Pakistan News

A file photo of Prime Minister Imran Khan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. — Photo courtesy: PTI Twitter/File

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia has agreed to revive its financial support to Pakistan, including about $3 billion in safe deposits and $1.2bn to $1.5bn worth of oil supplies on deferred payments.

An agreement to this effect was reached during the visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to the kingdom this week, a senior government official told Dawn. However, a formal announcement would be made by PM’s adviser on finance and revenue Shaukat Tarin and Energy Minister Hammad Azhar on Wednesday at a news conference.

The development was later confirmed in a midnight tweet by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry. “Saudi Arabia announcement support Pakistan with 3 billion US dollars as deposit in Pakistan central bank and also financing refined petroleum product with 1.2 billion US dollars during the year,” he wrote.The Saudi government would immediately deposit $3bn in Pakistan’s account for a year and keep it rolling at least until the completion of the IMF programme in October 2023, the official earlier said.

The facility is expected to help Pakistan convince the IMF about its financing plan. In addition, the Saudi government would provide crude oil to Islamabad on deferred payments worth up to $1.5bn per annum.

Saudi Arabia had also provided $3bn in cash deposits and promised a $3bn oil facility to Pakistan to help the latter shore up its foreign exchange reserves in 2018. However, as the bilateral relations deteriorated later Islamabad had to return $2bn of the $3bn deposits.

In June this year, a news conference was informed that Saudi Arabia had announced the availability of $1.5bn oil facility per annum. Three months later then finance minister Tarin had claimed that an agreement for another Saudi oil facility on deferred payments had been reached and would be formally announced within two to three days. The announcement got delayed as Islamabad engaged with the US authorities and the IMF.

“They [Saudi Arabia] are not only considering another oil facility on deferred payments but an agreement has almost been reached that would hopefully be made public in two or three days,” Mr Tarin stated on September 30 on the floor of the National Assembly in response to a question.

Officials said the IMF had asked Islamabad to ensure financial flows that it had promised at the time of finalising the 39-month Extended Fund Facility. Support from the kingdom and China was a key pillar of the three-year financing plan.

Mr Tarin had confirmed to the National Assembly that with the premier’s approval, during the financial year 2013-14, an amount of $1.5bn, equivalent to Rs157.19bn, was received as grant from Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency and transferred to Pakistan Development Fund Ltd account in the State Bank of Pakistan.

A file picture of Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmed Anjum, the new director-general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). — DawnNewsTV

• Minister says consultation between PM, COAS complete
• Notice issued to PTI’s chief whip in NA

ISLAMABAD: Following the reported impasse between the civil and military leadership on the issue of appointment of new Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday received a summary carrying names of candidates for one of the most powerful slots in the country.

A federal minister, who did not want to be named, told Dawn that the premier received the summary that carried names for the office of DG ISI.

Also, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) reprimanded its chief whip in the National Assembly Amir Dogar for disclosing details of the Monday night meeting of the PM with Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa followed by Mr Khan’s remarks at the cabinet meeting on Tuesday. He reportedly received a show-cause notice from the party.

Federal Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry on Wednesday tweeted that consultation between the PM and COAS on the appointment of a new DG ISI had been completed and the process for the appointment had begun. “The civil and military leadership has yet again proved that all institutions are united for the country’s stability, integrity and development,” he wrote.

While briefing the press about the cabinet meeting, the minister on Tuesday had stated that the prime minister wanted appointment of new DG ISI according to the Constitution.

However, according to experts in defence matters, the procedure for the appointment is not mentioned in the Constitution or the Army Act, and all past appointments were made as per traditions under which the army chief proposes three names to the premier who then makes a final decision.

Last week, the military’s media affairs wing, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) had announced that Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmed Anjum had been appointed the new ISI chief whereas Lt Gen Faiz Hameed had been posted as Peshawar corps commander.

