US warns of sanctions risk as Iran, Pakistan agree to boost trade ties with new agreements

US warns of sanctions risk as Iran, Pakistan agree to boost trade ties with new agreements
This handout photograph taken on April 22, 2024, and released by Pakistan's Press Information Department (PID) shows Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi (L) shakes hands with Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif upon his arrival at the Prime Minister House in Islamabad. (PID)
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Updated 24 April 2024
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US warns of sanctions risk as Iran, Pakistan agree to boost trade ties with new agreements

US warns of sanctions risk as Iran, Pakistan agree to boost trade ties with new agreements
  • State Department statement came as the Iranian president concluded his Pakistan visit to discuss energy and connectivity
  • US also defends its decision to impose sanctions against four international entities supplying missile components to Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The United States warned on Wednesday countries doing business with Iran faced the “potential risk of sanctions,” as President Ebrahim Raisi concluded a three-day visit to Pakistan where his government signed eight memoranda of understanding (MoUs) for cooperation in different fields and to boost trade to $10 billion.

The Iranian president arrived in Islamabad on Monday as the two Muslim neighbors sought to mend ties after unprecedented tit-for-tat military strikes earlier this year. The visit also took place as tensions continued to remain high in the Middle East after Iran launched airstrikes on Israel a week ago and Israel retaliated with its own attack on Friday.

During his stay in Pakistan, Raisi held several official meetings in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi to discuss issues related to trade, connectivity, energy and people-to-people contacts.

Asked about his engagements in Pakistan and signing of MoUs, US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel cautioned against possible sanctions in a brief response.

“Just let me say broadly, we advise anyone considering business deals with Iran to be aware of the potential risk of sanctions,” he said. “But ultimately, the Government of Pakistan can speak to their own foreign policy pursuits.”

He was also asked about the US administration’s decision to announce sanctions against three Chinese and one Belarus-based entity supplying missile components to Pakistan last week.

“The sanctions were made because these were entities that were proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and the means of their delivery,” Patel said. “These were entities based in the PRC [Peoples Republic of China], in Belarus, and that we have witnessed to have supplied equipment and other applicable items to Pakistan’s ballistic missile program.”

“We’re going to continue to disrupt and take actions against proliferation networks and concerning weapons of mass destruction procurement activities wherever they may occur,” he added.


Religion minister inspects catering arrangements for Pakistani Hajj pilgrims in Madinah

Religion minister inspects catering arrangements for Pakistani Hajj pilgrims in Madinah
Updated 18 May 2024
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Religion minister inspects catering arrangements for Pakistani Hajj pilgrims in Madinah

Religion minister inspects catering arrangements for Pakistani Hajj pilgrims in Madinah
  • Pakistan’s Hajj Mission has hired seven catering companies in Madinah to oversee food arrangements for pilgrims
  • Chaudhry Salik Hussain urges catering firms to pay special attention to quality of flour, vegetables, meat and spices

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s religious affairs minister, Chaudhry Salik Hussain, has visited various firms in Madinah and inspected catering arrangements for Pakistani Hajj pilgrims, the Pakistani religious affairs ministry said on Saturday.
Pakistan’s Hajj Mission has hired seven catering companies in Madinah to oversee food arrangements for pilgrims as they arrive in Saudi Arabia’s holy cities from for the upcoming Hajj pilgrimage in June.
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 if they are financially and physically able.
Hussain, who is currently in the Kingdom, inspected various stages of food preparation and packaging for the pilgrims, and lauded all departments for the “excellent work.”
“Special attention should be paid to the quality of flour, rice, vegetables, meat, pulses and spices,” he was quoted as telling officials of catering firms. “Catering companies should try to use all ingredients, spices and meat from Pakistan.”
He said using Pakistani commodities and spices would not only benefit Pakistan, but it would also maintain the Pakistani taste, adding that an online survey through the Pak Hajj mobile app would be conducted for the feedback of the pilgrims.
Pakistan has a Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims this year, of which 63,805 people will perform the pilgrimage under the government scheme, while the rest will use private tour operators. This year’s pilgrimage is expected to run from June 14-19.
Pakistani pilgrims have been arriving in Madinah since May 9 when Pakistan launched its pre-Hajj flight operation. More than 20,000 Pakistani pilgrims have since arrived in Madinah under the government scheme.


