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Sindh tourism authorities want foreign travel websites blocked

KARACHI.: Amid the centre’s attempts to rebrand Pakistan into an attractive travel destination, tourism authorities in Sindh appear to be headed the opposite way as they move towards blocking all international ticketing and hotel reservation websites, seemingly on a single complaint.
Without consulting both foreign and other local tour operators, the Sindh Directorate of Tourist Services (DTS) has asked the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to block over 60 websites that it says are operating in the country without valid travel and tourism operation licenses. The list includes globally popular websites like, Expedia, AirBnB and Agoda.“These online services have a competitive advantage over local travel and tourism operators as they are not subject to Pakistan’s tax regime,” Sindh DTS Controller Manzoor Hussain Mari told The Express Tribune.
“They often enjoy a price advantage of up to 15 to 20 per cent over local companies,” he said, citing local tour operator Travel Horizontal’s complaint.Travellers allowed only one cellphone in a year to bring to Pakistan duty-freeThe DTS approached the FIA on Travel Horizontal’s complaint, which also alleged that unregistered foreign travel companies mislead customers regarding room rates and availability, and cancellation policies.The local operator further complained that foreign companies bypass financial scrutiny and regulatory due diligence due to these reasons.With the current emphasis on promoting travel and tourism, improved regulation is essential.
As the primary tourism and travel regulator, all travelling and booking services operating from the country are registered with each province’s directorate of tourist services. The provincial DTS are also responsible for ensuring fair pricing, ethical practices and consumer satisfaction.However, when asked how the foreign companies concerned responded to the concern, Mari said the Sindh DTS has not contacted any of them yet. The department’s decision is also seemingly based on one complaint, which appeared to have been filed away haphazardly under bundles of other documents when The Express Tribune requested to review it.The complaint was referred to the department by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA), with a request to review it in light of section 37 of the cybercrime act. The DTS then approached the FIA for action before returning the complaint to PTA with some recommendations.In all of this, the directorate has failed to take into account how other local travel operators as well as users of such websites view this situation. It also appeared not to pay serious heed to how a blanket ban on such websites could disturb the travel plans of those relying on them.Syed Shahbaz Ali, who runs a local travel agency, says he regularly uses online booking portals for his clients and also recommends it to them as they often offer the best options and rates. It also helps smaller set-ups who don’t have international partners, he added.Similarly, all those travelling abroad will be unable to access such booking and ticketing websites in case of a ban. Ali Shah, a frequent traveler, says he will use proxies to access Airbnb in case such a situation arises.

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Apex court orders anti-encroachment drive to continue

The hearing related to the anti-encroachment drive was held before the three-member-bench, headed by Justice Mushir Alam and comprising Justice Faisal Arab and Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan at the Supreme Court’s Karachi registry.
The Sindh Advocate-General, Karachi Mayor Waseem Akhtar and Sindh Building Control Authority Director-General Iftikhar Kaimkhani appeared before the court.
As the hearing was ongoing, Justice Alam remarked that business organisations and restaurants had been established on small plots. We also wish that Karachi be restored to its original form and the liveliness of the city return, he remaked.There is no place left to walk in the streets, he said, adding that the SBCA had failed at its job.The court ordered the chief secretary to supervise the operation and clear the debris in the aftermath of the anti-encroachment campaigns immediately from Bagh Ibne-Qasim, as well as other parts of the city.The court remarked that the chief secretary should ensure the cooperation and consultation between the various government departments and civic bodies. No organisation should interfere in the anti-encroachment operation or the removal of the debris, said the court.
SC orders top officials to clear Karachi of encroachment Seeking assistance,The Sindh Advocate-General informed the court that the provincial government was seeking assistance from experts to restore Karachi to its actual form. Suggestions from experts have been taken at a consultative meeting held on January 1, earlier this year.The AG added that a human tragedy could occur if action was taken without proper planning and asked for time to plan the campaign. The SBCA also asked for another eight weeks to plan and execute the operation.
Justice Alam remarked that he would request the chief justice himself that the case be transferred to the related bench and the agencies be given time for the operation.Illegal structures: Anti-encroachment drive starts in residential areasMarriage hallsBesides, the same bench also heard a petition to review the SCs earlier order to raze all marriage halls constructed on military land.The petitioners counsel, Rasheed A Rizvi, argued that the orders to raze the marriage halls had been passed without hearing their arguments. We will satisfy the court, therefore our arguments should also be heard, he pleaded.
Justice Alam remarked that they would not pass any orders at the moment. The court subsequently issued notices to the Sindh Advocate-General and others to seek their response over the demolition of the marriage halls.On January 24, a two-member bench, comprising Justice Gulzar Ahmed and Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, had ordered razing of all the marriage halls built on Karachis Sharae Faisal and Rashid Minhas Road, besides cinemas, plazas and other commercial establishments built in cantonment areas.In its written order, a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune, the court had also sought reports on the demolition of the Global Marquees on Emergency Military Medical Supplies Land for Sindh and Balochistan.The order further stipulated that all cantonment lands meant for cantonment purposes are to be used only for cantonment purposes and not for any other, 2019.

