Experts urge reconciliation to restore credibility, overcome challenges as new Pakistan government sworn in

Experts urge reconciliation to restore credibility, overcome challenges as new Pakistan government sworn in
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Newly-elected lawmakers arrive before the start of the electoral process to appoint Pakistan's next prime minister at the Parliament House in Islamabad on March 3, 2024. (AFP/File)
Experts urge reconciliation to restore credibility, overcome challenges as new Pakistan government sworn in
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Pakistan's newly elected Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, inspects the honor guard at the Prime Minister's House in Islamabad, Pakistan March 4, 2024. (Prime Minister's House)
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Updated 04 March 2024
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Experts urge reconciliation to restore credibility, overcome challenges as new Pakistan government sworn in

Experts urge reconciliation to restore credibility, overcome challenges as new Pakistan government sworn in
  • The South Asian country of over 241 million is deeply polarized and facing complex economic and security challenges
  • Analysts believe PM Shehbaz Sharif’s government will be left to face challenges on its own, needs to act ‘wisely’

ISLAMABAD: As Shehbaz Sharif took oath as 23rd prime minister of Pakistan, political, economic, and security experts on Monday urged the incoming Pakistani government to adopt a reconciliatory approach to restore its “credibility” after a controversial vote last month and to overcome political, economic and security challenges facing the country.
Sharif was voted in as prime minister on Sunday, three weeks after the Feb. 8 national election that was marred by a mobile Internet shutdown, arrests and violence in its build-up, and unusually delayed results that sparked accusations that the vote was rigged.
Candidates backed by Khan gained the most seats, but Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) agreed with former foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari-led Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and other smaller groups to form a coalition government. 
However, the shaky coalition led by Sharif is likely to face fierce opposition from Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) parties, along with a myriad of issues facing the South Asian country of more than 241 million.
Analysts have said the biggest challenge for the new government will be restoration of its credibility after the Feb. 8 controversial vote, which would require a “healing touch of reconciliation.”
“The biggest crisis for the new government would be [lack of] credibility following the flawed election of February 8, wherein defying all odds, the PTI emerged as the most popular party,” Mushahid Hussain Syed, a Pakistani politician and political commentator, told Arab News.
“Restoration of credibility requires a healing touch of reconciliation starting with the release of all political prisoners, including Imran Khan.” 
He said Sharif’s six-party rickety coalition was the first “minority government” in the history of Pakistan whose numbers were augmented by the PPP, which supported Sharif but decided not to join the government.
The PPP, which helped Sharif secure majority in Sunday’s election for prime minister, joined the coalition in return for the post of president and few other constitutional positions, but declined to take any posts in Sharif’s cabinet.
Syed said the two other challenges of militancy and the revival of economy required concerted efforts from all political parties. “No person, party, government or institution alone can tackle these challenges, which should be done collectively by all political forces,” he said.
Nasim Zehra, a senior journalist and anchorperson, said national reconciliation was a “critical prerequisite” for the new government to deal with the crises.
“There is unanimity in the country over the issue of economic crisis and we are now seeing that there seems to be a unanimity on the need for a national reconciliation,” she told Arab News.
“The encouraging fact is that the PTI is part of the system, now sitting in the National Assembly and hence, despite its vehement complaints, is part of Pakistan’s current parliament.” 
Zehra said Pakistan could be entering a phase of “genuine political reconciliation,” if the government and its allies wisely handled the matters. 
Ali Salman, executive director of the Islamabad-based economic think tank Policy Research Institute of Market Economy (PRIME), said the new federal government faced three urgent economic challenges: Pakistan remains solvent, tames inflation and spurs economic growth. 
“It needs to secure a long-term IMF program, for managing external accounts is a necessary condition to restore the confidence of international investors,” he told Arab News.
