Pakistan’s key stock index, spurred by hopes of Saudi investment, breaches 71,000 barrier

Pakistan’s key stock index, spurred by hopes of Saudi investment, breaches 71,000 barrier
This photo, taken on February 23, 2024, shows Pakistan Stock Exchange building in Karachi. (AN Photo/File)
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Updated 16 April 2024
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Pakistan’s key stock index, spurred by hopes of Saudi investment, breaches 71,000 barrier

Pakistan’s key stock index, spurred by hopes of Saudi investment, breaches 71,000 barrier
  • The benchmark KSE 100 index reached a record high of 71,092 points during intra-day trading on Tuesday
  • Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister arrived in Pakistan on Monday with his visit aimed at enhancing economic cooperation

KARACHI: Bulls at the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) welcomed a high-profile Saudi delegation’s visit to Pakistan on Tuesday, as the key stock index registered an all-time high of over 71,000 points during intraday trading as investors hoped Islamabad would attract investment from the Kingdom, analysts said.
The benchmark KSE 100 index reached a record high of 71,092 points during the day on Tuesday before closing 60.9 points down at 70,483.6 level, the stock market’s website showed. The bullish trend followed a day after Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan arrived in Pakistan on a two-day visit to the country.
The Saudi minister’s visit is aimed at enhancing bilateral economic cooperation and pushing forward previously agreed investment deals with Pakistan. His trip comes a little over a week after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Makkah and reaffirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to expedite investments worth $5 billion.
“The current bullish trend in the stock market is fueled by hopes of realizing Saudi investments and deposits following the visit of a high-profile delegation [to Pakistan],” Muhammad Sohail, CEO of Topline Securities, told Arab News.
Pakistan’s prime minister, president and foreign minister on Tuesday said the Saudi foreign minister’s ongoing visit would help transform a longstanding friendship between the two nations into a strategic and commercial partnership.
Pakistan has identified agriculture, mining, energy and IT sectors for foreign investment through the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), a hybrid civil-military body that was formed in June last year to attract investments from mainly Gulf countries.
Ali Nawaz, CEO of Chase Securities, said other than the Saudi delegation’s arrival, other reasons had also influenced Pakistani stocks to perform well.
“Firstly, positive corporate performance by listed companies, characterized by revenue growth and profitability, has bolstered investor confidence in the market,” Nawaz told Arab News.
He said Pakistan’s stable political conditions have contributed to a positive sentiment among investors and encouraged them to invest in equities.
“Foreign investors continue to accumulate position in equity markets bringing in much-needed liquidity into capital markets,” Nawaz said.
Ahsan Mehanti, CEO of Arif Habib Corporation, said the stock market had gained impressively during the day but closed at a lower level due to institutional profit taking. Profit taking refers to the act of selling a security to lock in gains after it has risen appreciably.
Mehanti said the development had taken place amid “uncertainty over the outcome of Pakistan-IMF talks for new bailout program and geo-political tensions.”
Pakistan’s finance minister Muhammad Aurangzeb, who is in Washington, has initiated talks with IMF officials to secure a new loan program after the South Asian country’s $3 billion loan program draws to a close this month.
Speaking at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council, a think tank, the finance minister said Pakistan is looking for a larger loan program that would span two to three years in duration.
“We will need a two-to-three period year time period so that we can actually go through the structural reforms,” the finance minister said.


Bangladesh cyclone toll rises to 10, around 30,000 homes destroyed

Bangladesh cyclone toll rises to 10, around 30,000 homes destroyed
Updated 6 sec ago
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Bangladesh cyclone toll rises to 10, around 30,000 homes destroyed

Bangladesh cyclone toll rises to 10, around 30,000 homes destroyed
  • Around a million people in Bangladesh and India took shelter from cyclone, fleeing inland for concrete shelters
  • Cyclones, who are occurring more frequently, have killed hundreds of thousands in Bangladesh in recent decades

PATUAKHALI: Residents of low-lying areas of Bangladesh and India surveyed the damage Monday as a cyclone that lashed the coast weakened into a heavy storm after killing at least 10 people and destroying thousands of homes.