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Govt uses back-channel to send ‘positive note’ to India

LAHORE: The government has begun backdoor contacts with India and the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, who is currently in India, has met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma.
Vankwani also met Minster of State for External Affairs General VK Singh, the four-star general who has also served as the Indian army chief.“I have communicated a positive note to the Indian leaders and I hope there will now be a change in their behaviour,” Vankwani said on Saturday while talking to The Express Tribune over telephone.The Sindh-based PTI leader, who is a lawmaker on minority seat, is in India on a religious trip amid heightened tensions between the two rival states in the wake of February 14 suicide attack that killed at least 40 India paramilitaries in occupied Kashmir’s Pulwama district.
Trump alarmed by ‘very dangerous situation’ between Pakistan, IndiaVankwani said he encountered Modi during an event and the Indian PM met him warmly. He said he told Modi that he had come with a positive message and wanted to return with a positive message.He said later on Modi’s directive, Sushma Swaraj also held a 25-minute-long meeting with him.“I told the Indian foreign minister that in Pakistan its captain’s [Prime Minister Imran Khan] government now; he is a Pathan and he does what he says.We assure you that no Pakistani institution is involved in Pulwama attack. If India provides evidence, we will facilitate the investigation,” Vankwani said.
According to the MNA, he told Swaraj that the two countries need to take lessons from past and not to hold on to it.“Enmity can be brought to an end by befriending the enemy,” he said, adding that he himself has returned after Ganga Ashnan (ablution) and never tells lies.FO sets up ‘Crisis Management Cell’ in Pulwama aftermath“I told them that we need to get out of politics of accusations,” he added.According to Vankwani, after the meeting he felts that the atmosphere was beginning to thaw.
“Indian PM during his Rajasthan rally has hinted at holding dialogue with Pakistan,” he added.PTI’s Ramesh Kumar Vankwani meets State Minister for External Affairs Gen VK Singh.EXPRESSHe said he had come to India on invitation from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) for participation in Kumbh Mela. “220 people from 125 countries from all over the world have been invited to participate in this event and I am representing Pakistan,” he added.
PHOTO: EXPRESSWar frenzy has been sweeping across India ever since a young man from Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) rammed a vehicle full of explosives into a military convoy in Pulwama, killing nearly four dozen soldiers.India airlifts thousands of paramilitary troops to occupied KashmirJaish-e-Mohammad militant group, which Delhi claims operates from Pakistan, purportedly claimed credit for the deadliest attack on Indian troops in IoK.Delhi put the blame squarely on the state of Pakistan, deployed its troops menacingly close to the border, and started issuing threats.Amid crescendoing war hysteria and relentless threats of military action from India, the Pakistan Army on Friday also issued an unambiguous warning to New Delhi: Dont mess with Pakistan.
We do not wish to go to war. But please be assured, should you initiate any aggression, you shall never be able to surprise us.We shall, for sure, surprise you, the chief military spokesperson, Major General Asif Ghafoor, said during an unusual media briefing

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Incensed by Durrani’s arrest, PPP lashes out at Centre

