‘Pakistan could receive millions of religious tourists annually’

TAXILA: Pakistan has the potential to become a centre of attraction for Buddhists because of the Buddhist artefacts and religious sites from the Gandhara civilisation in Taxila and the Swat Valley, the head of a delegation of Thai monks said on Thursday.

Phrakrupaladsuvaddha Nanrah magun Duangkid, the head of a four-person delegation from Thailand, was speaking during a visit to the Taxila Archaeological Museum and the site of the ancient Julian Monastery and Stupa, also known as the Taxila University. Thai Ambassador Suchart Liengsaengthong was also present.

The monks, who belong to the Wat Nyanavesakavan, or the Nyanavesakavan Temple, are on a pilgrimage, at the invitation of Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) managing director Abdul Ghafoor Khan.

Mr Duangkid said there are over 500 million Buddhists around the world, concentrated mainly in the Far East, and if Pakistan’s Buddhist heritage is properly showcased it could attract religious tourists.

He said Pakistan could receive millions of tourists annually if there is peace and infrastructure in areas where the ancient sites and relics are located.

He also praised the Pakistani government for preserving the country’s Buddhist heritage, adding that it was “an exciting experience to tour Taxila”, which he called a sacred place.

The Thai ambassador told the media that the Kingdom of Thailand is ready to provide technical support to restore and preserve ancient Buddhist sites. He said the monks’ visit is the first step to promoting religious tourism to strengthen cultural relations.

Mr Liengsaengthong said the Thai embassy will invite four chief monks to visit Pakistan for a pilgrimage to showcase the country’s rich cultural heritage.

“Although we have over 65 years of diplomatic relations, our cultural connection goes back over two millennia to the Buddhist Gandhara period,” he said. He expressed the hope that bilateral relations would improve between Thailand and Pakistan because of the centuries-old cultural bond.

The ambassador also lauded the government for preserving Buddhist sites and said Thailand is looking forward to broadening its relationship with Pakistan. He added that despite limited resources, Pakistan has preserved archaeological sites well.

“I feel proud to be here at the ruins [of what was] the cradle of the Gandhara civilisation, and happy to see it was properly preserved. I will also tell others about this rich cultural heritage,” he said in response to a question.

The monks were received by the curator of the museum, Nasir Khan, who briefed them on the chronology, significance and history of the Taxila Valley. He told them Taxila is one of Pakistan’s six world heritage sites, and was added to the World Cultural Heritage list in 1980.

The pilgrims toured the museum’s various galleries, and were informed by the curator that the site includes a Mesolithic cave, four settlement sites, a number of Buddhist monasteries from various periods, Muslim mosque from the medieval period and Buddhist stupas and monasteries from the first to the five century AD.

Indian government wants Apple, but not all officials are biting

Some Indian officials have baulked at Apple’s demands for concessions before it assembles iPhones there, raising doubts about a spring deadline to launch a key project in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign to lure foreign investors.

The country is still keen for the United States (US) tech giant to produce its signature smartphones there, and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Wednesday that India would keep an “open mind” in negotiations.

“We will very much like Apple to come and have a base in India,” he said.

But Apple Inc’s long list of demands, including tax concessions and several other policy exceptions, still faces resistance from officials who consider it excessive and unfair on foreign companies already operating in India.

Their caution underlines how Modi’s ambition to make India a global manufacturing hub, in order to drive the economy and create jobs for millions of people entering the workforce each year, will not be easy.

“We have not done this for anyone,” said a senior government official whose department is one of several involved in evaluating the Apple proposal. “If we do this, we must see a lot of value addition.”

Another official involved in the review said the government should make policies for the industry, not individual companies.

“Apple is coming here because it sees a lucrative market, this is not a favour being done to India.”

Competitors such as South Korea’s Samsung Electronics and China’s Xiaomi have already set up manufacturing in the country.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

Letter spells out demands

Modi met Apple CEO Tim Cook last May and discussed iPhone production in India.

Where any plant would be located and how many people it might employ have yet to be finalised, although it would likely involve thousands of jobs.