To tame inflation, he said, Pakistan needed to deploy a combination of monetary, fiscal and trade policies. “It should follow a tight monetary policy, cut down wasteful spending, and open up trade with India and Iran,” he said.
To spur economic growth, Salman said, the new government would have to deregulate and lower tax rates to encourage entrepreneurs and investors to expand their businesses.
Another political commentator Benazir Shah said the new government had a “real fight” ahead as there were clear sources of discontent in the country.
“This discontent is stemming from inflation, accusations of election fraud, and the establishment’s continuous meddling in politics, and at a time of increased discontent and anger, a minority — not a majority — government will be taking up office,” she told Arab News.
Shah said the PML-N had been left to face the challenges largely on its own this time, unlike Sharif’s previous tenure when all coalition parties were part of cabinet.
“PML-N is up against two strong opposition parties, PTI and JUI-F, both of whom have considerable street power and then there are its own allies, who could at any given time switch into opposition mode, such as when the budget is tabled,” she said. 
Shah said the second biggest challenge for the new government would be to operate in a system, where the military establishment’s footprint in governance had increased after the formation of the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) last year. 
“It seems, as of now, that the SIFC, which is led by the military, will be calling the shots and making all the major decisions in the country that could mean a reduced role for the incoming prime minister and his cabinet,” she added.
Abdul Basit Khan, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, believed stemming the tide of rising militancy in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces would be a major challenge for the new government. 
“Terrorism has risen by more than 73 percent in Pakistan since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, the Baloch insurgents have sanctuaries in Iran, while TTP [Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan] has hideouts in Afghanistan, so Pakistan not only requires a major counterterrorism offensive, but a new counterterrorism policy as well,” he told Arab News.
Abdul Basit said ties between the center and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, ruled by Khan’s PTI, were going to be “conflict-prone.” 
“How the center will navigate its dealings with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to de-conflict counterterrorism from political infighting will be another challenge for the federal government,” he added.
The government would find itself in an “unenviable position” wherein it would lose popularity the moment it embarked on painful economic reforms that were a necessity at this time, according to Uzair Younus, ex-director of the Pakistan Initiative at the Washington-based Atlantic Council think tank.
“While opposition pressure and protests may create noise, the survival of this government will ultimately depend on maintaining the confidence of Pakistan’s most powerful institution and the man running it,” he told Arab News.
As a result, Younus believed, staying in sync with the army, which has directly ruled the country on several occasions and continues to hold sway in politics, and not the public at large, would be top priority for the prime minister.
Zoya Tariq, a Lahore-based political analyst, said the new government was undoubtedly facing challenging times due to a “formidable” opposition and severe economic constraints.
She said Sharif had to take all the provinces along with him to deal with economic and security challenges. 
“Only the actions of the new government will determine if they can reduce its alienation from the public, improve credibility, and address the serious issues faced by the country,” Tariq added.
Naveed Aman Khan, a political analyst and columnist, said it would be the prime responsibility of the government and the opposition to steer the nation from marshes of poverty, lawlessness and inflation. 
“Electricity, gas tariffs and petroleum product prices have become unbearable for a poor Pakistani,” he added.


Pakistan’s finance minister briefs PM Sharif ahead of key US talks for new IMF loan deal

Pakistan’s finance minister briefs PM Sharif ahead of key US talks for new IMF loan deal
Updated 9 sec ago
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Pakistan’s finance minister briefs PM Sharif ahead of key US talks for new IMF loan deal

Pakistan’s finance minister briefs PM Sharif ahead of key US talks for new IMF loan deal
  • Muhammad Aurangzeb is scheduled to reach Washington tomorrow to attend the IMF, World Bank spring meetings
  • IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva has confirmed Pakistan has approached her organization for yet another loan program

