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PM Shehbaz Sharif touches down in Saudi Arabia on three-day visit

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  • Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif starts maiden three-day visit to Saudi Arabia.
  • Pakistan to request KSA to increase deposits amount by $2 billion: sources.
  • Bilawal Bhutto, Khawaja Asif, Miftah Ismail, other officials accompanied PM.

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif Thursday arrived in Saudi Arabia — for his three-day visit — at the invitation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz.

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, Shahzain Bugti, Mohsin Dawar, Khalid Maqbool Siddiqi, Chaudhry Salik, and four members of PM Shehbaz Sharif’s personal staff are accompanying the prime minister on his visit.

Governor Madinah Faisal bin Salman Al Saud and high-level Saudi officials received the prime minister after he touched down in the Kingdom.

The prime minister held a brief meeting with Madinah’s governor, where both the leaders exchanged views on bilateral relations.

Taking to Twitter before leaving for Saudi Arabia, PM Shehbaz said that his visit will “renew and reaffirm” ties between the two countries. He added that he will hold wide-ranging discussions with the Saudi leadership.

Briefing on the visit, Foreign Office spokesperson Asim Iftikhar, in a statement, had said that the prime minister will be in the Kingdom from April 28-30.

During the visit, the prime minister will have bilateral interaction with the Saudi leadership, with a particular focus on advancing economic, trade and investment ties, and creating greater opportunities for the Pakistani workforce in Saudi Arabia, the spokesperson said.

“The two sides will also exchange views on a range of regional and international issues of mutual interest,” the spokesperson said.

Iftikhar said Pakistan and KSA are bound by fraternal relationships marked by mutual trust and understanding, close cooperation, and an abiding tradition of supporting each other.

The people of Pakistan hold the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in the highest esteem, the spokesperson added.

“The bilateral relationship is complemented by close mutual collaboration at regional and international fora. Saudi Arabia is a member of the OIC Contact Group on Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.

Iftikhar said Saudi Arabia is home to more than two million Pakistanis, contributing to the progress, prosperity and economic development of the two brotherly countries.

The spokesperson further noted that regular high-level visits are a key feature of this special relationship.

Iftikhar added that the prime minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia would impart a strong impetus to deepening bilateral cooperation in diverse fields and further reinforce the growing partnership between the two countries.

Pakistan to ask for additional $3.2b from Saudi Arabia 

Pakistan has decided to seek an additional package of $3.2 billion from Saudi Arabia to jack up the total facility to $7.4 billion from the existing $4.2 billion during the current visit of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, in order to avert further depletion of foreign currency reserves.

Top official sources confirmed while talking to The News on Wednesday: “We are going to request the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to increase the amount of the deposit from $3 billion to $5 billion and double the Saudi Oil Facility (SOF) from $1.2 billion to $2.4 billion, so the total package could be increased up to $7.4 billion during the visit of premier Shehbaz Sharif.” 

When one of the top officials of the Finance Division was contacted and inquired about the proposed package from Saudi Arabia, he replied: “We are requesting for deferred payment facility and enhancing the credit extended for forex support.” 

However, the top official showed reluctance to share further information about the exact details to be requested by PM Shehbaz Sharif before the KSA authorities, especially in his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and other top dignitaries.

Pakistan will also make a request to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for rollover of the existing package of $4.2 billion for one year till June 2023 in order to align it with the IMF programme as Islamabad has already asked the Fund to extend the existing Extended Fund Facility (EFF) for nine months till June 2023 coupled with increasing the size of the programme from $6 billion to $8 billion.

Saudi Arabia had already given $3 billion deposits to the State Bank of Pakistan and an oil facility on deferred payment worth $1.2 billion during the tenure of the last PTI-led regime. The deposits were given in December 2021, while the Saudi Oil Facility (SOF) started in March 2022 and so far, $100 million have been disbursed.

Saudi Arabia had placed stringent conditions on the last package amount of $4.2 billion and linked it to the IMF programme.

The IMF programme is expected to be revived by end of June 2022 if all things are settled, as Islamabad requires a breathing space for three months period.

According to the estimates calculated by Dr Hafiz A Pasha, Pakistan requires a $12 billion injection in order to avert the balance of payment crisis and further depletion of the foreign currency reserves. Pakistan will have to seek a rollover of $4.3 billion from China, including $2.3 billion in commercial loans and the remaining $2 billion in deposits. PM Shehbaz Sharif is also expected to visit China next month to muster the required support from the friendly country.

