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EMI, Amjad Sabri to sue Bajrangi Bhaijan makers over ‘Bhar do jholi’

Wed, 07/01/2015 - 06:52

Salman Khan may have expressed his desire to be part of Bajrangi Bhajain’s Pakistan premier but it seems like not all on this side of the border will be welcoming the film – specifically in terms of its use of Bhar De Jholi.

The qawwali was revamped with the voice of Adnan Sami Khan for the Salman Khan-starrer and went viral soon after its release. However, it received mixed reviews, with many finding it bland owing to the incompatibility of Adnan’s sweet vocal texture for something as raw as a qawaali. But a legal battle by the qawaali’s original producers that has followed its release makes the quality of the soundtrack a rather trivial matter.

Pakistan’s biggest record label EMI Pakistan and Amjad Sabri qawwal, heir to the famous Sabri brothers, have called for legal action against the producers of the film and the qawwali in separate instances.

“Revamping the qawwali without my permission or consent is simply unethical and inappropriate,” Amjad Sabri told Roznama Express. “This is not an ordinary Kalaam; it’s the property of my family and will continue to be so for the coming seven generations.  This is an asset of my father Ghulam Farid Sabri and my uncle Maqbool Sabri.”

Read: If there’s a premiere of Bajrangi Bhaijaan in Pakistan, I’ll definitely go: Salman Khan

The version used in the film has been reworked by well-known composer Pritam Chakarborty and the film is being produced by Salman Khan Films and Kabir Khan Films.

Amjad is not only unhappy by the work ethics of the Indian producers but is also disappointed at the quality of the Bollywood version of the qawwali.  “They have not done justice to the heritage of our elders and I have hired a lawyer to sort out this matter,” he said.

EMI Pakistan, on the other hand, are all set to send separate legal notices to Salman Khan Films and Kabir Khan Films, Media Concepts (the company responsible for airing the film’s music in Pakistan) and also to 8xM and Jalwa music channels, which are subsidiaries of Media Concepts.

Read: Atif Aslam to sing for Salman Khan in ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’

“The Qawwali Bhar do Jholi is an EMI product which was not only released by EMI Pakistan but also recorded and produced under our banner. None of the authorities involved in the making of Bajrangi Bhaijan approached us to acquire the rights to the qawwali and as a result, we have sent them legal notices,” Zeeshan Chaudary, the general manager of EMI Pakistan, told The Express Tribune.

As per the details shared by the record label, the “original” qawwali was written by Purnam Allahbadi, composed by Maqbool Sabri and performed by Sabri Brothers for the purpose of recording a soundtrack in 1975.

“We have the rights to the complete recording of the original qawwali and its derivatives and neither Adnan Sami Khan nor the producer of the music or anyone else has acquired rights from us,” he said.

If both EMI’s and Amjad Sabri’s claims of possible copyright infringement are to be believed, it would benefit both parties to sort out the actual ownership of the qawwali before spiraling into a blame game.

Read: Raees-Sultan clash: ‘Salman and I will do everything together’ says Shah Rukh

“Amjad Sabri cannot claim the ownership of the Qawwali and we have the legal documents to prove that,” said Chaudary.

“He can only do that either by showing us the last will of his father, which ensures the inheritance of Ghulam Fareed Sabri’s intellectual property to his son or he will have to get a succession certificate as per the laws of the country. If he is able to do that, then he will also receive the royalties, as per the agreement with the original artist,” he added.

Chaudhry further elaborated that this applies to all cases wherein the children of any artists wish to claim rights to the artist’s intellectual property.

As for now Bajrangi Bhaijan is all set to release along with Bin Roye in Pakistan on Eid.

The post EMI, Amjad Sabri to sue Bajrangi Bhaijan makers over ‘Bhar do jholi’ appeared first on The Express Tribune.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Raees can wait: Mahira Khan’s film will release in India this Eid!

Wed, 07/01/2015 - 06:51

KARACHI: There’s too much happening in Lollywood and Bollywood these days. While Bin Roye and Wrong No. are creating waves in Pakistan, Bajrangi Bhaijaan has Salman Khan fans super excited on both sides of the border. And while these films are yet to release this Eid, there is already talk about Shah Rukh-Mahira-starrer Raees and Salman’s Sultan clashing on Eid next year.

Read: Raees-Sultan clash: ‘Salman and I will do everything together’ says Shah Rukh

With the fate of Bajrangi Bhaijaan‘s release in Pakistan still undecided (rumour has it the film’s release will be delayed to make room for local films), it is now confirmed that Bin Roye will in fact release simultaneously in India as well as at least eight other countries along with its release in Pakistan this Eid.

Bin Roye’s distributor HUM Network has inked a deal with international film distributor B4U Motion Pictures to secure the release of their film in the UK, USA, India, Canada, UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and Sweden. The film is also expected to release in Denmark and Norway and two other countries which will soon be revealed. Also, the film’s music album is going to be available worldwide on July 6.

B4U to release Pakistani film #BinRoye this Eid in India, USA, Canada, UK. Stars Humayun Saeed, Mahira Khan, Javed Sheikh, Zeba Bakhtiyar.

— taran adarsh (@taran_adarsh) June 29, 2015

First look of Pakistani film #BinRoye. Releases this Eid in India, USA, Canada, UK by B4U.

— taran adarsh (@taran_adarsh) June 29, 2015

Read: How five directors helmed Bin Roye

CEO of B4U, Ishan Saxena, said, “We are delighted to collaborate for Bin Roye as international distributors.

“As a business, we are always looking at connecting different Asian communities to their regional cinema. With our strong international foothold we hope to give Bin Roye a wide release in the key international markets.” he added.

BIN ROYE THEATRICAL TRAILER |Releasing on 17th July 2015|: via @YouTube

— B4U Motion Pictures (@B4UMotionPics) July 1, 2015

Duraid Qureshi, CEO of HUM Network also shared his opinion on this collaboration. “B4U is one of the most credible international distributors for Asian films, and we are thrilled that through this collaboration Bin Roye will reach to audiences worldwide.”

Bin Roye is based on popular novel Bin Roye Ansoo and features Humayun Saeed, Mahira Khan and Armeena Khan in lead roles. Co-directed by Momina Duraid alongside Shahzad Kahsmiri, the film will also be broadcast later as a television serial.

Read: Box office khichri: Is ‘Bhaijaan’s’ arrival being delayed to accommodate ‘Bin Roye’?

Although Mahira is set to make her Bollywood debut alongside Shah Rukh in 2016′s most awaited film Raees, her Indians fans are certainly in for a treat as they will get to see her on the big screen a year earlier. However, as surprising as it may be to some, this isn’t Mahira’s first film to release in India. In 2011, Shoaib Mansoor’s Bol was released in India to a fairly positive response which featured Mahira in a small albeit prominent role.

With Bin Roye’s release in India now confirmed, it is to be seen if Bajrangi Bhaijaan too will make its way to Pakistan on Eid. Whether or not Salman’s film releases here along with Bin Roye and Wrong No., what’s certain is that Mahira will compete against the Bollywood megastar, not just this year but next year as well!

Watch Bin Roye‘s trailer here:

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Woman sues police over headscarf removal

Wed, 07/01/2015 - 06:47

A Muslim woman who was ordered to remove her hijab  after being arrested in Michigan due to an unpaid parking violation has filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the city of Dearborn.