Fierce gales and crashing waves battered the coast as Cyclone Remal made landfall on Sunday night.

By Monday afternoon it had eased, but winds and rain still hammered residents as they picked through the wreckage of their houses.

Villages had been swamped by storm surges, tin roofs had been ripped off, trees uprooted and powerlines cut, an AFP reporter in the affected area said.

“Heavy rains unleashed by the cyclone are going on, and the wind speed is also high,” said Showkat Ali, government administrator of Barisal district, where seven people died.

“They mostly died after they were crushed under fallen houses or collapsed walls,” he told AFP.

Three others died in neighboring districts, including by drowning.

Cyclones have killed hundreds of thousands of people in Bangladesh in recent decades, but the number of superstorms hitting its densely populated coast has increased sharply, from one a year to as many as three, due to the impact of climate change.

In Khulan district, two people died, government administrator Helal Mahmud told AFP.

“The cyclone has damaged more than 123,000 homes in the division, and among them some 31,000 homes were completely damaged,” he said.

At its peak, Remal’s wind speeds hit 111 kilometers (69 miles) per hour, said Muhammad Abul Kalam Mallik, senior weather forecaster at the state-run Bangladesh Meteorological Department.

While scientists say climate change is fueling more storms, better forecasting and more effective evacuation planning have dramatically reduced the death toll.

Around a million people in Bangladesh and neighboring India took shelter, fleeing inland for concrete storm shelters away from the dangerous waves.

Most of Bangladesh’s coastal areas are just a meter or two (three to six feet) above sea level, making them vulnerable to high storm surges.

Sumita Mondal, 36, who hunkered down overnight away from India’s coast, said she had fled with only what she could carry.

“My three-year-old son is crying for food,” she told AFP by telephone.

Kamrul Hasan, secretary of Bangladesh’s disaster management ministry, said “embankments in several places have been breached or submerged, inundating some coastal areas.”

In India’s West Bengal, the “cyclone has blown off the roofs of hundreds of houses” and “uprooted thousands of mangrove trees and electricity poles,” senior state government minister Bankim Chandra Hazra told AFP.

“Storm surges and rising sea levels have breached a number of embankments,” Hazra added. “Some island villages are flooded.”

At least 800,000 Bangladeshis fled and more than 150,000 people in India moved inland from the vast Sundarbans mangrove forest, where the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers meet the sea.

Mallik, the Bangladeshi weather expert, said the expansive mangrove forests helped dissipate the worst of the storm.

“Like in the past, the Sundarbans acted as a natural shield to the cyclone,” he said.

But Abu Naser Mohsin Hossain, Bangladesh’s senior forest official for the Sundarbans, said the storm surge had swamped crucial freshwater areas with salt water.

“We are worried,” said Hossain. “These ponds were the source of fresh water for the entire wildlife in the mangroves — including the endangered Bengal tigers.”


US envoy highlights support for Pakistan’s economic reforms agenda in meeting with finmin 

US envoy highlights support for Pakistan’s economic reforms agenda in meeting with finmin 
Updated 9 min 48 sec ago
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US envoy highlights support for Pakistan’s economic reforms agenda in meeting with finmin 

US envoy highlights support for Pakistan’s economic reforms agenda in meeting with finmin 
  • Washington committed to working with Pakistan in technical, development-related initiatives, says US embassy 
  • Pakistan has vowed to undertake vital economic reforms recommended by IMF in exchange for a larger loan program 

ISLAMABAD: United States Ambassador Donald Blome on Monday highlighted Washington’s ongoing support for Pakistan’s economic reforms agenda in a meeting with Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb, the US embassy said in a statement, as Islamabad seeks a larger loan program from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to stabilize its fragile economy. 