KARACHI: The provincial government and members of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) have taken strong exception to the arrest of Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani in Islamabad by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Wednesday …
The party has decided to challenge the arrest in the court and protest in the upcoming session of the Sindh Assembly, scheduled for February 27.The partys chairperson, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari took to to lash out against the move. Attack on Speaker of federating unit is unacceptable, he tweeted.
Undemocratic attempt to dislodge Sindh govt. Failed before will fail again.Independent institutions shouldnt unwittingly be part of political engineering, he added.His sister, Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari, also expressed her concern on the micro-blogging platform.Chairman Bilawal was placed on exit control list post his Dec 27 speech and later PTI did a press conference claiming to take over Sindh. There has been no subtlety on what PTI want.Cases and ECL for Sindh chief minister and arrest of speaker, all insult to Pakistan and democracy.The arrestDurrani, who was facing an inquiry relating to the accumulation of assets beyond known sources of income, was arrested by NAB Karachi in Islamabad.
After getting his transit remand, he will be moved to Karachi for further investigation today [Wednesday].This is the first time that a sitting Speaker of a legislative assembly has been arrested in the country.A source privy to the development told The Express Tribune that two other inquiries of corruption and illegal appointments are already pending before the NAB against Durrani. He has been arrested in the assets beyond means inquiry, but the NAB will also look into other inquiries against him, said the source, adding that there has been massive bungling in the construction of MPAs Hostel of the Sindh Assembly and hundreds of people were given jobs in the local government department in violation of the rules when Durrani was minister of the department from 2008 to 2013.
Sindh govts stanceAccording to the Sindh government, the Speaker is the custodian of the House representing 168 MPAs elected from various constituencies of the province. Therefore, he [Durrani] cannot be arrested merely on the basis of an inquiry.
But the NAB officials were of the view that the arrest came after Durrani did not present himself before the inquiry committee, even after being issued three notices.Soon after news of his arrest, PPP ministers held a press conference, where they alleged that there were separate sets of laws operational one for the PPP and another for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and its allies.Barrister Murtaza Wahab, who was flanked by provincial ministers, including Syed Awais Shah and Shabbir Khan Bajarani, referred to the Constitution and said, The arrest of Speaker Durrani was a breach of Article 25 of the Constitution under which all citizens are equal and entitled to equal protection before the law. No reference or case is registered against him.He is innocent until proven guilty, he said.Quoting inquiries against incumbent Prime Minister Imran Khan and his cabinet members, including the National Assembly speaker and Punjab Assembly speaker, Barrister Wahab said, None of them have been arrested.
On the contrary, they are enjoying all perks and privileges and full protocol.Transport Minister Owais Shah called Durrani a custodian of the Sindh Assembly elected by 99 MPAs.The NAB has breached the privilege of the Sindh Assembly. We will protest it on all forums, he said.We are not against the accountability process, but want to know why such actions are not being taken against opposition parties [in Sindh Assembly], he said, adding that they will devise a strategy on it soon.The PPP ministers were of the opinion that the people of Sindh were being victimized as they had voted for PPP, but the PTI would not succeed in its nefarious designs.
Later in the evening, the PPP leaders gathered at the Chief Minister House to devise a strategy in light of Durranis arrest. The meeting decided to approach the court against the move as well as take up the matter in the upcoming session of the provincial assembly.
PTI demands resignationOn the other hand, the PTIs Sindh lawmakers demanded the resignation of the Speaker, given his involvement in corruption cases. MPA Khurrum Sher Zaman, who is also the partys city chief said, Agha Siraj Durrani has lost the moral authority to remain on the seat.
He himself should resign.Zaman added that all the local bodies ministers, who had ruled Sindh in the past, were on the NABs radar.
Corruption will end in Pakistan, he said. Referring to the resignations of PTI lawmakers Aleem Khan, Babar Awan and Azam Swati, Zaman called on the PPP to follow the PTIs example and replace the speaker.Sindh Assembly sessionThe Sindh Assembly session has been summoned for February 27. According to officials, under the prevalent circumstances, the deputy speaker, Rehana Leghari, will chair the session.If the speaker is on leave or absent for some reasons the deputy speaker will work as the acting speaker, the Sindh Assembly Secretary told The Express Tribune, while referring to Article 30 of the Constitution.  The acting speaker can issue his production order to attend the session, said the secretary.When asked who would chair the session if Durrani came to the Assembly, he said, He is the speaker and will preside over the session whenever he is in the Assembly. st, 2019.

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Gold surges to new all-time high of Rs69,600 per tola

KARACHI: Gold hit a new all-time high at Rs 69,600 per tola (11.66 grams) in Pakistan, as the global commodity out shined due to support coming from the weakening US dollar at world markets, ahead of the release of the US Fed outlook on its interest rate 66 grams) in Pakistan, as the global commodity out shined due to support coming from the weakening US dollar at world markets, ahead of the release of the US Fed outlook on its interest rate regime.
Bullion surged by a notable 1.6%, or Rs 1,100 per tola, to a record high, in line with the uptick in international markets, where it recovered by a staggering $16 an ounce (31.1 grams) to a 10-month high of $1,344 per ounce. The increase came just before the All Sindh Saraf and Jewellers Association announced the gold price for local markets for the next 24-hours in the second-half of the day on Wednesday, according to the association.“A 32% rupee depreciation against the US dollar in the last 14 months helped gold price surge higher in Pakistani markets than the global one,” Arif Habib Commodities CEO and MD Ahsan Mehanti told The Express Tribune.“The gold price surged ahead of the release of US-FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) minutes of the January meeting (at around 24 o’clock according to Pakistan’s standard time on Wednesday), which is expected to hint a status quo in US interest rate (at 2.5%), going forward,” Pakistan Mercantile Exchange (PMEX) officials disclosed on the condition of anonymity.“The US dollar index (a basket of world’s major currencies) has weakened over 1% in the recent days.
The situation invited increased trade in gold at PMEX,” he said.Trading in bullion improved over 60% in recent days at PMEX, he cautiously estimated.
“The Pakistan-India tension on the border made investors in Pakistan return to safe haven,” Mehanti said.Rays Commodities Chief Operating Officer Adnan Agar anticipated gold may go as high as $1,358-1,360 per ounce under the current cycle of uptick at world markets.He said going forward, the likely status quo in the US interest rate is expected to keep the dollar weak and fuel uptick in gold at global, 2019.

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