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.


Political parties, rights groups slam new crackdown in disputed Kashmir

Updated 30 October 2020

Political parties, rights groups slam new crackdown in disputed Kashmir

  • New regulation, which allows non-Kashmiris can buy land in Kashmir, is seen as an attempt to dilute the Muslim-majority character of the region
  • Human Rights Watch (HRW) on called raids on rights groups an attempt to 'to crush peaceful criticism and calls for accountability'

NEW DELHI: Pro-India political parties in Kashmir on Friday accused New Delhi of “infringement” of their fundamental rights, days after the introduction of controversial land laws in the region.
The passage of the new regulation, under which non-Kashmiris can buy land in Kashmir, was immediately followed by counterterrorism raids on politicians and activists.
On Friday, the local administration prevented Farooq Abdullah, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and senior leader of the region’s oldest party, National Conference (NC), from offering prayers at Srinagar's historic Hazratbal shrine on the occasion of Mawlid Al-Nabi, the observance of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.
"J&K administration has blocked the residence of Party President Dr Farooq Abdullah and stopped him from offering prayers at Dargah Hazratbal. The NC condemns this infringement of fundamental right to pray, especially on the auspicious occasion of Milad Un Nabi SAW," the NC said in a tweet.
Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti said that preventing Abdullah from offering prayers at the shrine "exposed" the Indian government's "deep paranoia and their iron fist approach" toward Kashmir.
"It's a gross violation of our rights and is highly condemnable," she tweeted.
On Thursday, the government sealed the PDP office and stopped the party's workers from protesting against the new land laws were notified on Tuesday.
The PDP accuses the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of trying to "silence any voices that speak up" against its "unilateral actions" in Kashmir, PDP spokesman Naeem Akhtar told Arab News.
"Dissent has been criminalized and voices muzzled as part of the project to take over whatever this state has, land and resources," he said.
The closure of the PDP office followed Wednesday raids by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) on several NGOs which it accused of carrying out and raising funds for "secessionist and separatist activities" Kashmir.
The groups see the move as a crackdown.
Praveena Ahanger of the Srinagar-based Association of Disappeared Persons (APDP), one of the seven NGOs that were raided by NIA, said it is a "clear case of reprisal and crackdown on the human rights defenders in Kashmir."
Zafarul Islam Khan, former head of the Delhi Minority Commission whose NGO Charity Alliance's premises in Delhi were also raided by NIA, told Arab News that according to the agency's search order, his group was "funding terror organizations in Kashmir."
It is a "Himalayan lie,” he said. "They are trying to implicate me for my work in the Delhi Minority Commission and for my reports on Delhi religious violence in which the names of the ruling BJP leaders have cropped up."
International human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday called the raids an attempt “to silence peaceful dissenters, human rights activists, and journalists.”
"India faces serious security challenges, but instead of addressing the problems in a rights-respecting manner, the authorities appear determined to crush peaceful criticism and calls for accountability,” HRW South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly said in a statement.
Crackdowns on Kashmiri leaders and rights activists have escalated since August 2019 when New Delhi scrapped Articles 370 and 35A of the constitution, which gave Kashmiris limited autonomy and protected their domicile and employment rights. People in the region fear the new land laws are aimed at diluting the Muslim-majority character of the region.
"Land in Kashmir is the biggest resource which is now being offered to outsiders as part of demographic projects. Actual assault is on the Muslim majority character of the region. Everything else is a step to achieve that," PDP's Akhatar said.
Political experts say that altering the region's demography was the main concept behind the revocation of Kashmir's special status.
"The whole idea of revoking Article 370 was to alter the demography of Kashmir otherwise the land in Kashmir is limited, 93 percent of the area in Kashmir is mountain,” Prof. Sheikh Showkat Hussain of Srinagar-based Kashmir University told Arab News.
"People are angry in Kashmir and it might spill over the street any day."
But Srinagar-based BJP leader Dr. Hina Bhat discounts the possibility.
"I don’t think people are angry. Those who are protesting have lost all credibility. The change in land law will not force people to sell their lands to outsiders," she told Arab News.
Commenting on the killing of three BJP workers in Kulgam area of Kashmir on Thursday, Bhat said that "militants don’t want the region to progress."
"The killings of our party men will not deter us from doing good work in Kashmir."