously ruled the province from 2013 to 2023. 

Babar Saleem Swati, who became the custodian of the house, contested as the SIC candidate for the post.

“PTI’s Babar Saleem Swati has been elected speaker [KP] assembly by getting 89 votes,” Khan’s party said on X. 

Another Khan-backed candidate, Suraiya Bibi, was elected deputy speaker, the first woman ever elected to the post in KP. 

Separately, in Balochistan province, PML-N’s Abdul Khaliq Achakzai was elected as speaker and Ghazala Gola Begum from the PPP as deputy speaker of the legislature in the southwestern province. 

Candidates backed by Khan won the most National Assembly seats, 93, in the elections but the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) have agreed to an alliance to form a coalition government. The Sunni Ittehad Council party backed by Khan alleges that the election was rigged against them and has called for an audit of the polls. 

No single party won a majority.