Pakistan's remittances from Saudi Arabia remain high despite economy slowdown

In this file photo, a woman in a face mask counts rupee notes as she walks on a street in Islamabad on April 9, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 13 May 2020

Pakistan's remittances from Saudi Arabia remain high despite economy slowdown

  • Remittances from Saudi Arabia in April were 5.4 higher than last year
  • Inflows through official channels are on the rise amid international movement restrictions

KARACHI: Saudi Arabia remains the main source of Pakistan’s remittances despite global business shutdowns amid the coronavirus pandemic, central bank data showed on Monday.
Overseas Pakistani workers sent about $18.78 billion back home between July 2019 and April 2020, 5.5 percent more than in the previous fiscal year, with $4.4 billion remitted from Saudi Arabia alone, according to a statement issued by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP).
Contrary to the expectations of most economists that money inflows would decline as many workers have been furloughed and repatriated amid the pandemic, $451.4 million was sent back home from Saudi Araba by Pakistani workers — 5.4 percent more than last year and only 0.2 percent less than in March 2020, SBP data showed.
Total remittances the country received in April amounted to $1.79 billion, 5.5 percent less than in the previous month.
The US emerged as Pakistan’s second largest remittance contributor after Saudi Arabia, with inflows of $401.9 million in April, followed by the United Arab Emirates with $353.8 million, and the United Kingdom with $226.6 million.
According to experts, there has been an increase in the use of official channels for money transfers in the wake of international flight suspensions and movement restrictions.
“As the airline industry is not operational, people who used to send money through personal contacts have resorted to the official channels,” Muzamil Aslam, senior financial expert, told Arab News.
But since layoffs are still expected to affect overseas Pakistanis, a government intervention may be required to further discourage unofficial transfers to sustain money inflows from abroad.
“Sustaining remittances with expected job losses abroad requires an unprecedented intervention to bring between $5 billion and $10 billion of hawala or hundi money through legal channels,” said Dr. Khaqan Hassan Najeeb, former adviser at the Ministry of Finance.
Hawala and hundi are informal ways of transferring money across borders.
Najeeb told Arab News that incentive programs such as lotteries could help put an end to illegal money transfers.
According to the Ministry of Finance, from July withholding tax exemption will be introduced for incoming remittances, while National Remittance Loyalty Program will be launched in September in collaboration with major commercial banks and government agencies to incentivize remitters.
Middle Eastern countries are major job markets for Pakistani workers. Since the beginning of this year alone, the region has provided employment to more than 171,500 Pakistanis — nearly 105,000 in Saudi Arabia alone, according to the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment.
Concerns are rising, however, whether workers will still be able to seek overseas jobs, as labor markets, also in the Middle East, have been upended by the coronavirus outbreak.
“More than 100,000 visas were issued prior to COVID-19. Some 65,000 people were ready to fly, but now their future is uncertain,” said Ikram Qureshi of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI).
“Around 70,000 workers have already registered themselves for repatriation from the Middle east region,” he added.

Punjab assembly to hold inaugural session today as Imran Khan’s party announces protests 

Updated 4 sec ago

Punjab assembly to hold inaugural session today as Imran Khan’s party announces protests 

  • Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N emerged as largest party in Punjab Assembly in elections held earlier this month
  • Imran Khan and his PTI party have rejected the results of the elections, alleging widespread rigging

LAHORE: Governor Muhammad Baligh-ur-Rehman has summoned the inaugural session of the Punjab legislative assembly for an oath-taking ceremony today, Friday, with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan announcing protests outside the building against ‘rigging’ of Feb. 8 general elections.

An agreement to form a coalition government between Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of three-time Premier Nawaz Sharif late Tuesday night ended days of uncertainty and negotiations after an inconclusive Feb. 8 election produced a hung national assembly. 

PML-N’s 79 and the PPP’s 54 seats together make a simple majority in parliament to form a government, which, however, will also rope in smaller parties in the coalition. Candidates backed by Imran Khan won 93 seats, but do not have the numbers to form a government. He and his party have rejected the results of the elections, alleging widespread rigging.

“Those Tehreek-e-Insaf candidates who won the Punjab Provincial Assembly election but have been defeated due to the forgery of Form 47 should protest peacefully in front of the Punjab Provincial Assembly tomorrow at 10 am along with supporters,” Hammad Azhar, PTI’s general secretary for central Punjab, said on X. “Everyone should join this protest.”

