Pakistan to get debt relief from G20 creditors — FM Qureshi

In this file photo, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi addresses the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Sept. 10, 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 16 April 2020

Pakistan to get debt relief from G20 creditors — FM Qureshi

  • Countries currently indebted to the IMF and World Bank will benefit from the moratorium on debt payments announced by G20 states
  • Pakistan’s 3-year liabilities on account of principal and debt on external front are $23 bn, economists say

KARACHI: Pakistan on Thursday confirmed its place among world nations that would get debt relief from G20 creditors starting from May 1, making room for its government to divert vital resources to strengthen its health care sector and fight the coronavirus pandemic.
“The International Monetary Fund has announced it will give relief to developing nations, including Pakistan. The debt relief will be for a year and come into effect from May 1,” Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told journalists in Islamabad after meeting with Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Finance, Dr. Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, at the foreign office.
The move will bring “substantial economic relief to the country,” the minister added.
The G20 economies decided to suspend both principal and interest repayments on Wednesday to help the world’s poorest countries. The plan is to defer the payments that accumulate between May 1 and December 1, 2020, and allow these nations to pay them by December 1, 2021.
The countries that are currently indebted to the IMF and World Bank will benefit from the moratorium on debt payments announced by the G20 countries.
“We agreed on a coordinated approach with a common term sheet providing the key features for this debt service suspension initiative, which is also agreed by the Paris Club,” the G20 said in a joint statement on Wednesday.
“The debt relief means that the loans a country has taken from the creditors will not be serviced during the moratorium period and will be rescheduled. This is important for Pakistan because its payments will be deferred,” Dr. Muhammad Zubair Khan, a senior economist, told Arab News.
Pakistan is in a debt trap and now the economic toll of COVID-19 outbreak has made things worse for the country.
“After paying the provinces and going for debt servicing, the federal government is not even left with any money to properly meet its defense budget,” Dr. Ikram Ul Haq, another economic expert, told Arab News.
Economists say the South Asian nation has $12.731 billion of external debt repayment obligations in FY2021 that will be covered under the debt relief plan.
“Although the plan targets official bilateral creditors, it is understood that commercial creditors will also be asked to follow the same template. Pakistan owes $2.545 billion of debt service payments to commercial creditors during the next fiscal year out of which $2.3 billion is to China,” Haq continued.
“After this, $6.744 billion is owed to non-Paris Club bilateral creditors out of which $3.48 billion is supposed to go to China, $2.245 billion to Saudi Arabia and $1 billion to the United Arab Emirates. The country has to make $1.627 billion of payment to multilateral creditors out of which half of the amount will go to the Asian Development Bank and the rest to the World Bank. The Paris Club creditors, who are also to be included in the terms of the debt relief plan, are owed $787 million next year, with Japan and France accounting for the bulk of the amount,” Haq added.
Experts familiar with the matter say the amount of debt servicing Pakistan has to make between May 1 and December 1 will now be rescheduled and will be paid by December 1, 2021. “However, Pakistan has proposed to delay the payment until 2023 for short loans and 2025 for the long term loans,” Dr. Vaqar Ahmed, Joint Executive Director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), told Arab News.
The coming three-year liabilities of Pakistan on the external front is about $23 billion on account of the principal amount and debt. The debt relief by G20 will help, say the economists, but the main liabilities are that of bonds and multilateral loans since they will not be deferred.


Pakistan issues visa to Indian man separated from brother during partition 

Updated 28 January 2022

Pakistan issues visa to Indian man separated from brother during partition 

  • In 1947, Pakistan and India’s independence from Britain triggered one of the biggest forced migrations in history 
  • Brothers Sikka Khan and Sadiq Khan, who remained on opposite sides of border, met in Kartarpur, Pakistan last week 

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani high commission in India on Friday issued visa to an Indian citizen to allow him to meet his family members in Pakistan who had been separated during the 1947 partition of the Subcontinent. 

Sikka Khan, 76, met his 84-year-old brother Sadiq Khan in Kartarpur, Pakistan on January 10. But the brothers’ reunion did not last long, as each of them had to return to their countries. For the past seven decades, India-Pakistan cross-border visits have been limited by tensions and conflict. 

