Category Archives: RELIGION + FAITH

KP, Chinese firms sign 11 agreements

Beijing: KP Local Government Secretary Syed Jamal Uddin Shah and a Chinese official are signing five memoranda of understanding for development projects on Monday.—APP
Beijing: KP Local Government Secretary Syed Jamal Uddin Shah and a Chinese official are signing five memoranda of understanding for development projects on Monday.—APP

BEIJING: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government on Monday signed 11 memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with Chinese companies for development projects in the province under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

According to a press release, MoUs were signed for five projects costing up to Rs60 billion. These projects are related to CPEC Tower, construction of a new bus terminal at Chamkani, Ring Road missing link, Health City at Regi Model Town, and Commercial and Residential Reconstruction Centre.

Local Government Secretary Jamal Shah signed the MoUs on behalf of the KP government. Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, Minister for Local Government Inayatullah and Peshawar Development Authority (PDA) Director General Salim Watto were also present on the occasion.

These projects will be jointly executed by PDA and Chinese companies, the press release said.

The construction of the Ring Road missing link will cost up to Rs12bn while that of the new general bus stand at Chamkani will cost Rs10bn. The construction of CPEC Tower will be carried out at Rs5bn while that of Health City at Regi Model Township is estimated to cost up to Rs22bn.

The initial estimate for the construction cost of Commercial and Residential Reconstruction Centre is around Rs11bn.

PC-1s of these projects are complete, it said. The Chinese authorities will soon visit Pakistan to finalise the execution process, said Mr Watto.

Other development projects are related to information technology, special economic zones, power plants, oil refinery, infrastructure and e-commerce.

Speaking at the MoU signing ceremony, Mr Khattak invited Chinese companies to take advantage of the investment-friendly environment in KP.

“We have set the stage to begin the journey of industrialisation in the province. We need the support of our iron brothers to put the province on the path of development and economic growth,” he said.

Appreciating the One Belt, One Road Initiative, he said the CPEC is its flagship component and stressed that business, cultural and social cooperation between Pakistan and China should be further enhanced.

Mr Khattak said a strong security force comprising 4,500 personnel has been established for the protection of foreign workforce, including Chinese nationals.

While emphasising the importance of the CPEC, China-Pakistan Friendship Association President Sha Zhu Kang said the success of One Belt, One Road initiative is linked with the CPEC, which he termed the pilot project of the grand scheme.

He said the proposed corridor stretching from Kashgar to Gwadar will bring about economic and social progress.

He said Chinese companies are already working in KP and providing job opportunities to a large number of locals.

Ambassador Khalid said that around 86 projects, including those in energy, agriculture and infrastructure sectors, will be presented for investment and cooperation. He said the KP chief minister’s visit to China, second in the last four months, underscores the importance of the CPEC and Sino-Pak relations.

The ambassador said all political parties in Pakistan are on the same page as far as Sino-Pak relations are concerned.

He said the CPEC is showing steady progress. Now the Gwadar port is operational and energy and infrastructure projects are being completed in time, he added.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2017

Apple enters self-driving car race

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SAN FRANCISCO: Apple is joining the fiercely competitive race to design self-driving cars, raising the possibility that a company that has already re-shaped culture with its iPhone may try to transform transportation, too.

Ending years of speculation, Apple’s late entry into a crowded field was made official on Friday with the disclosure that the California Department of Motor Vehicles had awarded a permit for the company to start testing its self-driving car technology on public roads in the state.

The permit covers three vehicles all 2015 Lexus RX 450h hybrid SUVs and six individual drivers. California law requires people to be in a self-driving car who can take control if something goes wrong. Apple confirmed its arrival in the self-driving car market, but wouldn’t discuss its intentions. Its interest in autonomous vehicle technology, however, has long been clear.