Maha Aldhalimi of Wayne County was parked in a no-parking zone outside the local Wal-Mart when a police officer arrested her for the violation.

Fatina Abdrabboh, ADC Michigan director, stated that Aldhalimi was ”arrested in a public place in a local Walmart and she presented no threat except perhaps for her frantic crying and begging to not have her head scarf removed.”

Aldhalimi was bound by her religious beliefs and tried to explain this to the male officers but they ordered her to take off her hijab at which point she felt humiliated and started crying and shaking.

Read:American Muslim woman sues Abercrombie over hijab

The police officers disregarded Aldhalimi’s religious beliefs even though she explained that Muslim women who wear hijab do not believe in exposing their hair to men outside of their close relatives. Aldhamlimi’s son was present as well and tried to reason with the police officers.

Troy attorney Shereef Akeel, Fatina Abdrabboh and Reem Subei, attorneys with the Michigan chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) filed a lawsuit in US District Court in Detroit regarding Muslim women who are forced to remove their headscarves by the Dearborn Police. There have been other cases of Muslim women being forced to remove their headscarf by the police due to which separate lawsuits were filed this year.

Read: US justices show support for Muslim woman denied job due to hijab

Dearborn Heights Police stated in an earlier court filing this year that the removal of a headscarf is done for security purposes. ”This is not about officer safety,” Abdrabboh said. “She could have been fully identified with her head scarf.”

The Dearborn Heights Police have not yet commented on their policies. There has been no comment by the Dearborn police as the lawsuit has not been served but ADC says they will keep working towards attaining greater religious freedom.

This article originally appeared on Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

IS attacks kill at least 15 soldiers in Egypt’s Sinai

Wed, 07/01/2015 - 06:40

CAIRO: A wave of attacks in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula claimed by the Islamic State group killed at least 15 soldiers Wednesday, with the toll expected to rise as troops fought a running battle with militants.

The terrorists launched simultaneous attacks against military checkpoints in the region, one with a powerful car bomb, the authorities said. ”It’s war. The battle is ongoing,” a senior military official told AFP.

Other security and medical officials said ambulances could not get to the scene of the attacks because of heavy fighting in which the military brought in Apache helicopters.

“Ambulances are waiting in front of the hospital. They can’t leave. People are bring in the casualties,” a health official told AFP. At least 15 soldiers have been confirmed dead, they said.

Troops regularly come under attack in the Sinai, where militants linked to the Islamic State group are waging a bloody insurgency.

Security officials said the attacks took place in Sheikh Zuweid, east of the provincial capital El-Arish where a car bomb, mortar shells, and rocket propelled grenades were used.

A security official said the militants had mined the exits from the Sheikh Zuweid police station to block reinforcements.

In a statement released online, IS said it carried out the multi-pronged assault. ”In a blessed raid enabled by God, the lions of the caliphate have simultaneously attacked more than 15 checkpoints belonging to the apostate army,” the group said.

It said the attacks involved three suicide bombers. It came two days after the country’s state prosecutor Hisham Barakat was killed in a Cairo bombing targeting his convoy.

Barakat was the most senior government official killed since militants launched an insurgency following the military’s overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

The authorities designated Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist group” in December 2013 as part of a crackdown on the opposition that has left hundreds of his supporters dead and thousands in jail.

Courts have sentenced hundreds to death, including Morsi himself, who was convicted of involvement in attacks on police stations. Morsi’s sentence is being appealed.

The government often blames his group for attacks, but the deadliest have been claimed by the IS affiliate in Sinai.

Wednesday’s attack was similar to a series of ambushes on April 2 in which dozens of militants attacked several checkpoints, killing 15 soldiers. The militants kidnapped a soldier and later executed him, and made off with military weapons.

In January, a combined rocket and car bomb attack on a military base, a nearby police headquarters and a residential complex for army and police officers killed at least 24 people, most of them soldiers.

The attacks have come despite stringent security measures imposed by the army in the Sinai, including a night-time curfew and the creation of a buffer zone along the Gaza border to prevent militants infiltrating from the Palestinian territory.

The dominant militant group in the Sinai, previously known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or Partisans of Jerusalem in English, pledged allegiance to the IS group in Iraq and Syria last November.

The group is believed to be led by a mysterious Egyptian cleric, Abu Osama al-Masry, and has recruited at least one former special forces officer who had left the military. The militants have mostly focused their attacks on soldiers and police, killing hundreds since Morsi’s overthrow.

They previously said they avoided targeting civilians but claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing on a tourist coach in February 2014 that killed three South Koreans and their driver.

Police foiled an attack at a pharaonic temple crowded with tourists in Luxor earlier this month. On Tuesday, gunmen shot dead a policeman outside a small museum south of Cairo, and three suspected militants died in an accidental car explosion in the capital, police said.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Emergency law fuels army abuses in Indian Kashmir: Amnesty International

Wed, 07/01/2015 - 06:33

NEW DELHI: A controversial law giving Indian soldiers legal impunity in restive Kashmir is fuelling grave human rights abuses including the killing of innocent civilians, a major rights group said Wednesday.

Amnesty International said the national government had refused to prosecute any soldiers accused by local police of rights abuses in the region since the draconian law was introduced in 1990.

“This lack of accountability has in turn facilitated other serious abuses,” said Minar Pimple, Amnesty’s senior director of global operations.

The London-based group released a report on the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in insurgency-hit Indian Kashmir.

Accountability still missing for human rights violations in Jammu & Kashmir #JusticeDenied

— Amnesty India (@AIIndia) July 1, 2015

Read: Indian kashmir: AJK premier slams police atrocities

The emergency law gives thousands of soldiers and paramilitary forces sweeping powers to shoot on sight, detain suspects without trial and seize property.

Successive governments and the army have staunchly resisted calls for repeal of the law, arguing it is needed to quell insurgencies and track down militants.

But Amnesty and other groups have repeatedly said the law, also in force in India’s restive and remote northeast, was breeding further violence and alienation.

The report includes interviews with families whose relatives have allegedly been killed, sexually assaulted or tortured by soldiers and is based in part on the examination of court, police and other official records.

“I have lost faith in police and the courts, but I have faith in Allah,” said Munawara Sultana, 43, who has been fighting for justice since 1993 when her husband was killed during a search by paramilitaries in Srinagar.

Read: Funeral held for Pakistani prisoner killed in Indian Kashmir

Police were reluctant to file cases against soldiers accused of wrongdoing, and the army was unwilling to cooperate even if police did decide to investigate, the report said.

Since 1990 the government has not agreed to any of the 44 requests from local authorities to prosecute accused troops, a requirement under AFSPA, it said.

Although the army has declared “zero tolerance” for abuses, it has dismissed as “false or baseless” 96 per cent of the more than 1,500 complaints of military wrongdoing between 1993 and 2011, the report said.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since 1947. Both countries claim the disputed territory in its entirety.

Since 1989 groups have been fighting India for independence or a merger of the Himalayan territory with Pakistan.

Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have died, but violence has steadily declined since the countries signed a ceasefire agreement in 2003.

The post Emergency law fuels army abuses in Indian Kashmir: Amnesty International appeared first on The Express Tribune.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

Record 137,000 refugees, migrants crossed Mediterranean this year: UN

Wed, 07/01/2015 - 06:31

GENEVA: A record 137,000 people made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe in the first half of 2015, most of them fleeing war, conflict and persecution, the United Nations said Wednesday.