Pakistan’s foreign currency reserves held by the State Bank of Pakistan depleted rapidly by $5.5 billion in the last six weeks period and stand at $10.8 billion now. 

Any further depletion of the foreign reserves could put the country into a crisis mode, so the government was making all-out efforts to get bridge financing from the friendly country to avoid a decrease in the foreign currency reserves till the time of reviving the stalled IMF programme.

Pakistan and the IMF had already kick-started number-crunching by sharing data and now the IMF review mission was expected to start parleys from the mid of May 2022 to accomplish the pending Seventh Review and release of the next tranche of $960 million.

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Massive power breakdown hits Pakistan

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  • Minister says power generation units are temporarily shut in winter at night.
  • Says frequency variation in national grid triggered outage.
  • Says ministry trying to restore power in next 12 hours.

LAHORE/KARACHI/QUETTA/ISLAMABAD: A countrywide power breakdown, triggered by a “frequency variation” in the national grid early Monday morning, has left large parts of the country including Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta without electricity. 

Power Minister Khurrum Dastagir, while talking to Geo News, said that the power generation units are temporarily shut down in winter at night as an economic measure to save fuel costs.

“When the systems were turned on at 7:30am this morning one by one, frequency variation was reported in the southern part of the country between Jamshoro and Dadu. There was a fluctuation in voltage and power generating units were shut down one by one due to cascading impact. This is not a major crisis,” said the federal minister as the country plunged into darkness for the second time in four months.

The minister said that his ministry has started restoring some grid stations in Tarbela and Warsak. 

“Peshawar Electric Supply Company (PESCO) and some grids of Islamabad Electric Supply Company (IESCO) have already been restored,” claimed the minister.  

Talking about the breakdown in Karachi, the minister said that the matter in the port city is complicated as it has a complete electric supply system.

A shopkeeper speaks with a customer (not pictured) at a medical store during a country-wide power breakdown in Karachi, Pakistan January 23, 2023. — Reuters
A shopkeeper speaks with a customer (not pictured) at a medical store during a country-wide power breakdown in Karachi, Pakistan January 23, 2023. — Reuters

“We provide K-Electric about 1,000-1,100 megawatts routinely, however, it will be restored within a few hours. It is not certain how long will it take to sort this issue. However, my target is to restore electricity in the country in the next 12 hours,” said the minister. 

Before the energy ministry’s announcement, different power distribution companies had confirmed the breakdown.

According to Quetta Electric Supply Company (QESCO), the two transmission lines have tripped leaving 22 districts of Balochistan, including Quetta without power.

Karachi power update

Meanwhile, K-Electric spokesperson Imran Rana said that at approximately 7:34am today, the national grid experienced a loss of frequency, affecting the power supply to multiple cities across Pakistan

“This has also cascaded to KE’s network affecting power supply to Karachi,” Rana said, adding the KE’s network is safe and protected.

“Our teams are actively monitoring the situation and enabling restoration efforts.”

An IESCO spokesperson said that its 117 grid stations were without electricity.

Meanwhile, PESCO also confirmed the outage in areas where it supplies electricity. 

This is the second time within four months that a country was hit by a major power breakdown.

NEPRA takes notice

The National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA), in a statement, said that it has taken “serious notice” of the power outage and directed the National Transmission & Despatch Company (NTDC) to submit a “detailed report”.

The statement also said that the regulator has previously imposed fines on similar outages in the 2021 and 2022. It also shared that NEPRA has consistently issued directives and recommendations on tackling such events in future.

Previous breakdown 

In October of last year, Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Quetta, Multan, and Faisalabad were hit by a power outage.

At that time, the power minister said that nearly 8,000 megawatts of power went offline.

Back then, Dastagir had said that the simultaneous faults in two power lines, which had triggered the breakdown, at the same time was concerning for the government. He had also announced that an in-depth inquiry was ordered and promised action.

A timeline of power breakdowns in Pakistan

The country’s generation and distribution network has suffered eight major power breakdowns during the last nine years.

In 2014 and 2017, nationwide blackouts were caused by a fault in Tarbela Power Station while fog, frequency variation and the Guddu Power Plant fault were blamed for breakdowns in 2015, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022 and 2023.

Every time the party in power announced to conduct a comprehensive probe and vowed to rectify the issues but nothing has happened despite multiple inquiries.

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Punjab ordered to issue divorce certificates to non-Muslims

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  • Lahore High Court directs provincial authority to frame rules within 90 days.
  • Petitioner says issue is faced by many members of Christian community.
  • NADRA’s Registration Policy allows change of marital status on basis of affidavit.

