KARACHI: With the digitization and improved efficiency of its marine departments, Pakistan is confident of boosting its exports, particularly of seafood, to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a top official at Pakistan Single Window (PSW) facility said on Thursday.
The PSW is the lead Pakistani agency that allows parties involved in trade and transport to lodge standardized information and documents at a single-entry point to fulfill all import, export and transit-related requirements. The facility helps reduce the time and cost of doing business in Pakistan and makes trade-related business processes more efficient, transparent and consistent.
Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries are major recipients of Pakistani fish and fish products and the digitization would further boost exports to these countries, according to Naveed Abbas Memon, the PSW chief domain officer.
“We are very much confident that with digitized trade, the exports are bound to increase because those (Gulf) countries will be getting the documents from Pakistan which will be verifiable online,” Memon told Arab News.
“They will feel more confident about the Pakistani fish and fish products going to them so they can check that these goods have been properly inspected by the concerned department.”
In the first phase, Memon said, they had digitized four departments, including Department of Plant Protection, Mercantile Marine Department, Federal Seed Certification Department and Pakistan Quality Control Authority.
“In the second phase [completed in July], we digitized four more departments, which also includes Marine Fisheries Department that actually regulates exports of fish and fish products from Pakistan to other countries,” he said.
The digital QR code-enabled certificates are being issued after digitization for the importing countries so that they have more accurate and verifiable data, according to the official.
Pakistan’s fish and fish product exports increased by 15.2 percent to a record high of $496.3 million during the outgoing fiscal year ending on June 30 as compared to $430.8 million worth of seafood exports in the previous year, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS).
Pakistani fish and seafood exporters attributed the record exports to higher rates they fetched from the international market.
“This year, the fish landing was far better and the exporters were also able to fetch good prices,” Muhammad Zafar Iqbal, the Pakistan Fisheries Exporters Association (PFEA) chairman, told Arab News.
Some European and other countries had banned imports from Pakistan, otherwise the number would have gone far above the current level, Iqbal said.
He said the digitalization process had not only reduced the processing time, but it had also ensured paperless trade.
“The way digitization is facilitating exporters, they feel more encouraged, they feel less hassle and they are not required to physically go to the government departments,” Memon said.
“The processes which involved five to ten days, now those processes have been reduced to one to two days. So, in a way, the exports are being facilitated.”
Following the digitization of government bodies, importers would also now feel confident about placing orders with Pakistan, the PSW official hoped.
The drive would help integrate the PSW with other countries, including those in the Middle East, he added.
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Tuesday reserved its verdict on former prime minister Imran Khan’s petition against amendments made to Pakistan’s accountability laws last year, local media widely reported. 
The NAB (Second Amendment) Bill 2021, passed by both houses of parliament in May 2022, states that all “pending inquiries, investigations, trials or proceedings under this ordinance, relating to persons or transactions… shall stand transferred to the authorities, departments and courts concerned under the respective laws.”
It also restricts the country’s anti-corruption watchdog, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) from acting on federal, provincial or local tax matters and removes regulatory bodies from NAB’s domain. The bill reduces the four-year term of the NAB chairman and prosecutor-general to three years, sets a three-year term for judges of accountability courts, and makes it mandatory for them to decide a case within a year.
On June 25, 2022, Khan moved the Supreme Court against the NAB (Second Amendment) Bill 2021. Khan’s petition said the amendments were made to benefit influential accused persons and legitimize corruption, adding that the amendments were tantamount to “depriving the citizens of Pakistan of having access to law.”
A three-member bench of the apex court, comprising Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, heard Khan’s petition on Tuesday. During the hearing, the chief justice inquired whether there were any sections in the amendments according to which the cases could be transferred to another relevant forum. 
“After these amendments, a lot of the National Accountability Bureau’s work has come to an end,” Justice Bandial said, according to Pakistan’s English language newspaper Dawn, after he was told by Khan’s lawyer Khawaja Haris that a lot of pending NAB cases have returned after the amendments. 
Haris said that as per the amendments, an investigation would be conducted, after the review of which the cases could be sent to other forums. Khan’s counsel also informed the court that after changes to the law, neither did NAB have the authority to deal with the cases nor to send them to other relevant forums.
“After the amendments, the pending investigations and inquiries have gone to the mortuary,” Justice Ahsan was quoted as saying by Dawn. “Till the mechanism for the transfer of inquiries is formed, the public’s rights will be directly affected.”