The Cupertino, California, company pointed to a statement that it issued in December. ” Apple is investing heavily in machine learning and autonomous systems,” the company said then. “There are many potential applications for these technologies, including the future of transportation.” Apple released that statement after Steve Kenner, a former Ford Motor executive who is now Apple’s director of product integrity, notified federal regulators of the company’s interest in self-driving cars in a letter.

Like others, Apple believes self-driving cars could ease congestion, prevent millions of crashes and save thousands of lives annually in traffic accidents often caused by drunk or distracted motorists.

Self-driving cars could also be a lucrative new market. And Apple has been searching for its next act for a while, one that will take it beyond its mainstay phones, tablets and personal computers.

Although iPhone’s ongoing popularity has helped Apple remain the world’s most valuable company, the company hasn’t had a breakthrough product since the 2010 debut of the iPad, currently in the throes of a three-year sales slump. The dry spell has raised doubts as to whether Apple lost some of its trend-setting magic with the death of co-founder Steve Jobs in 2011.

Apple will be vying against 29 other companies that already have California permits to test self-driving cars. The list includes major automakers, including Ford, General Motors, BMW, Volkswagen and Tesla, as well as one of its biggest rivals in technology, Google, whose testing of self-driving cars has been spun off into an affiliate called Waymo.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2017

Policy being finalised for biomass technology

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ISLAMABAD: Policy recommendations were finalised to support the use of biomass technology in industry at a consultative stakeholders’ workshop held on Friday.

The event was organised by the Alternate Energy Development Board (AEDB) and United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).

The finalised policy recommendations will be submitted to the AEDB for making the necessary changes in existing policies, regulations and procedures related to biomass.

The quality standards will be used by the customs department of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to ensure that only gasifiers complying with the stated standards are imported in the country.

Recognising the need for tapping all possible energy sources available to Pakistan, especially renewable sources such as biomass, UNIDO is implementing a Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded project on “promoting sustainable energy production and use from biomass in Pakistan”. The project aims to promote market-based adoption of modern biomass technologies for industrial and rural energy applications with particular focus on the introduction of biomass gasification technology.

The consultative stakeholder workshop was attended by over seventy experts, including representatives from AEDB, the National Electric and Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra), provincial energy departments, private sector, academia and several other stakeholders.

United Nations Resident Coordinator, Neil Buhne described biomass as a ‘huge resource’ for the country with immense benefits. He linked promoting biomass with the achievement of several sustainable goals and highlighted the importance of biomass as part of the larder bio-economy with volume of over $2 trillion globally.

AEDB Chief Executive Officer Amjad Ali Awan, who chaired the meeting, highlighted the importance of biomass energy technologies both as a means to address energy challenges in the country and an important opportunity to save fuel and diversify its energy mix to include clean indigenous energy sources.

Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2017

NED’s all-girl tech start-up deploys laser tag at Arena

Engineering graduates successfully replace paintball shooting game with their final year project. PHOTO: ARMEZ

Engineering graduates successfully replace paintball shooting game with their final year project. PHOTO: ARMEZ

Engineering graduates successfully replace paintball shooting game with their final year project. PHOTO: ARMEZWith the aim of not having their final year project gather dust in library files, the group decided to build a product that will actually see the light of day and built the hardware for the shooting game, Armez. PHOTO: COURTESY ARMEZ

KARACHI: It is not every day that a final year project at a Pakistani public university becomes a successful commercial venture. But that is precisely what happened with Armez – the engineering project of four NED University students – that recently replaced the famous paintball shooting game at Arena recreational facility in Karachi.

Armez is essentially a world famous laser tag game. However, what sets it apart is the fact that it is the final year project of four girls who created everything from scratch. With their meagre pocket money and limited technological resources, the NED students worked day and night building the hardware for the shooting game and breaking gender stereotypes in the process. A successful deal with Arena only goes to show the promise these young graduates and their budding tech start-up holds.

