‘No urgency’ for Pakistan to enter IMF program: Finance minister

Pakistani Finance Minister Asad Umar speaks exclusively to Arab News in an interview in Islamabad on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. (AN photo)
Updated 14 December 2018

‘No urgency’ for Pakistan to enter IMF program: Finance minister

  • Reviewing CPEC contracts “not at all” off the table
  • $1 billion received of $6 billion Saudi bailout package

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is in no rush to strike a deal with the International Monetary Fund to deal with its balance-of-payments crisis, Finance Minister Asad Umar has told Arab News. He added that funding from “friendly countries” would help shore up the economy over the remainder of the current financial year.

Pakistani officials have been in talks with the IMF since October, and have formally requested Islamabad’s 13th bailout since the late 1980s to help settle the economy while the new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, who came to power in July, struggles to implement reforms. 

“I have no urgency right now to get into an IMF program,” Umar told Arab News in a wide-ranging interview on Thursday. “We are in discussions (with the IMF). When we reach the (outlines) of a program which we believe is in the best interests of Pakistan’s economy, we’ll go ahead and sign that.” 

Umar said that pressure to rush a deal with the IMF through had eased, thanks to a combination of bilateral financial support from historical allies and a host of economic measures taken by the government in its first hundred days in power, which he claimed would result in a current account deficit of $6-7 billion less than the previous financial year.

“So I’ve saved $6-7 billion of my financing need and then I’ve arranged funding from bilateral sources to bridge the gap,” Umar said, referring to a $6 billion package agreed on with Saudi Arabia this October and expected aid from China and the UAE. 

Umar refused to provide a figure for packages promised by the latter two countries, but said that, in both cases, it was just a case of “dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s” on the agreements.

Injections from allies will provide a much-needed boost to Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves, which dipped to their lowest in over 4 years — at $7.3 billion — in the week that ended on Dec. 7. 

Any IMF program will likely require Pakistan to commit to strict structural reforms to the economy, and to curbing the government spending that has seen growth soar to nearly 6 percent — at the fastest rate in 13 years — but has also exhausted budgets.

In October, the IMF predicted Pakistan’s growth will slow to four percent in 2019 and about 3 percent in the medium term. This month, the Pakistani rupee dropped to an all-time low of 0.0144 against the dollar. 

Umar denied that the government had allowed the rupee’s value to drop in order to fulfill a precondition of an IMF bailout. He said the main sticking point in negotiations with the organization was the pace of reforms.

“We believe that if you try and make reforms too quickly, if you try and make an adjustment too quickly, you’ll crash the economy,” the minister said. “And that is not in our interests, not even from a debt-sustainability point of view.”

The IMF has also said it wants “absolute transparency” regarding Pakistan’s debts — a demand that will require clarification of certain opaque deals, as well as its debts to China for some $60 billion in financing for energy and infrastructure projects that are part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. 

Asked whether reviewing agreements related to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) program was off the table, the finance minister said: “Not at all.”

“If it’s (a question of) transparency, then transparency is available,” he said, stressing that contracts with China had been signed in accordance with “well-established rules.”

Umar also noted that Pakistan had satisfied all concerns raised by the IMF and US officials with regard to CPEC. 

“The IMF had a lot of questions. The Americans had a lot of questions around CPEC,” he said. “We made a presentation, we shared the data with them — first meeting. They never came back after that.”

Umar said new projects slated to be added to the CPEC portfolio included a railway line from the port city of Karachi to the northwestern town of Peshawar, and the establishment of special industrial zones.

“There are a few other projects in the area of the industrial cooperation framework that is being finalized, and which will lay the basis on which future industrial cooperation will take place, private sector-to-private sector,” Umar said. “So, from government-to-government, which is what the first phase of CPEC was, it will be moving to business-to-business.”

Giving details of the Saudi package of $3 billion in foreign currency support for a year and a further loan of up to $3 billion in deferred payments for oil imports, the finance minister said $1 billion of the $6 billion package had been disbursed so far. 

“It’s not a rescue package, it’s a financing package,” he said. “Saudi Arabia will earn a rate of return on that investment.” 

Umar explained that the pending agreements with China and the UAE were also not aid packages: “These are all financial transactions. There are loans, there are trade finance facilities. Pakistan is not taking aid from anyone.”

Referring to a recent World Bank report that said trade between India and Pakistan was far below its potential of $37 billion, the minister said Pakistan was ready to engage in a constructive trade dialogue with its neighbor but “it can’t be a one-sided relationship.”

Trade has long been tied to political conflict between the hostile neighbors who have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947. Peaceniks on both sides say progress in trade ties could help bolster a fragile peace process.

