Pakistani finance minister, Saudi Fund for Development discuss funding for dam, highway

Pakistani finance minister, Saudi Fund for Development discuss funding for dam, highway
Pakistan Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb (right) meets with Sultan Abdulrahman Al-Marshad (left), CEO Saudi Fund for Development, on the sidelines of IMF and World Bank Spring meetings in Washington on April 18, 2024. (Photo courtesy: Finance Ministry)
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Updated 19 April 2024
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Pakistani finance minister, Saudi Fund for Development discuss funding for dam, highway

Pakistani finance minister, Saudi Fund for Development discuss funding for dam, highway
  • Aurangzeb is in Washington for IMF and World Bank spring meetings
  • Saudi FM was recently in Pakistan to discuss investment projects

ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Finance Muhammad Aurangzeb met with Sultan Abdulrahman Al-Marshad, CEO Saudi Fund for Development (SFD), in Washington on Thursday and discussed investable projects, including a dam and a major national highway. 
Aurangzeb is in Washington for IMF and World Bank spring meetings. As he launches negotiations for a new three-year multi-billion-dollar bailout deal from the IMF, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud was in Islamabad earlier this week where he said Riyadh would be “moving ahead significantly” to invest in projects in the South Asian nation. 
The Saudi official’s visit followed a meeting in Makkah between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in which the Kingdom had pledged to expedite $5 billion in investments.
“Briefed him [SFD CEO] about his recent visit to Saudi Arabia and that of Saudi delegation to Pakistan during this week,” the finance ministry said about the meeting between the Pakistani finance minister and the Saudi official in Washington. 
“Expressed satisfaction with the progress of ongoing projects. Discussed the funding of Diamer Bhasha dam and N-25 from Karachi to Chaman. Informed that Pakistan would pitch bankable and investable projects to Saudi investors.”
Diamer-Bhasha Dam is a concrete-filled gravity dam, in the preliminary stages of construction, on the River Indus between Kohistan district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Diamer district in Gilgit Baltistan. Upon completion, the dam dam would produce 4800 megawatts of electricity through hydro-power generation, store an extra 10.5 cubic kilometers of water for Pakistan that would be used for irrigation and drinking, extend the life of Tarbela Dam located downstream by 35 years, and control flood damage by the River Indus downstream during high floods.
The N-25 or National Highway 25 is an 813 km national highway in Pakistan which extends along from Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial hub, in Sindh province to the Chaman border via Quetta in the Balochistan province of Pakistan.
During the Saudi FM’s visit this week, investments in the Pakistani sectors of mining and minerals, agriculture, energy, information technology and infrastructure development were discussed. Speaking to journalists on Thursday, Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar said Pakistan had pitched an “epic menu” of investment projects worth $30 billion to Riyadh during Prince Faisal’s visit. 
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong trade, defense and cultural ties. The Kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates and the top source of remittances to the cash-strapped South Asian country.


'They love their cricket': Rohit Sharma lauds Pakistani fans for praising Indian cricketers

'They love their cricket': Rohit Sharma lauds Pakistani fans for praising Indian cricketers
Updated 21 May 2024
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'They love their cricket': Rohit Sharma lauds Pakistani fans for praising Indian cricketers

'They love their cricket': Rohit Sharma lauds Pakistani fans for praising Indian cricketers
  • India and Pakistan, bitter political adversaries, enjoy one of sports fiercest rivalries in cricket
  • Indian captain Rohit Sharma bats for Test series with arch-rivals, says Pakistan “overall a good team”

ISLAMABAD: Indian captain Rohit Sharma recently praised Pakistani fans for appreciating Indian cricketers, saying that he would love to play in a Test series between the two arch-rivals if it were ever to take place. 

The South Asian neighbors are bitter political adversaries and have fought three wars against each other since they were partitioned at the end of British colonial rule in 1947. Their tensions mean the two countries rarely play bilateral series against one another and meet only at “neutral venues” during international tournaments. 