The Lahore High Court (LHC) Wednesday directed the Punjab government to frame, within 90 days, rules under which union councils would issue divorce certificates to members of Christian and other non-Muslim communities in Pakistan.

In many parts of the country, the divorce certificates are not issued to non-Muslims by union councils that instead claimed such certificates were “not issued to the Christian community.” This is an issue for members of the said community because, without a divorce certificate, they cannot request the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to update their marital status while applying for the renewal of their identity cards.

The matter was brought to the attention of the LHC during the case Shumaila Sharif vs the secretary union council etc.

The petitioner in her appeal requested that the court is a writ of Mandamus — an order from a court to an inferior government official ordering the government official to properly — against the relevant union council and direct it to issue her the divorce certificate.

The case proceedings

The petition was heard on December 16 last year and the presiding judge was Judge Tariq Saleem Sheikh.

During the proceedings, the counsel of the petitioner, Advocate Umar Saeed, said that the issue was faced by several people in the Christian community and was not a one-off incident.

Citing Section 33 (1)(j) of the Punjab Local Government Act 2022 (PLGA 2022) — which mandates that union councils ensure registration of births, deaths, marriages and divorces for all the communities without discrimination — and Article 36 of the Constitution, which expressly requires the state to protect the minorities’ legitimate rights and interests, the counsel argued that by refusing to issue the requisite certificate, the council was failing to fulfil its legal duty.

Additionally, Advocate Kashif Alexander, the court’s amicus curiae on the matter, contended that obtaining a divorce certificate is a legal right that cannot be denied.

Together the two emphasise that while the Constitution of Pakistan (1973) does not explicitly guarantee the right to identity, Article 9 (right to life) and Article 14 (dignity of man) safeguard that right. Therefore, any citizen whose marital status changes due to the dissolution of marriage by divorce has a fundamental right to obtain a divorce certificate from the competent authority and then have their CNIC updated/revised.

The Additional Advocate General has little to defend the respondents and said that the provincial government was taking steps to address the complaints of the Christian community regarding the non-issuance of divorce certificates.

The verdict

During the proceedings, it was brought to the court’s attention that NADRA’s Registration Policy dated 06.04.2021 (Version 5.0.2) allowed a change of marital status of a divorcee on the basis of an affidavit in the prescribed form.

In light of this, the court directed that until the provincial government framed the requisite rules needed for the issuance of the divorce certificate by the union council, NADRA shall accommodate the Christian community in accordance with the Registration Policy 19.

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Anchor Mishal Bukhari passes away at 38

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Mishal Bukhari, a renowned journalist and anchorperson, has passed away at the age of 38 after battling cancer for two years, Daily Jang reported. 

The news of Mishal’s demise was announced by her husband, Ameer Abbas, who is also a renowned anchorperson, on Twitter. 

“My wife, journalist Mishal Bukhari, a beautiful heart, an incomparable personality, an incredibly patient, unbelievably brave woman, left an unbearable shock after fighting cancer for two years,” Abbas wrote.

The funeral prayers of the journalist will be held at 1pm in Jamia Masjid-al-Muntazir in Lahore today.

Mishal, who was an award-winning broadcast journalist, was born on  July 8, 1984, in Karachi. She started her career as a news anchor on a private TV channel. She also worked for Pakistan Television.

The news of her sad demise triggered an outpour of reactions from fellow journalists and politicians, who offered their condolences.

“Remembering #mishalbukhari our host #AppTV who lost battle against cancer in Lahore on Tuesday evening. Thoughts of our team members with whom she worked are with her parents, family,” wrote Rauf Klasra.

Former deputy speaker Qasim Khan Suri offered condolences and prayed for the departed soul and her family members. 

Maritime Affairs Minister Faisal Subzwari prayed for the family members and the deceased journalist. 

Columnist Dr Shahid Masood also offered his condolences and prayers. 

Pakistan lost another journalist at the very outset of 2023 after 2022, a year riddled with several tragic deaths including senior Pakistani journalists. The last year saw the shocking deaths of famous televangelist Aamir Liaquat Hussain, anchorperson Arshad Sharif and Jang Press president Imran Aslam.

In July 2022, the news of sudden death of Hussain sent shock waves across the country. This was followed by the tragic death of Sharif, who was shot dead in a case of “mistaken identity” by Kenyan police in Nairobi in October.

Later in December, Aslam, a giant of journalism, passed away during the course of treatment at a local hospital.

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