KARACHI: Pakistan’s finance minister Muhammad Aurangzeb met Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday to discuss Pakistan’s economic strategy ahead of his meetings with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials in the United States with an aim to get a fresh loan for the country.
IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva confirmed this week Pakistan was in discussions with her organization on a potential follow-up loan program to its nine-month, $3 billion stand-by arrangement (SBA). The country reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF following the second and final review carried out under the SBA and is expected to receive a tranche of $1.1 billion toward the end of this month.
The finance minister is scheduled to arrive in Washington on Sunday where he will attend the IMF and World Bank spring meetings and discuss the possibility of securing another $6-8 billion deal.
According to a statement released by the finance ministry, Aurangzeb briefed the prime minister about the performance of his ministry during the meeting.
“The finance minister informed the prime minister about his upcoming visit to the United States,” it said. “He discussed with the prime minister his scheduled meetings with the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other organizations during the visit.”
“The overall economic situation of the country was also discussed in the meeting,” the statement added.
The IMF chief recognized Pakistan’s commitment to the structural economic reforms during an event at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington.
However, she also noted that some important issues, including the tax base and overall economic transparency, were yet to be addressed by the Pakistani authorities.
Earlier this week, the Asian Development Bank forecast a 1.9 percent growth in Pakistan during the current fiscal year, though it also warned of 25 percent inflation during the same period.
 


Unidentified gunmen kill nine passengers in Pakistan’s restive southwest

Unidentified gunmen kill nine passengers in Pakistan’s restive southwest
Updated 41 min 8 sec ago
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Unidentified gunmen kill nine passengers in Pakistan’s restive southwest

Unidentified gunmen kill nine passengers in Pakistan’s restive southwest
  • The gunmen stopped a bus in Balochistan and separated passengers belonging to Punjab after checking ID cards
  • Police in Nushki district say they pursued the armed men but they fired rocket-propelled grenades and escaped

QUETTA: A group of unidentified gunmen stopped a passenger bus traveling from Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, to Taftan, a town bordering Iran, and killed nine passengers from Punjab province after checking the ID cards of people onboard in southwestern Pakistan, confirmed a senior police official on Saturday.
The incident happened on Friday night near the mountainous Nushki district of Balochistan province which has long been the scene of an insurgency by separatists fighting for independence.
While no group has claimed responsibility of the attack, Baloch nationalists have long complained of political marginalization and economic exploitation, accusing the Pakistani government and Punjab province of monopolizing profits from Balochistan’s rich natural resources.
Pakistani administrations have denied such allegations in the past, pointing out they have launched several development initiatives in the province to improve the lives of the residents of Balochistan.
Speaking to Arab News, a senior police official in Nushki said the armed men intercepted a passenger bus at the Quetta-Taftan Highway.
“They off-boarded nine passengers after checking their ID card near Sultan Charahi, and took them away to the nearby mountains before shooting them from point-blank range,” Senior Superintendent Police (SSP) Allah Bukhsh said. “Police and law enforcement agencies pursued the terrorists who fired RPG [rocket-propelled grenades] on security forces and escaped. But hunt for these terrorists is underway.”
Baloch separatists have also targeted Punjabi laborers working in the province in the past. At least 10 of them had been killed in Balochistan’s Turbat district during two separate attacks last year in October.
A key armed separatist faction, Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) has intensified attacks in the region over the past two months following the February 8 general elections in Pakistan. The group launched coordinated attacks on the country’s key strategic installations in Gwadar and Kech districts during this period.
“Earlier on Friday, the terrorists also attacked a vehicle driven by the brother of an elected member of the provincial assembly from Nushki, Ghulam Dastagir Badini, and busted his vehicle’s tire,” the police officer added. “The vehicle fell down into a ditch killing one man and injuring four others.”
Chief Minister Balochistan Sarfaraz Bugti condemned the killings of passengers and asked law enforcement agencies to pursue people involved in the incident.
“We will not forgive these terrorists who are enemies of Pakistan and seek to sabotage peace in Balochistan,” he said in an official statement released by his office.
 