“Europe is living through a maritime refugee crisis of historic proportions,” the UN refugee agency warned in a report.

The numbers flooding across the Mediterranean, often in rickety boats and at the mercy of human traffickers, have swelled 83 percent compared to the first six months of 2014, when 75,000 people made the journey, it said.

The situation is expected to deteriorate further as more clement summer weather allows ruthless people smugglers to dispatch more people.

Arrivals in the second half of 2014 were for instance nearly double those of the first half, UNHCR pointed out.

The immigration crisis is a burning issue for the EU, where member states have been wrangling over the best ways to tackle human trafficking and arguing over how to share the burden of helping new arrivals, many of them ill, starving and destitute.

Read: UNHCR chief praises K-P govt for hosting Afghan refugees

The soaring numbers arriving in Italy and Greece, before moving on to other northern European states in the hope of finding jobs, has sparked outcry and growing anti-foreigner rhetoric in many countries.

The report hailed Brussel’s decision to distribute 40,000 Syrian and Eritrean asylum-seekers who have already arrived in Europe among EU members but called for greater solidarity between countries — to help both the migrants and the states worst affected by the crisis.

UN refugee chief Antonio Guterres stressed most of those attempting the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean are not economic migrants.

“Most of the people arriving by sea in Europe are refugees, seeking protection from war and persecution,” he said in a statement.

A third of those who have arrived by sea in Italy or Greece this year came from war-ravaged Syria, while people fleeing violence in Afghanistan and Eritrea’s repressive regime each made up 12 percent of arrivals.

Other top countries of origin include conflict-wracked Somalia, Nigeria, Iraq and Sudan, the report said.

This year has also seen a sharp increase in the numbers of people dying as they try to cross the Mediterranean. So far 1,867 have been killed — 1,308 of them in April alone.

The unprecedented number of deaths that month spurred European leaders to significantly broaden search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, cutting fatalities to 68 in May and 12 in June.

“With the right policy, backed by an effective operational response, it is possible to save more lives at sea,” Guterres said.

Read: Hearth-less: Plight of refugees re-examined

Still, “for the thousands of refugees and migrants who continue to cross the Mediterranean every week, the risk remains very real,” he added.

Many of those fleeing to Europe first seek safety in overburdened neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, where a quarter of inhabitants are now Syrian refugees, the report said.

The UN also noted a shift in migration patterns, with the number of people travelling the eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey to Greece now surpassing the route from north Africa to Italy.

Italy, which last year had 170,000 people land on its shores — more than three quarters of all maritime arrivals in Europe — saw that slump in the first half of 2015 to 67,500.

In Greece, however, arrivals have more than doubled to 68,000 so far this year compared to 43,500 in all of 2014, the report said.

Greece has fewer than 2,000 reception places, and many refugees and migrants push on, aiming often for northern and Western Europe, particularly Sweden and Germany, which are seen as offering better protection and support.

But getting there often requires a long and dangerous journey, often at the hands of smugglers who route migrants through the Balkans and onwards through Hungary.

Every day, an average of 1,000 people enter Macedonia from Greece, up from 200 just a few weeks ago, UNHCR said.

Broad European cooperation is needed to face the challenge, the report said, warning that controversial anti-migration policies like Hungary’s planned four-metre (13-foot) high border fence, will not halt the influx.

“In times of conflict, fences and borders will not stop people fleeing for their lives,” the report said.

The post Record 137,000 refugees, migrants crossed Mediterranean this year: UN appeared first on The Express Tribune.

Categories: Pakistan & World News

China’s military on mission to bring ‘modern civilisation’ to Xinjiang

Wed, 07/01/2015 - 06:31

BEIJING: China’s military must bring “modern civilization” to the restive southern areas of the Xinjiang region, where Muslim ethnic Uighurs are in majority, and help develop its economy, two senior army officers wrote in an influential journal.

Hundreds have died in violence in Xinjiang in the past few years. The government blames the unrest on separatists who want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan.

Writing in the latest edition of the bimonthly Communist Party magazine Qiushi, the commander of the southern Xinjiang military region Li Haiyang and its military commissar Miao Wenjiang said that soldiers must “ardently love” the area.

Read: Displaced dreams: Uighur families have no place to call home in G-B

“We must cherish ethnic unity like we take care of our eyes and … nestle together with people of all ethnic groups as close as pomegranate seeds,” they wrote.

Experts say employment discrimination, fueled by an influx of ethnic majority Han Chinese taking up jobs, has fueled resentment and unrest among Uighurs in Xinjiang.

Beijing has begun to pay more attention to the region’s development, particularly in the southern areas dominated by Uighurs and religious conservatives.

The article said soldiers must help develop the economy in southern Xinjiang, and encourage the people to “move toward modern civilization and move away from religious extremism”, by providing villagers access to science, culture, law and health.

Read: Chinese academic defends beer festival in Muslim region

Every year all military units must contribute funds to help resolve problems like a lack of drinking water or difficulty in seeing doctors, the article said.

The article also called for greater emphasis on education, saying children should “study, live and grow up” in schools.

Uighurs have traditionally followed a moderate form of Islam but many have begun adopting practices more commonly seen in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, such as full-face veils for women, as China has intensified a security crackdown in recent years.

The article promised an even greater zeal in fighting terror.

“The struggle against terror and to maintain stability is severe and complex. It is a real war with knives and guns, a life and death war,” it said. “Strike early, strike at the small and strike at the roots.”

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

US students help design sportswear for Muslim girls

Wed, 07/01/2015 - 06:22

MINNEAPOLIS: All female basketball team Lady Warriors in Minneapolis held a fashion show to showcase sportswear for Muslim girls.


The travelling basketball team helped designers from the University of Minnesota and sports researchers craft uniforms for the team. The uniform covers the girls head arms and legs enabling them to freely participate in sports.

The traditional Muslim attire prevented girls from participating in sports such as basketball, soccer and swimming as the long dresses and Hijab hindered performance and presented a risk of injury.

The designs which are suited to all sports will help Muslim girls participate in sports in not just Minnesota but female Muslim athletes everywhere.

Read:Buddhist monks propose ban on hijabs for Muslim schoolgirls in Burma

The Lady Warriors basketball team which includes girls from Somalia and other East African countries, showcased their uniforms on the runway carrying lacrosse sticks and boxing gloves.


Chelsey Thul, a lecturer in kinesiology at the University of Minnesota who helped lead the project said that: “The girls for years have been telling us, ‘We would like clothing. We would like clothing.’”

The idea dates back to 2008, when a college student Fatima formed a girls-only sports league – which now includes Lady warriors – and began utilising the gym in the Somali neighborhood of Minneapolis. The girls soon realised the traditional dress and basketball don’t mix.


The answer, Thul said, was a functional yet modest uniform “so they could do that between-the-legs dribble, make that three-pointer, and not have clothing be a barrier.”

Sertac Sehlikoglu, a social anthropologist working on leisure, sports and the Muslim communities at the University of Cambridge, said in an email that having culturally sensitive sportswear would have a positive impact and agreed that the designs may catch on in other cities in the US that have large Muslim populations. She also noted that Iran has been developing culturally suitable sportswear for many years.