But Umar ruled out any discussions on trade with India before general elections there in 2019 and said Pakistan would not take “any kind of unilateral step” when it came to granting India Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trade status, a proposal that past governments have toyed with. 

On the government’s promise of attracting investment from Pakistanis living abroad, the finance minister said rules for a diaspora bond were approved by the Cabinet a week ago and the bond would be issued late December or January. 

“There are equity-related or investment opportunity-related diaspora investments which are being finalized. The board of investment has worked on them; there was a presentation to the prime minister today (Thursday) about some of those,” Umar said. “First the diaspora bonds will be launched and then these initiatives will follow quickly after.”

The minister said despite “doom-and-gloom” scenarios painted by critics, he owed his optimism about Pakistan’s future to the fact that he was a “data-driven person.”

“I’m sure you would have heard (people say), ‘Business is not investing (in Pakistan) anymore,’” Umar said. “But if you look at private sector credit offtake — a useful metric to measure business investment — it was five times more in the first quarter of this year than in the first quarter of last year.

“So where is this business which is not (investing)?” he continued. “I’ve got a whole host of businesses which are coming in, international businesses coming in, all saying we want to invest hundreds of billions in Pakistan.”


At least 129 dead after riot at Indonesia football match

Updated 02 October 2022

At least 129 dead after riot at Indonesia football match

  • Arema FC supporters rioted after their team lost to the visiting team Persebaya Surabaya
  • Many of the victims were trampled or choked to death, says police and rescuers

MALANG, Indonesia: At least 129 people died at a football stadium in Indonesia when thousands of fans invaded the pitch and police fired tear gas that triggered a stampede, authorities said Sunday.
The tragedy on Saturday night, in the eastern city of Malangm was one of the world’s deadliest sporting stadium disasters.
Arema FC supporters at the Kanjuruhan stadium stormed the pitch late on Saturday after their team lost 3-2 to the visiting team and bitter rivals, Persebaya Surabaya.
Police, who described the unrest as “riots,” said they tried to persuade fans to return to the stands and fired tear gas after two officers were killed.
Many of the victims were trampled or choked to death, according to police.
East Java police chief Nico Afinta said many people were crushed and suffocated when they ran to one exit.
He initially said a total of 127 people had died, but the toll was later raised to 129.
A hospital director told local TV that one of the victims was five years old.
Images captured from inside the stadium during the stampede showed huge amounts of tear gas and people clambering over fences.
People were carrying injured spectators through the chaos.

Video footage circulating on social media showed people shouting obscenities at police, who were holding riot shields.
The stadium holds 42,000 people and authorities said it was a sell-out, Police said 3,000 people stormed the pitch.
“We would like to convey that... not all of them were anarchic. Only about 3,000 who entered the pitch,” Afinta said.

Torched vehicles, including a police truck, littered the streets outside the stadium on Sunday morning. Police said 13 vehicles in total were damaged.
The Indonesian government apologized for the incident and promised to investigate the circumstances surrounding the stampede.
“This is a regrettable incident that ‘injures’ our football at a time when supporters can watch football matches from the stadium,” Indonesian Sports and Youth Minister Zainudin Amali told broadcaster Kompas.
“We will thoroughly evaluate the organization of the match and the attendance of supporters. Will we return to banning supporters from attending the matches? That is what we will discuss.”
Fan violence is an enduring problem in Indonesia, where deep rivalries have previously turned into deadly confrontations.
Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya are longtime rivals.

Persebaya Surabaya fans were not allowed to buy tickets for the game due to fears of violence.
However Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, Mahfud MD, said organizers ignored the recommendation of authorities to hold the match in the afternoon instead of the evening.
And he said the government had recommended only 38,000 tickets be printed, but there was instead a sell-out crowd of 42,000.
“The government has made improvements to the implementation of football matches... and will continue to improve. But this sport, which is a favorite of the wider community, often provokes supporters to express emotions suddenly,” he said in an Instagram post.
The Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) suspended football matches of Indonesia’s top league, BRI Liga 1, for one week.
It also banned Arema FC from hosting home games for the rest of the season and said it would send an investigation team to Malang to establish the cause of the crush.
“We’re sorry and apologize to families of the victims and all parties over the incident,” PSSI chairman Mochamad Iriawan said.
Indonesia is to host the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in May at six stadiums across the country. The Kanjuruhan stadium in Malang is not included in that list.
Other stadium disasters include a 1989 crush in the stands at Britain’s Hillsborough Stadium, which led to the deaths of 97 Liverpool fans, and the 2012 Port Said stadium tragedy in Egypt where 74 people died in clashes.
In 1964, 320 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured during a stampede at a Peru-Argentina Olympic qualifier at Lima’s National Stadium.


