Pakistan army chief reaffirms military’s support to caretaker government for economic revival
Jun 01, 2023
ISLAMABAD: Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen. Asim Munir on Monday reaffirmed the military’s support to the caretaker government of Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar to revive the economy, particularly through projects under the newly established Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC).
The SIF is a hybrid civil-military forum aimed to fasttrack economic development by attracting investment from foreign nations, particularly Gulf countries.
A notification dated June 17 from then Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s Office said SIFC would seek investments in the energy, IT, minerals, defense and agriculture sectors from GCC countries. The body, which has the army chief and other military leaders in key roles, aims to take a “unified approach” to steer the country out of economic crisis.
“COAS reaffirmed Pakistan Army’s all out support to Caretaker Government for continuity of policies in a bid to revive country’s economy and steer Pakistan toward progress and prosperity,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement after the fourth Apex Committee Meeting of SIFC was held on Monday, the first one under PM Kakar.
“Prime Minister appreciated the efficient functioning of SIFC through a collaborative “Whole of Government Approach” for achieving horizontal and vertical synergy,” PMO said.
“The Apex Committee appreciated SIFC’s outreach strategy to achieve global traction and ongoing engagements with brotherly / friendly countries including productive visits of high-level delegations from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Islamic Organization for Food Security.”
Earlier this month, a delegation from Saudi Arabia arrived in Pakistan to explore investment opportunities in the mining sector, aiming to tap into Pakistan’s $6 trillion estimated worth of mineral deposits. The Saudi delegation attended Pakistan’s first dedicated summit on minerals in Islamabad, organized under the umbrella of the SIFC.
In July, Pakistan established a Land Information and Management System, Center of Excellence ((LIMS-CoE) to modernize its agricultural sector, with Saudi Arabia providing an initial $500 million investment to set up the facility.
Continued economic and investment support from Saudi Arabia and other allies is key for Pakistan, as economic stabilization is a major challenge for PM Kakar, who took oath this month, with the $350 billion economy on a narrow recovery path after an ongoing $3 billion International Monetary Fund bailout averted a sovereign debt default. Economic reforms have already fueled historic inflation and interest rates.
ISLAMABAD: Pakistani health care tech startup MedIQ is expanding its operations in Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, through joint ventures (JVs) with hospitals and companies as it seeks to capitalize on the Kingdom’s potential to digitize its health care services under the Saudi Vision 2030 plan, the startup’s founder said on Monday.
Saudi Arabia is consolidating its economy on modern lines under Vision 2030 to cut its reliance on oil and is aimed at developing public service sectors in the Kingdom such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation, and tourism. The Kingdom aims to restructure the health sector and is committed to investing heavily in health technology sector to meet these ambitious goals. Much of the Kingdom’s SR180 billion ($50.3 billion) 2023 health care budget is directed toward digital health initiatives.
Dr. Saira Siddiqui, a doctor who holds a PhD in Health Economics from the University of Yorkshire, started MedIQ around three-and-a-half years ago in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad. The startup aims to redefine health care through a digitally enabled hybrid ecosystem and is currently operating in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Canada.
“The solutions which we have developed in Pakistan, they are being used more in Saudi Arabia as compared to here because Pakistan still has to go a long way in digitization of health care services,” Siddiqui told Arab News. She said MedIQ is striving to make health care more patient-friendly, integrated and trying to ensure that all stakeholders in the system provide health care services efficiently through technology.
Siddiqui said one of the key areas of focus of the Saudi Vision 2030 was enhancing health care services through the use of technology, adding that the SR180 billion Saudi health budget for 2023 focuses on digitization of hospital health care records, provision of remote patient monitoring, and virtual care.
“MedIQ is actually developing software which are connecting the hardware, the information, the patient, and the human resource providing health care services together,” Siddiqui said.
The Pakistani startup founder said to enhance its penetration in the Kingdom’s market, MedIQ has collaborated with large Saudi groups and different holding companies by entering into joint ventures with them for different products.
“We are working with Almana Hospital and then we are also working on a project with Elm, which is their ministry,” Siddiqui shared. She added that MedIQ was also collaborating with the prominent Dr. Sulaiman Al Habib Hospital.
Siddiqui said her startup is currently working with one mid-tier hospital chain and one top-tier hospital chain, in addition to government hospitals in Saudi Arabia.
She said MedIQ was also very active in the UAE and was prioritizing technology-driven wellness and lifestyle modification products, leveraging virtual and augmented reality to induce behavioral changes.
“Now from UAE and KSA, we plan to expand to the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries,” she added.
