Baloch folk singer Akhtar Chanal Zahri to join Saieen Zahoor in Indian film Mirzya

If Saieen Zahoor’s transcendental voice wasn’t enough, Baloch folk singer Akhtar Chanal Zahri is now set to entrance Bollywood with his voice in upcoming film Mirzya.

The musical is being directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra who has critically acclaimed films like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Rang De Basanti to his name.

According to Asian Age, Sufi singers from India and Pakistan have been roped in to be a part of this feature. While Saieen Zahoor’s participation wasearlier announced, Akhtar Chanal Zahri is the latest singer to have joined the film.

“Akhtar bhai’s voice has an amazing texture, which represents Afghanistan,” says trio Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, who are composing the soundtrack of the film.

And of Saieen, he says, “Saieen is an interesting character. He is truly immersed in his own music and world. Until 2006, he never recorded himself in a studio. The unique thing is, when you teach him the lyrics of the song, he draws pictures instead of writing syllables. That’s how he remembers the words. He was truly a delight to work with.”

The trio had to work around the voice of these unique singers to get the song right.

“We had to compose the pieces around these two exquisite singers’ voices so that their presence doesn’t look forced into the song,” he adds.

The film will see Om Puri in the lead role, along with debutantes Anil Kapoor’s son Harshvardhan Kapoor, who plays Mirza, and Saimiyi Kher who plays Sahibaan.

Rs321bn raised from fuel taxes in FY16

ISLAMABAD: The federal government’s revenue collection from fuel taxes rose 6.85 per cent year-on-year to Rs321.1 billion in the previous fiscal year, official figures released by the finance ministry showed on Thursday.

The growth was observed in six taxes related to the oil and gas sector, and did not include 17pc to 50pc sales tax on all petroleum products and over 20pc on natural gas.

The ministry said it collected Rs149.29bn as petroleum levy in the fiscal year 2015-16 compared with Rs131.36bn a year ago, reflecting an increase of nearly 14pc. The levy was imposed on petroleum products in 2009.

Besides, it collected Rs32.65bn as development surcharge on gas, which was 26pc higher compared to Rs25.874bn a year earlier.

Likewise, the government earned Rs57.75bn as royalty on oil and gas during 2015-16 compared with Rs74.091bn, a drop of 22pc. Revenue collected as discount retained on crude oil dropped by around 6pc to Rs9.11bn from Rs9.68bn.

The collection on account of Gas Infrastructure Development Cess (GIDC) went up by 40pc to Rs79.77bn as against Rs57.02bn a year ago. However, the windfall levy on crude oil plummeted by 87pc to Rs1.633bn from Rs57.021bn.

The ministry said total tax revenue jumped 21.3pc to Rs3.66 trillion in 2015-16 from Rs3.017tr in the preceding year. Of this, the federal taxes stood at Rs3.377tr as against Rs3.017bn a year ago, an increase of nearly 12pc. Provincial tax collection rose 38pc to Rs283.27bn from Rs205.82bn.

Non-tax revenue stood at Rs786.56bn during the year under review as against Rs913.45bn in 2014-15, reflecting a decline of 14pc. Of this, federal non-tax revenue fell 17pc to Rs693.25bn from Rs837.83bn. However, provincial non-tax revenue grew 23pc to Rs93.31bn from Rs75.62bn.

Misbah to receive ICC Test mace on Sept 21 in Lahore

The International Cricket Council (ICC) will present the Test Championship mace to Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore on September 21.

ICC Chief Executive David Richardson will make the presentation at 10:30am (PST), which will be followed by a media conference at 11:00am (PST), icc-cricket.com reported on Friday.

Pakistan achieved number-one Test ranking for the first time since the current rankings system was introduced in 2003 after it played a two-all draw against England.

Pakistan’s cause was also helped by Sri Lanka, which defeated Australia by 3-0, while a wet ground in Port of Spain denied India the opportunity to defend the top spot as it won its four-Test series against the West Indies by 2-0.

Pakistan is currently sitting on 111 points, one ahead of India, while Australia and England are on 108 points each. The top seven Test sides are separated by just 16 points.

— ICC

Haj pilgrims get ID bracelets after deadly stampede

MAKKAH: Saudi Arabia has begun issuing Haj pilgrims with identification bracelets one year after a stampede killed around 2,300 people.

The bracelets are a reassurance to some pilgrims, though their distribution has been far from systematic ahead of the formal start of Haj on Saturday.

Saudi Arabia announced an investigation into last year’s stampede which happened during the Haj stoning ritual, but no findings have ever been published.

Public statements and Saudi press reports show that changes have been made to prevent overcrowding even though no one was ever blamed for the tragedy.

After the disaster ─ the worst ever in Haj history ─ some foreign officials expressed concern about difficulties in identifying the dead.

Saudi officials have stuck with a death toll of 769 issued shortly after the stampede but data from authorities in more than 30 countries gave a figure almost three times higher.

Each plasticised paper bracelet carries a bar code readable by smartphone.

It indicates the pilgrim’s identity, nationality and place of lodging in Makkah.

Additional data includes a contact in the pilgrim’s delegation and details provided when his or her visa was issued, the vice secretary of the ministry of Haj and Umrah, Issa Rawas, told AFP.

“The aim is to equip all pilgrims” from abroad, who are expected to number more than 1.4 million, he said. Rawas did not specify the number of bracelets issued so far.

