Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif to visit China in May — state media

Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif to visit China in May — state media
Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif speaks during the federal cabinet meeting in Islamabad on April 3, 2024. (Photo courtesy: PMO)
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Updated 20 April 2024
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Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif to visit China in May — state media

Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif to visit China in May — state media
  • The development comes amid efforts to restore China’s confidence in Islamabad regarding various projects
  • Scaled-back CPEC projects, attacks on Chinese nationals have lately strained ties between the two countries

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif will visit China in May to restore Beijing’s confidence in Islamabad with regard to various projects, Pakistani state media reported on Saturday, citing a senior official.
Beijing is investing over $65 billion in energy and infrastructure projects in Pakistan as part of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a major segment of its Belt and Road Initiative designed to give China a shorter, more secure trading route to the Middle East and beyond, while also boosting Pakistan’s economy.
Since its initiation in 2013, CPEC has seen tens of billions of dollars funnelled into massive transport, energy and infrastructure projects. But the undertaking has also been hit by Pakistan struggling to keep up its financial obligations as well as attacks on Chinese targets by militants.
Rana Mashhood, chairman of Prime Minister’s Youth Program, said PM Sharif wanted to make Pakistan a partner in economic development, which was why he was striving to bring investment from Pakistan’s friendly countries.
“From May 14, the Prime Minister will make an official visit to the People’s Republic of China, which will restore the confidence of the brotherly neighboring country and the CPEC project will move toward success quickly,” Mashhood was quoted as saying by the state-run APP news agency.
The comments came during his visit to China Window, a Chinese cultural center, in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. On the occasion, Mashhood visited different galleries at the center, signed the friendship wall and recorded his comments in the visitor’s book.
Beijing has been one of Islamabad’s most reliable foreign partners in recent years, readily providing financial assistance to bail out its often-struggling neighbor. In July last year, China granted Pakistan a two-year rollover on a $2.4 billion loan, giving the debt-saddled nation much-needed breathing space as it tackled a balance-of-payments crisis.
But ties have been strained by numerous hurdles in recent years, including scaled-back CPEC projects and attacks on Chinese workers in Pakistan. In the latest attack, five Chinese nationals and their Pakistani driver were killed in a suicide bombing in northwest Pakistan on March 26.
Mashhood appreciated the establishment of the Chinese cultural center in Peshawar and said it would be a pivotal hub for further enhancing the bond between Pakistan and China, according to the APP report.
Recognizing the importance of foreign languages for the country’s youth, the official said he had instructed relevant institutions to initiate language programs tailored to meet the diverse needs of different countries.
“He specifically mentioned plans to include the Chinese language in the programs offered by the National Commission for Technical and Vocational Training,” the report read.


US returns 133 stolen artifacts to Pakistan valued at $13 million

US returns 133 stolen artifacts to Pakistan valued at $13 million
Updated 22 May 2024
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US returns 133 stolen artifacts to Pakistan valued at $13 million

US returns 133 stolen artifacts to Pakistan valued at $13 million
  • illegal antiquities trade is a multi-billion-dollar global industry, as per a 2018 report by Standard Chartered 
  • This marks fifth such transfer between US and Pakistan, from where artifacts dating to Gandhara period were stolen

ISLAMABAD: The United States this week returned 133 pieces of stolen antiquities valued over $13 million to Pakistan, state-run media reported, marking the fifth such transfer to the South Asian country from where artifacts dating back to the Gandhara period were stolen.

Artifacts are man-made objects, such as pieces of art or tools, that are of particular cultural, historical, or archaeological interest. 

The illegal antiquities trade is a multi-billion-dollar global industry according to a 2018 report by Standard Chartered Bank. The trade is also often a major funding source for criminal and militant groups on the supply side, according to a report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). 

“The United States returned to Pakistan 133 pieces of stolen antiquities worth over $13 million at a ceremony at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in New York on Tuesday,” the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported. 

Some of the antiquities were displayed during the ceremony at which Pakistani Consul General in New York Aamer Ahmed Atozai said the artifacts would adorn museums across Pakistan. 

“The consul general also signed an agreement with the Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, Matthew Bogdanos, who heads the Antiquities Trafficking Unit for the repatriation of the returned artifacts to Pakistan,” APP said. 