Siddiqui said the response to her health care technology software was “phenomenal” as it secured over 2.5 million customers globally during the last three years.
Technology adoption in Pakistan is low but the UAE and Saudi Arabia are spending heavily on health care technologies, Siddiqui said.
”So, we see a better growth, a more favorable response from the GCC market,” she explained.
Siddiqui said women were the bulk users of her products as it is usually hard for them to visit hospitals without male companions in Pakistan and the Middle East. “According to the figures which we have, about 74 percent of our users are women and [the] women having children or dependents such as older parents,” she added.
ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Cricket Board unveiled the ‘Star Nation Jersey’ today, Monday, at a ceremony held at Lahore’s Qaddafi Stadium, as the national team prepares for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023, scheduled to take place from Oct 5 to Nov 19 in India.
Pakistan’s opening match in the tournament is set for Oct 6 against the Netherlands in Hyderabad, while the highly anticipated match against arch-rivals India will take place in Ahmedabad on Oct 14.
In a press release issued on Monday, Zaka Ashraf, head of the PCB Management Committee, said the new jersey encapsulated Pakistan’s “rich cricketing heritage and the luminous future that awaits.”
“The Star Nation Jersey bears witness to the enduring bond between our cricketers and the passionate fans who stand by them through every match,” Ashraf was quoted as saying in a statement released by the PCB.
“The Star Nation Jersey signifies more than a mere piece of apparel; it embodies the profound connection between Pakistan’s cricketing heroes and their steadfast supporters,” the PCB said.
“Drawing inspiration from celestial bodies, each star symbolizes brilliance, aspiration, and the radiant glow of cricketing achievements. This design philosophy encapsulates the spirit of cricketing excellence, resonating deeply with every Pakistani cricket enthusiast.”
Pakistan has released many iconic jersey designs in the past, with its 1999 World Cup jersey, bright green with a prominent dark green star in the front, at No. 8 in a CricTracker ranking of top 10 international cricket jerseys of all time.
Colored kits were introduced for the first time in the 1992 World Cup when the men in green picked up their first and only World Cup trophy, donning lime green uniforms with red, blue and white strips running across the shoulder blades.
KARACHI: Protests against high electricity bills continued in several parts of the country, including Pakistan’s commercial hub Karachi on Monday, with the city’s traders threatening to shutter their businesses if the government does not slash the cost of electricity in a country already suffering from high inflation.
The protests began in Karachi from August 17 after consumers started receiving exorbitant bills due to a Rs4.96 per unit power tariff hike imposed by Pakistan’s National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) . The move was part of a condition set by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to approve a short-term $3 billion bailout package for the South Asian country.
After August 17, the protests spread from Karachi to other parts of the country, intensifying on Saturday and Sunday with angry protesters torching their electricity bills and demanding the government reverse the hike in the power tariff. The protests prompted Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar to chair an emergency meeting where he demanded reforms within 48 hours to tackle the issue of rising electricity costs.
Kakar is scheduled to hold another emergency meeting today, Monday, to discuss the crisis.
“We will continue our protest demonstration on Tuesday and if the government fails to address the tariff issue, we will observe a countrywide shutter down strike on August 31, 2023,” Ajmal Baloch, president of the All Pakistan Anjuman-e-Tajiran, a body of traders in the city, told Arab News.
Baloch said the government would have to withdraw extra charges it had imposed in electricity bills, adding that the new rates were too costly for the entire nation.
“I have an electricity bill [for July] of a fellow trader who consumed just 10 units but he has been charged over Rs6,000 ($19.77),” Baloch said.
Another consumer, Muhammad Rizwan, said he was charged Rs1,501.56 ($4.95) in his electricity bill for the month of July for consuming only two units. The inclusion of various taxes in the bill, including tariff adjustments, increased the amount to Rs3,747 ($12.34). Rizwan showed a copy of the bill to Arab News.
Kashif Chaudhry, president of the Markazi Tanzeem-e-Tajran Pakistan, a central body of traders, announced the body’s decision to protest against the excessive hike in fuel and electricity rates.
“If the government fails to address this issue, we are going to observe a countrywide shutter down strike on September 2 to force the rulers to withdraw oppressive high electricity and fuel rates,” he told Arab News.
Atiq Mir, Chairman of the All Karachi Tajir Ittehad, an umbrella of major business associations in Karachi, demanded tax-free bills. “Protests will continue across Pakistan until the issue is resolved and we want the government to remove all taxes and charge [customers] only for the consumption of electricity,” Mir told Arab News.