Since a notification of the appointment had not been issued by the PM Office for next couple of days, it led to feverish speculation in the federal capital, compelling the government to break its silence on the issue. The information minister then on Tuesday told the presser that PM Khan and the COAS had a “long sitting” last night to discuss the matter after which the premier took the cabinet into confidence on the issue.

Meanwhile, Mr Dogar disclosed that the PM informed the federal cabinet that he had told the army chief that he wanted the DG ISI to continue for some time due to the critical situation in the neighbouring country.

“The prime minister has the authority to appoint the DG ISI and he held a detailed meeting with COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa in this regard,” stated Mr Chaudhry earlier at the presser. “The federal government will follow a legal and constitutional procedure on the appointment of the DG ISI,” he said.

The minister categorically stated there would be no step taken from the PM Office or the military setup that damaged the repute of one another.

It’s been a landmark year for Pakistani startups who have proved their mettle in terms of fundraising, with total invested capital year-to-date close to $290 million. — Dawn/File

It’s been a landmark year for Pakistani startups who have proved their mettle in terms of fundraising, with total invested capital year-to-date close to $290 million. This is bigger than all previous years combined, and by a margin. Much of the money has obviously been bagged by a handful of players, with around 55 per cent of the dollar value going to five companies.

At the same time, foreign investors — some of the most notable ones — are increasingly taking interest in Pakistan as evidenced by Kleiner Perkins, a giant in the venture capital (VC) world with over 700 exits, leading Tajir’s Series A. The market is so hot these days that not only veteran founders but also financiers are scratching their heads. Maybe there is some change in fundamentals at play behind this shift in sentiment about the country though that doesn’t really seem to be the case if one regularly follows the economic, or even political, news.

What exactly is happening then? Well, for starters, the clichéd, three-pointer pitch, (which has been overdone by the way) based on the population under 30 years of age, broadband connections and smartphone users, is appealing at the surface. And from the looks of it, no one is really interested beneath the surface. This has led to Fomo on the part of investors that it’s time to act or miss a great opportunity.

Forget proper due diligence, are some of the most notable VCs unable (or otherwise uninterested) to do even a few Google searches before writing sizable cheques?

Perhaps the most important factor is that the founders are much more aggressive now and are willing to dream bigger and therefore, seek bigger cheques. This in turn requires painting a rosy picture, which can sometimes be overly optimistic due to the top-down approach. To understand that, let’s do a hypothetical exercise. Say the wedding industry in Pakistan has an annual turnover of $10 billion and a tech-enabled startup planning to streamline it could assume to capture 5pc of the total market share, thus translating into a gross merchandise value (GMV) of $500m, at least on paper. However, the reality is usually at odds with such idealistic scenarios. Going bottoms-up is more grounded in reality, but ambitious people are known to avoid that.

From the looks of it, the current investment frenzy is on the back of not only such simplistic projections but also good old misleading at times. That can take multiple forms, one of which is representing GMV as the annualised run rate or annual recurring revenue (ARR). It’s like Pakistan Stock Exchange pitching to the Chinese that the total traded value is its top line. At early stages, one can understand why a startup would be talking about GMV as it gives an idea of the scale, but continuing to boast that metric, later on, does feel a little disingenuous.

Another common trend is mixing up app installs as “users”, or worse, even suggesting them as active users, which in turn can be very loosely defined. For example, a ledger application talking about serving millions of retailers or having monthly active users (those using the product at least twice) are not the best way to adopt. This bit is more used as a marketing gimmick than making a case to investors though.

The room for manipulation with facts becomes much more liberal within the regulated space since few investors are aware of the nitty-gritty. A classic tactic here is lying about the licensing approvals or the timelines. For example, one well-funded Electronic Money Institution pitched itself as “fully licensed by the State Bank of Pakistan” when in reality it just had the in-principle nod, which is literally the first phase. Based on the evidence, it takes an entity easily eight-10 months to actually graduate to the “pilot operations” stage and from there roughly another year or more to get the green light for “commercial launch”.