Style was important, said Amira Ali, 12, who helped with the design.


“I want to look good,” she said.

The girls began attending major sporting events in 2013 to observe how sportswear works and put their ideas on paper with the help of university designers. The basketball teams Red uniform covers the arms and legs and includes a headpiece that covers the hair and neck.

The article originally appeared on ABCNEWS

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Video shows Syria rebel group executing 18 IS fighters

Wed, 07/01/2015 - 05:51

BEIRUT: A Syrian rebel group operating around Damascus has executed 18 alleged members of the Islamic State group in a video mimicking the extremist organisation’s own productions.

The video, which emerged overnight, shows fighters from Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) wearing the orange prison clothes that IS victims often sport.

The IS prisoners however are wearing black clothes and chained together wearing ankle and hand shackles with metal balls attached.

Read: Islamic State fighters caught fleeing battlefield dressed as women

The nearly 20-minute production mimics many aspects of IS’s own execution videos, with similar sound effects and visuals.

Jaysh al-Islam fighters in the video say the IS forces are being executed in part as revenge for the deaths of at least three of the rebel group’s members who were beheaded by IS.

The rebel group also refers to a major battle it fought with IS in February.

It accuses IS of being allied with President Bashar al Assad’s regime against its fighters and those of other militant rebel groups.

The video includes starkly sectarian language, accusing IS of betraying Sunni’s and allying with Shia’s and “Nusayris,” a derogatory terms for the Alawite sect to which Assad belongs.

It contains lengthy “confessions” from IS fighters who claim that they did not fight against the Syrian army while with IS.

Read: IS fighters intensify attack on Syria border town

The interrogations appear intended to show that IS has focused its fight on other opposition forces, rather than the Syrian government.

The last part of the video shows the 18 IS fighters in black, kneeling before Jaysh al-Islam executioners who shoot them in the head.

The shots are filmed from multiple angles and include gruesome close-up shots.

The Islamic State group emerged in Syria in 2013, when it sought to merge with al Qaeda’s local affiliate al Nusra Front.

But al Nusra refused the merger, and IS has since been at odds with the group as well as militant and moderate rebels.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

A comedy of errors

Wed, 07/01/2015 - 05:49

Many times, our knee-jerk reaction to criticism is that it’s just a joke.  Unfortunately, not all jokes are meaningless.

No matter what kind of emotions we are experiencing, everyone resorts to some, mood-uplifting comedy, regardless of their age and gender. It doesn’t matter what we are watching or listening to, be it entertaining conversations between Moin Akhtar and Anwar Maqsood on Loose Talk or the comfortable laughter of the hit American sitcom Friends, comedy provides a temporary fail-safe method of forgetting our worries.

But the thing with comedy is that it doesn’t just seek to entertain, it perpetrates some effects on our day-to-day lives. While on the surface, jokes and laughter seem to exert a momentary influence, it’s important to question if there are any other consequences, seeing as how many of the jokes relate to issues in our private lives. One such pertinent topic — a recurrent theme in many comedies —  is the concept of weight and how people react to different shapes and body sizes of those they interact with.

Using looks for jest is one of the oldest tricks in the book, with a number of famous clowns and jesters from various stages of literature, art and history, gaining fame via their ability to joke about abnormal weight, height or facial features. From the below average height of the fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear to the more recent Marx brothers and Charlie Chaplin (who used tight-fitting or oversized clothes), jokes regarding appearances have always drawn laughter from the audience. This method of using physical features as props is acknowledged by stand-up comedian Ali Gul Pir, who believes that comedy indeed requires certain body types. “One of Hollywood’s greatest comedians, Chris Farley, was very large and often used his looks to add to his comedy,” says Ali. “Even though your looks don’t really matter, being overweight can be funny. Take Laurel and Hardy as an example. In all of these cases, imperfection is funny.”

Ali, who’s first single Waderai Ka Beta, a satire about the political set-up of Pakistan, achieved great success back in 2012, understands different forms of comedy and how they deal with weight respectively. “There are different sub genres of comedy,” he explains. “There’s satire which is a reflection of reality in a witty way but there are also slapstick pieces which are only intend to make others laugh. Stand up includes observational comedy and then there’s political comedy. Some of these genres have a message and are meant to make you realise something, but others only aim for laughter.”

Indeed, this type of comedy may be part of a comedian’s self-deprecating sense of humour but what happens when the humour is aimed at others, namely those with a body shape or size that is not considered ideal by society? Research regarding body image and its reinforcement in the media by scholars like Miriam Rachel Lowe and Gregory Fouts provides a clearer look at the risk of resulting physical and psychological damage, especially among young adults. Numerous studies have stated that the depiction of extreme slenderness and the overall portrayal of bodies in the media could be causing a rise in eating disorders, especially among young women who wish to lose weight. They further imply that onscreen exposure to such stereotypes, through funny, dramatic or intense depictions, reinforces the association between being thin and physical attractiveness, personal self-worth and success.

Based on these findings, it is evident that promoting an ideal body image ultimately leads to dissatisfaction amongst the audience, be it male or female. According to Pakistani actress Hina Dilpazir, there is much more to the situation than what meets the eye. “What kind of jokes affect the audience depends upon how a character has been written,” she elaborates. “It doesn’t matter if someone is short or tall. What is more important is the situation and how the joke is carried. In this case, the greatest control is with the writer of the character and the story.”

Hina, known for lending her excellent comic timing to roles like Momo in Bulbulay, Mitthu in Mitthu and Shakooran in Quddusi Sahab Ki Bewah, has extensive knowledge of the genre. According to her, the most important thing in understanding comedy and its relationship to weight is maintaing a good sense of humour. “Creating good comedy is hard work,” she admits. “In most cases, how weight is dealt with changes from character to character. Each character has its own demands, some require more slapstick humour while others don’t. But a good sense of humour is always welcome.”

Nonetheless, the extent to which comedy can influence the psyche of viewers still remains unanswered. While most of us are happily laughing away at the expense of excess chub, dwarf heights or dark skin, will our perspectives ever change? Amna Saleem Khan, an avid fan of comedy, understands how some jokes can have adverse effects in the real world. “There are definitely a lot of jokes about fat, short and dark-skinned people,” she says. Amna highlights India’s most popular show Comedy Nights with Kapil as an example, saying “the show is huge and one of the lead characters is constantly made fun of for being fat. Words like ‘moti’ and ‘ugly’ are used together quite regularly.” Another example can be found in one of the show’s most loved character, Palak — a male actor posing as an overweight female. The many jokes cracked regarding Palak include comparisons to bulldozers, water tankers, drums, etcetera, on top of which, Palak is also mocked for being ambitious and flirting with other actors.

Hence, it appears that the idealisation of slender and fair women is something comedy often promotes, directly or indirectly. Interestingly, this is not a phenomenon restricted to just our part of the world as jokes about weight, body shapes and complexions are common worldwide. Shows in the West are just as culpable for trying to generate laughter over failed diets, breaking balances and tight clothing as their counterparts from the East. “Even in Friends, people laughed at Monica because of her weight although one can argue that their portrayal was  less derogatory,” says Amna. Perhaps this is due to greater awareness regarding obesity in the West than other parts of the world.