Reeling from low foreign exchange reserves, massive currency devaluation and high inflation since the past two years, Pakistan faces a chronic balance of payment crisis. The South Asian country last month completed a short-term $3 billion IMF loan program that helped it avert a sovereign default. However, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif continues to stress the need for longer-term program from the international lender to stabilize Pakistan. 

The IMF has pressed upon Islamabad to undertake vital economic reforms which include overhauling loss-making state-owned enterprises, introducing tax, energy and power reforms in exchange for a fresh loan program. 

Pakistan views the US as a key ally that can help alleviate its economic crisis, considering its huge influence within the IMF. 

“US Ambassador Donald Blome met today with Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb to discuss key aspects of the US-Pakistan trade, investment, and economic relationship,” US Mission Spokesperson Thomas Montgomery said on Monday. 

“The Ambassador highlighted ongoing US support for Pakistan’s economic reform agenda.”

The US embassy said Washington was committed to working with Pakistan in technical and development-related initiatives. It added that Blome emphasized in the meeting how the US remained Pakistan’s largest export market, making it a major source of high-quality investment and a “strong partner” for Pakistan’s economic future.

Pakistan’s economy has recorded some gains since last year when it narrowly avoided a sovereign default, with inflation coming down to around 17 percent in April 2024 from a record high of 38 percent in May 2023.

However, the South Asian country is still dealing with a high fiscal shortfall and while it has controlled its external account deficit through import control mechanisms, it has come at the expense of stagnating growth, which is expected to be around 2 percent this year, compared to negative growth last year.

Ties between Islamabad and Washington, once close allies, have recently started to improve after years of frosty relations, mostly due to America’s concerns about Pakistan’s alleged support of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan denies it supported the armed group in taking over the country.

Relations strained further under the government of former prime minister Imran Khan, who ruled from 2018-22 and antagonized Washington throughout his tenure, welcoming the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021. Khan later accused Washington of being behind attempts to oust him, allegations which Washington has repeatedly denied. 

The previous government of PM Sharif that took over after Khan in 2022 and whose term ended last year, had tried to mend ties but analysts widely believe the United States will not seek a significant broadening of ties with Islamabad in the near future but remain mostly focused on security cooperation, especially on counterterrorism and Afghanistan.


Pakistan arrests 33 for attacking Christians over alleged desecration of Qur’an 

Pakistan arrests 33 for attacking Christians over alleged desecration of Qur’an 
Updated 27 May 2024
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Pakistan arrests 33 for attacking Christians over alleged desecration of Qur’an 

Pakistan arrests 33 for attacking Christians over alleged desecration of Qur’an 
  • Mob went on rampage Saturday after locals saw burnt pages of holy Qur’an outside Christian men’s house
  • Enraged mob set fire to Christian father and son’s house and shoemaking factory in Sargodha district 

LAHORE: Police in eastern Pakistan arrested dozens of Muslim men and charged them with attacking a Christian father and son on allegations of desecrating pages of Islam’s holy book, officials said Monday.

The mob went on a rampage Saturday after locals saw burnt pages of the Qur’an outside the two Christian men’s house and accused the son of being behind it, setting their house and shoemaking factory on fire in the city of Sargodha in Punjab province, said senior police officer Asad Ijaz Malhi. They also beat up the son.

Malhi said police forces rescued the two wounded men and transported them to a hospital where they were in stable condition, and that at least 33 men were arrested following multiple police raids. Authorities were chasing others who may be involved in the attack, he said.

The blaze fully incinerated the factory and parts of the house, residents and the police said.

Punjab police said in a statement it beefed up security at churches.

Blasphemy accusations are common in Pakistan and under the country’s blasphemy laws, anyone found guilty of insulting Islam or Islamic religious figures can be sentenced to death. While no one has been executed on such charges, often just an accusation can cause riots and incite mobs to violence, lynching and killings.

