Pakistani businessmen raise Rs21 million on WhatsApp for virus most affected

People queue as they wait to receive charity food alongside a road during a government-imposed lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Rawalpindi on March 24, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 25 March 2020

Pakistani businessmen raise Rs21 million on WhatsApp for virus most affected

  • All donations were made via no-touch payment transactions
  • Corporate Pakistan Group (CPG) is also going to support frontline medical staff with personal protective equipment

KARACHI: Within two days, members of a Pakistani group on WhatsApp raised Rs21 million to help the country’s most vulnerable from sinking into poverty, as many commercial activities have been shut down amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The economic impact of the epidemic has already hit millions of Pakistani families, especially those whose livelihoods are dependent on daily wage work, testing both the government’s response and society’s generosity in a time of a major public health crisis. The latter gives hope.
“Two days back I shared my intention with the group members and the response was overwhelming,” said Muhammad Azfar Ahsan, founder of Corporate Pakistan Group (CPG). “Within two days we have received more than Rs21 million pledges made by our members through WhatsApp. Our target was Rs20 million.”
“The initiative was suggested by CPG member Shamsuddin Shaikh and now other members of the group, Zafar Sobani and Saleem Ranjha are managing this initiative with him,” Ahsan added.
CPG has 256 members, including the country’s top businessmen, policy makers, security officials, and scholars. Many of them pledge further donations.
Since cash has been increasingly seen as a vehicle for coronavirus, no-touch payment tools were used for all contributions, Ahsan said, “All transactions have taken place in virtual space without any physical contact.”




Muhammad Azfar Ahsan, founder of Corporate Pakistan Group. (Supplied)

He said the money raised was not transferred to any private account, but channeled directly to three renowned charities — Akhuwat Foundation, Bait-ul-Salam, and Orange Tree Foundation (Robinhood Army). Equal distribution of the funds was managed by two chartered accountants who volunteered their time for the purpose.
Besides organizing emergency food assistance to poor families affected by the crisis, the group is also going to support frontline medical staff with personal protective equipment, as shortages of masks and protective wear in Pakistan are directly putting at risk the lives of those who are saving others from the coronavirus pandemic
“Orders have been placed for manufacturing of safety kits for doctors and paramedical staff,” Ahsan said. “The state has to play major role but we will continue to play our role with continued funding.
“The first phase is challenging, we are preparing to face the challenges,” he said, admitting that the group is planning response activities for the next couple of weeks, as the health crisis situation is unfolding.
In preparation for other crisis scenarios in the future, by the end of the year the group is going to establish a think tank, Ahsan said, “It would be Pakistan’s biggest policy institute.”


Pushed by food and transport price hikes, Pakistan inflation hits 20-year-high of 27.6%

Updated 10 sec ago

Pushed by food and transport price hikes, Pakistan inflation hits 20-year-high of 27.6%

  • Food inflation increased to 42.9% in Jan 2023 as prices of chicken, wheat, rice, wheat flour and vegetable increased
  • Pakistan desperately needs IMF to release an overdue tranche of $1.1 billion, leaving $1.4 billion remaining in a stalled bailout

KARACHI: Pakistan’s inflation rate surged to 27.6 percent, the highest in at least 20 years, on a year-on-year basis in January 2023, due to a surge in the cost of transportation and commodities, according to official data released on Wednesday.

On a month-on-month (MoM) basis, the consumer price index (CPI) was up 2.9 percent as compared to an increase of 0.5 percent last month, according to Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS). 

On January 1, the statistics bureau said Pakistan’s consumer price index rose 24.5 percent in December, year-on-year. 

“The monthly CPI is highest in at least 20 years,” Muhammad Sohail, CEO of Topline Securities, told Arab News.

“This takes seven months of the current fiscal year’s (7MFY23) average inflation to 25.4 percent compared to 10.3 percent in the same period last year. Inflation remained higher than market expectations.”

Rural inflation increased to 32.3 percent on a year-on-year basis in the months of January 2023 as compared to an increase of 28.8 percent in the previous month and 12.9 percent in January 2022. Food inflation increased to 42.9 percent in January 2023 as the prices of chicken, wheat, rice, wheat flour and vegetable increased according to the bureau of statistics. 

Pakistan last week enhanced the prices of petroleum by Rs35 per litter and devalued its currency by almost 13 percent ahead of talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the revival of a stalled $7 billion loan program. 

Analysts say the recent impact of the petroleum price hike and massive rupee depreciation has “yet to come.”

Pushed to the brink by last year’s devastating floods, the South Asian nation has reserves of just $3.7 billion remaining, or barely enough for three weeks of essential imports, while hotly contested elections are due by November.