Nonetheless, physical comedy can exert a direct influence on anyone, particularly the younger generations. “If a comedy show is portraying the fact that making fun of a fat person is okay then people will think it is okay,” explains Amna. “Ultimately, this increases bullying amongst children as well.” In her opinion, the lack of media regulation and limited dialogue on the matter are to blame.

With such obvious and dangerous ideas being promoted, do those involved in the health business benefit? According to Syed Kamran Ahmed, the head of executives at Shapes, a health and fitness club located in Karachi, there are various reasons why people join the gym but few would admit to worrying about their weight because of the negative portrayal on media. Kamran explains that different people have different goals when it comes to fitness. “While some are aiming for weight loss, a fair number simply want to maintain their weight or reduce fat from certain areas of the body,” he says.

Research on the benefits of laughter often ends with the phrase ‘laughter is the best medicine.’ From lowering blood pressure to stress hormones, it is not only a cure for physical ailments but also helps promote a general sense of well-being and a positive outlook in life. But when this laughter is at the expense of others, propagating ideas that may be harmful, perhaps one should take a closer look at the message that is being sent out through comedy.

Anum Shaharyar is a freelance writer. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Mass Communication.

Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, June 28th, 2015.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Sweet opportunity: Gourmet’s offshore endeavours in the UK

Sun, 06/21/2015 - 12:10

LONDON: On June 12, 2015, Gourmet opened its first branch in London on Ilford Lane, in close proximity to another two confectioners with the same name. The Pakistani High Commissioner in London, Syed Ibne Abbas, inaugurated the branch, and some senior Pakistani journalists also happened to be there. Interestingly, owners of one of the other two Gourmets on the same Ilford Lane also attended the inauguration.

It was a timely opening of a quality confectionary and bakery brand for the South Asian ethnic group living in the UK. The month of Ramazan, rather paradoxically, is a boom phase for the food business, and the inauguration of Gourmet’s UK business is expected to bring good revenue to the company right at the start. However, the company will have to devise an innovative strategy for sustainability of its long-term operations in the UK.

Gourmet is a decent high street brand in Pakistan. The choice of Ilford Lane for opening of its first store in UK was, however, a bad decision in terms of brand development. Ilford Lane is by no means an area that any decent business would like to associate itself with.

It is a small road in East London, with small businesses popular amongst the low-income people living around. With the choice of venue for its first outlet, Gourmet has failed to make a statement worthy of its stature in Pakistan. On the other hand, Salt n Pepper, another Pakistani food brand, opened a restaurant in the heart of London at Leicester Square.

Existing sweets and confectionary businesses catering the South Asian communities include Royal Sweets, Ambala, Nirala Sweets, and the likes of Pooja Sweets.

South Asian sweets and confectionaries manufactured in the UK are one of the best, even in some cases better than the best of traditional sweets made in Pakistan. Many critics of traditional Pakistani/Indian sweets and food confirm that the quality of traditional sweets produced by Royal Sweets in the UK is far better than what is produced locally.

The traditional problem

The traditional sweets in Pakistan suffer from the quality of the ingredients. Even a basic ingredient like khoya, for the production of barfi, is either not pure or is made in compromised hygienic conditions. In fact, hygiene is a huge issue in the production of food items in Pakistan. Gourmet itself has in the past been fined for unhygienic conditions.

Opening operations in UK presents an opportunity to Gourmet to adopt the British standards of food production and, hence, export its sweets to the countries around the world, using UK as hub of its international business.

It can actually create a niche market for the upper middle and upper classes in Pakistan to start importing Gourmet from its London outlets. Gourmet can create a reverse market back home for its products in the UK.

Case study

This is a similar model to what Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has adopted after it was acquired by Tata Motors. Since the change in ownership of JLR, the company has started producing Jaguar XF and Freelander 2 in India not only for the domestic market but also for exporting to other emerging markets. The company has for some time been toying with the idea of producing in India and selling in the UK – the traditional home market for Jaguar.

Gourmet can revolutionise the food production in Pakistan through its UK operations. Milk, the basic ingredient of Pakistani traditional sweets, is available in abundance and without any impurities.

Other ingredients, including nuts and dry fruits, used in the traditional sweets are available in the best quality in the UK.

Such a high quality of ingredients, combined with the best practices of hygiene and British standards of production, will put Gourmet above its competitors in Pakistan.

It is hoped that Gourmet will not get stuck at Ilford Lane and similar low-income locations for its further expansion. Rather it should create a prestigious British brand around its quality products that deserve much better than what they at present have at Ilford Lane.


Published in The Express Tribune, June 22nd,  2015.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Micro-learning platform: Moving forward with online courses

Sun, 06/21/2015 - 11:47

KARACHI: Imagine a world where anyone sitting in the comfort of their home and having the flexibility of their own time can access more than a thousand courses from various fields taught by some of the best universities of the world.

From ‘Fundamentals of Music Theory’ to ‘Programming for Everybody using Python’, one is exposed to a huge variety of courses and is part of a more than 13 million strong community. The only pre-requisite to enter this world: a secure internet connection. The above is not a dream but the wonder of technology which has made this a reality. Massive Online Open Courseware (MOOC) is an online course offering unlimited participation and open access through the internet. In addition to structured course material like lectures, readings, quizzes and exams there is also the opportunity to interact with other students and instructors. MOOC were first introduced in 2008 and became quite popular fairly recently since 2012.

According to statistics pertaining to Coursera, students from more than 190 countries have participated and more than a hundred top universities around the globe have partnered with it in 2014. Statistics report that about a quarter of a million students were enrolled in its most popular course in the same year. They also offer opportunities for peer learning where learners can evaluate and provide feedback on each other’s work. They offer 29 different specialisations of which almost 8 are concentrated in business education; Data Science, Business Foundations, Digital Marketing, Project Management to name a few. These specialisation tracks have about ten courses and upon completion the student is awarded a certificate. And Coursera is not the only ‘ed-tech’ company around. MOOCs are offered by quite a few organisations- amongst them edX  and Stanford Online  being a few of the popular ones.

Universities especially in the western world are increasingly employing MOOCs with traditional classroom learning as a form of instruction. Partner universities of ‘ed-tech’ companies like Coursera are using their online platform to provide enhanced learning to their students. This model is also being implemented in universities across the Middle East where instructors are using interactive discussion boards, courses being taught in a hybrid setting etc. Dr Nadeem Aftab, an Assistant Professor of Finance at Abu Dhabi University who has also taught at IBA, comments “The future of education is online education. It is a more active form of learning as compared to the traditional classroom.’ This has in fact been reiterated by the US Department of Education which has claimed that education whether completely online or in a hybrid form produces better student learning outcomes than classes with face-to-face interaction.

MOOCs offer universal access to the world’s best education. They can be effectively tapped by university students, entrepreneurs, women who are homemakers, mid-career professionals.  Ever since the Axact scandal unfolded online education has been held with notoriety in Pakistan, but online education from the right platform can provide a huge benefit to motivated students. With a vast variety of courses offered by MOOCs in economics, finance and management, business schools across Pakistan can also take advantage and use this forum in their course structure as additional material for a for a more comprehensive and engaging learning experience.