Kartarpur is a border city where Pakistan, in late 2019, opened a visa-free crossing to allow Indian Sikh pilgrims access to one of the holiest sites of their religion, Gurdwara Darbar Sahib, which found itself on the Pakistani side of the border after the partition. 

“Today, Pakistan High Commission issues visa to Sika Khan to visit his brother, Muhammed Siddique and other family members in Pakistan,” the Pakistani high commission said on Twitter. 

“The two brothers, separated in 1947, were recently reunited after 74 years at Kartarpur Sahib Corridor.” 

When British India split into two independent states in August 1947, Sikka’s father and elder brother, Sadiq, left Phulewala village in what became the Indian part of Punjab and returned to their paternal village of Bogran, which found itself in Pakistan. Just two years old at the time, Sikka was too young to go and stayed behind in India with his mother. 

They got in touch in 2019, when Pakistani YouTuber Nasir Dhillon visited Bogran village, where Sadiq still lives, and heard his story. He shared the footage on social media and soon received a message from Jagsir Singh, a doctor in Phulewala, who connected him to Sikka. 

The story of the two brothers is a powerful illustration of how the historic opening of the visa-free Kartarpur corridor is bringing people living on either side of the border close to each other. 

Sikka also met with Pakistan’s Chargé d’Affaires Aftab Hasan Khan and interacted with other officials at the Pakistani high commission in New Delhi on Friday. 

“I am very happy. I have received the visa, will go and meet (my brother). I thank everyone,” he said in a video message while being at the high commission. 

Earlier an emotional video of the siblings’ reunion went viral on social media. “I told you we would meet again,” Sikka, 76, said through tears, as he embraced his 84-year-old brother when they met in Kartarpur, Pakistan. 


Police seek ban on PUBG after Pakistani teenager kills mother, siblings

Updated 28 January 2022

Police seek ban on PUBG after Pakistani teenager kills mother, siblings

  • Police say the teenager had admitted to killing his family members as he was under 'mental stress' due to repeated defeats in the game
  • Pakistan's media regulator banned PUBG in July 2020, but the ban was lifted the same month by the Islamabad High Court

ISLAMABAD: Punjab police on Friday recommended that the government ban online game PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) in relation to last week's incident in Lahore, in which a teenager shot dead his mother and siblings.

Police said the teenager had admitted to killing his mother, two sisters and brother as he was under “mental stress” that was increased by his repeated defeats in the game. The suspect told police he had thought that, like in the game, his family members would reappear after having been killed.

“To stop acts of violence caused by this game, it is necessary to ban PUBG,” the police said. “Youngsters addicted to completing the game’s tasks eventually commit acts of violence.”

Police appealed to parents to keep an eye on their children as "such activities can result in irreparable losses."

Pakistan had banned PUBG in July 2020, after Pakistan Telecommunication Authority said it had received numerous complaints that the game "affects physical and mental health" of children and teenagers.

“The game is highly addictive, destroying the youth, a wastage of time and has a negative impact on physical and psychological health,” the PTA said in its report at the time.

The ban was lifted the same month by the Islamabad High Court.


Roadside bomb kills four policemen in southwest Pakistan 

Updated 28 January 2022

Roadside bomb kills four policemen in southwest Pakistan 

  • No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack in Sui town of Balochistan province 
  • It comes days after the killing of 10 soldiers and an assailant in a firefight in Balochistan 

QUETTA: A roadside bomb killed four policemen and wounded eight others as they were traveling in a restive zone of southwest Pakistan on Friday, a top elected official and police said. 

The attack happened in the town of Sui in Balochistan province. No one claimed responsibility, but suspicion fell on separatist groups who have claimed previous such attacks on security forces in the area. 

Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo, the provincial chief minister, condemned the bombing and called it an act of terrorism. He vowed to make all efforts to arrest those who orchestrated the attack. 

Bizenjo said the slain and wounded were part of a special local police force known as the Peace Force. 

The latest attack came two days after militants attacked a security post in Balochistan, triggering a firefight that killed 10 soldiers and an assailant. 

Balochistan has been the site of a long-running insurgency, with an array of separatist groups staging attacks, mainly on government troops and police. 