Tech startups also have a habit to come up with their own metrics which can be simply meaningless frankly. In the presentation, a ride hailing service reported, “gross revenues” of $29m as the top line with a microscopic footnote on one of the pages that the metric in question is a non-International Financial Reporting Standards term which was arrived at after adding promos, refunds and toll charges.

Basically, the accounting wizardry was something like this: if today the company was doing 100 rides with a ‘fair’ price of Rs150 but due to the discounts, the actual amount received from the customer was just Rs50, the topline recognised Rs15,000 instead of the Rs5,000. The convenient assumption being that even if the rates are brought up by 3x, the volumes will stick — something that was entirely at odds with their own experience. By the way, their total revenues — the lame, widely recognised measure — during the same period was about $14m, meaning less than half of the number they were bragging about.

Now obviously, a lot of these players are working on entirely new business models and they could argue (not too convincingly) that the traditional metrics don’t do justice to them. Fair point, but last I checked, the downward sloping demand and upward supply curves are still alive. As for mixing up the obtained regulatory approvals, calling memoranda of understanding ‘agreements’ or using ARR and GMV interchangeably, either the founders are genuinely not familiar with the differences or they are deliberately misleading. We can have a debate on what’s worse: being ignorant or dishonest. This also raises questions on the aptitude of foreign investors who are throwing in money like crazy. Forget proper due diligence, are some of the most notable VCs unable (or otherwise uninterested) to do even a few Google searches before writing sizable cheques? But shush, it’s unpatriotic to raise questions when dollars are finally flowing into Pakistan.

It’s great that we are on the investment radar at last and the founders are aggressive but chasing those funds by whatever means poses a broader risk to the system and can potentially do great damage to the years of sweat founders have put in to get this far.

his file photo shows ate scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: A petition based on late scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan’s last will was filed in the Islamabad High Court on Monday against alleged flawed entry tests for admission to medical and dental colleges.

The petition filed by Supreme Court advocate Mohammad Waqas Malik as co-petitioner was referred to Justice Babar Sattar for hearing. It requested the high court to set aside the results of Medical and Dental Colleges Admission Tests (MDCAT).

The petition, available with Dawn, said the petitioner (A.Q Khan), who was once known and called “father of Pakistan’s atomic weapons programme”, had faced ignorance at the hands of the state. “…The petitioner felt dejected by the materialistic approach of the functionaries and ill-treatment with future of Pakistan, hence this petition. That the government half-heartedly dissolved the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) and set up the Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC), which as usual resulted in a mess,” it stated.

The petition regretted that the poor students had been forced to appear in a useless test (MDCAT) and required to pay each time more than Rs6,000. Earlier in 2018, the public universities and colleges used to select students on the basis of marks obtained. The universities and colleges were allowed the number of seats/students up to that aggregate marks and merit list was prepared and published, it said, adding that private educational institutions were also following the same rules.

Co-petitioner says the plea signed by nuclear scientist had to be filed the day he breathed his last

The petition cited the Ministry of National Health Services, the federation through the Ministry of Interior, the PMC, the Ministry of Law and other departments as respondents. It pleaded that PMC Conduct of Examination Regulations 2021 may be set aside for being contrary to the fundamental rights and the respondents be directed not to expose young students to violent policies.

Advocate Waqas Malik, while talking to Dawn, said Dr Qadeer Khan had signed the petition and it had to be filed the day he breathed his last. “As it was the last will of Dr Khan so I decided to file the same petition and mentioned my name as a co-petitioner,” he said.

Pakistan Medical Association secretary general Dr Qaiser Sajjad told Dawn that the association had been making a hue and cry since the passage of the PMC Ordinance, but no one bothered to hear the voice of the medical fraternity.

“We appreciate that Dr Khan had decided to raise voice against the blunder made by the PMC. So far three results of same MDCAT have been handed over to candidates, but students are not satisfied with any of them. We appeal to the decision-makers to look into it and address the issue,” he said.

