Over 16,000 Pakistani pilgrims opt for government’s new shorter duration Hajj package 

Over 16,000 Pakistani pilgrims opt for government’s new shorter duration Hajj package 
An official of Makkah Route handovers the passport of a pilgrim at immigration as he leaves for Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj pilgrimage from Pakistan on May 20, 2024. (SPA)
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Updated 29 May 2024
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Over 16,000 Pakistani pilgrims opt for government’s new shorter duration Hajj package 

Over 16,000 Pakistani pilgrims opt for government’s new shorter duration Hajj package 
  • Government Hajj scheme previously ran for 38-42 days, now shorter deal of up to 30 days also available
  • Pakistan’s Hajj 2024 quota is 179,210 pilgrims of which 63,805 pilgrims will use the government scheme

ISLAMABAD: More than 16,000 pilgrims have chosen the government’s new short duration Hajj package, state-run media said on Wednesday, an option that allows believers to complete the journey in up to 30 days.
Previously, the government Hajj scheme ran for 38-42 days, but a shorter package of 25-30 days has been made available for the first time this year. 
Hajj 2024 is expected to take place from June 14-19, coinciding with the peak of sweltering summer temperatures in the region and raising concerns about the well-being of millions of pilgrims gathering in Makkah from around the world.
“Over 16,000 intending pilgrims have chosen a short Hajj package introduced by the government this year,” state-run Radio Pakistan said, quoting Director General Hajj Abdul Wahab Soomro. “The package is a gift for the busy people who intend to perform Hajj in a short duration.”
Soomro said numerous steps were being taken to facilitate pilgrims during their stay in Saudi Arabia, with space for pilgrims acquired timely in Mina and a train service made available to transport them to Mashayer.
Pakistan has a Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims this year. Of them, 63,805 pilgrims will be performing the pilgrimage under the government scheme, while the rest will be accommodated by private tour operators, according to the Pakistani religious affairs ministry.
Around 40,000 Pakistani Hajj pilgrims have so far arrived in Madinah and Makkah through 164 flights under the government scheme. The number of pilgrims who arrived under the private scheme stands at 5,500. 
As many as 114 flights will be transporting another 34,422 Pakistanis to Jeddah till June 9.
This year, Pakistan is also due to send 550 Hajj assistants and 400 doctors and paramedical staff to Saudi Arabia to ensure that the pilgrimage process, including food, transportation and accommodation, is managed efficiently.


Pakistani businesses to halt all exports on ‘black day’ next week to protest new taxes 

Pakistani businesses to halt all exports on ‘black day’ next week to protest new taxes 
Updated 25 June 2024
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Pakistani businesses to halt all exports on ‘black day’ next week to protest new taxes 

Pakistani businesses to halt all exports on ‘black day’ next week to protest new taxes 
  • Pakistan hopes plan to raise taxes in proposed budget, boost state revenues will help win approval for IMF loan 
  • Taxes have notably been slapped on previously protected export-oriented sectors such as textiles 

KARACHI: Representatives of Pakistani exporters on Tuesday announced they would observe a “black day” next week in which all exports would be halted to protest new taxation measures in the federal budget 2024-25

The South Asian country hopes its plan to raise taxes in the proposed budget and boost state revenues will help it win approval from the IMF for a loan to stave off another economic meltdown. 

Pakistan has set a challenging tax revenue target of $47 billion for the next fiscal year, a 40 percent jump from the current year to strengthen the case for a new bailout deal. The big rise in the tax target is made up of a 48 percent increase in direct taxes and 35 percent hike in indirect taxes. Non-tax revenue, including petroleum levies, is seen increasing by a whopping 64 percent.

Taxes have notably been slapped on previously protected export-oriented sectors such as textiles, which consistently make up over half of Pakistan’s exports, and whose receipts keep a persistently high external account deficit in check.

Immediately after the budget speech, the representative body for the sector, All Pakistan Textile Mills Association, had called for a review, terming the budget “extremely regressive” and one that “threatens the collapse of the textile sector and its exports.” It warned of “dire consequences for employment and external sector stability, as well as for overall economic and political stability and security.”

“On Export Black Day, not a single export consignment will be dispatched from the entire country,” Jawed Bilwani, chief coordinator of the All Exports Association of Pakistan, said at a press conference on Tuesday. 

Representatives of 20 export sector associations announced a symbolic strike to protest what they called the failure of the government to maintain a fixed tax regime and the approval of a proposal for 29 percent tax on exported income. 