It desperately needs the IMF to release an overdue tranche of $1.1 billion, leaving $1.4 billion remaining in a stalled bailout program set to end in June.


Pakistan PM raises alarm bells on rising militancy as 100 killed in Peshawar attack

Updated 20 min 45 sec ago

Pakistan PM raises alarm bells on rising militancy as 100 killed in Peshawar attack

  • Shehbaz Sharif says ‘no one will remember our name in history’ if militant violence was not controlled
  • Prime minister informs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa received Rs417 billion since 2010 to improve its security

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Wednesday called for “prompt action” to quell rising militant violence in Pakistan two days after a suicide explosion ripped through a crowded mosque at Peshawar’s police headquarters, killing more than a hundred people.

According to Pakistan’s interior minister Rana Sanaullah, 97 policemen lost their lives in the attack that also injured more than 200 worshippers during a prayer congregation held in the afternoon.

Militants have intensified attacks against security forces in Pakistan since a fragile truce between the Pakistani Taliban and the state broke down in November last year. While a senior Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander claimed responsibility for the Peshawar blast, the group issued a statement soon after the incident wherein it distanced itself from the attack.

The prime minister focused on the reemergence of militancy during a federal cabinet meeting on Wednesday, saying it was vital to deal with the situation before it spread across the country.

“If we don’t take prompt action now, terrorism will spread to other provinces too, and God forbid, no one will remember our name in history if this menace is not controlled,” he said. “Right now, all other matters are subordinate to this burning issue. So, this is the only thing that we should be discussing today.”

Sharif maintained the rise in militancy had raised many questions about the resumption of violence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province while calling it a “matter of concern” that needed introspection.

“We will not let this menace [spread across the country] and control it through our combined efforts,” he continued, “but it is a matter of concern for us and we have to introspect about how these [militant outfits] returned to KP.”

The prime minister informed that the northwestern province bordering Afghanistan had received substantial amount of money under the National Finance Commission (NFC) award since 2010 while denying claims by its previous administration of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party about lack of funds.

“From 2010 to 2023, KP received Rs417 billion, which amounts to Rs40 billion per year, under the NFC award because it was the right of the people of KP,” he said.

“All provinces came forward and provided KP with its rightful share,” he added. “So, the PTI complaining about not having enough budget for arms and ammunition, training of security personnel etc. is unbelievable. That’s just a sheer distortion of facts.”


Peshawar, the city of flowers, becomes epicenter of violence

Updated 46 min 10 sec ago

Peshawar, the city of flowers, becomes epicenter of violence

  • On Monday a suicide bomber unleashed a blast in a mosque inside the city’s main police compound, killing at least 100 people
  • It was in Peshawar that bin Laden founded Al-Qaeda in the late 1980s, joining forces with veteran Egyptian militant Ayman Al-Zawahri

PESHAWAR: Pakistan’s Peshawar was once known as “the city of flowers,” surrounded by orchards of pear, quince and pomegranate trees. It was a trading city, situated at the gates of a key mountain valley connecting South and Central Asia.

But for the past four decades, it has borne the brunt of rising militancy in the region, fueled by the conflicts in neighboring Afghanistan and the geopolitical games of great powers.

On Tuesday, the city with a population of about 2 million was reeling after one of Pakistan’s most devastating militant attacks in years. A day earlier, a suicide bomber unleashed a blast in a mosque inside the city’s main police compound, killing at least 100 people and wounding at least 225, mostly police.

Analysts say the carnage is the legacy of decades of flawed policies by Pakistan and the United States.

“What you sow, so shall you reap,” said Abdullah Khan, a senior security analyst.

Peshawar was a peaceful place, he said, until the early 1980s when Pakistan’s then-dictator Ziaul Haq decided to become part of Washington’s cold war with Moscow, joining the fight against the 1979 Soviet invasion of neighboring Afghanistan.

Peshawar — less than 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the Afghan border — became the center where the American CIA and Pakistani military helped train, arm and fund the Afghan mujahedeen fighting the Soviets. The city was flooded by weapons and fighters, many of them hard-line Islamic militants, as well as with hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees.

Arab militants were also drawn there by the fight against the Soviets, including the scion of a wealthy Saudi family, Osama bin Laden. It was in Peshawar that bin Laden founded Al-Qaeda in the late 1980s, joining forces with veteran Egyptian militant Ayman Al-Zawahri.

The Soviets finally withdrew in defeat from Afghanistan in 1989. But the legacy of militancy and armed resistance that the US and Pakistan fueled against them remained.