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From idea to product

The team comprises four students of NED University’s electronics engineering department – Sheena, Nimra Idrees Fazil, Ramla Kaleem Shah and Tahniat Hasan Khan – and their mentor, Dr Muhammad Khurram. A professor at NED’s computer and information systems department, Khurram served as the project director while research, electronics and manufacturing work was done by the students.

With the aim to not have their final year project gather dust in library files, team member Khan says the group decided to build a product that will actually see the light of day. “Our mentor pitched this idea and we knew right away it will have market value both in terms of gaming and defence training,” Khan shares.

In a start-up culture dominated by software products, says another member, Shah, making hardware merchandise sets Armez apart from other young enterprises.

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Fun and games

As Fazil describes, Armez provides first-person shooting game experience out in the open, enabling Counter Strike enthusiasts to practise and strategise tactics and be proactive and defensive in a physical environment with real people. “We want to change the way people approach gaming activities and promote live action sport,” she says.

In addition to providing socially-involved gaming experience, team member Khan says Armez can also be used to provide military training to citizens on the lines of National Cadet Corps – the civil-defence training imparted to college students in the past by Pakistan Army.

Foray into business world

On the successful deal with Arena, Sheena says the group held a demo session with 10 sets of their equipment to show what the experience entails and that is when they were noticed by Arena. “In the following meetings, we were able to satisfy their demands; we successfully deployed and tested our equipment in their recreational facility and now it is available to the general public,” Sheena shares. On the first day, 82 games were played at Arena highlighting the popularity of the made-in-Pakistan game.

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With one customer already in their income statement, Sheena says the group plans to provide their products and services to other gaming ventures in Pakistan and eventually abroad.

Their mentor, Khurram, says the response to their product has been very appreciative and it has given them hope that there’s a market for quality products and services made in Pakistan. “The commercial deal with Arena is a jump-start. The indicators are positive as we have created a market and our product is commercially viable. There is no stopping us now – we have big plans for the future,” he shares.

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How it works?

In an Armez game, players are provided with laser guns – instead of paint ones – and jackets embedded with sensors. When the jacket is hit by a laser, the player feels a little vibration and small bulbs indicating ‘game lives’ on the jacket light up to show ‘health level’. The gun stops working when a player’s ‘health level’ reaches its limit. All the hits and their timings are recorded and are displayed on a computer screen to keep track of the game.

Source: Tribune News

Tech world debate on robots and jobs heats up

SoftBank Corp's human-like robot named 'pepper' is displayed at its branch in Tokyo. PHOTO: REUTERS

SoftBank Corp’s human-like robot named ‘pepper’ is displayed at its branch in Tokyo. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON: Are robots coming for your job?

Although technology has long affected the labor force, recent advances in artificial intelligence and robotics are heightening concerns about automation replacing a growing number of occupations, including highly skilled or “knowledge-based” jobs.

Just a few examples: self-driving technology may eliminate the need for taxi, Uber and truck drivers, algorithms are playing a growing role in journalism, robots are informing consumers as mall greeters, and medicine is adapting robotic surgery and artificial intelligence to detect cancer and heart conditions.

Of 700 occupations in the United States, 47 percent are at “high risk” from automation, an Oxford University study concluded in 2013.

A McKinsey study released this year offered a similar view, saying “about half” of activities in the world’s workforce “could potentially be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technologies.”

Still, McKinsey researchers offered a caveat, saying that only around five percent of jobs can be “fully automated.”

robot retrieving medicines in the pharmacy of the Argenteuil hospital, in Argenteuil, a Paris suburb. PHOTO: AFP

Another report, by PwC this month, concluded that around a third of jobs in the United States, Germany and Britain could be eliminated by automation by the early 2030s, with the losses concentrated in transportation and storage, manufacturing, and wholesale and retail trade.

But experts warn that such studies may fail to grasp the full extent of the risks to the working population.

“The studies are underestimating the impact of technology — some 80 to 90 percent of jobs will be eliminated in the next 10 to 15 years,” said Vivek Wadhwa, a tech entrepreneur and faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University in Silicon Valley.