As part of the strike, over 20 export industries will observe an “Export Black Day” next week and halt all exports. If the exporters’ demands were not met, they would announce further actions, Bilwani said. 

Under the fixed tax regime, Pakistan exporters had to pay 0.25 percent as Export Development Fund(EDF) and withholding tax of 1 percent of export turnover in addition to 0.25 to 0.35 percent bank charges which constituted 1.85 percent of the total turnover, according to exporters. With new tax measures, exporters said they would not be able to cover operational costs and may need to shut down. 

“This budget is detrimental to exports,” Iftikhar Ahmed Sheikh, President of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), said, adding that proposals in the budget would compel exporters to entirely cease operations.

Addressing another press conference at the Karachi Press Club, fruit and vegetable exporters warned that placing exports under the normal tax regime would have a “very serious impact” on the economy of Pakistan.

 “Abolition of fixed tax regime will significantly reduce exports and closure of export units will lead to widespread unemployment,” Waheed Ahmed, the Patron-in-Chief of All Pakistan Fruit and Vegetable Exporters Association (PFVA), said. “The tax revenue targets will not be met, shortage of foreign exchange will further depreciate rupee above all.”

The end of the fixed tax regime will also require exporters to maintain records of their income, expenditure and profits which they said was not possible under current circumstances due to supply chain issues.

“In the case of the 29 percent tax imposed on export income in the Federal budget 2024-25, the focus of exporters will be diverted from the main goal of enhancing the export of fruits and vegetables from Pakistan since they will spend more time in maintaining records of income, expenditure and profit,” Ahmed added.

In a separate press conference, Chairman of Pakistan Gem and Jewelry Traders and Exporters Association (PGJTEA) Habib-ur-Rahman said the export industry of gold jewelry was currently suffering a “severe crisis.”

“Exports are suspended and the 18 percent sales tax requirement on advance gold purchase from foreign buyers under the Entrustment Scheme by the Federal Board of Revenue has dashed the hopes of exporters,” Rahman said, adding that the export of gold ornaments would be reduced from $100 million to $1-2 million if the sales tax exemption was not restored on the export of gold ornaments.

In a rare move, representatives of the country’s salaried class also lodged their protest against new taxation measures.

Ubaidullah Shareef, the President of Salaried Class Alliance Pakistan, a newly formed body, said the government had “further burdened” the already struggling salaried class.

“The salaried class pays three times more tax than exporters and retailers,” Shareef said, highlighting that educated segments of society were leaving the country due to oppressive taxes.


Monsoon rains expected in Pakistan from June 26, bringing relief amid heat wave 

Monsoon rains expected in Pakistan from June 26, bringing relief amid heat wave 
Updated 25 June 2024
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Monsoon rains expected in Pakistan from June 26, bringing relief amid heat wave 

Monsoon rains expected in Pakistan from June 26, bringing relief amid heat wave 
  • Meteorological department warns of flash floods in some parts of the country 
  • Pakistan has been in the grips of severe heat wave since last month