The chief justice said toward the end of the hearing that ensuring the public prospers and is secure is the state’s responsibility. “We will soon announce a short and sweet verdict of the case,” Justice Bandial said, according to Dawn. 
Islamabad: A Pakistani court on Monday sentenced four individuals to death for committing blasphemy by sharing content deemed to be insulting to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the Holy Qur’an, while another one was awarded seven years of rigorous imprisonment in the case. 
Blasphemy is a sensitive issue and carries harsh penalties, including a death sentence, in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam’s holy book and personalities can provoke death at the hands of vigilantes. 
Since 1990, at least 1,415 people have been accused of blasphemy in the South Asian nation of 241 million, while 89 of them have been killed, including 18 females and 71 males, according to Islamabad-based think-tank Center for Research and Security Studies. A majority of these accused include Muslims. 
On Monday, a Rawalpindi district court judge, Ahsan Mahmood Malik, handed down the death sentence to Faizan Razzaq, Amin Rais, Muhammad Rizwan, and Wazir Gul for committing the offense, additionally imposing a fine of Rs100,000 ($325). 
“Death sentence of the convict shall not be executed unless it is confirmed by the Honourable Lahore High Court, Rawalpindi Bench, Rawalpindi,” the judgment read. 
As per Pakistani law, a death sentence awarded by a lower court has to be confirmed by the relevant high court before its execution. 
Another accused Usman Liaqat was sentenced to “rigorous imprisonment for seven years and with a fine of Rs100,000” in the case, according to the court order. 
The convicts were booked by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in September last year, after the complainant, Umar Nawaz, accused them of creating a WhatsApp group and sharing blasphemous content on it. An FIA investigation team found them guilty of the crime following a forensic analysis of the group, according to the charge-sheet. 
The verdict came a day after a man shot and wounded a Christian priest, Elizar Sandhu, in the eastern Pakistani city of Jaranwala after he refused to recite a Muslim religious text, according to the police complaint. 
The incident occurred just weeks after vigilante mobs in the area vandalized 19 churches and more than 80 homes, displacing hundreds in the small religious minority community. 
The violence began after someone allegedly found desecrated pages of the Qur’an in the vicinity and took them to a mosque prayer leader that was followed by announcements calling for punishment, police and residents say. 
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs has asked private Hajj operators to give suggestions regarding the improvement of Hajj operations and the implementation of new Saudi instructions regarding reduction in the number of pilgrims for each company, a spokesperson for the ministry said on Tuesday. 
The development came at a meeting between Caretaker Religious Affairs Minister Aneeq Ahmed and a delegation of the Hajj Organizers Association of Pakistan (HOAP) which was also attended by the religious affairs secretary and other officials of the ministry. 
Pakistan has been assigned a quota of 179,210 pilgrims in advance by the Saudi authorities for next year’s Hajj and the country is currently pondering over an early start of the Hajj process for better management, according to the ministry. Private tour operators have been given 60 percent of the pilgrim quota, while 40 percent will travel under the government scheme. 
“The religious affairs minister asked the delegation of private Hajj operators to provide suggestions regarding the betterment of the pilgrimage and also for the implementation of the new Saudi instructions to restrict pilgrims’ number for each company between 2,000 and 3,000,” Muhammad Umer Butt, a spokesperson of the religious affairs ministry, told Arab News. 
“HOAP representatives assured that they will present their proposals on the cluster of Hajj companies according to the new Saudi instructions.” 
During the meeting, he said, various issues were discussed, including the facilities provided by Saudi companies during the pilgrimage, the sponsorship Hajj scheme and service visas. 
“The minister said services of the most private Hajj group operators are exemplary and any suggestions for the improvement of the pilgrimage will be welcomed,” the spokesperson said, adding that 901 Hajj companies were currently registered with the ministry. 
Muhammad Sanaullah Ahmed, senior vice-chairman of HOAP, said Saudi Arabia’s expansion of companies working with Hajj operators in South Asia had increased competition, leading to improved facilities for the pilgrims. 
“A system has been established by the Saudi authorities and is accessible to the common people visiting the Kingdom for Umrah and Hajj,” he told Arab News. 
Due to the presence of over 900 operators, Ahmed said, there was a healthy competition in Pakistan to provide better services to pilgrims on affordable rates. 
“Secondly, there are approximately 60,000 to 65,000 families whose livelihoods depend on these companies,” he said, adding HOAP was actively working to present its suggestions regarding the new Saudi guidelines in the next few days. 