Dr Sajjad added that across the globe such tests were held on a single day, but the PMC decided to take the exam in one month. “Only around 200,000 students appeared in the exam as compared to 1.8 million students in India who appear in the exam on a single day.”

He said it was another blunder that the PMC had introduced the online examination system without carrying out a pilot project and taking the stakeholders on board due to which now they were getting information about the flaws.

In July this year, Transparency International Pakistan had asked the PMC president and the government to take notice of violations of PPRA rules in the award of the MDCAT contract.

Former director-general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt Gen Faiz Hameed. — Photo via ISPR/File

October does not disappoint. The change of command at the ISI notified on Wednesday is the single most consequential development in recent months, according to Red Zone insiders. Given the nature of the country’s political situation, this change at the top of the agency is expected to spawn many major and minor ripples in critical areas.

Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmed Anjum now replaces Lt Gen Faiz Hameed as the director general of the ISI, while the former DG has been appointed as commander of the 11 Corps in Peshawar. Gen Faiz has had a lengthy stint at the ISI and leaves a deep imprint in more ways than one, as was reflected in the blistering press conference by Maryam Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday.

The routine-ness of these postings and transfers is, like always, deceptively un-routine in its significance. After the retirement of three lieutenant generals this month, seven more three star officers will retire from service before Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa completes his tenure in November 2022.

If we look at the seniority list of lieutenant generals as of November 2022, the former DG ISI is one of the four who will be senior-most. The new DG ISI is one among the batch of four lieutenant generals below the four who will be senior-most in November next year.

Among these top four, three have already commanded corps. Lt Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza, is currently commander of the Rawalpindi 10 Corps. Lt Gen Azhar Abbas, the current Chief of General Staff at the GHQ, has previously commanded 10 Corps, while Lt Gen Nauman Mahmood was commander of the Peshawar 11 Corps before being posted as president of the National Defence University on Wednes­day. With General Faiz appointed as the Peshawar corps’ commander, the top four three star officers who will be the senior most in November next year are now qualified to be in the run for the top slot.

As per convention, the GHQ sends four names to the prime minister for consideration as the next Chief of the Army Staff (COAS). These names are usually from the same Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) course that is the senior most at the time of the appointment. The prime minister then makes two choices: one lieutenant general from among the four is promoted to the four-star rank as Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) while the other is appointed as a four-star Chief of the Army Staff.

It was Pakistan’s worst-kept secret that Lt Gen Faiz was due for a posting out of the ISI as he had yet to command a corps since donning his third star. As one of the four generals who will be eligible to be considered for the post of next army chief, it was widely expected that he would be assigned the command of a corps. The only question was: which one?

In his capacity as DG ISI, Lt Gen Faiz played a key role in shaping and executing Pakistan’s Afghan policy. It was he along with special envoy Ambassador Mohammad Sadiq who were central figures in helping patch together the Doha talks between the United States and Taliban. The two were also instrumental in engaging with the Taliban both in Doha and in Afghanistan. Gen Faiz also played an important role in the short-lived quiet ‘backchannel’ talks between Pakistan and India that took place till late last year. However, he was also accused by PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz of taking on an oversized political role.

His successor at the ISI, Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmad Anjum will bring his own command priorities to the assignment. Given the significant impact of his predecessor on various areas of policy — including the domestic arena — it would be interesting, actionably speaking, to see how he steers the organisation into some areas and whether he would de-emphasise other domains.

These appointments come at a crucial time for the country’s politics. Elections are due latest by October 2023, and Red Zone insiders are already doing their calculations, which can of course all come undone given the unpredictability of events in this system. The new DG ISI has another two years of service left. He retires in September 2023 — all things remaining equal, that is — so if he serves this time in his present assignment, he would still be in office when the National Assembly ends its five-year term in August 2023 and a caretaker government is sworn in.

This is a risky calculation to make though. If there is a new army chief in November 2022, he would make many appointments afresh. This still leaves the next 13 months. Thirteen very crucial months.