ISLAMABAD: Monsoon rains are expected to hit parts of Pakistan from June 26 till the beginning of July, the meteorological department said on Tuesday, offering much-needed relief during an ongoing heat wave.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has issued a comprehensive monsoon forecast for July, highlighting the potential impact of rainfall across various regions of the country, which has been facing a severe heat wave since last month, with temperatures in some regions rising to above 50 degrees Celsius. 
“Rains predicted in the country from June 26 to July 1,” the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) said in a statement on Tuesday. “Monsoon currents from the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal likely to penetrate eastern parts of the country from June 26.”
The statement warned that heavy rains could cause flash floods in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Sialkot, Gujranwala and Narowal hilly areas of Kashmir from June 28-30. 
Dust storms, windstorms and lightning can also affect daily routines and potentially cause damage to lose structures like electric poles, vehicles and solar panels during the period, the PMD said, advising all the concerned authorities to remain on alert and take precautionary measures.
In Pakistan’s southeastern province of Sindh, the PMD said rain and thundershowers with isolated heavy rainfall were expected in Mithi, Umarkot, Mirpur Khas, Sanghar, Tando Allahyar, Badin, Thatta, Karachi, Hyderabad, Jamshoro, Shaheed Benazirabad, Nausheroferoze, Khairpur, Dadu, Sukkur, Jacobabad, Kashmore and Larkana districts.
For the country’s Punjab province, the statement said Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Murree, Galliyat, Attock, Chakwal, Jhelum, Mandi Bahauddin, Gujrat, Gujranwala, Hafizabad, Wazirabad, Lahore, Sheikhupura, Sialkot, Narowal, Sahiwal, Jhang, Toba Tek Singh, Nankana Sahib, Chiniot, Faisalabad, Okara, Kasur, Khushab, Sargodha, Bhakkar and Mianwali would receive rainfall from June 27 onwards.
“Rain and thundershowers are expected in Bahawalpur, Bahawalnagar, D.G. Khan, Multan, Khanewal, Lodhran, Muzaffargarh, Rajanpur, Rahimyar Khan and Layyah from June 26-30,” it added.
The statement said heavy rainfall was also expected in the Dir, Chitral, Swat, Kohistan, Malakand, Bajaur, Shangla, Battagram, Buner, Kohat, Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Mansehra, Abbottabad, Haripur, Peshawar, Mardan, Hangu and Kurram districts of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province from June 28.
With regards to the country’s largest province Balochistan, the PMD said thundershowers were predicted in Lasbella, Khuzdar, Awaran, Jhal Magsi, Kalat, Naseerabad, Jaffarabad, Dera Bugti, Kohlu, Zhob and Barkhan districts from June 26-28.
In Gilgit-Baltistan, rain and thunderstorms were expected in Diamir, Astore, Ghizer, Skardu, Hunza, Gilgit, Ghanche and Shigar whereas Kashmir’s Neelum valley, Muzaffarabad, Rawalakot, Poonch, Hattian, Bagh, Haveli, Sudhanoti, Kotli, Bhimber, and Mirpur can also receive rainfall from June 28.
Pakistan is consistently ranked among the world’s worst-affected countries due to climate change. Unprecedented rainfall and the melting of glaciers triggered massive floods across the country in 2022, killing nearly 1,700 people and inflicting damages worth $3 billion. Scientists and experts attributed the floods to the adverse effects of climate change. Heat waves and droughts have also become common in Pakistan.


Three of 10 tourists abducted by separatists in southwestern Pakistan released 

Three of 10 tourists abducted by separatists in southwestern Pakistan released 
Updated 25 June 2024
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Three of 10 tourists abducted by separatists in southwestern Pakistan released 

Three of 10 tourists abducted by separatists in southwestern Pakistan released 
  • Tourists were kidnapped last Wednesday night at tourist spot called Shaban near provincial capital of Balochistan
  • Province has seen decades-long insurgency against what separatists call unfair exploitation of resources 

QUETTA: Three of ten tourists who were abducted last week in southwestern Pakistan by separatist militants have been released, a local paramilitary official said on Tuesday.

The tourists were kidnapped last Wednesday night at a famous tourist spot called Shaban, 35 kilometers from the provincial capital of Quetta in Balochistan province. The separatist militant outfit, the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), claimed responsibility for the kidnappings. 

Levies paramilitary official Ajmal Khan said on Tuesday three people, including a Pakistan customs official, had been released, without offering details on how the release happened. 

“Levies has condoned off the area and a search operation is underway,” Khan told Arab News. 

Six of the ten tourists abducted belong to the same family. 

“Soon we will recover the rest of the seven abductees,” home minister Zia Langove said. 

The BLA is the most prominent of a number of separatist groups operating against the Pakistani state in Balochistan. BLA’s stated aim is complete independence for Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province by territory but the smallest in terms of population given its arid mountainous terrain.

The province has seen a decades-long insurgency against what separatists call the unfair exploitation of resources in the mineral-rich region.

A spokesperson for the BLA told Arab News in an emailed statement the three tourists had been released because they were found to be “innocent,” without specifying what they were found to be innocent with regards to. 

“BLA had detained 10 individuals after an intelligence tip-off,” the BLA said. “The remaining suspects are undergoing judicial investigation and proceedings.”

Balochistan borders Afghanistan to the north, Iran to the west and has a long coastline on the Arabian Sea. It has Pakistan’s largest natural gas field and is believed to have many more undiscovered reserves.

It is also rich in precious metals including gold, the production of which has grown over recent years.

Most of the separatist groups operate independently, but some recent reports in local media have pointed to increasing cooperation between them.

Pakistani security forces have been their main focus, but in recent years they have also targeted Chinese interests, given Beijing’s increasing economic footprint in the region.