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s caretaker prime minister claimed on Monday that US military equipment left behind during the American withdrawal from Afghanistan has fallen into militant hands and ultimately made its way to the Pakistani Taliban.
The equipment — which includes a wide variety of items, from night vision goggles to firearms — is now “emerging as a new challenge” for Islamabad as it has enhanced the fighting capabilities of the Pakistani Taliban, Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said.
The Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, have over the past months intensified attacks on Pakistan’s security forces. They are a separate militant group but an ally of the Afghan Taliban.
The Taliban overran Afghanistan in mid-August 2021 as US and NATO troops were in the last weeks of their chaotic pullout from the country after 20 years of war. In the face of the Taliban sweep, the US-backed and trained Afghan military crumbled.
There is no definite information on how much US equipment was left behind — but the Taliban seized US-supplied firepower, recovering guns, ammunition, helicopters and other modern military equipment from Afghan forces who surrendered it. Though no one knows the exact value, US defense officials have confirmed it is significant.
Speaking to a select group of journalists at his office Monday in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, Kakar did not provide any evidence to support his allegation or directly link the Afghan Taliban and the TTP. He said there was a need to adopt a “coordinated approach” to tackling the challenge of the leftover equipment.
Kakar also did not criticize the Afghan Taliban — Islamabad has tried to reach out and act as an interlocutor between the international community and the new rulers in Kabul, who have been ostracized for the harsh edicts they imposed since their takeover.
However, two security officials in Islamabad told The Associated Press that the TTP either bought the equipment from the Afghan Taliban, or was given it as an ally. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the subject.
The Pakistani Taliban have also released statements and video clips in recent months, claiming they possess, for example, guns with laser and thermal sighting systems.
TTP fighters now target Pakistani troops from a distance, while before their only weapons were AK-47 assault rifles, one of the officials said, without elaborating.
Still, Pakistani security forces will continue to fight militants “to defend our home, children, mosques and places of worship,” Kakar said.
Kakar, 52, was sworn in last month as Pakistan’s youngest prime minister to head a caretaker government. His Cabinet will run day-to-day affairs until the next parliamentary elections. The vote, which was to be held in October or November, is likely to be delayed until at least January 2024 as Pakistan’s elections oversight body says it needs time to redraw constituencies to reflect the latest census results.
Kakar ruled out any talks between the government and the TTP since the militants unilaterally broke off a cease-fire last November.
Since the Taliban takeover next door, Islamabad says TTP fighters have increasingly been given shelter by the Afghan Taliban, straining relations between Islamabad and Kabul.
Pakistan became a key ally of Washington in its war against terror after the 9/11 attacks in the United States. This majority Muslim country is currently facing one of the worst economic crises even as its political turmoil deepens.
At his news conference, Kakar also stressed that all political parties — including the Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf opposition party of now imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan — would be allowed to participate in the upcoming elections.
“We are here just to assist electoral process,” Kakar said.
He did not directly mention Khan, who is not eligible to run in the elections as he is serving a three-year prison term for corruption. Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in April 2022, remains the country’s leading opposition figure.
ISLAMABAD: Italian Navy ship Morosini visited the southern port city of Karachi on Tuesday to conduct a bilateral exercise with the Pakistan Navy to bolster interoperability between the two forces, a statement from the Pakistan Navy said. 
The Italian ship received a warm reception when it arrived in Karachi, with high-ranking Pakistan Navy officials and the Ambassador of Italy to Pakistan, Andreas Ferrarese in attendance, the navy’s media wing said in a statement. 
Naval exercises are planned military training activities conducted by the naval forces of different countries. They serve various purposes, including training and readiness of naval personnel, fostering interoperability among different navies, testing equipment, and tactics. These exercises also deter potential adversaries, and prepare for crisis response. 
“On the completion of the port visit, Pakistan Navy Ship Shahjahan with an embarked helicopter and [Pakistan Air Force] fighters carried out a sea exercise with the visiting Italian ship to enhance interoperability between both navies,” the statement said.
The maritime exercise was designed to enhance the mutual professional capabilities of both naval forces by fostering cooperation and facilitating the exchange of valuable insights and expertise, the statement added. 
In tandem with the ship’s arrival, Vice Admiral Andrea Gueglio, the director of military personnel for the Italian Navy also visited Pakistan during which he met Vice Admiral Muhammad Faisal Abbasi, the commander of the Pakistani fleet.
“During the meeting, matters of mutual interest and avenues for future collaboration to enhance regional maritime security were discussed,” the statement said.