“Artificial intelligence is moving a lot faster than anyone had expected,” said Wadhwa, who is co-author of a forthcoming book on the topic. “Alexa (Amazon’s home hub) and Google Home are getting amazingly intelligent very fast. Microsoft and Google have demonstrated that AI can understand human speech better than humans can.”

Wadhwa calls the driverless car a “metaphor” for the future of labor and a sign of a major shift.

Warnings of dire social consequences from automation have also come from the likes of the physicist Stephen Hawking and tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, among others.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem historian Yuval Harari writes in his 2017 book, “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow” that technology will lead to “superfluous people” as “intelligent non-conscious algorithms” improve.

People looking at a self-driving vehicle, as it is tested in a pedestrianised zone, during a media event in Milton Keynes, north of London. PHOTO: AFP

“As algorithms push humans out of the job market,” he writes, “wealth and power might become concentrated in the hands of the tiny elite that owns the all-powerful algorithms, creating unprecedented social and political inequality.”

Harari points to the Oxford study, estimating a high probability of job loss to automation — cashiers (97 percent), paralegals (94 percent), bakers (89 percent) and bartenders (77 percent), for example.

Others disagree.

Boston University economist and researcher James Bessen dismisses alarmist predictions, contending that advances in technology generally lead to more jobs, even if the nature of work changes.

His research found that the proliferation of ATM machines did not decrease bank tellers’ employment in recent decades, and that automation of textile mills in the 19th century led to an increase in weaving jobs because it created more demand.

“Robots can replace humans in certain tasks but don’t entirely replace humans,” he said.

But he acknowledged that automation “is destroying a lot of low-skill, low wage jobs, and the new jobs being created need higher skills.”

Former president Barack Obama’s council of economic advisors also warned last year that most jobs paying less than $20 an hour “would come under pressure from automation.”

Although the net impact of robots remains unclear, tech leaders and others are already debating how to deal with the potential job displacement.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates said last month that he supports a “robot tax,” an idea floated in Europe, including by a socialist presidential candidate in France.

But Bessen, a former fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center, said taxing robots could be counterproductive.

“You don’t want to be taxing the machines because they enable people to earn higher wages,” he said. “If you tax machines, you will slow the beneficial side of the process.”

robot interacting with visitors at the Soft Bank robotics stand at the Cebit technology fair in Hanover, Germany. PHOTO: AFP

Peter Diamandis, chairman of the X Prize Foundation for technical innovation and founder of the Silicon Valley think-tank Singularity University, is among those calling for a “universal basic income” to compensate people for job losses.

Offering income guarantees “will be one of many tools empowering self-actualization at scale,” he said in a blog post, arguing that automation will allow people “to follow their passions, be more creative.”

But Wadhwa says the problems run deeper and will require more creative solutions.

“A basic income won’t solve the social problems of joblessness because people’s identity revolves around our jobs,” he said.

“Even if we have enough food and energy, we have to deal with the social disruption that’s coming. We need a much broader discussion.”

Bessen says reversing the trends of the past decades, where high-skilled jobs gain at the expense of others, pose a “big challenge.”

“It’s entirely possible we can meet the challenge,” he said. “But the evidence in the past 20 years is that things are moving in the wrong direction.”

Source: Tribune News

CPEC Boom Continues: Chinese, Pakistani businesses build ties as Beijing splurges on ‘Silk Road’

Chinese companies are in talks to snap up more businesses and land in Pakistan after sealing two major deals in recent months, a sign of deepening ties after Beijing vowed to plough $57 billion into a new trade route across the South Asian nation.

A dozen executives from some of Pakistan’s biggest firms told Reuters that Chinese companies were looking mainly at the cement, steel, energy and textile sectors, the backbone of Pakistan’s $270b economy.