Toronto-bound PIA flight diverted to Karachi due to ‘technical fault’ — spokesperson

Toronto-bound PIA flight diverted to Karachi due to ‘technical fault’ — spokesperson
Updated 18 May 2024
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Toronto-bound PIA flight diverted to Karachi due to ‘technical fault’ — spokesperson

Toronto-bound PIA flight diverted to Karachi due to ‘technical fault’ — spokesperson
  • PIA spokesperson says the flight, PK-781, departed from Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad late Friday
  • But the fault forced captain to return instead of continuing the long flight over the Atlantic, he adds

KARACHI: A Toronto-bound Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight was diverted to Karachi due to a “technical fault” it encountered after the take-off, a PIA spokesperson said on Friday.
The flight, PK-781, departed from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad late Friday, according to PIA spokesperson Abdullah Khan.
The technical fault with the aircraft was “minor,” but the captain preferred to return instead of continuing the long flight over the Atlantic Ocean.
“The decision to bring the plane to Karachi was made due to better arrangements at the engineering base and availability of spare parts,” Khan said in a statement.
The airlines made the arrangements for the return of the flight to Karachi as well as food, transportation and accommodation of passengers, according to the PIA spokesperson.
“The flight has been rescheduled to depart for Toronto at 1pm tomorrow (Saturday),” he added.
Pakistan is set to privatize the national airline, which has been facing a financial crisis for the last several years, by June and July as part of the requirements set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
On Friday, the Ministry of Privatization named eight business entities that have expressed interest in acquiring stakes in the PIA.
Pakistan agreed to overhaul its public sector entities under a $3 billion short-term loan package it signed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) last year to avert a sovereign debt default.


PM Sharif asks Pakistan embassy to help local students amid Bishkek mob violence

PM Sharif asks Pakistan embassy to help local students amid Bishkek mob violence
Updated 44 min 23 sec ago
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PM Sharif asks Pakistan embassy to help local students amid Bishkek mob violence

PM Sharif asks Pakistan embassy to help local students amid Bishkek mob violence
  • There have been a number of incidents of mob violence against foreign students in Bishkek since last evening, Pakistan embassy says
  • The matter boiled over due to sharing online of videos of a fight between Kyrgyz students and medical students from Egypt on May 13

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Saturday expressed his concern over mob violence around student hostels in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek and asked the Pakistani ambassador to help local students in the city.
There have been a number of incidents of mob violence against foreign students in Bishkek since last evening. The matter boiled over due to sharing online of videos of a fight between Kyrgyz students and medical students from Egypt on May 13, the Pakistani embassy said on Facebook, citing the Kyrgyz press. 
So far, a few hostels of medical universities in Bishkek and private residences of international students, including Pakistanis, have been attacked. The hostels are inhabited by students from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and there have been reports of minor injuries to a number of students from Pakistan.
“Deeply concerned over the situation of Pakistani students in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. I have directed Pakistan’s Ambassador to provide all necessary help and assistance,” Sharif said on X. “My office is also in touch with the Embassy and constantly monitoring the situation.”
Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, a spokeswoman for the Pakistani foreign office, said the Pakistani embassy had responded to hundreds of queries by students and their families. She said Pakistan’s envoy and his team were available on the emergency contact numbers: +996555554476 and +996507567667.
“In case the numbers do not connect because of phone traffic, please text/WhatsApp,” Baloch said on X.
The Pakistani embassy earlier said the violence appeared to be directed against all foreign students and not specific to Pakistanis, adding that it had been able to contact over 250 students and their family members in Pakistan.
It said this was an evolving situation and they would inform the Pakistani community in Kyrgyzstan and their relatives in Pakistan about any further developments.