The writer is an economist and
ex-central banker

Published in The Express Tribune, June 22nd,  2015.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

PML-N’s performance in two years – a blend of effort and luck

Sun, 06/21/2015 - 11:40

LONDON: Pakistan’s economy has gained positive momentum lately, central bank interest rate is at a 42-year low, credit rating agencies have improved Pakistan’s outlook, the stock market is performing well, foreign reserves are rising and inflation is falling. But to what extent is this actually down to the government?

Certain factors in the positive outlook are completely out of the government’s control, for instance, oil prices have seen the sharpest fall in decades, lowering Pakistan’s import bill significantly, stabilising the rupee and reducing inflation.

Yet there are areas where government’s policies are getting recognition as the privatisation drive and cut in subsidies are important steps in the long needed reforms.

However, there are serious doubts over the government’s progress in human development.


The total public sector enrolment, taking into account all stages of education, fell 2% in 2013-14 compared to the previous financial year. Although pre-primary enrolment increased 6%, high school enrolment fell 30%, depicting a decline of half a million children. The private sector high school enrolment only rose around 50,000.

Pakistan’s population grew eight million between 2011 and 2014, making the fall in enrolment even more serious. These statistics coupled with plans to tax private school fees appear to cast doubts over the government’s priorities and seriousness in addressing the country’s education problems.

Comparing provinces, the total enrolment fell in Punjab and Sindh by 4% and 5% respectively, whereas it increased 3% in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and 1% in Balochistan.

Government finances

Pakistan’s budget deficit narrowed from 8.2% to 5.5% in FY14. This was partially due to increase in non-tax revenues such as foreign aid or proceeds of 3G and 4G auction, which the government cannot take credit for, but there were some areas where the government did make progress.

Subsidies fell 16.8%, which resulted in increased electricity tariffs. This is an unpopular decision which appears to hurt the population, but electricity subsidies actually help the rich more as they use more electricity. The World Bank argues that the richest 20% receive 40% of electricity subsidies in Pakistan. Moreover, the government protected the poorest by exempting those using 50 kilowatt hours per month or less from price increases.

Arguably, the money used in subsidies is better spent on improving electricity distribution and increasing supply.

Another important structural reform is the government’s privatisation drive that includes PIA, OGDC and Habib Bank, which could raise up to $2 billion. This should, in theory, deliver efficiencies and reduce damaging political interference. Now despite these positive steps and a fall in the import bill, foreign debt has increased, albeit marginally by 0.2% of gross domestic product (GDP).


There has been progress in increasing electricity supply and if projects are completed as planned and on schedule, they will further increase supply by 10,000 megawatts by 2017, almost doubling it.

However, the distribution and utilisation of existing supply seems woefully neglected.

Pakistan utilises only 53% of its existing capacity and the government has not done enough to address this problem. Similarly, 40% of electricity production is wasted in line losses and electricity theft, again an issue the government has not been able to tackle so far. In 2011, the line losses used to be only 17%.

Tax collection

Tax collection grew 16.7%, this is progress but there is a lot more that can be done as 98.5% of the country’s population still does not pay any income tax. The increase has been through indirect means such as increase in tax on petroleum products (due to the fall in prices) and imports which does not address the income tax issue.

The government has started addressing the age-old problem of Statutory Regulatory Orders (SROs) which have plagued the tax system with loopholes for years.

SROs allow the FBR to bypass parliament and give specific tax exemptions to certain sectors. They lack transparency, incentivise corruption and in some cases discriminate against small and medium-sized businesses.

Some SROs have already been removed which the IMF expects will increase tax collection by 0.3% of GDP. The government announced plans to curb these further and also withdraw the FBR’s powers to issue more SROs, which will certainly be a positive step.

The government should take credit for the structural reforms implemented and planned, particularly cutting subsidies, privatisation and reforming SROs. But it has fallen short on human development and this cannot be forgiven.

Half a million fewer children in public high schools is not something the government can sweep under the carpet.

Similarly, increasing electricity supply through projects without improving efficiency in the existing system will not solve the energy crisis. The writer is a London School of Economics graduate and is currently working as a banker in the UK

Published in The Express Tribune, June 22nd,  2015.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Jilted titans: The short-lived affair between PSO and PNSC

Sun, 06/21/2015 - 11:38

Up until December 2012, Naeem Yahya Mir had a relatively uneventful tenure as managing director of Pakistan State Oil (PSO) – a company that faces political interference on even trivial matters such as posting of a junior executive. But that month he took a step that would pit him up against a powerful lobby.

PSO announced it will use tankers of Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (PNSC) to import petrol from UAE, Kuwait and Singapore. The state-run shipper was already transporting PSO’s furnace oil cargos since October that year.

“Suddenly, we came under a lot of pressure from different quarters,” recalls Mir, who was forced to quit six months later. “Phone calls were rained on to me. There are just a handful of traders in oil import business and they could see what was happening.”

Being the largest petroleum supplier, PSO accounts for most of the deficit products that Pakistan imports. Between July 2014 and May 2015, around 8.5 million tons of furnace oil and petrol has been imported.

Depending on the prevailing price in international markets, freight for shipping these two products can be anywhere between $150 million and $350 million, industry people say.

Mir says the deal was beneficial for both PSO and PNSC.

“Freight rate was fixed for the next 12 months, hedging us against fluctuation in market rates. Similarly, we were paying them in rupees instead of dollars, avoiding unnecessary drain on foreign exchange reserves. PNSC, on the other hand, was getting substantial business from us.”

Agreement was not limited to shipments; PSO and PNSC were in talks to start a joint venture that envisaged buying new tankers.

“It was a logical course of action for a company the size of PSO. We would have saved a lot of money and paid only for half of the operational cost to run the vessels,” Mir said. However the joint venture never took off.

The resistance

Mir, who took charge at PSO in January 2012, says he was well versed in the workings of the international oil business and its supply chain, having worked in Kuwait Petroleum Corporation and other foreign firms for two decades of his professional life.

However, when he first floated the idea of using PNSC to import furnace oil, it made his lieutenants jittery. “They were very fearful … fearful about what would happen if there were delays. No one wanted to take responsibility. They were just worried about keeping the supply-line intact.”

PNSC was not new to the oil import business. It has been importing crude oil for Pakistani refineries since the 1980s. But handling petroleum products was a different trade altogether.

A senior PSO official, who was involved in the process, said, “We were all scared. PSO had always imported petroleum products on C&F basis.  So, as a test case, we gave PNSC the task to bring 71,500 tons of furnace oil, which they successfully did. Then its vessels started bringing products regularly.”

Under the Cost and Freight mode, the supplier of the product arranges the vessel and takes responsibility of delivering the cargo on schedule. For the deal with PNSC to work, PSO booked consignments on Free On Board basis. PNSC arranged the ships, took care of insurance and delivered where it was wanted.

Mir says the old practice of using C&F basis was an easy way for PSO to avoid planning and responsibility of ensuring sufficient supplies were in hand. “We were basically passing on the buck. If shipment was delayed, the supplier could be blamed. And nobody cared about the additional costs. It is all passed on to consumers – that was the general attitude.”

Whenever suppliers are asked to arrange tankers along with products, they factor in every cost with a profit margin, he said. “There is no free lunch. When he books a ship he keeps a profit, when he arranges insurance he keeps a profit. And that is beside what shipping line and insurance company charge you.”

Victim of convenience

Pakistan faced its worst petrol shortage in January 2015 when vehicles were left stranded on the roadsides and fuel pumps were shut across Punjab. The main reason behind that was the spike in petrol consumption after government cut its prices by 27% over a period of few months.