Sharma, 37, appeared on ‘Dubai Eye 103.8,’ a Dubai-based talk radio station on Wednesday to discuss the upcoming T20 World Cup 2024 and his journey as India’s skipper so far. During the show, the hosts relayed a message to Sharma from a Pakistani fan. 

“Loved the messages from the Pakistani fans,” Sharma said, smiling. “I know they love their cricket, they love it. Every time, mainly when we are in the UK these guys come and just tell us how, respectfully, how they love us, how they love Indian cricketers and how they love to watch some of us at big stages.”

India and Pakistan are bitter political adversaries and have fought three wars against each other since they were partitioned at the end of British colonial rule in 1947.

Their cricket teams have not faced off in a Test since 2007. Instead, they play only occasionally in the shorter versions of the game. 

When asked whether there were chances of India and Pakistan playing each other in a Test match soon, Sharma said:

“I don’t know the status of it. Personally if you ask me, I’m a cricketer at the end of the day. I want to play cricket and I want to get challenged at whatever stage I play cricket, and I feel Pakistan is a good team.”

Sharma praised Pakistan for having “solid bowlers,” saying that the green shirts are “overall a very good team.” He said cricket fans around the world would love to watch a Test series between the two arch-rivals. 

“I actually have no issues it’s just from a pure cricketing perspective if I have to look at it, it’s going to be a great cricket contest,” he explained. 

India and Pakistan have not faced each other on either side’s soil in a bilateral series since 2012.

India last year refused to travel to Pakistan for the white-ball Asia Cup, prompting part of the tournament to be staged in Sri Lanka. They last met at the 50-over World Cup in India in October.

The two cricket giants will square off on June 9 in New York when the T20 World Cup 2024 gets underway. 


26,711 Pakistani pilgrims reach Saudi Arabia ahead of this year’s Hajj

26,711 Pakistani pilgrims reach Saudi Arabia ahead of this year’s Hajj
Updated 21 May 2024
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26,711 Pakistani pilgrims reach Saudi Arabia ahead of this year’s Hajj

26,711 Pakistani pilgrims reach Saudi Arabia ahead of this year’s Hajj
  • Around 179,210 Pakistanis will perform Hajj under both government and private schemes 
  • Over 1,000 Pakistani Hajj pilgrims have arrived in Kingdom through private tour operators

ISLAMABAD: A spokesperson for Pakistan’s religion ministry said on Tuesday 26,711 Pakistani pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia ahead of next month’s Hajj, less than two weeks after the country kicked off its pre-Hajj flight operations to the Kingdom. 

This year, around 179,210 Pakistanis will perform Hajj under both the government and private schemes, for which a month-long flight operation started on May 9. This year’s pilgrimage is expected to run from June 14-19.

“Through 109 flights, 26,711 Pakistani Hajj pilgrims have reached Saudi Arabia,” a spokesperson of the Religious Affairs (MoRA) said in a statement. “After an eight-day stay in Madinah, the first convoy of 6,011 Hajj pilgrims has left for Makkah.”

The spokesperson said over 1,000 Hajj pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia through the private scheme, adding that 336 assistants or “Hajj Moavineen” have been deployed to help Pakistani pilgrims, and ensure their pilgrimage remains a hassle-free one. 

He said Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister Chaudhry Salik Hussain visited the residences of Pakistani Hajj pilgrims in Makkah recently and also reviewed arrangements for their food and travel in the holy city. 

“Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Chaudhry Salik Hussain is expected to hold an important meeting with his Saudi counterpart today,” the spokesperson said. 

Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and requires every adult Muslim to undertake the journey to the holy Islamic sites in Makkah at least once in their lifetime, provided they are financially and physically able to do so.

Pilgrims from Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi are availing the Makkah Route Initiative facility for the first time. Launched in 2019, the initiative allows for the completion of immigration procedures at the pilgrims’ country of departure. 

This makes it possible to bypass long immigration and customs checks upon reaching Saudi Arabia, which significantly reduces the waiting time and makes the entry process smoother and faster. 