Pakistan posts highest current account surplus in 11 months, sees 95% improvement

Pakistan posts highest current account surplus in 11 months, sees 95% improvement
Updated 18 May 2024
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Pakistan posts highest current account surplus in 11 months, sees 95% improvement

Pakistan posts highest current account surplus in 11 months, sees 95% improvement
  • Experts attribute improved current account situation to growth in remittances and increase in exports
  • Pakistan’s IT exports also shot up in April, with local firms branching out in the Middle Eastern market

KARACHI: Pakistan recorded its highest current account surplus in April after a span of nine months, driven by increased remittances and exports that collectively improved the current account situation by 95 percent in the ongoing fiscal year, according to data released by the central bank on Friday.
The country posted a monthly current account surplus of $491 million last month, the highest since June 2023. During the first 10 months of the current fiscal year (10MFY24), the country’s deficit decreased by 95 percent on a year-on-year basis to $202 million. This was in marked contrast to a deficit of $3.92 billion recorded in the corresponding period last year, as per the data released by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP).
“Pakistan’s current account improvement was mainly driven by an increase in remittances, month-on-month export growth, along with a decline in imports,” Tahir Abbas, head of research at Arif Habib Limited, told Arab News.
Pakistan received $2.8 billion of workers’ remittances in April 2024, which is 27.9 percent higher on an annual basis. The total inflow of remittance stood at $23.8 billion in the 10-month period of FY24.
“The remittance inflows are mainly due to the upcoming Eid Al-Adha,” Abbas said, referring to a Muslim festivity that follows the Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah. “This is the major contributor to the overall current account improvement.”
The central bank statistics show the monthly information technology (IT) exports from Pakistan increased by 62 percent on an annual and one percent on a monthly basis in the month of April to $310 million.
“This is the highest ever export number in a single month, with the previous highest of $306 million recorded in March 2024,” Topline Securities, a Karachi-based brokerage firm, said in its report issued on Friday.
The monthly IT exports in April are higher than the last 12-month average of $245 million, the brokerage firm added.
The growth in IT exports is due to the expansion of local companies in the Gulf market, especially Saudi Arabia, a relaxation of the permissible retention limit by the SBP from 35 percent to 50 percent in the exporters’ specialized foreign currency accounts, allowing them greater control over their earnings, and stability in the national currency, according to Topline Security.
All of these factors have encouraged IT exporters to bring a higher portion of profits back to the country, it added.
The cumulative IT exports in the first 10 months of the fiscal year increased by 21 percent on an annual basis, reaching $2.59 billion, compared to $2.14 billion recorded in the corresponding period last year. The net IT export number in April is also higher than last 12-month average of $214 million.
The central bank released data on foreign direct investment (FDI) as well that hit $359 million, up 172 percent on a yearly and 39 percent on a monthly basis in April.
This is the highest monthly inflow in nearly four and a half years. The major FDI inflow of $177 million came from China. During the first 10-month period of the ongoing fiscal, the net FDI inflow increased by eight percent on an annual basis to $1.45 billion compared to an inflow of $1.35 million in the corresponding period last year.


Punjab administration orders shortened school hours due to looming heatwaves

Punjab administration orders shortened school hours due to looming heatwaves
Updated 17 May 2024
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Punjab administration orders shortened school hours due to looming heatwaves

Punjab administration orders shortened school hours due to looming heatwaves
  • A notification orders schools to ensure all fans are in working condition and water coolers available
  • Provincial government has also announced summer vacation for all schools from June 1 to August 14

ISLAMABAD: The provincial administration of Punjab announced on Friday it would cut short the usual timings of all public and private schools for the rest of the month amid rising temperatures and warnings from the Meteorological Department of impending heatwaves in the coming weeks.

Just a day earlier, the Met Department warned that a major heatwave was set to engulf much of the country next week, with daytime temperatures expected to rise four to six degrees Celsius above the average.

It also predicted dust storms and heavy rains in various parts of Pakistan, including Punjab.

“In the wake of severe weather, it is hereby notified that following School timings shall be observed in all Public and Private Schools in the Province of Punjab with effect from 18th May to 31st May, 2024,” said a notification circulated by the provincial education department, showing 7 AM as the starting time and 11:30 AM as the finishing hour.

It instructed the schools to end classes at 10:30 AM on Friday and Saturday.

The notification also instructed the school authorities to ensure that all fans were in working condition, water coolers were available and no student was made to sit in uncovered and open spaces like lawns in summer season.

Another notification also announced that all the schools in the province will remain closed from June 1 to August 14 for summer vacation.

“All schools in the province shall reopen with effect from Thursday 15th August, 2024,” it added.

In recent years, Pakistan has experienced extreme weather patterns, including unprecedented rains, flash floods, droughts and heatwaves.

Experts attribute these erratic weather patterns to climate change, placing Pakistan among the ten countries most vulnerable to its impacts.