PML-N insiders confide that these 13 months will be make-or-break for them. Most of them were waiting with bated breath for the October appointments. Maryam Nawaz’s fiery press conference on Wednesday was timed accordingly. It sent a message. A very direct message.

It could be a gamble. This gamble will play out in the next 13 months. Would it accrue dividends? And to whom? No one is taking bets.

What many in the PML-N are hoping — such hope being garnished with their political acumen — that the October appointments could, perhaps, provide them the space they need to get back fully into the game. Part of this relates to the larger strategic outlook that may take shape in the wake of adjusted priorities reflected in the new appointments, but part of it is fairly tactical. Opposition insiders believe that if the prime minister’s dependency on some key individuals might lessen because of recent changes, this in itself would constitute a significant alteration to the way that the PM is managing his political affairs. Advantage opposition, the opposition thinks.

The realm of speculation is an expansive one. The specificity of the new NAB ordinance as announced by the cabinet ministers on Wednesday, or of the Pandora Papers, or even of the looming political and legal battles in the remaining months of this year, all these could start knitting the realm of speculation into a realm of possibilities.

All bets are on. Except, all bets are off.

A security official stands guard at Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing at Chaman. — Reuters/File

ISLAMABAD: The flow of Afghan transit trade and Pakistan’s exports to Afghanistan saw a deeper drop since the Taliban took control of Kabul in August.

The flow of cargo fell by 16 per cent in August 2021 and a further decline of 73pc in September from last year, which many experts attributed to the uncertainty in the wake of the takeover of Afghanistan.

Official data available with Dawn shows that the flow of cargoes dipped 73pc to 4,212 containers in September 2021 from 15,846 containers in the same month last year. In August 2021 the container’s flow fell to 7,864 containers from 9,312 containers last year, indicating a decline of 16pc.

Pakistan has regained its share in the Afghan transit trade in the past few years. In April 2021, the flows of transit cargo posted a growth of 169pc, followed by an 115pc increase in May, 32pc in June, and 60pc in July, respectively.

The assessed import value of the transit cargoes also dipped 71pc to $130.7 million in September 2021 against $444m over the last year. Similarly, a 14pc declined was noted in August as the import value of the transit cargoes fell to $273m from $319m over the last year.

Mujahid said trade with neighbouring countries under Taliban rule will be promoted but that hasn’t happened

Many experts believe that uncertainty in Afghanistan has led to a drop in commercial imports under transit trade since August. Transit cargo reaches Afghanistan via Torkham and Chaman border stations.

Traditionally, Torkham in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was one of the leading border points for cargo movement. In the past few years, a partial slowdown was also noticed in the commercial cargoes at the border station. Data shows diversion that transit importers have chosen Chaman as a new destination until the fencing is complete in the Balochistan province.

A customs official said that the drop in commercial containers at Torkham border is believed to have been one of the outcomes of the fencing of border with Afghanistan as it has become difficult for smugglers to re-enter transit goods in KP areas. However, there is no official confirmation for this.

At the same time, the volume of bilateral trade also fell during the first two months of the current fiscal year from a year ago. The value of Pakistan’s exports value to Afghanistan stood at $95.672m between July and August 2021 against $123.785m over the corresponding months of last year, indicating a decline of 22.7pc.

On August 15, the Taliban took over Kabul and declared its rule over Afghanistan.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid at its first press conference reiterated that Taliban will continue trading with neighboring countries. He said steps will be taken to promote trade. However, the data did not support his claim.

Contrary to the decline in exports, Pakistan’s imports from Afghanistan have seen a visible increase in the first two months of the current fiscal year. The import value from Afghanistan stood at $18.960m in July-August 2021 against $9.514m over the same months last year, showing an increase of over 99pc.

This increase in the imports from Afghanistan was the outcome of Islamabad’s policy to continue trade with Kabul and extend further facilitation removing duty on import of fruits from Afghanistan.

At the Torkham border, the comparison of imports for pre-Taliban period (July 1 to August 15) with post-Taliban period (August 16 to September 30) shows a 142pc increase in import value from Rs6,757.09m to Rs16,373.67m.