“After the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1980s, Americans abandoned mujahedeen, Americans even abandoned us, and since then we are paying a price for it,” said Mahmood Shah, a former Pakistani army brigadier and a senior security analyst.

The mujahedeen plunged Afghanistan into civil war in a bloody fight for power. Meanwhile, in Peshawar and another Pakistani city, Quetta, the Afghan Taliban began to organize, with backing from the Pakistani government. Eventually, the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, ruling until they were ousted by the 2001 American-led invasion following Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks in the US

During the nearly 20-year US war against the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, militant groups blossomed in the tribal regions of Pakistan along the border and around Peshawar. Like the Taliban, they found root among the ethnic Pashtuns who make up a majority in the region and in the city.

Some groups were encouraged by Pakistani intelligence agencies. But others turned their guns against the government, angered by heavy security crackdowns and by frequent US airstrikes in the border region targeting Al-Qaeda and other militants.

Chief among the anti-government groups was the Pakistani Taliban, or Tehreek-e Taliban-Pakistan, or TTP. In the late 2000s and early 2010s, it waged a brutal campaign of violence around the country.

Peshawar was scene of one of the bloodiest TTP attacks in 2014, on an army-run public school that killed nearly 150 people, most of them schoolboys.

Peshawar’s location has for centuries made it a key juncture between Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. One of the oldest cities in Asia, it stands at the entrance to the Khyber Pass, the main route between the two regions. That was a source of its prosperity in trade and put it on the path of armies going both directions, from Moghul emperors to British imperialists.

A heavy military offensive largely put down the TTP for several years and the government and the militants eventually reached an uneasy truce. Peshawar came under heavy security control, with checkpoints dotting the main roads, and a heavy presence of police and paramilitary troops.

TTP attacks, however, have grown once more since the Afghan Taliban returned to power in Kabul in August 2021 amid the US and NATO withdrawal from that country. The Pakistani Taliban are distinct from but allied to the Afghan group, and Pakistani officials regularly accuse the Afghan Taliban of giving the TTP free rein to operate from Afghan territory.

Ahead of Monday’s suicide bombing, Peshawar had seen increasing small-scale attacks targeting police. In another spillover from Afghanistan’s conflict, the regional affiliate of the Daesh group attacked Peshawar’s main Shiite mosque in March 2022, killing more than 60 people.

Shah, the former officer, warned that more TTP attacks could follow and said that Pakistan needs to engage the Afghan Taliban and pressure them to either evict the TTP or ensure it doesn’t launch attacks from Afghan territory.

“If we are to have peace in Pakistan, we should talk to TTP from the position of strength with help from the Afghan Taliban,” he said. “This is the best and viable solution to avoid more violence.”


Pakistan moves toward deal-or-default endgame with IMF

Updated 01 February 2023

Pakistan moves toward deal-or-default endgame with IMF

  • With Pakistan’s debt-to-GDP ratio in a danger zone of 70 percent, only default-stricken Sri Lanka, Ghana, Nigeria are worse off
  • Resumption of IMF program will require belt-tightening that is bound to be unpopular with voters grappling with high inflation

ISLAMABAD/LONDON: Pakistan’s full-blown economic turmoil, from its biggest ever currency devaluation to a rash of emergency spending cuts, offers the clearest sign yet that the nuclear-armed nation faces the risk of a default unless it receives massive support.

Pushed to the brink by last year’s devastating floods, the South Asian nation has reserves of just $3.7 billion remaining, or barely enough for three weeks of essential imports, while hotly contested elections are due by November.

It desperately needs the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to release an overdue tranche of $1.1 billion, leaving $1.4 billion remaining in a stalled bailout program set to end in June.

Although an emergency IMF mission has arrived in Pakistan, there are no guarantees amid a growing number of headaches after November’s suspension of disbursements from the current package, which was topped up to $7 billion after the floods.

A devaluation of 15 percent in the Pakistani rupee and a rise last week in fuel prices could help eliminate some key snags, particularly as tax measures are apparently imminent.

Yet pressure is building as the bailout program cannot be extended beyond June and the elections loom.

“If they don’t get those (IMF) funds, default risk increases materially,” said Kathryn Exum, the co-head of sovereign research at distressed debt specialist fund Gramercy, which expects more of a debt “reprofiling” rather than mass write-off.

Pakistan’s former finance minister, Miftah Ismail, who successfully negotiated an extension to last year’s program before being sacked in the political tumult, also thinks the IMF is the only logical option.