In the crowds which fill the Grand Mosque and its surroundings day and night, AFP saw numerous pilgrims wearing bracelets.

But some were issued by travel agents and don’t include the information stored in the government’s bracelet.

Nabil Melhem, 61, a Palestinian bricklayer, wears one of the official bracelets, which he said cost about two riyals (53 cents).

It is “like a passport,” said Melhem, from the West Bank.

The bracelet is two centimetres wide and coloured green for pilgrims from Arab countries.

“If we get lost, if we die, if we are sick or unable to talk, they can contact our delegation, thanks to the bracelet,” he told AFP.

Drissa Conakry, a Nigerian pilgrim, said hotel staff “put this bracelet on us as soon as we arrived”.

Conakry, 30, a teacher, said the bracelet, coloured mauve for African pilgrims, provides a measure of comfort.

“I tell myself that, at least, I am identified.”

Behind her, four Australian pilgrims move closer, intrigued by the device. They tell AFP they have not received the bracelets.

Pushing India into NSG at Pakistan’s expense counterproductive

WASHINGTON: Pakistan’s perspective on US efforts to help India join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), while shunning Islamabad, finally echoed in the US Congress on Thursday where the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee learned from witnesses that this policy could worsen the nuclear race in South Asia.

Witnesses, and some lawmakers, noted that sanctions imposed on Pakistan in the 1990s increased the country’s dependence on nuclear weapons and the same would happen again if those restrictions were reintroduced.

“The policy of the current US administration to support an unconditional and exceptional NSG membership path for India is problematic,” Toby Dalton, a co-director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the committee.

Mr Dalton, who heads the Nuclear Policy Programme at this key Washington think tank, pointed out that the Obama administration’s current policy required no commitments from India to bring its nuclear weapons practices in line with those of other nuclear states in return for membership of this 48-nation group.

“It also opens no pathway to membership for Pakistan that would incentivise it to consider nuclear restraints,” he added.

Both India and Pakistan had applied for NSG membership earlier this summer but were rejected. The group requires consensus of all member nations to admit a new member and both failed to meet this criterion, although the United States and several other powers strongly supported India. China, however, opposed India’s application, arguing that it was a mistake to leave Pakistan out.

Veterans covering congressional hearings noticed a new, conciliatory tone towards Pakistan during Thursday’s proceedings, although in June the Senate had suspended $300 million of military aid to Pakistan over its failure to eliminate the Haqqani network.

But on Thursday some key senators, as well as witnesses, agreed that withdrawing money would not force Pakistan to change its policies. Some observers saw the hearing as “a baby step” towards restoring the suspended aid.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, asked Mr Dalton what interests did Pakistan have in protecting its nuclear facilities.

“They have a strong interest in doing so,” said the congressional witness while explaining how there’s an almost complete consensus in Pakistan to retaining the nuclear option.

“Perhaps, nukes and cricket are the only two things that they have a consensus on,” he said, calling the nukes Pakistan’s “crown jewels”.

“They have taken significant measures to ensure that the nukes are well-protected,” he said. “They understand the challenges and threats and have put in place as good a system as they can.”

He explained how Pakistan screened the people selected to protect their nuclear installations to ensure that militants do not penetrate those facilities.

Senator Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, asked if the relationship that Pakistan had developed with North Korea during the A.Q. Khan network still existed.

Mr Dalton said that after the AQK episode, Pakistan had moved away from that relationship and there was nothing substantial, except some media accounts, to suggest that it (the network) still existed.

“They have demonstrated a desire to make sure it (the AQK episode) does not happen again and they understand the damage AQK has done,” he said.

Robert L. Grenier, the chairman of another Washington think tank, ERG Partners, noted that Pakistan reached out to North Korea and Iran in the 1990s, when the United States “sanctioned as heavily as it could”.

He noted that Pakistan wanted to retain its nuclear programme to deal with a possible threat from India. “They could, in no way, match India in conventional weapons, so they chose to get help where they could find it.”

Mr Grenier urged the United States to be “very, very careful” and “maintain some relationship with Pakistan” despite differences over the Haqqani network.

“If we treat them as a pariah, they are likely to behave as a pariah,” he warned.

Most exciting thing

Another witness, Daniel Markey of the Johns Hopkins University, described the proposed economic corridor as the “single most exciting thing” that has happened in Pakistan in a long time, “in a semi positive way”.

He noted that most Pakistanis were excited about it, not just because it would strengthen their relationship with China but because they think it would open up international trade routes for them.

Dr Markey noted that the current instability in Pakistan was linked to the country’s economic instability and anything that strengthened economy was good for Pakistan.

For the United States, he said, it was “partly positive” and partly a cause of concern. Positive because it would bring stability to Pakistan and worrying in the long run because “we have questions about what it means for China’s profile in the region”.

Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, asked if removing the shackles on India’s nuclear programme could worsen the nuclear race in South Asia.

“Yes, absolutely, it would,” said Mr Dalton, adding: “It will make the situation more dangerous”.

Senator Markey recalled that Pakistan had recently offered to India a bilateral arrangement on non-testing of nuclear weapons and asked the witnesses if it was a sincere offer.

Dr Markey said that such offers got diplomatic mileage for Pakistan as Islamabad knows India will never accept this offer and would justify its refusal with its concerns about China.

Mr Dalton said such an agreement was possible but difficult.