At least 129 dead after riot at Indonesia football match

Updated 02 October 2022

At least 129 dead after riot at Indonesia football match

  • Arema FC supporters rioted after their team lost to the visiting team Persebaya Surabaya
  • Many of the victims were trampled or choked to death, says police and rescuers

MALANG, Indonesia: At least 129 people died at a football stadium in Indonesia when thousands of fans invaded the pitch and police fired tear gas that triggered a stampede, authorities said Sunday.
The tragedy on Saturday night, in the eastern city of Malangm was one of the world’s deadliest sporting stadium disasters.
Arema FC supporters at the Kanjuruhan stadium stormed the pitch late on Saturday after their team lost 3-2 to the visiting team and bitter rivals, Persebaya Surabaya.
Police, who described the unrest as “riots,” said they tried to persuade fans to return to the stands and fired tear gas after two officers were killed.
Many of the victims were trampled or choked to death, according to police.
East Java police chief Nico Afinta said many people were crushed and suffocated when they ran to one exit.
He initially said a total of 127 people had died, but the toll was later raised to 129.
A hospital director told local TV that one of the victims was five years old.
Images captured from inside the stadium during the stampede showed huge amounts of tear gas and people clambering over fences.
People were carrying injured spectators through the chaos.

Soccer fans carry an injured man following clashes during a soccer match at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, Indonesia, on Oct. 1, 2022. (AP Photo) 

Video footage circulating on social media showed people shouting obscenities at police, who were holding riot shields.
The stadium holds 42,000 people and authorities said it was a sell-out, Police said 3,000 people stormed the pitch.
“We would like to convey that... not all of them were anarchic. Only about 3,000 who entered the pitch,” Afinta said.

Torched vehicles, including a police truck, littered the streets outside the stadium on Sunday morning. Police said 13 vehicles in total were damaged.
The Indonesian government apologized for the incident and promised to investigate the circumstances surrounding the stampede.
“This is a regrettable incident that ‘injures’ our football at a time when supporters can watch football matches from the stadium,” Indonesian Sports and Youth Minister Zainudin Amali told broadcaster Kompas.
“We will thoroughly evaluate the organization of the match and the attendance of supporters. Will we return to banning supporters from attending the matches? That is what we will discuss.”
Fan violence is an enduring problem in Indonesia, where deep rivalries have previously turned into deadly confrontations.
Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya are longtime rivals.

Officers examine a damaged police vehicle following a clash between supporters of two Indonesian soccer teams at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, Indonesia, on Oct. 1, 2022. (AP)

Persebaya Surabaya fans were not allowed to buy tickets for the game due to fears of violence.
However Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, Mahfud MD, said organizers ignored the recommendation of authorities to hold the match in the afternoon instead of the evening.
And he said the government had recommended only 38,000 tickets be printed, but there was instead a sell-out crowd of 42,000.
“The government has made improvements to the implementation of football matches... and will continue to improve. But this sport, which is a favorite of the wider community, often provokes supporters to express emotions suddenly,” he said in an Instagram post.
The Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) suspended football matches of Indonesia’s top league, BRI Liga 1, for one week.
It also banned Arema FC from hosting home games for the rest of the season and said it would send an investigation team to Malang to establish the cause of the crush.
“We’re sorry and apologize to families of the victims and all parties over the incident,” PSSI chairman Mochamad Iriawan said.
Indonesia is to host the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in May at six stadiums across the country. The Kanjuruhan stadium in Malang is not included in that list.
Other stadium disasters include a 1989 crush in the stands at Britain’s Hillsborough Stadium, which led to the deaths of 97 Liverpool fans, and the 2012 Port Said stadium tragedy in Egypt where 74 people died in clashes.
In 1964, 320 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured during a stampede at a Peru-Argentina Olympic qualifier at Lima’s National Stadium.
 


Sweden allows exports of war material to Turkey

Updated 02 October 2022

Sweden allows exports of war material to Turkey

  • Four rockets landed in the Green Zone on Wednesday during a partial lockdown as parliament was convening, wounding seven security personnel, and another four rockets fired from eastern Baghdad landed around the zone on Thursday

STOCKHOLM: Sweden has reauthorized exports of war materials to Turkey in an apparently significant concession to Ankara, which is threatening to block the Nordic country’s NATO membership.

Ankara requested the lifting of the restrictions — which were introduced in 2019 following a Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria — after Sweden applied to join NATO in mid-May.

“The government has made the assessment that a Swedish membership in NATO is the best way to protect Sweden’s and the Swedish people’s security,” the Inspectorate of Strategic Products said in a statement.

The government had already announced in June that Swedish membership of the military alliance could affect policy around military exports.