The latest violence, however, brought back memories of one of the worst attacks on Christians in Pakistan in August 2023, when thousands of people set churches and homes of Christians on fire in Jaranwala, a district in Punjab province.

Muslim residents at the time also claimed they saw two men desecrating the Qur’an.


Pakistani artist develops unique Urdu script to tell stories of the marginalized

Pakistani artist develops unique Urdu script to tell stories of the marginalized
Updated 27 May 2024
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Pakistani artist develops unique Urdu script to tell stories of the marginalized

Pakistani artist develops unique Urdu script to tell stories of the marginalized
  • Self-taught maestro Ahmer Farooq’s work has been displayed at shows across the UAE, US, UK and Germany
  • On a global scale, contemporary Pakistani art has largely been recognized for truck art and neo-miniature paintings

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani artist Ahmer Farooq, a self-taught maestro whose work has been displayed at shows across the UAE, US, UK and Europe, has developed a unique Urdu script in his latest collection to tell the stories of Pakistan’s diverse socio-cultural landscape and put a spotlight on its many marginalized communities. 

On a global scale, contemporary Pakistani art has largely been recognized for two movements: truck art and neo-miniature art. Kaleidoscopic murals of flowers, Islamic motifs, calligraphy, snow-capped Himalayan peaks, local mosques and popular figures are renowned examples of Pakistani truck art. Over time, the art form has extended beyond trucks and streets, and can now be seen on everything from shoes to teapots, with contemporary artists like Karachi-born and bred Haider Ali exhibiting their distinctive truck art style to museums and exhibitions across the world.

Similarly, neo-miniature art has been championed by the likes of Shahzia Sikander and Imran Qureshi, a new generation of Pakistani artists who have transformed the historical miniature painting from the Mughal courts into a contemporary art form. Recently, a painting by Pakistani figurative artist Salman Toor sold for a record $1.2 million and his work is now included in the permanent collection of Tate Modern, one of the largest museums of modern and contemporary art in the world.

Pakistani artist Ahmer Farooq photographed next to his work during an exhibition on May 24, 2024, at Tanzara Gallery in Islamabad, Pakistan. (AN Photo)

In the past two decades, the Pakistani artistic community has also encouraged a vital culture of public art through the advent of local biennials, most notably the Lahore Biennial, established in 2018, and the Karachi Biennial, which held its first edition in 2017.

Against this background, Farooq, a Lahore-based former business graduate, has taken it upon himself to share the narratives he believes are often silenced by conservative Pakistani society. From the voices of religious minorities to the transgender community and large swathes of the population facing poverty, Farooq’s brush strokes capture the “essence of resilience and defiance against the odds.”

“Ahmer’s work has a very, when you see it, these bold vibrant paintings, but they’re very, very deep,” said Noshi Qadir, the curator of the artist’s latest show at Islamabad’s Tanzara Gallery, held in collaboration with the Norwegian Embassy. 

“The way he navigates the topography of the canvas, portraying the sufferings, the triumphs and the emotions of humans and their identity. So it’s very deep, it’s very thought provoking.”

This time, Farooq’s work has a twist: as a secret keeper of Pakistan’s marginalized, as he likes to describe himself, and to exercise discretion about their very private triumphs and tribulations, he has developed a unique script in Urdu, Pakistan’s national language.

“When you would look at the canvas, you would see that the information or the text is not really readable,” Farooq said as he pointed to large stylized calligraphic alphabets on his colorful canvases. 

“And that’s done deliberately because for example, when you’re looking at an individual like a person here, standing here, you would only see a person, but you would not really know their story or what all they’re going through. This information is private information.”

A painting by Pakistani artist Ahmer Farooq displayed at an exhibition on May 24, 2024, at Tanzara Gallery in Islamabad, Pakistan. (AN Photo)

The use of a secret new language was because his latest collection was all about “the stories of marginalized communities” of Pakistan, the artist said:

“And the marginalized communities can be anyone, it can be religious marginalized communities, it could be people from the transgender community. It could be people like you and I, like who don’t fit into a certain norm which the society tells us to follow.”