Attracting such a household name would be a valuable advertisement for a country shaking off a reputation for stifling bureaucracy, but officials are wary of tailoring rules to individual investors.

“What Apple is trying to do, if it happens, I think it will be available to everybody in the industry. I don’t see the government of India making discriminatory policies,” said Arvind Vohra, chief executive at Gionee India, part of Chinese smartphone maker Gionee.

It is setting up a local manufacturing plant under India’s existing rules.

From Apple’s point of view, the ambitious timeline agreed by Modi and Cook reflected its need to capture more of the fast-growing Indian market, where it has only about 2 per cent share as iPhone sales in the US and China have slowed.

In a letter sent to the prime minister’s office on Oct. 13 and seen by Reuters, it called on the government to “make the environment attractive” for it to make phones for the Indian market as well as for export.

On the matter of duties, it said high import taxes on smartphones could lead to retaliation from trading blocs.

“This would increase the cost of India manufactured smartphones and in turn limit India’s ambition of becoming a smartphone hub for the rest of the world.”

Despite the reluctance of some officials, Modi could intervene to get the Apple project back on schedule.

In June, the government relaxed local sourcing rules for foreign retailers like Apple barely a month after the finance ministry turned down the company’s request for a waiver.

The company and its partners have reportedly won significant concessions before in other markets.

Meeting on next week

On Jan 25, the departments of industry, information technology and electronics, and finance will meet Apple executives to consider the conditions set out by the firm in India, government officials said.

In May, Modi and Cook agreed to work towards a “package” of four projects: assembling iPhones, opening Apple stores, importing certified pre-owned iPhones and refurbishing them in India, according to the letter.

Apple said its initial focus was to set up manufacturing of iPhones in India over two phases, the first of which was to be introduced by spring this year.

But after conducting due diligence on what it would take to get the project going, it determined its entry was “dependent on government support on a number of pre-requisites.”

The Cupertino, California-based company listed a set of seven demands.

Among them, it sought duty exemption on raw materials for manufacturing, components and capital equipment for 15 years for both domestic and export markets.

Apple also sought a change in rules that would govern how it could import defective iPhones to repair and export them again, a move it said was crucial for it to keep supporting and repairing older models of the iPhone.

Currently, Indian rules restrict such imports to phones that are no older than three years.

Apple asked for the government’s help in quickly processing a request for a ruling from Indian tax authorities on transfer pricing agreements between its affiliates.

It also identified India’s customs procedures as a hurdle to manufacturing and asked the government to make them less onerous.

“For trusted traders inspections need to be less intrusive ─ this means less boxes opened,” Apple wrote. “The complete process should not require more than thirty minutes.”

Sammi will highlight issues like honour killings, says producer Momina Duraid

We finally know why there’s such a big fuss about Mawra Hocane’s comeback drama.

The Sanam Teri Kasam star will soon be seen in Sammi, Hum TV’s next TV serial with a cause.

We caught up with Hocane and producer Momina Duraid at the press conference in Karachi yesterday to get all the scoop on the upcoming project.

Speaking to Images on the red carpet, Momina described Sammi as “an infotainment play.”

“One of the main issues that has been highlighted is karo-kari or honour killings. Another very important issue that we’ve touched upon is mother-and-child health. We’ve packaged it into a very entertaining story that will inform you about the issues, provide a solution and hopefully encourage girls around Pakistan to raise their voice if any such thing is happening to them.”

The cast and crew of Hum TV's next TV serial with a cause, Sammi
The cast and crew of Hum TV’s next TV serial with a cause, Sammi

Sammi sees John Hopkins University serve as co-producers of the play. “John Hopkins has been a big help in research for Sammi,” said Momina. “It’s great that both like-minded organisations wanted to work on the same cause.”

For lead actor Mawra Hocane, the drama’s appeal is its awareness-raising potential.

“Social problems can’t be about you and me, like Karachites complaining about water issues. We have to touch the grassroot level. Women living in rural settings have to face far more issues than us. They don’t have the same freedom. I think if I wasn’t acting in dramas, I wouldn’t even know about their plight. So it’s obviously creating awareness, even if it is for one person like me, it’s much-needed,” reveals the actress.