Meet Saad Haroon, comedian who took a chance on laughter being the best medicine for Pakistan 

Meet Saad Haroon, comedian who took a chance on laughter being the best medicine for Pakistan 
Updated 23 min 20 sec ago
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Meet Saad Haroon, comedian who took a chance on laughter being the best medicine for Pakistan 

Meet Saad Haroon, comedian who took a chance on laughter being the best medicine for Pakistan 
  • Haroon created Pakistan’s first English-language comedy TV show and improv comedy troupe BlackFish
  • Haroon says laughter is “cathartic” in Pakistan, a country steeped in pressing issues like militancy and poverty 

ISLAMABAD: It was a dark time in Pakistan when stand-up comedian Saad Haroon returned home after completing his education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2001. 

In a post-September 11 world, it was a nation divided over whether Pakistan should be involved in the United States’ war on terror or not. The war in neighboring Afghanistan led to a sudden rise in the number and scale of terror attacks in the country. The conflict in the region also hit major sectors of the economy, and trading activities were widely disrupted. And as Haroon would find out in the years to come, things would only get worse and laughter would turn out to be the best medicine.

“Little did I know that I would need a lot of comedy over the years because we’ve been dealing with kind of a situation after situation,” Haroon, now one of Pakistan’s best-known English language comedians, told Arab News in an interview in Karachi. “And I was like, ‘Okay, I can use comedy to really make people feel better’.”

The undated file photo shows Pakistani comedian Saad Haroon. (Photo courtesy: Saad Haroon)

Haroon is the creator of the first ever Pakistani improvizational comedy troupe “BlackFish” and was the first Pakistani stand-up comedian to perform in English in cities across Pakistan in his tour, “Saad Haroon: Very Live.” He has many other accolades to his name, including being voted the “Second Funniest Person in the World” during the first Laugh Factory worldwide competition held in 2014. 

But carving a niche as a comedian in Pakistan — and that too in the English language which is spoken by less than five million people in a country of 241 million — was no easy task. The learning curve was improvizational, with Haroon and his peers trading cassette tapes of international comedians to learn the tricks of the trade. And given the political chaos around him, it was no surprise that Haroon quickly turned to political satire, using comedy to make people laugh but also to make them understand the complexities of life.

“I could wax eloquent about these very difficult things that have been happening and it was fun and it was good,” he said, adding that political satire was “cathartic” and a “coping mechanism.”

“And sometimes the audience finds it fun. Sometimes they find it incredibly dark and it’s still rewarding.”

But does he ever get into trouble with his jokes?

“Well, my job is to push those boundaries and sometimes I don’t censor myself and I get in trouble,” Haroon said, recalling the backlash he received for writing a song named “Burqa Woman.”

“BLASKFISH”

Venturing into a full-time career as a comedian as far back as 2002, Haroon became aware of many sad realities about Pakistan’s creative industry, including that there were no quality writers. 

“Because there’s not much art, it means that we don’t actually have a system to create that art, which means we don’t have writers,” the comedian said. 

That’s why improvizational comedy became the answer.

“I was like, ‘Okay, if you don’t have writers, how do we do comedy without writers? Let’s do improv’.”

Thus was born BlackFish in 2002, but that was not without its challenges, not least of them the language barrier and the inability to generate money. 

“I think we charged a whopping Rs100 [36 cents] per ticket,” Haroon joked. “So, I couldn’t pay anyone in the troupe. I would collect the money in the kitty and then we’d go for dinner sometimes.”

Blaskfish continued for a few years before Haroon quit and started doing solo stand-up comedy shows.

Next Haroon created and hosted the first ever English language comedy television show in Pakistan called The Real News in 2007.

“That was political satire and people in Pakistan, we love making fun of politicians because you know, there’s no saving grace about it,” Haroon explained. 

Another major achievement was when in October 2014, he was voted the second funniest person in the world, securing 59,213 votes in the Laugh Factory competition.