A party requires 186 members to form the government in Punjab. The PML-N won the greatest number of seats in the province, 137, has been joined by about two dozen independent members and is also likely to bag a significant number of reserved seats for women and minorities which are allocated based on the number of seats won in polls. 

Punjab, a province of more than 127 million people, over half of Pakistan’s population, is known as the country’s most heated battleground, contributing 173 of the 326 seats in Pakistan’s Parliament and is the heartland of the nation’s political, military and industrial elite.

Historically, the party that secures a stronghold in Punjab often manages to form the government at the center. Maryam Nawaz Sharif, the daughter of three-time former PM Nawaz Sharif, is poised to make history as the first woman chief minister of a Pakistani province. The PML-N’s candidate for prime minister is Shehbaz Sharif, Nawaz’s brother.

Separately, Sindh Governor Muhammad Kamran Khan Tessori issued an order summoning the inaugural session of the Sindh provincial assembly on Saturday, Feb. 24, at 11:00 a.m.

“In exercise of the powers conferred upon me under clause (a) of Article 109 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan,1973 and other provisions enabling me in this behalf, I, Muhammad Kamran Khan Tessori, Governor of Sindh, hereby summon the Provincial Assembly of Sindh to meet on Saturday the 24th day of February 2024 at 11.00 a.m. at the Sindh Assembly Building. Karachi,” the order read.

Pakistan to present legal position on Israeli policies in Palestine at ICJ hearing today

Updated 13 min 25 sec ago

Pakistan to present legal position on Israeli policies in Palestine at ICJ hearing today

  • Case is on ‘Legal Consequences arising from Policies and Practices of Israel in Occupied Palestinian Territory”
  • Palestinian representatives on Monday accused Israel of colonialism, ethnic cleansing, apartheid and genocide

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will present its legal position today, Friday, at ongoing advisory proceedings of the International Court of Justice on the policies and practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, a spokesperson for the foreign ministry said. 

The International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, is holding the public hearings from February 19-26 at the Peace Palace in The Hague, the seat of the Court. 

“Tomorrow [Friday] evening, Minister for Law and Justice, Ahmed Irfan Aslam, will present Pakistan’s position at the ongoing advisory proceedings of the International Court of Justice in the case on ‘Legal Consequences arising from the Policies and Practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem’,” the foreign office said.

“The proceedings stem from a December 2022 request by the United Nations General Assembly for an advisory opinion by the Court on the legal consequences of Israel’s policies and practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

During the course of Monday’s three-hour session at the court, seven representatives for the Palestinians said Israel’s rule in the West Bank and East Jerusalem was illegal, and accused the country of a litany of crimes, including colonialism, ethnic cleansing, apartheid and genocide.

Similar accusations were leveled against Israel by the South African delegation in court on Tuesday.

Jerusalem’s stance is that the ICJ advisory opinion sought by the UN General Assembly is illegitimate since numerous UN resolutions as well as bilateral Israeli-Palestinian agreements have established that the correct framework for resolving the conflict should be political, not legal.

Israel has not sent a delegation to the ongoing proceedings. 

IMF says won’t comment on ‘political developments’ after Imran Khan urges Pakistan election audit

Updated 35 min 30 sec ago

IMF says won’t comment on ‘political developments’ after Imran Khan urges Pakistan election audit

  • IMF says will work with new government to ensure macroeconomic stability and prosperity for all Pakistanis
  • Khan plans to write to IMF urging audit of controversial Feb. 8 elections before it continues talks with Islamabad

KARACHI:The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Thursday it would not comment on “ongoing political developments” in Pakistan after lawyers for former Prime Minister Imran Khan said he would write to the global lender urging it to call for an independent audit of controversial Feb. 8 national elections before continuing bailout talks with Islamabad.

Pakistan averted default last summer due to a short-term IMF bailout, but the program expires next month and a new government will have to negotiate a long-term arrangement to keep the $350-billion economy stable.

Ahead of the bailout, the South Asian nation had to undertake a slew of measures demanded by the IMF, including revising its budget, a hike in its benchmark interest rate, and increases in electricity and natural gas prices.

Pakistan’s vulnerable external position means that securing financing from multilateral and bilateral partners will be one of the most urgent issues facing the next government, ratings agency Fitch said on Monday.

“I’m not going to comment on ongoing political developments. So, I don’t have anything else to add to what I just said,” IMF Spokesperson Julie Kozack told reporters when asked to respond to reports of Khan’s letter.