Analysts say the interest shows Chinese firms are using Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” project ─ a global trade network of which Pakistan is a key part ─ to help expand abroad at a time when growth has slowed at home.

A Chinese-led consortium recently took a strategic stake in the Pakistan Stock Exchange, and Shanghai Electric Power acquired one of Pakistan’s biggest energy producers, K-Electric, for $1.8b.

“The Chinese have got deep pockets and they are looking for major investment in Pakistan,” said Muhammad Ali Tabba, chief executive of two companies in the Yunus Brothers Group cement-to-chemicals conglomerate.

Tabba said Yunus Brothers, partnering with a Chinese company, lost out in the battle for K-Electric, but the group is eyeing up other joint ventures as part of a $2b expansion plan over the coming years.

Sindh Governor Mohammad Zubair, who until recently was the privatization minister, told Reuters China’s steel giant Baosteel Group is in talks over a 30-year lease for state-run Pakistan Steel Mills. Baosteel did not respond to a request for comment.

The negotiations come as Pakistani business sentiment turns, with companies betting that Beijing’s splurge on road, rail and energy infrastructure under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will boost the economy.

The Chinese charge is in contrast to Western investors, who have largely avoided Pakistan in recent years despite fewer militant attacks and economic growth near 5 per cent.

It is welcomed by many in Pakistan: foreign direct investment was $1.9b in 2015/2016, far below the 2007/2008 peak of $5.4b.

At the stock exchange signing ceremony, Sun Weidong, China’s ambassador to Pakistan, said the deal “embodies the ongoing financial integration” between Chinese and Pakistani markets.

“This will facilitate more financial support for our enterprises,” Sun said.

Reservations

CPEC will connect China’s Western region with Pakistan’s Arabian Sea port of Gwadar through a network of rail, road and pipeline projects.

That will be funded by loans from China, and much of the business will go to Chinese enterprises.

The scale of Chinese corporate interest beyond that is difficult to gauge, but in Karachi, Pakistan’s financial center, sharply-dressed Chinese appear to outnumber Westerners in hotels, restaurants and the city’s airport.

Rising skyscrapers testify to a construction boom in the city, businesses are printing Chinese-language brochures and salaries demanded by Pakistanis who speak Chinese have shot up.

Miftah Ismail, chairman of Pakistan’s Board of Investment, said Chinese companies were interested in investing in the telecoms and auto sectors, with FAW Group and Foton Motor Group planning to enter Pakistan.

FAW said the Pakistan “project is going through internal approvals”, but did not offer more details. Foton declined to comment.

But not everyone is excited by China’s growing role in the Pakistan economy, including trade unions, who said Chinese companies’ alleged mistreatment of local workers in Africa in the past had alarmed them.

“We have concern and reservations that the Chinese might use the same methods in Pakistan,” said Nasir Mansoor, deputy general secretary of National Trade Union Federation, Pakistan, the national trade union body.

The Chinese government and Chinese companies have dismissed such accusations in the past.

And doing business may not be easy for newcomers. Security remains a concern despite a drop in Islamist militant violence, and in the World Bank’s ease of doing business index, Pakistan ranks 144 out of 190 countries.

Next phase

The Chinese interest comes as Islamabad and Beijing discuss the next phase of CPEC: how to build Pakistan’s industry with the help of Chinese state-owned industrial giants.

Pakistani officials are drafting plans for special economic zones which would offer tax breaks and other benefits to Chinese businesses.

But even before zones are established, Chinese investors are scoping out land deals.

“A lot of companies … don’t care about CPEC. They just want 500 acres of land to set up shop,” said Naheed Memon, head of the Sindh province’s Board of Investment.

Faisal Aftab, manager of private investment firm Oxon Partners, said Oxon was in talks with two state-run Chinese companies and a wealthy Chinese businessman to purchase and develop land for high-end residential and commercial properties.

“They are seeking land in prime markets such as Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad,” Aftab said.