“Sweden’s application for NATO membership to a large degree strengthens the defense and security policy arguments for approving exports of war materials to other member states, including Turkey,” the authority said.

The ISP said it had approved exports relating to “electronic equipment,” “software” and “technical assistance” to Turkey in the third quarter of 2022.

To date, 28 of the 30 NATO member states have ratified the accession of Sweden and Finland. Only Hungary and Turkey remain. New members to the alliance require unanimous approval.

Turkey’s parliament is due to resume work on Saturday after the summer break. But the country is heading for parliamentary elections in June 2023 and this could make it cautious about voting on membership for the Nordic countries.

As of Friday, Ankara had not reacted to the Swedish announcement.

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UN chief ‘strongly condemns’ coup in Burkina Faso

Updated 02 October 2022

UN chief ‘strongly condemns’ coup in Burkina Faso

  • The situation in capital Ouagadougou was tense on Saturday, with gunfire and the deployment of soldiers in the streets, raising fears of clashes between Damiba’s supporters and the country’s new strongmen

NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has condemned army officers who seized power in Burkina Faso and called on all parties to refrain from using violence in the restive West African country.

“The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the unfolding developments in Burkina Faso. He strongly condemns any attempt to seize power by the force of arms and calls on all actors to refrain from violence and seek dialogue,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

The situation in capital Ouagadougou was tense on Saturday, with gunfire and the deployment of soldiers in the streets, raising fears of clashes between Damiba’s supporters and the country’s new strongmen.

The new putschists were quick to introduce an overnight curfew.

The army officers who have seized power in Burkina Faso said in televised comments that toppled junta leader Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba was planning a counteroffensive from a “French base.”

Damiba “is believed to have taken refuge in the French base at Kamboinsin in order to plan a counter-offensive to stir up trouble in our defence and security forces,” they said in a statement read out on national television and signed by Capt. Ibrahim Traore, the country’s new strongman.

France, the former colonial power in Burkina Faso, denied any involvement.

An hour before the televised comments by the military figures, who overthrew Damiba on Friday, the French Embassy issued a statement “firmly denying any involvement of the French army in the events of the last few hours.”

The embassy also denied “rumors that Burkinabe authorities have been hosted or are under the protection of French military.”

According to the coup plotters, the actions by Damiba and the French forces are in response to their willingness “to go to other partners ready to help in the fight against terrorism.”

No country was explicitly mentioned but Russia, whose influence is growing in French-speaking Africa, is among the possible partners in question.

France has a military presence in Burkina Faso, with a contingent of special forces based in Kamboinsin which is some 30 km from the capital Ouagadougou.

Damiba himself came to power in a coup in January.

He had installed himself as leader of the country of 16 million after accusing elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore of failing to beat back jihadist fighters.

With much of the Sahel region battling a growing insurgency, the violence has prompted a series of coups in Mali, Guinea and Chad since 2020.


Cultural ministers pledge more action to return priceless artifacts

Updated 01 October 2022

Cultural ministers pledge more action to return priceless artifacts

  • The declaration from the United Nations’ cultural arm called for open, inclusive international dialogue on illegally acquired artifacts and concrete measures to battle the illicit trade in antiquities

MEXICO CITY: Cultural ministers and representatives from 150 countries committed to expanding efforts to return historical artifacts to their countries of origin, according to a declaration released on Friday, following a UNESCO conference in Mexico City.

Major museums, auction houses and private collectors have faced growing pressure in recent years to repatriate priceless works of art and other antiquities from Latin American and African nations, among others, which argue the goods were often taken unethically or illegally.

The declaration from the United Nations’ cultural arm called for open, inclusive international dialogue on illegally acquired artifacts and concrete measures to battle the illicit trade in antiquities.

The declaration deems culture a “global public good” that should be included in the UN development goals.

Restitution of cultural artifacts is often politically sensitive and raises questions over the transport and care of often delicate antiquities.

The death of Queen Elizabeth II has renewed calls in India for the return of one of the world’s largest uncut diamonds from Britain’s crown jewels, while Chile has for years demanded the return of a Moai statue from the British Museum.

Mexico’s government has previously called for the return of a 500-year-old Aztec crest known as Montezuma’s headdress from a Vienna museum, but experts have deemed its centuries-old iridescent quetzal feathers, dotted with golden pendants, too fragile for transport.

During the conference, ministers also discussed how to protect heritage from wars and climate change.

Ernesto Ottone, a senior UNESCO official, expressed hope that old attitudes are shifting in an interview on the sidelines of the conference.

“In the last three years there has been a change, a turning point, on how restitution can be made,” he said, pointing to recent bilateral deals that have led to the return of artifacts. “Today, doors are opening for us.”

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