“We look forward to working with the new government on policies to ensure macroeconomic stability and prosperity for all of Pakistan’s citizens.”

On Thursday, Bloomberg reported that Pakistan planned to seek a new loan of at least $6 billion from the International Monetary Fund to help the incoming government repay billions in debt due this year. 

The country would seek to negotiate an Extended Fund Facility with the IMF, the report said, and talks with the global lender were expected to start in March or April.

Despite Islamabad fightback, skipper Rossouw inspires Quetta to victory

Updated 22 February 2024

Despite Islamabad fightback, skipper Rossouw inspires Quetta to victory

  • In low-scoring match, Rilee Rossouw holds his nerve with 34-run inning to guide Quetta to victory
  • Gladiators’ Abrar Ahmed, Mohammad Wasim take three wickets each to keep Islamabad at bay

Islamabad: Despite a valiant fightback by Islamabad United, Quetta Gladiators continued their impressive run of the tournament by beating the former by three wickets at the Qaddafi Stadium in Lahore on Thursday. 

“Continuing our winning streak,” the Gladiators wrote on social media platform X after the match ended. 

Batting first, United scored a lackluster 138/9 at the end of their 20 overs courtesy of a stellar bowling performance from the Gladiators. Spinner Abrar Ahmed returned figures of 3/18 while Mohammad Wasim finished with 3/20. Akeil Hosein finished with 2/32 while pacer Mohammad Hasnain returned figures of 1/35. 

United’s only resistance in the batting department came from Agha Salman, who top-scored with a decent 33-run knock from 23 balls while opener Alex Hales scored 21 from nine deliveries. 

What should have been an easy chase for the Gladiators turned into a difficult one when United took quick wickets to put the pressure back on Rossouw’s squad. United skipper Shadab Khan returned figures of 2/24 while pacer Naseem Shah finished with 2/34. 

Rumman Raees and Hunain Shah took a single wicket each before Rossouw guided United to victory with a composed 34-run innings that came off 38 balls and featured only three boundaries. 

Opener Jason Roy provided the Gladiators an impressive start to the game by smashing 37 runs off 18 balls while Sherfane Rutherford held his nerves to score 29 runs from 23 balls before Naseem rattled his stumps.

The Gladiators and table-toppers Multan Sultans both have three wins from the tournament so far. Islamabad, with a single win and two losses, is at number three on the PSL points table. 

Pakistan blocks X for the sixth day as activists criticize the social media platform’s shutdown

Updated 22 February 2024

Pakistan blocks X for the sixth day as activists criticize the social media platform’s shutdown

  • Ex-PM Khan’s party says restrictions on X have been placed by authorities to muzzle its voice on social media
  • Social media platforms are often used by protest organizers in Pakistan to call followers out to streets, plan demonstrations

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s media regulators have blocked the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, with users across the country on Thursday enduring the sixth day of sweeping disruptions, partial and complete shutdowns.

There was no comment on the outage by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and government officials have not responded to repeated queries from The Associated Press for comment.

Human rights activists have demanded a full restoration of Internet services and access to social media. Washington has also urged Pakistan to lift restrictions on X.

The outage was first observed over the weekend when the political party of Pakistan’s imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan announced protests against what it says were rigged Feb. 8 parliamentary elections.

In the vote, candidates backed by Khan, who was barred from running, won most seats but short of a simply majority needed to form a government.

Social media platforms are often used by protest organizers to call followers out to the streets and spread the word about planned demonstrations.

Pakistan has witnessed an increase in political instability since the balloting. The country’s elections oversight body denies charges by Khan’s party that the vote was stolen. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party or PTI said on Thursday that the restrictions on X have been placed by the authorities to suppress its voice on social media.

On Wednesday, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller expressed concerns in a statement to reporters over the outage and restrictions on the freedom of expression and association in Pakistan.

“We continue to call on Pakistan to respect freedom of expression and restore access to a social media that has been restricted including Twitter, now known as X,” Miller said. “We have and will continue to emphasize the importance of respecting these fundamental freedoms during our engagements with Pakistani officials.”

Khan’s rivals, including the former Premier Shehbaz Sharif, are trying to form a coalition government. Sharif replaced Khan after his ouster in a no-confidence vote in parliament in 2022. Khan has since then been convicted offenses in what his supporters call politically motivated moves to keep him out of office.