“Sometimes while we’re off living our privileged lives, we forget that there are villages in our own country where women are suffering.”

“We’re not claiming that we’ve solved the problem just by shooting a drama about it but at least we’re starting something. Maybe, just maybe, somebody will watch me in Sammi and think this is how I treat my sister and perhaps I shouldn’t,” adds Hocane.

Lead star of Sammi, Mawra Hocane looking radiant in white at the press conference
Lead star of Sammi, Mawra Hocane looking radiant in white at the press conference

Will the show also convey a message of female empowerment?

When asked about whether we’ll just be seeing a damsel in distress on the screen, director Saife Hassan said, “Most dramas have positive characters and negative characters. There’s also a third character in some dramas though and we term that a transitioning character, which is what you’ll see in Sammi; someone who has been victimised but evolves from being weak to strong. It’s a journey that people will be able to relate to.”

Momina adds, “Until you don’t show victimisation, you can’t show empowerment either. You have to show the path she takes to get to a state of liberation. Yes, you’ll see a woman who has been put down, who has several hurdles ahead of her but you’ll also see her overcome those obstacles and see exactly how to do so.”

Is Sammi expected to match the success Udaari managed to gain?

Producer Momina Duraid says she sure hopes so.

“When I was making Shehr-e-Zaat, I didn’t know if it was going to get good ratings, the only thing was to try and make it entertaining. So when unconventional plays as such do well, it paves the way for other such stories to do well too which is good.”

“That being said, I’d like to say this to other show creators that don’t pick up scripts just in hopes of getting ratings. Work on stories you’re passionate about, topics you can do research on, social causes you can give solutions for. Don’t do it just to make a sizzler, do it to make a difference.”

Talking about how cautious she has to be while making dramas about sensitive topics, Duraid shares: “From the first sentence of the script to the last, every project is like my baby. And not just the script; from the production to the execution of every scene, I’m completely invested. Certain scenes are tricky to shoot and if we miss the mark, it could cause a lot of backlash. Every little detail matters, it’s a big responsibility because we need projects about social causes to pick up.”

“We just hope to achieve two things here. Firstly, the content must have entertainment value and secondly, it should be content everyone can watch. Even in Udaari, which was based on such a bold topic, we had no graphic scenes. We had to imply things in a way that the adults understand but the children sitting with them don’t. We have to be extremely careful.”

Gunvor, Eni submit lowest bids for supplying LNG to Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Global commodity trader Gunvor and Italian energy company Eni on Thursday emerged as the lowest bidders for supplying a total of 240 shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG) at much lower rates than a similar government-to-government deal with Qatar.

An apple-to-apple comparison of 15 years shows that the price of LNG import from Qatar at current oil prices would be about $2.5 billion costlier than the latest bid results.

According to final bid results, Gunvor has quoted the LNG price at 11.62 per cent of a barrel of crude oil (Brent) for short-term supply for five years. This will be Gunvor’s second five-year contract after the one it signed early last year. Eni came up with a bid price of 12.29pc of crude oil price for long-term 15-year contract.


The latest bid price would provide savings of about $2.5bn


The bids, opened on Thursday, were invited by Pakistan LNG Company. Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi confirmed the bidding results saying Gunvor with 11.62pc of crude for five years and ENI with 12.29pc of crude for 15 year were the lowest.

However, he said the independent consultant was finalising and evaluating bid results that would be posted on the website of the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) for 10 days before formal contract signing as required under the law.

About a year ago, Pakistan State Oil (PSO) secured an LNG deal with Qatar at 13.37pc of crude oil for long-term LNG supply contract for 15 years. This price with Qatar was finalised when Gunvor at the time came up under a short-term tender for five years with the same price, otherwise Qatar’s negotiated price was on the much higher side.

An official who followed the bidding process said the fresh price offered by Gunvor for the next five years would work out at $5.81 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) against previous price of $6.68 per mmBtu. Therefore, the fresh supplies would be cheaper, having a cumulative five-year impact of $600m.