Pakistan seeks regional connectivity, integration as FM Dar meets SCO counterparts in Kazakhstan

Pakistan seeks regional connectivity, integration as FM Dar meets SCO counterparts in Kazakhstan
Updated 21 May 2024
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Pakistan seeks regional connectivity, integration as FM Dar meets SCO counterparts in Kazakhstan

Pakistan seeks regional connectivity, integration as FM Dar meets SCO counterparts in Kazakhstan
  • Ishaq Dar meets foreign ministers of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan at sidelines of SCO Foreign Ministers Council meeting
  • SCO member states collectively represent nearly half of world’s population, quarter of global economic output 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar met his counterparts from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) this week in Kazakhstan as Islamabad seeks regional connectivity and integration through various projects, the foreign office said.

Dar, who is also Pakistan’s deputy prime minister, arrived in Astana on Monday to attend the two-day meeting of the SCO’s Foreign Ministers Council. 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. 

Pakistan has aimed to enhance its role as a pivotal trade and transit hub connecting the Central Asian republics with the rest of the world, leveraging its strategic geographical position.

Dar met Tajikistan’s Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin on Tuesday at the sidelines of the CFM meeting where they committed to further strengthen bilateral cooperation and high-level dialogue. 

“They underlined the early implementation of CASA-1000 project and other connectivity and regional integration projects for mutual benefit of the two countries and the wider region,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) said. 

The CASA-1000 project aims to allow Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, former Soviet republics with an extensive network of hydroelectric power plants, to sell excess energy to Pakistan and Afghanistan in the summer months.

The development took place a day after Dar met Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Minister Jeenbek Kulubaev. The two discussed last week’s violent clashes in Bishkek that forced Pakistan to repatriate over 600 students from Kyrgyzstan within days. 

During the meeting, Dar shared the feelings of insecurity and fear among Pakistani students with Kulubaev and requested the foreign minister to ensure their safety and security. He also requested for holding to account those responsible for the attacks on Pakistani students, the foreign office said. 

“Bilateral relations between Pakistan and Kyrgyz Republic especially in the domains of energy, connectivity, trade and people-to-people contacts also came under discussion,” the foreign office said. “And both dignitaries expressed satisfaction at the progress of established bilateral institutional mechanisms.”

Pakistan has recently undertaken measures to enhance bilateral trade and ramped up efforts to attract foreign investment to stave off a chronic balance of payments and macroeconomic crisis. 

Since April, the South Asian country has seen a flurry of high-level engagements. These included visits by the Iranian president, Saudi foreign minister, a delegation of top Saudi companies as well as officials from Qatar, China, Japan and Central Asian countries, among others.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has vowed to rid Pakistan of its economic crisis by attracting foreign investment, efficiently utilizing its state-owned enterprises and ensuring sustainable development of its priority sectors.


Pakistan’s leading rights body expresses ‘grave concern’ as Punjab passes defamation law

Pakistan’s leading rights body expresses ‘grave concern’ as Punjab passes defamation law
Updated 21 May 2024
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Pakistan’s leading rights body expresses ‘grave concern’ as Punjab passes defamation law

Pakistan’s leading rights body expresses ‘grave concern’ as Punjab passes defamation law
  • Bill proposes special tribunals to decide cases within six months, issue hefty fines to persons for spreading “fake news”
  • Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says bill would serve as a “huge blow to freedom of expression and dissent”

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s leading rights body this week expressed “grave concern” over a defamation bill passed by the Punjab Assembly that empowers special tribunals to impose hefty fines on persons found guilty of peddling fake news, saying it would lead to a clampdown on freedom of speech and expression in the country. 

The bill empowers the government to establish a special tribunal to try those involved in drafting, publishing and/or airing “fake news.” The tribunal shall decide the case within six months and may impose a fine of up to Rs3 million ($10,770). However, when cases against individuals who hold constitutional posts are heard, the high court will hear them.

The bill also states that the government will provide legal assistance to women and transgender individuals in defamation cases through a legal team. The bill was tabled by Punjab Finance Minister Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman in the assembly on Monday, ignoring calls from the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and other media bodies to delay voting on it. 