Yunus Brothers’ Tabba urged Western investors to overcome their “phobia” of Pakistan.

“If they came here, they would see the momentum, the buzz of growth.”

Source: Dawn News

China cracks down on bids to bypass online censorship

China has announced policies to control online content which could be deemed as either censorship or a sensible method of monitoring and controlling what its society is exposed to from various ‘outside’ influences.

China has announced a 14-month campaign to “clean up” internet service providers and crack down on devices such as virtual private networks (VPNs) used to evade strict censorship.

The ruling Communist party oversees a vast apparatus designed to censor online content deemed politically sensitive, while blocking some Western websites and the services of internet giants including Facebook, Twitter and Google.

It passed a controversial cybersecurity bill last November, tightening restrictions on online freedom of speech and imposing new rules on service providers.

But companies and individuals often use VPNs to access the unfettered internet beyond China’s “Great Firewall”.

Telecom and internet service providers will no longer be allowed to set up or rent special lines such as VPNs without official approval, the ministry of industry and information technology said Sunday.

Its “clean up” campaign would last through March 2018, it said in a statement on its website.

The announcement comes days after President Xi Jinping extolled globalisation and denounced protectionism in a keynote speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he insisted that China was committed to “opening up”.

China’s internet access services market has grown rapidly, and the “first signs of disorderly development are also appearing, creating an urgent need for regulation”, the statement said.

The new rules were needed to “strengthen internet information security management”, it added.

IT expert Li Yi told the Global Times newspaper, which often takes a nationalistic tone, the new regulations were “extremely important”.

While some multinationals such as Microsoft needed VPNs to communicate with overseas headquarters, other companies and individuals “browse overseas internet pages out of illegal motivations”, Li said.

A 2015 report by US think tank Freedom House found that China had the most restrictive Internet policies of 65 countries it studied, ranking below Iran and Syria.

China is home to the world’s largest number of internet users, which totalled 731 million as of December, the government-linked China Internet Network Information Center said Sunday.

Source: Dawn News

Ride-sharing platform in Islamabad empowering women drivers

It was a relatively cool evening after what had been a sunny day by the standards of otherwise moderate weather in a leafy neighborhood of Islamabad. I was in town after quite a few years and was expecting my friend to pick me up, but he failed to show up because there was some sort of a transport strike in the federal capital and he had to go pick her sister who was stuck on her way home from university.

I somehow managed my way to the friend’s home thanks to the newly-launched Metro Bus. But such uncertainty is the hallmark of public transport in the capital, especially when it comes to female commuters who already have very limited options in terms of commuting to their places of work on a daily basis.

Next day I met Hira Batool Rizvi, a young entrepreneur who has started a ride-sharing platform to ease off the burden of commuting for working women, providing them with safer and cheaper alternative — SheKab.

We sat at an upmarket restaurant amid the high-rise buildings housing head offices of multinational companies in the commercial hub of the city.

“Women working in offices around here pay around Rs25-35,000 per month just to commute between their office and home,” she said after our formal introductions, coming directly to the point, adding that “in most cases this sum amounts to more than 50 per cent of their total salary”.


A new service in Islamabad is empowering women drivers who cater exclusively to women clients as men, it believes, manage their commute conveniently. Really?


“I was also among these women till a few years back, but upon returning from the United States last year after completing my scholarship, I decided to launch a ride-sharing platform for women in Islamabad.”

Hira shared that the initial idea was derived from ride-sharing services like Uber and B&B in the US. “But considering the demographics and security situation of the country, we could not just initiate a service involving random drivers. So we devised a proper diligence and background check mechanism to screen the drivers,” said Hira.

Following the screening, the drivers were given proper training and were informed about the incentives and profits they can achieve by signing up with the service.

“Unlike other such initiatives which relied on newly commissioned fleet of cars/rickshaws and drivers, we commissioned the on-street taxi drivers who were already active to and from the capital and were well aware of the locations,” explained Hira.