Bogdanos said he was delighted to return “glorious pieces of Pakistani heritage” to the country whose civilization dates back to 5,000 years, APP said. 

Pakistan and the US regularly collaborate to return stolen artifacts to Pakistan. In 2021, the US, after conducting a probe into an Indian-American art dealer Shubash Kapoor, had returned 192 stolen antiquities worth around $3.4 million.

In August 2022, the US again returned 104 artifacts valued at $3.3 million to Pakistan that were among thousands of antiquities looted from Asian countries and seized from Kapoor.
 


Rain washes out England-Pakistan T20 opener

Rain washes out England-Pakistan T20 opener
Updated 22 May 2024
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Rain washes out England-Pakistan T20 opener

Rain washes out England-Pakistan T20 opener
  • Match was supposed to be launchpad for England’s defense next month of T20 World Cup title
  • Both teams will now meet each other on Saturday at Edgbaston in second of four-match series 

Leeds, United Kingdom: Persistent rain saw the first Twenty20 international between England and Pakistan at Headingley on Wednesday abandoned without a ball being bowled.

The match was meant to be the launchpad for reigning champions England’s defense next month of their T20 World Cup title in the Caribbean and the United States.

But a heavy and lengthy downpour in Leeds led the umpires to call the game off approximately an hour before the scheduled 17:30 GMT start.

The four-match series against Pakistan, the team England beat to win the 2022 T20 World Cup final in Melbourne, will now continue at Birmingham’s Edgbaston ground on Saturday before games next week in Cardiff and at the Oval.

England were also the defending champions heading into last year’s 50-over World Cup in India but Jos Buttler’s men suffered a tame exit, losing six of their nine matches.

The Pakistan T20 series could see the return to international duty of England fast bowler Jofra Archer. Injuries have blighted the quick’s career, with elbow and back problems sidelining the 29-year-old from top-level cricket for 14 months.


Pakistani media regulator bans TV channels from airing news on ongoing court cases 

Pakistani media regulator bans TV channels from airing news on ongoing court cases 
Updated 22 May 2024
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Pakistani media regulator bans TV channels from airing news on ongoing court cases 

Pakistani media regulator bans TV channels from airing news on ongoing court cases 
  • Authority directs TV channels to report only written orders of courts, refrain from airing news related to court hearings
  • Journalists’ associations reject directives, call on Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority to withdraw notification 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s media regulatory body has banned TV channels from airing news, opinions, and commentary on proceedings of ongoing court cases, prompting journalist associations on Wednesday to reject the directive and call it a violation of the country’s constitution.

The development takes place amid tensions between the government and the Islamabad High Court over the alleged kidnapping of Kashmiri poet Ahmad Farhad last week. The poet’s family has accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency of abducting Farhad from his Islamabad residence for his critical social media posts that targeted the military.

Media extensively reported on the case’s hearings this week as the high court directed authorities to produce the missing poet within four days, warning it would otherwise summon senior government officials. The court also criticized Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, prompting the law minister to say on Monday that the court’s comments were “shocking.”

Journalists in Pakistan have spoken of growing press and media censorship, with many blaming Pakistan’s powerful military for illegally detaining journalists and torturing them. The military has repeatedly denied the allegations. 

“TV channels are directed to refrain from airing tickers/headlines with regard to court proceedings and shall only report the written orders of the court,” a notification from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) said on Tuesday. 

The regulator also directed TV channels to air “no content including commentary, opinions or suggestions about the potential fate of sub judice matter which tends to prejudice the determination by a court, tribunal.”

However, PEMRA allowed TV channels to report on court proceedings if they were broadcast live by the judiciary.

Journalists’ associations covering Pakistan’s Supreme Court and the IHC rejected the directives, saying it was in violation of the country’s constitution.

“Both the journalists’ associations covering court proceedings reject PEMRA’s notification while terming it against press freedom and independent judiciary,” the Press Association of the Supreme Court (PAS) and the Islamabad High Court Journalists Association said in a joint statement on Wednesday. 

“PEMRA has no legal right to ban coverage of court reporting,” the statement said, adding that the regulator’s notification was a “serious violation” of journalists’ rights enshrined in the constitution.

The associations demanded that PEMRA withdraw its notification, warning that they would otherwise challenge it in court. 