The total number of import vehicles registered 160pc increase from 9,117 vehicles to 23,698 vehicles. It shows that the movement of trucks across the border increase after Taliban took over Kabul by bringing an end to the practice that Afghan police and transport ministry officials posted on the Afghan side demanded from drivers between 10,000 and 25,000 Afghanis to let their trucks return to Pakistan.

According to a Customs official main reason for massive imports from Afghanistan is the facilitation of vehicular traffic and trade by the Taliban as there are no delays and extortion from drivers.

On the other side, a comparison of the post-Taliban period shows an increase in revenue collection at the customs stations as well.

This undated file picture shows the late Umer Sharif. — Courtesy: Twitter

Legendary comedian Umer Sharif passed away in Germany on Saturday after battling serious health problems. He was 66.

Sharif's death was confirmed to Dawn.com by Arts Council of Pakistan's president Ahmed Shah, who said he had spoken to Sharif’s family members.

Later, Pakistan's ambassador to Germany, Dr Mohammad Faisal, also confirmed the news of Sharif's demise.

"With deep sorrow it is announced that Mr Umer Sharif has passed away in Germany," he tweeted. "Our deepest condolences to his family and friends. Our CG is present at the hospital to assist the family in every way."

Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was saddened to learn of Sharif's passing. Taking to his Twitter account, he said that he had "the good fortune" of touring with the comedian to raise funds for Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital.

"He was one of our [greatest] entertainers and will be missed," he said.

Sharif had boarded an air ambulance for treatment at a hospital in the US on Sept 28. However, his condition deteriorated on the way and was admitted to a hospital during a stopover in Germany.

The veteran actor's medical condition became a subject of national concern after he made a video appeal to PM Imran to help him secure a visa to travel abroad for medical treatment.

The federal government had assured him that it would help and the Sindh government also stepped in, sanctioning Rs40 million for his treatment.

Sharif had suffered a heart attack in August and according to his close friend, Pervaiz Kaifi, he had gone through two heart bypasses.

He was born on April 19, 1955. He started his career as a stage performer using the name Umer Zarif but later renamed that to Umer Sharif. Two of his popular comedy stage plays were Bakra Qistoon Pe and Buddha Ghar Pe Ha.

Sharif received national awards for best director and best actor in 1992 for Mr. 420. He received ten Nigar Awards and remains the only actor to receive four Nigar Awards in a single year.

He was also a recipient of the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz for his contributions as comedian, actor and producer in the entertainment industry.

He who made everyone smile, today leaves us grieving: Imran Ismail

Sindh Governor Imran Ismail paid tribute to the deceased, saying: "The one who used to spread smiles on people's faces has left everyone grieving today. Umer Sharif was big name in Pakistan's film, television and theatre [industry].

"I had met him numerous times and besides being a good artist, he was an excellent human being. I pray that Allah grants Umer Sharif the highest place in Jannah."

Sharif took comedy to new heights: Bilawal

PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari expressed "shock and grief" at Sharif's death.

“The late comedian gave a new dimension to the art of comedy in Pakistan and took it to new heights,” he said, adding that the services of the legendary star would be remembered for life.

Bilawal also conveyed his condolences to Sharif’s family and prayed to the Almighty Allah to grant "courage and fortitude" to the bereaved family.

Sharif's services for comedy will be remembered world over: Sindh CM

Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah also expressed deep sorrow over Sharif's death, calling him "a great actor" and adding that his services for comedy will be remembered all over the world.

He also recalled that the Sindh government had played its part in trying to save his life [by making arrangements for an air ambulance to transport him to the US for treatment].

Tragic loss for entertainment industry: German ambassador

German ambassador to Pakistan, Bernhard Schlagheck, deemed Sharif's death "a tragic loss for the entertainment industry" 

Void created by Sharif's death may never be filled: Firdous

PTI leader Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said Sharif was "the uncrowned king of comedy" and that “the void created by his death may never be filled”.

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