It was a PR disaster for the government, which was quick to suspend senior officials of petroleum ministry and PSO after two enquires. Since then maintaining sufficient supplies at fuel pumps has become a top priority for industry officials.

This was also the time PSO started expressing concern about PNSC’s ability to handle its large volume.

“High level inquiry teams constituted by the Prime Minster didn’t find anything wrong on our part,” said Brig (retired) Rashid Siddiqi, PNSC’s Executive Director. “Shipping is a properly documented business. Anyone can easily find out if ships are getting delayed.”

Initially agreed shipment rates were between $6.75 per ton and $7 per ton, he said. “These were supposed to be revised in February 2014. But we are still waiting for that to happen. For the past year we have booked losses on all petrol shipments due to this.”

He regretted that government officials have recently intervened, asking PSO to revert back to booking C&F cargos.

“What about the fact that there were no issues with quantity and quality of petroleum products? What about that practice, which we ended when private suppliers would bring multiple vessels at once to a port and claim tens of thousands of dollars in demurrages?”

PNSC, a listed firm, had seen a rise in revenue and profit since the agreement with PSO came into effect. Buoyed by this and a rising share price, the corporation was already in talks with financial institutions to buy two more tankers. But that plan now seems to be in jeopardy.

What about inefficiency?

PNSC has four tankers, which are used for shipping both crude and furnace oil. It hires vessels for bringing petrol cargos.

“Even refineries have been facing problems since the corporation got involved with furnace oil. They are facing obvious difficulty in dealing with such huge volumes,” said a member of Oil Companies Advisory Council.

“Pakistan has never witnessed a rise in petrol consumption like what we are seeing right now. Imports are only going to increase in coming months and year. We are running such a tight schedule that a delay in a vessel of just a day or two could create shortages in the country.”

The writer is a staff correspondent

Published in The Express Tribune, June 22nd,  2015.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Hafeez reported for suspect bowling action, again

Sun, 06/21/2015 - 11:36

Less than two months after clearance from the International Cricket Council (ICC), Pakistan all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez’s has once again been reported for a suspect bowling action, espncricinfo reported.

Hafeez, who bowled 30 overs and took two wickets against Sri Lanka in Galle Test, was reported for suspect action shortly after Pakistan won the first Test on Sunday.

During the first Test between Pakistan and New Zealand in the UAE last year, Hafeez was reported for suspect bowling action by the umpires and was put through an independent biomechanical analysis at the National Cricket Performance Center in Loughborough on November 24, 2014.

The test had concluded that Hafeez’s elbow extension exceeded the 15-degree level of tolerance permitted by the ICC regulations and was thus declared illegal.

Later, the ICC allowed Hafeez to bowl again in April, after he went through the remedial work.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Dismantling barriers: Building the case for more than five SIMs per CNIC

Sun, 06/21/2015 - 11:36

KARACHI: When it comes to the telecom industry, Pakistan enjoys one of the most independent regulatory regimes in the world, according to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) experts.

Since the introduction of the Telecom Deregulation Policy in July 2003, the sector exploded from a paltry 5 million cellular subscribers at the end of fiscal year 2004 to a whopping 120 million by FY12. The number was 132 million at the end of April 2015.

Among other objectives, the policy’s goal was to “liberalise the telecommunication sector by encouraging fair competition amongst service providers and increase service choice for customers of telecommunication services at competitive and affordable rates.”

Even today, the five cellular mobile operators (CMOs) are engaged in a fierce competition or price war to win subscribers and the country’s cellular tariffs, one of the lowest in the world, are a testament to the policy’s success.

On the contrary, over-regulating the private sector only holds the industry back from further growth. Take for example Rehman Malik, the former interior minister, whose regressive policy directives still haunt the industry and consumers alike.

Malik, who earned more fame for regulating the telecom sector – Twitter followers to be precise – than managing his own portfolio, left no stone unturned to harm the industry’s growth.

Blanket suspension of cellular services for security reasons cost billions to the industry. Restrictions were imposed on sales channels including the company-owned customer support centres as Malik even proposed that the CMOs should dispatch new SIMs to the buyer’s home address as printed in the computerised national identity card (CNIC).

The ministry also proposed a ban on mobile number portability (MNP), a facility that allows the user to switch his service provider without changing the number. He also limited the number of SIM cards a company can sell against a single CNIC to a maximum of five.

As a result of these backward-looking policies, the sector’s growth slowed down and it lost billions in potential revenues – so did the government by losing what it could earn in taxes.

Fortunately, many of these directives were reversed with the exception of five SIMs per CNIC, which stays intact to date.

The limit of five SIMs per CNIC was imposed to discourage the illegal sale of SIMs – a security measure to combat terrorism. However, do we still need this restriction?

The CMOs have re-verified their entire user base through the biometric verification system (BVS) and blocked those that remained unverified or were disowned by their owners with the exception of a few that will be blocked automatically once they remain inactive for 90 days.

The biometric verification kills the very basis on which the limit of five SIMs was imposed. The government, therefore, should increase this limit after consulting the private sector, which understands the market better.

There are some things that should be left to market forces as opposed to being regulated. If there is demand for more than five SIMs per CNIC, the telecom sector should be able to meet this and the government should not have any role in it.

After last year’s spectrum auction for mobile broadband services, the country’s telecom sector has entered a new growth phase. Such restrictions will hurt not only the industry, but also the consumers.

Owing to the cultural trends in Pakistan, mobile phone SIMs including those of females and under-age users are usually registered in the name of male members of the family who, in most cases, have exhausted their limit of five SIMs, Propakistani wrote in a recent blog post.

People who want more than five SIMs are denied by the operators and with mobile broadband (3G and 4G) available, the demand for separate conventional and data SIMs will increase, it said.

It will, therefore, be a wise step by the government to increase this limit, which indeed will help expedite broadband penetration. Besides, the government can earn more in taxes – it charges Rs250 on every SIM in activation fee.

The writer is a staff correspondent

Published in The Express Tribune, June 22nd,  2015.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Working in oil-exporting countries: How the oil price slump will affect remittances

Sun, 06/21/2015 - 11:32

One question that has kept policymakers worried since the sharp fall in global oil prices kicked in is about remittances. Will the money sent by Pakistanis working in oil-rich Arab countries dwindle, as their governments begin to scale back infrastructure spending in the wake of decreased oil prices?

After all, Pakistan’s working migrant population in the Gulf works mostly in construction, manufacturing and other professional sectors, according to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP).

Any major fallout of the oil price slump on remittance inflows will be detrimental for the national economy. Absent remittances, a perennial balance of payment crisis would be inescapable, as they cover up usually around 90% of the country’s trade deficit.

Pakistanis working in Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil-exporting country, had the largest share (30.6%) in the total remittances of $16.6 billion that the country received in July-May. Pakistani workers in Saudi Arabia sent home over $5 billion in the first 11 months of the fiscal year, which is 19.6% higher than the last year’s figure.

The second largest share in Pakistan’s remittances in the current fiscal year so far is of the United Arab Emirates (22.7%) – another country of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). With remittances amounting to $3.7 billion, the year-on-year increase in the net inflows from the UAE was 34.4% – the highest annual rise among all countries during the first 11 months of 2014-15.