“If the IMF doesn’t come in, we’re looking at a default,” Ismail said, adding that another support package, the country’s 24th, would then be needed. “I can’t imagine Pakistan not going on a back-to-back IMF program.”

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s main election challenger is former cricket star Imran Khan, who was removed from the job last April but retains popularity. Each blames the other for the crisis, although finances have long been strained.

With Pakistan’s debt-to-GDP ratio in a danger zone of 70 percent, and between 40 percent and 50 percent of government revenues earmarked for interest payments this year, only default-stricken Sri Lanka, Ghana, and Nigeria are worse off.

“There is just a long-term indebtedness problem,” said Jeff Grills, the head of emerging markets debt at Aegon Asset Management, who held Pakistan bonds until the floods hit.

“It is more a question of when they need to restructure, rather than if.”

Most of Pakistan’s bonds are still trading at less than half their face value.

DIFFICULT TIMES

Such a restructuring of Pakistan’s bonds would represent its first international default since 1999, according to the Bank of Canada-Bank of England Sovereign Default Database.

With just $8.6 billion worth of such bonds, compared to the $30 billion Pakistan owes to China, Ismail said Islamabad might be better off “just going to those countries that we owe a lot, or to the institutions we owe a lot, and trying and get some more long-term loans.”

Sharif is optimistic that the IMF will resume disbursements. “An agreement with the IMF, God willing, will be done,” he said at an event last week in Islamabad, the capital. “We will soon be out of difficult times.”

Multilateral and bilateral financing pledges for Pakistan’s rebuilding efforts after the floods also depend on a green light from the IMF.

But even domestic analysts believe the government will find matters tough, as the IMF is likely to demand significant belt-tightening that is bound to be unpopular with voters already grappling with decades-high inflation and fewer job prospects.

IMF officials have been eager to support poorer countries and Pakistan promises to be a crucial partner for the West, but paying out gets trickier when a program is close to its end and a new government could come in and try and tear up a deal.

If the disbursements do not arrive by June, there could be a six-month gap before the new government takes office during which Pakistan would be starved of funds, effectively pushing its population of 220 million to the brink.

The lack of reserves will make it too tough to stay afloat.

Just $500 million of interest or ‘coupon’ payments are due on Pakistan’s international bonds this year, but the chief of the central bank chief has said $3 billion is needed to meet overall external debt payments.

The political timing is also critical. After the government’s tenure ends in August, a special caretaker government will take charge for up to 90 days to ensure free and fair elections.

However, the caretaker government is not empowered to sign an IMF pact, raising the question of whether the government and opposition can cooperate on a joint pledge to push through any IMF demands in order to avert a default.

“If something happens with the disbursement and then the elections get in the way, they might have a problem,” Gramercy’s Exum added.


Pakistan tax collection body says surpassed revenue target for January amid IMF negotiations

Updated 51 min 10 sec ago

Pakistan tax collection body says surpassed revenue target for January amid IMF negotiations

  • IMF mission in Islamabad has reportedly raised concern over fiscal gap while emphasizing need for further tax collection
  • The Federal Board of Revenue reiterates resolve to generate the targeted amount by the end of the ongoing fiscal year

ISLAMABAD: The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) said on Tuesday it surpassed its revenue collection target for January by Rs4 billion ($15 million), as finance minister Ishaq Dar briefed an International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation over the measures taken by the government to bridge the fiscal gap.

Pakistan is desperately trying to secure external financing, amid a dollar liquidity crunch, national currency depreciation and a massive rise in inflation.

The government is currently holding talks with the IMF for the resumption of a $7 billion loan program which has been stalled since last September.

“FBR has demonstrated commendable revenue collection performance by not only achieving the Jan 2023 target of Rs. 533 billion but [surpassing] it by Rs. 4 billion,” said the tax collection body in a Twitter post. “Overall, FBR has collected Rs. 3965 billion in the first 7 months of [the current fiscal year] compared to Rs. 3367 billion last year.”

The social media post maintained direct tax collection had grown by 48 percent in Pakistan while expressing the resolve of FBR officials to meet their annual revenue target.

According to a statement issued by Pakistan’s finance division, Dar and his team held an important meeting with an IMF delegation led by Nathan Porter to discuss the government’s economic reform agenda as part of the ninth review under the international lender’s bailout program.

The two sides have been discussing a wide range of economic issues, including petroleum prices, power tariffs and the central bank’s key policy rate.

Some local media reports suggest the IMF mission expressed concern over the fiscal gap while emphasizing the need for further tax collection.

The FBR said, however, it met its target in the first month of the new calendar year while working to generate the required amount during the ongoing fiscal year.