Likewise, the new price for the next 15 years at 12.29pc of crude would work out at $6.1 per mmBtu at assumed crude price of $50 per barrel against the Qatari price of $6.68 per mmBtu at the rate of 13.37pc of crude. This would mean that the fresh bid works out at about $1.8bn over the 15-year contract life.

Mr Abbasi who appeared happy with the price decline said there were a number of flexibilities in the ongoing deal with Qatar and many aspects had price build ups. Under the Qatar deal, we can cancel shipments without penalties that was not possible in fresh bids.

An official said the first shipment under the fresh bids was now expected to reach Karachi by July this year. Both the successful bidders would be required to ensure one shipment each every month. As such, Gunvor would ensure 60 ships in five years and Eni would provide 180 ships in 15 years.

Under the previous arrangement, PSO is currently importing about 400m cubic feet per day of LNG. Gonvor won the first contract of LNG supply in May last year against a tender by PSO seeking supply of 100 million cubic feet per day (mmcfd) of LNG.

Another official said Pakistan would be saving $500m every year under short-term deal with Gunvor due to low prices while Eni’s price of LNG was also lowest compared to the gas price finalised with Qatar in long-term deal.

An official close to the petroleum minister said the bid prices were on the lower side because no other client had floated LNG tenders around the world at the moment except for Egypt that floated three tenders and materialised only one tender.

The official said Pakistan was expecting bids from US firms but none came forward because of uncertain LNG supplies from the United States. Pakistan was also expecting some Japanese firms to participate directly in the bidding but had participated with joint venture of one other company.

Some of the leading firms like Shell, Russia’s Gazprom, Malaysia’s Petronas and GDF of France also took part in the bidding. France and Italy had already approached Pakistan to sign LNG import deals on a government-to-government basis.

Pakistan LNG Company had floated two tenders for supply of LNG. One tender was for short-term LNG supply for five years period while the other was for 15 years. Around 15 companies had participated in short-term LNG imports whereas five companies participated in long-term contract.

Smith, Handscomb crush sloppy Pakistan

PERTH: Captain Steve Smith notched an unbeaten century and debutant Peter Handscomb scored 82 in Australia’s emphatic seven-wicket victory in the third One-day International against Pakistan on Thursday.

Smith made 108 off 104 balls while Handscomb caught off a no-ball before he had scored and then dropped on 10 went on to make 82 off 84 balls in Australian powerful run-chase of 265-3 with five overs to spare against the sloppy tourists.

Handscomb, who had scored prolifically in Australia’s 3-0 rout of Pakistan in the preceding Test series, combined in a better than a run-a-ball 183-run stand with Smith to steer Australia home.


Babar becomes joint-fastest to score 1,000 runs in 21 ODI innings


Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur could only rue the mistakes that helped the hosts take a 2-1 lead in the five-match series.

“Our only chance of really exerting pressure was to take early wickets, and we nearly had that right,” Arthur said. “And where we’re at as a team, we just can’t afford those little lapses, so very disappointing.”

Half centuries by Babar Azam (84) and Sharjeel Khan (50) had lifted Pakistan to 263-7 after Smith won the toss and put Pakistan into bat at the WACA Ground.

“I love batting and scoring runs. It was nice to get another big one. When you get yourself in, this is one of the best places to bat,” said Smith, who hit 11 fours and a six in his eighth ODI century. “We bowled pretty well in the afternoon to restrict them to 260 odd when it was a 320 wicket.”

Left-arm fast bowlers Junaid Khan and Mohammad Amir removed openers David Warner (35) and Usman Khawaja (9) in successive overs to make it 45-2.

A run was added before Junaid found the outside edge of Handscomb’s bat only to see he had overstepped.

Junaid came close to removing Handscomb again but substitute fielder Mohammad Nawaz missed a sitter at point.

“Had some luck but I was happy to grab the opportunity,” Handscomb said. “I was just trying to use my feet to try and go forward or back to unsettle the bowlers … we were confident of chasing this total down.”

Smith raised his hundred when he pulled Hasan Ali to the midwicket boundary before the right-arm seamer broke the stand by having Handscomb glove a pull shot to diving wicket-keeper Mohammad Rizwan.