Mir was among a group of traders that met Haq last week in Karachi. He added that the caretaker prime minister was informed about the seriousness of the situation following the hike in power tariffs.
“I told the PM that the current situation is very depressing and if remedial actions are not taken, it could lead to anarchy in the country,” Mir said. “Karachi has awakened the country and the protests will continue till the issue is resolved.”
Senior Pakistani economist Ali Khizar, however, believes the government would have to resort to revenue collection measures to create fiscal space as it remains in the IMF’s program.
“The government has to show only the fiscal side to the IMF and if you are coming up with a subsidy, you will have to collect revenue to fill that gap,” Khizar told Arab News.
“The fund says you should not leave fiscal space vacant as it leads to a circular debt surge and that is what the IMF does not want,” Khizar explained. “It is difficult but they will have to do something to address public woes.”
He called for suspending the supply of cheap or free electricity to the privileged lot, reforms to reduce losses of power distribution companies, and restructuring high-capacity payments.
ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday reserved its verdict on former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s plea seeking the suspension of a three-year jail sentence in a case involving the sale of state gifts, with his party saying the judgment would be announced tomorrow, Tuesday.
Khan was convicted and jailed by a trial court earlier this month on charges of unlawfully selling state gifts that he and his family acquired during his tenure from 2018 to 2022. He was subsequently barred by the election regulator from politics for five years on Aug. 8.
Under Pakistani law, a convicted person cannot run for any public office for a period defined by the ECP, which could be up to a maximum of five years starting from the conviction date.
“11am tomorrow morning [Tuesday],” a member of Khan’s media team said in a text message to reporters when asked when the verdict, reserved by the IHC on Monday, would be announced.
A two-member IHC bench comprising Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri heard the case on Monday, as the Election Commission of Pakistan’s lawyer, Amjad Parvez, presented his closing arguments in the case. Khan’s lawyer, Latif Khosa, completed his arguments last week.
The PTI’s petition against the conviction has called it “without lawful authority, tainted with bias,” and said Khan, 70, had not received an adequate hearing. It said the court had rejected a list of witnesses for the defense a day before reaching its verdict, calling this a “gross travesty of justice, and a slap in the face of due process and fair trial.”
Khan has been at the heart of political turmoil since he was ousted as prime minister in a vote of no-confidence last year, raising concern about Pakistan’s stability as it grapples with an economic crisis.
With Khan out of the political picture for now, all eyes should be turning to an upcoming election due in November but widely expected to be delayed, fueling fears of more public anger and political uncertainty.
ISLAMABAD: Prominent human rights lawyer Imaan Zainab Mazari-Hazir was rearrested on Monday shortly after she was released from Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail on bail in a sedition case, a lawyer from the family said.
Mazari-Hazir and Ali Wazir, co-founder of the Pashtun ethnic rights movement, the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), were arrested earlier this month in a case that has put a spotlight on what rights groups have called a growing crackdown on politicians and rights activists in Pakistan. The arrests on Aug. 20 came two days after they addressed a rally organized by the PTM in which they criticized Pakistan’s all-powerful army. They are both charged with sedition, preventing government officials from carrying out their duties and damaging public property.
“@ImaanZHazir has been rearrested on terrorism charges by the @ICT_Police from outside Adiala Jail,” family lawyer Ahsan J. Pirzada said. “Bara Kahu police has taken custody of Imaan & have refused to share any FIR [police complaint] with us nor have they shared any arrest warrants with us.”
What a disgrace! As you all know by now, @ImaanZHazir has been rearrested on terrorism charges by the @ICT_Police from outside Adhilya Jail. Bara Kahu police has taken custody of Imaan & have refused to share any FIR with us nor have they shared any arrest warrants with us. pic.twitter.com/vAZ6j3Tfca
At an Aug. 18 PTM rally, Mazari-Hazir and Wazir both criticized the Pakistani military over enforced abductions, which the army denies being involved in. In videos widely circulated on social media, the human rights lawyer urged action against serving military officials involved in such acts, calling them “traitors.”
Mazari-Hazir’s mother Shireen Mazari is a former human rights lawyer and an ex-member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan. The PTI has faced intense state action since May when Khan was briefly arrested in a graft case, unleashing nationwide protests in which his supporters ransacked and damaged military and other properties. Khan was released on bail then but is currently in jail in another corruption case and has been disqualified from running for elections.
Wazir, who co-founded the PTM which campaigns against alleged extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of Pashtuns and other ethnic minorities, served as a legislator in Pakistan’s National Assembly from August 2018 to August 2023.