A ruckus ensued in the assembly with opposition lawmakers tearing copies of it and shouting slogans after the house passed it through a voice vote. Journalists present in the press gallery staged a walkout, saying the bill attempts to silence dissent. 

“The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed grave concern over the draft defamation bill tabled in the Punjab Assembly,” the HRCP said in a statement on Monday. 

The HRCP pointed out that the bill proposes a parallel structure to adjudicate defamation claims, adding that it has always opposed the same on the grounds that such measures “invariably violate fundamental rights and other universally accepted norms governing the fair functioning of the judiciary.”

It also raised alarm over the fact that the bill empowers the government to set up defamation tribunals and appoint judges at higher allowances and benefits than what are available to the existing provincial judiciary functioning at the district level. 

The HRCP said the bill states that defamation claims have to be resolved within 180 days and proposes authorizing tribunals to issue preliminary decrees up to Rs3 million without trial on receiving a defamation claim. 

“This will be a huge blow to freedom of expression and dissent,” the rights body said. “Such orders are likely to be passed without following due process and ensuring fair trials.”

The HRCP highlighted that the bill creates a “special category” of constitutional officeholders such as the prime minister, chief justices and military chiefs, among others. Defamation claims against these members would be heard by a one-member tribunal comprising a judge of the Lahore High Court. 

“This provision violates the principle of equality of citizens and equality before the law,” it said. 

Meanwhile, Punjab Information Minister Azma Bokhari last week defended the bill, saying its main purpose was to stop the spread of lies and defamation. 

“A person who lies under the guise of a journalist with a specific agenda will face the music under this proposed law,” Bokhari told journalists during a news conference on Wednesday. 

Bokhari said some articles peddling fake news which were published in Pakistan could not be published in other countries due to the stringent laws there that hamper such practices. 

“After this law, no one can be blackmailed,” she said. “Freedom of expression can neither be restricted, nor will be allowed to commit wrongdoing.”

Media bodies have often cited Pakistan as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) on May 3 released its country report on Pakistan in which it said over 300 journalists and bloggers this year were affected by state coercion. 

The report said dozens of journalists were arrested this year for durations between several hours to four weeks and nearly 60 were served legal notices or summons for their journalism work or personal dissent online. 
 


Met Office warns of glacial floods in Pakistan’s north amid rising temperatures

Met Office warns of glacial floods in Pakistan’s north amid rising temperatures
Updated 21 May 2024
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Met Office warns of glacial floods in Pakistan’s north amid rising temperatures

Met Office warns of glacial floods in Pakistan’s north amid rising temperatures
  • A heatwave is expected to hit Pakistan this week, with temperatures in certain areas surging past 40 degrees Celsius
  • Pakistan this year experienced its ‘wettest April since 1961,’ with at least 144 people killed in rain-related incidents

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) on Monday warned of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) in Pakistan’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan region and northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, citing higher temperatures due to an expected heatwave from May 21 onwards.

A heatwave is expected to hit parts of Pakistan this week and temperatures in certain areas of the southern Sindh and eastern Punjab provinces may surge past 40 degrees Celsius, according to the country’s disaster management authorities.

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

“The daytime temperatures in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) are expected to remain 4-6°C higher than normal from May 21 to 27 with chances of gusty wind/thunderstorm,” the PMD said in its GLOF alert.

“This atmospheric condition [will be] potentially increasing the likelihood of triggering a Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) event or flash floods in the vulnerable snow-covered and glaciated areas of GB and Chitral.”

The Met Office advised the district administrations as well as local organizations and communities to remain vigilant during this period and take precautionary measures to avoid any untoward situation.

Labourers are silhouetted as they stand on scaffoldings at a construction site during a hot and humid day in Karachi, Pakistan on May 20, 2024. (REUTERS)

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, this year experienced its “wettest April since 1961,” with at least 144 people killed in thunderstorms and house collapses.

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.

Keeping the weather predictions in view, the government in Pakistan’s Punjab province on Monday announced the closure of public and private schools from May 25 till May 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,” the Punjab education department said in a notification, adding that exams could be conducted during these days with necessary precautions in place.

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.