Earlier, Pakistan couldn’t keep up the scoring pace set up by Babar and Sharjeel.

“There was a platform for us to make 300 plus, but we missed our opportunity,” stand-in captain Mohammad Hafeez said. “No-balls are all part of the game, but the effort was there from the bowlers. Once you miss those chances, the pressure will always be on you. Everyone has to lift themselves. The next two venues [Sydney and Adelaide] will suit us.”

Opener Sharjeel made a sprightly half century from 46 balls to give Pakistan an assertive beginning. The left-hander smacked three successive boundaries against Travis Head to bring up his 50 but dragged the very next delivery from the spinner onto his stumps.

Babar had support from Shoaib Malik and Umar Akmal, who both scored 39, but Pakistan squandered their solid start by scoring a modest 50 runs from the last 10 overs while losing three wickets.

Babar was dismissed when he pulled a ball from Josh Hazlewood toward Handscomb on the deep midwicket boundary.

Babar came in when Pakistan lost Hafeez (4) in the fifth over and put on 49 for the second wicket with Sharjeel. He quickly lost Asad Shafiq (5) but founded a new partnership with Shoaib which added 73 for the fourth wicket and he put on a further 60 with Umar.

The 22-year-old Babar also became the joint-fastest to join the 1000-run club in 21 ODI innings, being part of an elite group of four other batsmen that also include West Indies legend Viv Richards.

Hazlewood bowled an outstanding last spell to prevent Pakistan getting what seemed likely to be a score close to 300. He dismissed Hafeez, Babar and Umar, ending with 3-32 from his 10 overs.

The fourth game is in Sydney on Sunday.

Scoreboard

PAKISTAN:

Mohammad Hafeez lbw b Hazlewood 4 Sharjeel Khan b Head 50 Babar Azam c Handscomb b Hazlewood 84 Asad Shafiq c Khawaja b Head 5 Shoaib Malik c Wade b Stanlake 39 Umar Akmal c Wade b Hazlewood 39 Imad Wasim c Head b Cummins 9 Mohammad Rizwan not out 14 Mohammad Amir not out 4

EXTRAS (LB-7, W-8) 15

TOTAL (for seven wkts, 50 overs) 263

FALL OF WKTS: 1-36, 2-85, 3-99, 4-162, 5-222, 6-244, 7-246.

DID NOT BAT: Hasan Ali, Junaid Khan.

BOWLING: Hazlewood 10-0-32-3 (3w); Stanlake 10-1-55-1 (2w); Cummins 10-1-42-1 (2w); Head 10-0-65-2; Faulkner 10-0-62-0.

AUSTRALIA:

D.A. Warner c Rizwan b Junaid 35 U.T. Khawaja c Rizwan b Amir 9 S.P.D. Smith not out 108 P.S.P. Handscomb c Rizwan b Hasan 82 T.M. Head not out 23

EXTRAS (B-1, LB-1, W-5, NB-1) 8

TOTAL (for three wkts, 45 overs) 265

FALL OF WKTS: 1-44, 2-45, 3-228.

DID NOT BAT: G.J. Maxwell, M.S. Wade, J.P. Faulkner, P.J. Cummins, J.R. Hazlewood, B. Stanlake.

BOWLING: Mohammad Hafeez 6-1-30-0 (1w); Mohammad Amir 10-0-36-1 (1w); Junaid Khan 9-0-58-1 (1nb); Hasan Ali 10-0-62-1; Imad Wasim 8-0-59-0 (3w); Shoaib Malik 2-0-18-0.

RESULT: Australia won by seven wickets to lead five-match series 2-1.

UMPIRES: S.D. Fry (Australia) and C. Shamshuddin (India).

TV UMPIRE: C.B. Gaffaney (New Zealand).

MATCH REFEREE: J.J. Crowe (New Zealand).

MAN-OF-THE-MATCH: Steve Smith.

FIRST MATCH: Brisbane, Australia won by 92 runs.

SECOND MATCH: Melbourne, Pakistan won by six wickets.

FOURTH MATCH: Sydney (D/N), Jan 22.

FIFTH MATCH: Adelaide (D/N), Jan 26.