“This made our initiative more practical and also didn’t make it a specific target; a win-win situation for both the drivers and commuters.”

In a span of few months, the service has expanded to around a hundred listed commuters and a fleet of about a couple of dozen cars, of which a few are driven by women drivers.

“Our main vision is to empower women drivers and to make our commuters with their own cars confident enough to share ride with others,” said Hira with a touch of activism in her voice.

A computer engineer by profession, Hira has developed an online portal through which women who need to share a ride can approach the company. There she maintains a list of commuters, and guides them through the services provided by company.

As our discussion came to an end, I bid farewell to her and came out of the cafe which was still bustling with activity as it was lunch time in the offices. It was hot even today and I had to look for a taxi as SheKab doesn’t share ride with men. I wondered why, and was told that it was relatively convenient for men to manage their commute.

“Only if they say so,” I thought while paying a hefty sum for travelling just a few kilo metres in a taxi.

Published in Dawn December 29th, 2016

Mastuj people get solar-powered dehydration plants to preserve fruit

CHITRAL: The people of Mastuj town have been provided with solar-powered dehydration plants for preserving fresh fruits, enabling the poverty-stricken farmers to increase their incomes.

Talking to media persons, chairman of Qarambar and Shandur Area Development Organisation (QASADO), Syed Saadat Jan said for want of dehydration facility, technical guidance, packaging and marketing, more than 60 per cent of fresh fruit of apricot, white mulberry, wild cherry, pear and apple got wasted as the surplus quantity was fed to animals.

He said the project was launched with the financial assistance of Small Grant and Ambassador’s Fund Programme of USAID under which 54 plants were provided in different localities and the women were imparted extensive training on different processes of fruit preservation ranging from harvesting to dehydration and packaging.

Mr Jan said Mastuj town was known for its fabulous apricot, white mulberry, pear and apple, adding QASADO helped in the products’ preservation and value addition. He said that the project also envisaged engagement of women in the process by hiring the services of food technologists and agriculturists.

He said the fruits dried in the customary way by exposing them to direct sunlight lost their pleasant charm, taste and brittleness due to which the commodity found no place in the market.

Nusrat Jabeen, who is getting training under the project, said she used to feed a large amount of apricots and apples grown in her orchards to her cows, but this year, she preserved 100 per cent of the produce with the help of the dehydration plant.

She said women from every household were imparted training on processing of fruits and operation of the plant, and on how to ensure hygiene during the whole process. “The fruit processing on modern lines will lead to financial empowerment of women,” she said.

Ms Jabeen pointed out a body with the name of Shandur Businesswomen Association Mastuj had been formed to represent the women involved in the field of dried fruits and handicrafts to enhance their entrepreneurial skills.

Nazim of Khoozh village council, Noor Ajam, said as per a survey conducted last year, only a fraction of households dried the fresh fruit and that there was no marketing facility available in the area to sell the fresh fruits.

He said connection of the farmers and growers with the local and national market was yet another outcome of the project.

Published in Dawn, December 29th, 2016

Five banks sued in US for rigging $9tr agency bond market

NEW YORK: Five major banks and four traders were sued on Wednesday in a private lawsuit in the United States claiming they conspired to rig prices worldwide in a more than $9 trillion market for bonds issued by government-linked organisations and agencies.

Bank of America Corp, Credit Agricole SA, Credit Suisse Group AG, Deutsche Bank AG and Nomura Holdings Inc were accused of secretly agreeing to widen the “bid-ask” spreads they quoted customers of supranational, sub-sovereign and agency (SSA) bonds.

The lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court by the Boston Retirement System said the collusion dates to at least 2005, was conducted through chatrooms and instant messaging, and caused investors to overpay for bonds they bought or accept low prices for bonds they sold.

“Only through collusion could a dealer quote a wider spread than market conditions otherwise dictate without losing market share and profits,” the complaint said.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2016