The separatists in the province have been demanding independence from the central government in Islamabad. Although Pakistan’s government says it quelled the insurgency, violence in Balochistan has persisted. 


Pakistan completes legislative process for revival of $6 billion IMF program

Updated 28 January 2022

Pakistan completes legislative process for revival of $6 billion IMF program

  • The IMF executive board is scheduled to meet for Pakistan's sixth review on February 2
  • Opposition says government has mortgaged country's economic sovereignty to the IMF

ISLAMABAD: With the passage of the State Bank (Amendment) Bill from the Senate, the Pakistani government on Friday completed the legislative process for the revival of a stalled $6 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout program to support the fragile economy and avert a balance-of-payment crisis. 

The government had the Finance (Supplementary) and State Bank of Pakistan (Amendment) bills passed by the National Assembly on January 13 to secure the next tranche of the IMF's Extended Funds Facility. The Finance Act, commonly known as mini-budget, is already enforced while the central bank autonomy bill required approval of the Pakistani parliament's upper house to become a law. 

The passage of these bills from parliament was a pre-requisite for the disbursement of around $1 billion from the IMF. The global lender’s executive board is scheduled to meet on February 2 for Pakistan's sixth review under the $6 billion program. 

The State Bank (Amendment) bill has been a major source of contention between the government and the opposition as the latter believes the legislation would compromise Pakistan's economic sovereignty. The government has been of the view that an autonomous central bank would help boost economic growth and stability in the country. 

“By facilitating domestic economic stability, the amendments will help support sustainable growth and avoid repeated booms and busts that have characterized Pakistan's past and led to painful consequences in terms of higher inflation, higher poverty and lower growth,” the bill reads. 

On Friday, opposition parties protested when Pakistani Finance Minister Shaukat Tareen presented the bill in the Senate, saying the government was going to “mortgage” Pakistan's economic sovereignty to the IMF. The bill was passed with a majority of one vote, with all amendments proposed by the opposition rejected. 

Interestingly, the opposition has a majority of at least 14 votes in the Senate, but some of its members were absent in Friday's session.  

The government said the amendments in the central bank legislation were in line with international best practices and took ground realities in Pakistan into account. 

Shortly after the passage of the bill, opposition members held a press conference and vowed they would withdraw this legislation after coming into power. 

“The joint opposition is not in favour of this bill and it will be withdrawn after whichever party of us comes into power,” said Senator Sherry Rehman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). 

Senator Azam Nazir Tarar, a member of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) opposition party, said some of the opposition members could not attend the session due to COVID-19. 

“The days of this government are numbered,” he said, adding the government had “mortgaged the country's economic sovereignty to the IMF.” 

The revival of the IMF program would make available $1,059 million that would bring total disbursements to Pakistan to about $3,027 million and help unlock significant funding from bilateral and multilateral partners. 

Pakistan secured the $6 billion Extended Funds Facility in 2019, which has been stalled since March 2021. 


Pakistan logs biggest daily COVID caseload as omicron gains ground

Updated 28 January 2022

Pakistan logs biggest daily COVID caseload as omicron gains ground

  • Pakistan recorded 8,183 9 new COVID-19 cases and 30 related deaths in the past 24 hours
  • Virus positivity rate highest in Peshawar at 29.65 percent, followed by Karachi at 27.92 percent

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s COVID-19 daily cases topped 8,180 for the first time in the pandemic on Friday as the highly infectious omicron variant continues to gain ground in the country.
In the past 24 hours, the South Asian nation recorded 8,183 9 new COVID-19 cases and 30 related deaths — its highest daily death toll since October last year — according to data from the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), which oversees the country’s pandemic response. 
“Omicron variant continues spreading countrywide,” the NCOC said in a statement. “Please ensure you are fully vaccinated, received booster dose (if eligible) and follow SOPs including mask wearing and social distancing.”

The country’s virus positivity rate increased to 11.92 percent, and was highest in Peshawar at 29.65 percent, followed by Karachi at 27.92 percent, as the country is battling a fifth wave of infections.
So far, the nation of 220 million has fully vaccinated nearly 80.75 million of its residents.