In ‘major breakthrough,’ joint venture signed to establish Chromebook assembly line in Pakistan

In ‘major breakthrough,’ joint venture signed to establish Chromebook assembly line in Pakistan
Updated 25 June 2024
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In ‘major breakthrough,’ joint venture signed to establish Chromebook assembly line in Pakistan

In ‘major breakthrough,’ joint venture signed to establish Chromebook assembly line in Pakistan
  • Production capacity to be scaled up from 500,000 to million Chromebooks per year
  • Partnership expected to boost technology sector, generate employment, PID says

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government has signed a letter of understanding (LoU) with a local Google partner and a foreign company to establish a state-of-the-art Chromebook assembly line through a joint venture, the Press Information Department (PID) said on Tuesday.
Pakistan’s IT sector has been performing well in recent years, marking another all-time high record of $310 million in inflows in April. 
Central bank data shows the country achieved 62 percent year-on-year growth in the sector. During the 10 months of the current fiscal year (10MFY24), IT exports clocked in at $2.59 billion, up by 21 percent annual basis as compared to $2.14 billion recorded in 10MFY23.
Pakistani IT exports are expected to rise to above $3.5 billion after the government allowed a retention limit from 35 percent to 50 percent in the Exporters’ Specialized Foreign Currency Accounts.
“In a major breakthrough, National Radio Telecom Corporation (NRTC) Pakistan, Allied Australian, and Tech Valley Pakistan signed a letter of understanding (LoU) at the Ministry of Federal Education, paving the way for a groundbreaking joint venture to establish a state-of-the-art Chromebook assembly line in Pakistan,” PID said in a statement on Tuesday. 
Tech Valley Pakistan is a social enterprise and the official country partner of Google for Education, Google Workspace and Google Cloud in Pakistan.
The statement said the joint venture was aimed at harnessing the expertise, technology and market insights of each party to establish a world-class assembly line at NRTC and Haripur City in the country’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province after receiving regulatory approvals and infrastructure availability.
PID said the partnership would help boost the country’s technology sector, create new opportunities for economic growth, and generate employment.
“The assembly line will have an initial production capacity of 500,000 Chromebooks per year, which will be scaled up to one million per year,” the statement said, adding that the collaboration had the potential to transform Pakistan into a hub for technology manufacturing and innovation in the region.


Pakistan cabinet approves draft MoU for student, teacher exchanges with Saudi Arabia

Pakistan cabinet approves draft MoU for student, teacher exchanges with Saudi Arabia
Updated 25 June 2024
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Pakistan cabinet approves draft MoU for student, teacher exchanges with Saudi Arabia

Pakistan cabinet approves draft MoU for student, teacher exchanges with Saudi Arabia
  • Spokesperson religious affairs ministry confirms draft approved, agreement to be signed in coming days 
  • Pakistan has a close relationship with Saudi Arabia, which has been its friend and benefactor for decades

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s federal cabinet on Tuesday approved the draft of a memorandum of understanding to be signed with Saudi Arabia for the exchange of students, teachers and delegations, the ministry of religious affairs said. 
Pakistan has a close relationship with Saudi Arabia, which has been its friend and benefactor for decades. 
“On the recommendation of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Division, the Federal Cabinet approved the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Government of Pakistan and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Da’wah and Guidance, Saudi Arabia,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
Speaking to Arab News, the spokesperson of the ministry of religious affairs, Muhammad Umer Butt, confirmed the development. 
“The cabinet has approved the draft of the MOU which will now be signed later on,” he said. “It is about the exchange of teachers, students and delegations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia under both countries’ relevant ministries.”
Pakistanis have made various contributions to Saudi Arabia over the decades. In the 1960s, Pakistani pilots operated RSAF fighter jets during Saudi Arabia’s Al-Wadiah conflict with Yemen as the PAF raised the RSAF (1969). The Pakistan Army was also crucial in helping the Saudi authorities put an end to the 1979 Grand Mosque Seizure. 
The immigration of Pakistanis is believed to have helped create contemporary Saudi Arabia, with doctors, engineers, professors and other professionals from Pakistan spending their lives in Saudi Arabia and making significant contributions to the country’s growth and social advancement.
Pakistanis living in Saudi Arabia are the largest source of remittances to the South Asian nation. According to a 2023 estimate, 2.64 million Pakistanis live and work in Saudi Arabia.