“I think winning that second funniest person in the world award was amazing,” Haroon recalled. “And it was kind of amazing what it made other people in Pakistan feel like because they had something.”

For Haroon, art is important in Pakistan because conventional careers like becoming a doctor, engineer or lawyer are not for everyone.

“We all really need money, but we all really need to laugh a little bit as well,” he said. “And so, I’ll go down with this ship laughing even if you don’t.”


Search on in northwest Pakistan for four who went missing while bathing in canal, boating

Search on in northwest Pakistan for four who went missing while bathing in canal, boating
Updated 12 April 2024
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Search on in northwest Pakistan for four who went missing while bathing in canal, boating

Search on in northwest Pakistan for four who went missing while bathing in canal, boating
  • A boat capsized in Kund Park in the Nowshera district on Thursday and seven people submerged as a result of it
  • In another incident in Charsadda, six people went under water while bathing in Khayali canal, three were rescued

ISLAMABAD: A search operation was underway for four people who went missing while boating and bathing at recreational spots in different districts of Pakistan ‘s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, the Rescue 1122 service said on Friday.

A boat capsized in Kund Park in the Nowshera district on Thursday and seven people submerged as a result of it. Of them, six were rescued, according to Rescue 1122.

In another incident in Charsadda, six people went under water while bathing in Khayali canal and the rescuers three of them. Three were still missing.

“An operation by Rescue 1122 is ongoing in search of the four missing persons,” a Rescue 1122 spokesperson said in a statement on Friday. “One person in Kund and three in Charsadda are missing.”

The incidents occurred as a large number of people visited recreational spots on the second day of Eid Al-Fitr festival, which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Muslims around the world offer special prayers on Eid morning, spend time with loved ones, organize lavish meals and go for recreational activities during the three-day religious festival.

The Rescue 1122 spokesperson said teams of divers had already been deployed at picnic and recreational spots on account of Eid.

“Rescue 1122 diving teams have rubber boats and all other equipment,” the spokesperson added.


In Pakistan’s Hyderabad, storehouse hydroponic farm beats drought, land degradation

In Pakistan’s Hyderabad, storehouse hydroponic farm beats drought, land degradation
Updated 12 April 2024
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In Pakistan’s Hyderabad, storehouse hydroponic farm beats drought, land degradation

In Pakistan’s Hyderabad, storehouse hydroponic farm beats drought, land degradation
  • Attiq-ur-Rehman Bhayo is using water-based nutrient solution instead of soil to grow tomatoes
  • Shift to urbanization combined with climate change is reducing farmlands in Pakistan, UN official says

HYDERABAD, PAKISTAN: In a large storehouse in the southern Pakistani city of Hyderabad, a 29-year-old entrepreneur is growing tomatoes on a hydroponic farm, defying land degradation, water shortage and power cuts in a country that ranks among the top 10 nations worldwide most affected by climate change.

Attiq-ur-Rehman Bhayo says his solar-powered set-up, in which farming is done in water instead of soil, will provide an urban solution to Pakistan’s agriculture needs as it faces more extreme rainfall, drought and heat waves, crop losses and other worsening threats from climate change.

Instead of soil to grow the tomatoes, Bhayo uses a water-based nutrient solution, coco peat, which is crushed from coconut husks, comes in the form of fine dust or powder and is popular due to its environmental friendliness and sustainability. In hydroponic farming, water is conserved because it is reused multiple times. Hydroponically grown plants also require no pesticides because there are no soil-borne diseases.

Spread over a large 4,000 square feet storehouse, Bhayo’s farm has been registered with the Securities & Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) since April 2022 and yielded its first produce in January this year. Since its inception, the farm has produced around 100 kilograms of tomatoes and exotic cherry tomato varieties.

Bhayo said his farm is the first solar-powered vertical farm in Pakistan, though there is no official confirmation of this.