“ARCHIPELAGO OF THE SELF”

Per Albert Ilsas, the Norwegian ambassador to Pakistan who inaugurated the collection entitled Archipelago of the Self, said Farooq’s “captivating” work explored the “complex interplay between personal and societal forces, expertly navigating the multifaceted nature of the Self.”

An archipelago, sometimes called an island group or island chain, is a chain, cluster, or collection of islands, or sometimes a sea containing a small number of scattered islands.

“Farooq’s art sheds light on the fragmented realities of marginalized individuals, illustrating the negotiating of public, private and secret selves. Farooq’s work, the emotional burden caried by those living on the margins — women, religious minorities, ethnic and other minorities — is palpable.”

The ambassador said each brush stroke spoke of the “anxiety and emotional turmoil inherent in navigating a world where one’s identity is constantly scrutinized and judged.”

Ahmer described the Self as a collection of archipelagos, or a “scattering of isolated islands amidst the relentless ties of societal currents” and said his latest collection was an invitation to enable the “courage, resilience and hope of building bridges that reconnect all our islands.”

Zainab Shuja, an art student from Rawalpindi visiting Farooq’s exhibition, reflected on the significance of experiencing Pakistani contemporary art firsthand:

“We don’t see much contemporary art because we’re being trained [in the classical tradition] right now, and it’s always good to go out and experience what Pakistani contemporary art looks like. And we see all those influences here, and it’s really refreshing to see.”

Jonathan Andre from the Swiss Embassy in Islamabad praised Farooq’s art for its authenticity, highlighting the power of art to transcend boundaries and foster understanding. 

“I think his art is very particular, very special, very authentic, very original,” he said. “And it’s great to see such an art scene in Pakistan to see a mix of culture with art and it translates very well in artworks.”


As Pakistan’s Jacobabad sizzles at 49°C, residents brace for ‘unbearable’ heat in coming months

As Pakistan’s Jacobabad sizzles at 49°C, residents brace for ‘unbearable’ heat in coming months
Updated 27 May 2024
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As Pakistan’s Jacobabad sizzles at 49°C, residents brace for ‘unbearable’ heat in coming months

As Pakistan’s Jacobabad sizzles at 49°C, residents brace for ‘unbearable’ heat in coming months
  • Jacobabad in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province is counted among world’s hottest cities 
  • Residents say prolonged power crisis makes heat unbearable during summer months 

ISLAMABAD: The temperature in southern Pakistan’s Jacobabad city skyrocketed to 49° C on Sunday but residents said they feared the coming months would cause “unbearable heat” in the city, as many parts of the country remain in the grip of a heat wave. 

Jacobabad in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province is considered one of the hottest places on earth, where temperatures during the summer frequently cross 50° C. Prolonged power outages and water crisis mean the summer months are particularly harsh for the city’s roughly 300,000 residents. 

Pakistan’s disaster management authority warned earlier this month temperatures in certain areas of Pakistan’s Sindh and eastern Punjab provinces could surge to 40 degrees Celsius between May 15-30. 

But residents, however, are more concerned with what the coming months of June, July and August would bring. Zulfiqar Ali, the owner of a herbal medical shop in the city, said the breeze makes the current heat wave bearable. 

“The actual heat starts in June, July and August,” Ali told Reuters. “The winds stop totally at that time, so it becomes very humid. That heat is unbearable. We sweat so much that we cannot even work.”

Sharjil Ahmed, a school teacher, said residents consume cold drinks to beat the heat when the temperature crosses 50° C. However, power breakdowns make life difficult for the city’s residents. 

“Because of power load shedding, there is a shortage of ice most of the time,” Ahmed said. “We try to stay in the shade, under trees.”

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.

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. A deadly heat wave that hit Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi, the capital of Sindh, claimed 120 lives in 2015.