After accounting for the inflows from Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain, the combined share of the GCC countries in the total remittances Pakistan has received in July-May clocks up at 65%.

Understandably, any cuts in the infrastructure spending in the wake of the global oil price slump will result in job losses for the migrant population working in the construction sector of the GCC countries.

Researchers at the SBP believe the GCC countries are sticking to their infrastructure spending plans for the time being. “The good news is that despite the oil slump, the GCC is still spending on infrastructure … there are no short-term concerns for remittances inflows into Pakistan from this region,” the SBP said in its second quarterly report last month.

However, its optimism came with a note of caution. Saying that the GCC governments’ spending plans have not been affected by declining oil prices due to the large sovereign funds, the SBP noted the status quo may not continue ‘much longer’.

“A continuous depletion of these reserves would eventually start biting into their fiscal spending if oil prices fail to recover. The pace of Pakistan’s remittance growth cannot remain immune to the oil slump indefinitely,” the SBP said.

Not on a par with India

Official statistics show the amount of remittances overseas Pakistanis send home annually is less than the money Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) send to their country every year. This is true for not only the Gulf region, but also the rest of the countries where Pakistanis are employed as immigrant workers.

For example, an average NRI sent home $4,896 in 2013. This is roughly double the amount that an average Pakistani working overseas sent home in the same year ($2,465).

Similarly, the gap in the average size of annual remittances from Indian and Pakistani expatriates in Saudi Arabia is almost the same. The average NRI in Saudi Arabia sent home $4,757 in 2013, which is more than twice the amount sent home by his Pakistani counterpart ($2,248).

The average NRI working in the UAE sent home $5,499 in remittances in 2013, which are over three times the comparable remittances sent by the average Pakistani worker in the oil-rich country ($1,790). The reason, according to the SBP, is that unskilled labour finds work ‘more easily’ in the UAE, although there has been an improvement in the skillset of Pakistani workers of late.

The writer is a staff correspondent

Published in The Express Tribune, June 22nd,  2015.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Gaga feels unaccomplished

Sun, 06/21/2015 - 10:56

LOS ANGELES: Lady Gaga feels “extremely unaccomplished” as a songwriter despite having a string of hits to her name. While accepting the Contemporary Icon Award at the Songwriters Hall of Fame 46th Annual Induction and Awards gala on Thursday, Gaga said, “I feel that I’ve a lot of work to do, as personally, I feel extremely unaccomplished as a songwriter.”

“As my heroes have done some things that I can only dream of, I feel very in my infancy as a writer, and I thank you for just … at this point in my career, I’ve had some ups, I’ve had some downs, I’ve had some in-betweens — that you’ve chosen to honour me for the only thing I know I’ve, which is my heartbeat, which is that I write songs.”

The 29-year-old star also thanked her close friend and collaborator Tony Bennett as well as Hall of Fame inductee Linda Perry, who performed a slowed-down version of her track Bad Romance as she took to the stage, reports

She added, “I’m so grateful because (Tony is) always looking out for me. And I’m very honoured that he was here tonight to present this award to me.”

“And I’m very honoured that Linda Perry was here, and I consider them to be true and two huge influences in my life that I hope anyone that’s here that a true dream has been made come true because these artists supported another artist, and I’m very grateful that I’m here.” 

Published in The Express Tribune, June 22nd,  2015.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

The organic journey of Nargis Fakhri

Sun, 06/21/2015 - 10:53

Nargis Fakhri has embarked on a journey to the larger-than-life terrain of Hollywood with film Spy. The New York-born Bollywood actor says that among the dissimilarities that widen the gap between the Hindi silver screen and the West, there is one similarity that weaves them together — the pool of talent.

Nargis, who ventured into Bollywood opposite Ranbir Kapoor in film Rockstar in 2011, added that Hindi filmdom and Hollywood — two of the most prominent film industries of the world — can achieve more success by learning from each other.

“At the end of the day, the one commonality that both Hindi cinema and Hollywood share is that they are full of talented and inspirational people. Outside of this, there are many differences from the scheduling and rehearsals to promotion and directing techniques,” said Nargis in an email interaction from New York.

Most often, words like ‘bigger, grander, louder’ are used to define Bollywood films, which are painted on a big screen canvas filled with myriad hues of feelings along with music and dance, whereas Hollywood films are devoid of the music hoopla and considered more subtle in their live action dramas.

Nargis has crossed borders with a mission in mind — not to fade away, but leave a lasting impression.

“I’m hopeful to be another person to be able to reinforce that we [Indian actors] are not just there to make up numbers, but to influence, add and inspire Hollywood,” she said in support of the several Indian actors like Irrfan Khan and Priyanka Chopra, who are making their mark in the West.

For her first Hollywood outing, Nargis has picked Spy, an action-comedy film, which is directed by Paul Feig and has a star-studded cast including Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Jude Law and Miranda Hart.

Nargis essays a character with evil intentions as she comes into the picture to buy a nuke for a terrorist organisation. She mentions that the Hollywood film steers away from the “outdated stereotyping of female” in spy films, which show women as a distraction prop.

“The old school, misrepresentation and outdated stereotyping has been flipped wonderfully by the mind of Paul Feig, who in my opinion is a maverick in modern cinema. His vision created a female spy which Melissa plays amazingly and by the end of the movie you’ll wonder why it took so long for there to be an awesome female spy who saves the world,” she said.

Nargis took the first step towards the world of glamour with modelling in 2005. After Rockstar, she did films on a wide variety of topics ranging from serious to fun like Main Tera Hero and Madras Cafe. The actor says her journey in showbiz was “unplanned and organic”, adding that she “has always been a go-with-the-flow type of person”.

“I’m really excited about furthering my film career in Bollywood and Hollywood. In Bollywood, I have three upcoming films. I’m also looking to becoming more vocal on many issues outside of the studio.” 

Published in The Express Tribune, June 22nd,  2015.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News

Lala collaborates with Sonya Battla

Sun, 06/21/2015 - 10:52

KARACHI: Initially introduced to celebrate the 65 years’ experience, the textile brand LALA aims to collaborate with complementary brands to create, manufacture and retail specific collections throughout the year with its Signature Series platform. The brand has made its debut of LALA Signature Series by launching an Eid collection in collaboration with designer Sonya Battla on June 11, according to a press release.

The team of two has worked together to bring out classic prints with a contemporary touch. The range consists of ten designs in fresh pastels that feature summer bursts of bright colour and are available in fun kurtas and three-piece suits. These designs incorporate embellishments with embroidered patches and satin finish on luxurious lawn, chiffon, silk and satin.

On the launch of this collection and the first collaboration with Sonya Battla, Pervez Lala, CEO LALA, said, “It’s an exciting step in a new direction for us, as we build upon our brand through the strength of mutually beneficial collaborations. With this concept, our resolve is to build a commitment to cross brand synergies, whereby we work with leading Pakistani talent in coming years to introduce new, dynamic cross-collaborative initiatives through long term and ongoing collections and lines.”

“Keeping this in mind, we are delighted to bring Sonya’s design vision to our retail sensibility,” he added.

In recent years, the brand has expanded with seven diverse retail brands providing accessible summer; midsummer and winter fabric ranges within Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, the Middle East and the UK.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 22nd,  2015.

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Categories: Pakistan & World News