Pakistan to enhance production of indigenous petroleum products— minister

Pakistan to enhance production of indigenous petroleum products— minister
Updated 22 May 2024
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Pakistan to enhance production of indigenous petroleum products— minister

Pakistan to enhance production of indigenous petroleum products— minister
  • Cash-starved Pakistan spends over $20 billion each year on petroleum imports to meet energy demand
  • Pakistan welcomes foreign companies to invest in its oil and gas sector, says Petroleum Minister Musadik Malik

KARACHI: Pakistan wants to enhance the production of its indigenous petroleum products, Petroleum Minister Musadik Malik said on Wednesday, citing the financial burden that expensive crude oil imports have on the country’s fragile economy. 

Cash-strapped Pakistan relies heavily on imported petroleum products as its energy demands grow. Struggling with a balance of payments crisis, high inflation and steep currency devaluation, Pakistan is looking to secure cheaper energy imports and find alternate ways to lessen the cost of power generation. 

According to the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP), the country’s indigenous oil production meets only about one-fifth of Pakistan’s current oil needs. The rest is met through high-cost imports.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has urged the government to turn toward renewable energy resources. Last month, he said the country currently imports oil worth $27 billion to meet its power and transportation needs, which puts a strain on the cash-strapped nation. 

Speaking at the Pakistan Energy Symposium, Malik said it would be difficult to manage the country with such a huge energy import bill when Pakistan’s exports were around $30 billion. 

“We want to first of all, produce as much of the petroleum products, including gas and crude, indigenously as much as possible,” the minister said, adding that the government has put blocks for bidding and is actively trying to attract global players in exploration activities.

Malik said the government is expediting oil and gas exploration within the country, adding that it welcomes foreign companies to invest in the sector.

“So, we are telling the world that Pakistan is open for business, our regulatory process, particularly the petroleum concession process is very dense and opaque,” he said. 

He said investment processes and information about oil and gas exploration have been digitized and simplified to facilitate the government’s aims to enhance indigenous production of energy resources. 

Malik advocated for increasing the utilization of Pakistan’s abundant renewable energy resources, pointing out that the country’s solar energy costs have significantly decreased. 
 


PM Sharif demands industry status for Pakistan’s gemstones sector

PM Sharif demands industry status for Pakistan’s gemstones sector
Updated 22 May 2024
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PM Sharif demands industry status for Pakistan’s gemstones sector

PM Sharif demands industry status for Pakistan’s gemstones sector
  • Pakistan’s exports of gems and precious stones to China saw 47 percent increase in 2023, as per official figures
  • Pakistan possesses immense natural resources in KP, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir regions, says Sharif

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Wednesday stressed developing the country’s gems and precious stones sector, urging authorities to take steps to accord it the status of an industry, a statement from his office said. 

According to a report by Pakistan’s Ministry of Commerce, the country’s exports of pearls and precious stones to China saw a 47 percent increase in 2023, showcasing the rising demand for Pakistan’s precious stones in China. 

“The prime minister gave directions for steps to be taken for the gems and precious stones sector be granted industry status,” the PMO said, as Sharif chaired a meeting of the gems and private stones sector in Pakistan’s capital on Wednesday. 

Sharif said Pakistan possesses immense natural resources, particularly in the regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan, and, Azad Jammu and Kashmir. He called on authorities to properly utilize these resources to Pakistan’s advantage. 

“Efforts should be made to obtain international certifications for precious stones and the products made from them, and to ensure Pakistani representation in global exhibitions,” the prime minister said. 

He directed necessary consultations to be held with the private sector and provinces in this regard.

Separately, the prime minister also presided over a meeting on Information Technology Parks, directing the construction of Islamabad IT Park “as soon as possible.”

The Islamabad IT Park is expected to act as a state-of-the-art facility that would aim to foster collaboration, innovation and product development in teh capital. 

“The establishment of IT parks to promote IT, increase IT exports, and provide facilities to startups is a welcome development,” PM Sharif was quoted as saying by the PMO.

Sharif was told during the meeting that the Islamabad IT Park would be completed next year in collaboration with South Korea. 

“The Islamabad IT Park will feature startups, incubation centers, banks, restaurants, and other facilities,” the statement said.