“This is controlled environment agriculture based on hydroponic technology. In this system plant roots are submerged in a nutrient-drenched water solution,” Bhayo, the chief executive officer (CEO) and owner of Sulit Agro (Pvt) Ltd, told Arab News.

“Basically, the main difference between this system and the traditional system is yield and the quality of the fruit. As you can see this is a controlled environment so we don’t use any pesticides or fungicides which give us organic produce.”

Bhayo, who comes from a traditional family of farmers in Pakistan’s Sindh province, decided to pursue hydroponic farming while pursuing a Masters of Science degree in Engineering Business Management in the United Kingdom.

On returning to Pakistan in 2018, he set up his farm under the Prime Minister’s Kamyab Jawan Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme at a cost of Rs20 million.

“URBAN FARMING”

Hydroponic farming offers many benefits, including minimal food wastage as compared to open field cultivation, the prevention of nutrient runoff pollution that endangers livestock, fertilizer conservation, savings in pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, water conservation through closed-loop systems to avoid aquifer depletion, elimination of tilling to save Co2 emissions and protect soil microbes, and high yield in small spaces, Bhayo explained. 

But the primary distinction between hydroponics and traditional farming was yield and fruit quality, the grower said. 

Under the controlled environment of a hydroponic farm, pesticides and fungicides were unnecessary, resulting in organic produce. Additionally, produce could be available year-round compared with soil-based farming, which typically yields tomatoes for only three or four months annually.

Also, with traditional farming, the average yield per plant is 5 to 8 kilograms per season each year, whereas with hydroponics, the yield is year-round with an average of 36 kilograms per plant. If more advanced hydroponic systems are used in a high-tech temperature-controlled environment with special lights, the yield can go up to to 60 kilograms per plant yearly. 

It is for these reasons that vertical farming is gaining momentum in Pakistan, primarily driven by the private sector, with public sector organizations also embracing the modern agricultural approach.

The Soil Salinity and Reclamation Research Institute (SS&RRI), a provincial body established in Sindh’s Tando Jam town, recently carried out experiments using hydroponics. 

“Under the hydroponic system, we experimented with five vegetables, brinjal, chilies, tomatoes and others,” an official at the institute, Jamila Jamro, told Arab News.

In soil-less farming, she said, plants received essential elements without toxic additions like arsenic and cadmium, making the fruits healthier than those that came from field crops.

“We recommend indoor farming over traditional field farming,” Jamro said.

She said the institute’s future plan was to expand its research to major crops such as rice and wheat, for which it would identify salt-tolerant varieties.

“FUTURE SOLUTION”

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the world’s population is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, 70 percent of which will be living in urban areas mainly in low- and middle-income countries in Africa and Asia.

Against this background, the FAO has been supporting the transformation of urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA) into a recognized urban land use and economic activity, integrated into national and local agricultural development strategies as well as food and nutrition programs and urban planning, a Sindh-based FOA official, James Robert Okoth, explained.

He told Arab News the social shift toward urbanization in Pakistan, combined with climate change which was reducing available farmland, had spotlighted the importance of urban farming to enhance food security and availability in communities.

“Urban farming is important for Pakistan, especially in Sindh province, as the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly evident,” Okoth said. “There is considerable land degradation, and much of the groundwater is becoming brackish, limiting crop options in these areas.”

Urban farming allows for intensification within a small area, enabling the cultivation of diverse, nutritious vegetables, as well as creating employment opportunities, the FOA official added.

Bhayo agrees and hopes the idea will catch on.

After having successfully established his farm, the entrepreneur now offers consultancy on greenhouse technology to others intending to set up similar farms.

“The response is that people are most likely scared whether they will get a return from this huge investment or not,” he said, adding that government support to scale hydroponic farms, through loans and knowledge transfer, was the way forward. 

“This will provide them [farmers] a good opportunity to invest in this system,” Bhayo said. “Once you stabilize the system, there are minimum requirements to maintain the system.”