Pakistan's opposition alliance denies claims of internal divisions

Opposition leaders (R to L) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Owais Noorani, Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Maryam Nawaz of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) joint hands as they arrive to attend an anti-government rally in Lahore on Dec. 13, 2020. (AFP/File)
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Updated 01 January 2021

Pakistan's opposition alliance denies claims of internal divisions

  • The Pakistan Democratic Movement is stronger than before and more determined to bring down the government, says Fazlur Rehman
  • The opposition alliance has decided to contest by-elections, though it is yet to announce its strategy for Senate polls

ISLAMABAD: The top leader of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) denied any political differences within the 11-party opposition coalition while addressing the media in Lahore on Friday.
"The PDM is stronger than before," said Maulana Fazlur Rehman who leads his own faction of the Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Islam party. "We are also more determined than ever to bring down this government."
The opposition alliance was established last year in September to launch an anti-government movement against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) administration that assumed the country's political power after the 2018 general elections.
PDM leaders have frequently questioned the transparency of the electoral exercise and maintained that Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government was "selected" by the defense and security establishment of Pakistan.
Briefing the media after a meeting of opposition leaders that lasted for several hours, Rehman said that all outstanding issues were meticulously debated and reviewed by the participants.
He said that the alliance had instructed its representatives in the national and provincial assemblies to send their resignations to their respective party chiefs by December 31.
"We have these resignations with us, and we are now giving a month's notice to this government to step down," he said.
Rehman maintained that the prime minister was "a pawn," adding that the PDM considered the country's "establishment and military" responsible for creating the present political system.
Asked about the alliance's future course of action, he said it was ready for a "long march," though it was yet to be decided whether the caravan would go to Islamabad or Rawalpindi.
The PDM leader commented it was up to the establishment if it wanted to maintain its political primacy or pay attention to its constitutional responsibilities.
He also noted that the alliance was ready to stage protest demonstration outside the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) offices in the country.
"This is not accountability," he said. "What we are witnessing is vengeance."
Responding to a question, Rehman said that the PDM was going to participate in by-elections, though it had yet to decide its strategy for the upcoming Senate polls.
"We want to play our cards wisely," he continued.
Federal Minister for Information Shibli Faraz told the local media after the PDM news conference that any protest outside the ECP or NAB buildings would be unconstitutional and amount to threatening state institutions.
He dismissed Rehman's claims, saying it was clear that the opposition alliance had failed to reach any significant decisions during the meeting.


Sri Lanka’s crisis rings alarm for other troubled economies, from Lebanon to Pakistan

Updated 6 sec ago

Sri Lanka’s crisis rings alarm for other troubled economies, from Lebanon to Pakistan

  • Like Sri Lanka, Pakistan has been in urgent talks with the IMF, hoping to revive a $6 billion bailout package 
  • Soaring crude oil prices pushed up fuel prices which in turn raised other costs, pushing inflation to over 21 percent

BANGKOK: Sri Lanka is desperate for help with weathering its worst crisis in recent memory. Its schools are closed for lack of fuel to get kids and teachers to classrooms. Its effort to arrange a bailout from the International Monetary Fund has been hindered by the severity of its financial crisis, its prime minister says.

But it’s not the only economy that’s in serious trouble as prices of food, fuel and other staples have soared with the war in Ukraine. Alarm bells are ringing for many economies around the world, from Laos and Pakistan to Venezuela and Guinea.

Some 1.6 billion people in 94 countries face at least one dimension of the crisis in food, energy and financial systems, and about 1.2 billion of them live in “perfect-storm” countries, severely vulnerable to a cost-of-living crisis plus other longer-term strains, according to a report last month by the Global Crisis Response Group of the United Nations Secretary-General.

The exact causes for their woes vary, but all share rising risks from surging costs for food and fuel, driven higher by Russia’s war on Ukraine, which hit just as disruptions to tourism and other business activity from the coronavirus pandemic were fading. As a result, the World Bank estimates that per capita incomes in developing economies will be 5 percent below pre-pandemic levels this year.

The economic strains are fueling protests in many countries, as meanwhile, short-term, higher interest borrowing to help finance pandemic relief packages has heaped more debt on countries already struggling to meet repayment obligations. More than half of the world’s poorest countries are in debt distress or at high risk of it, according to the UN.

Some of the worst crises are in countries already devastated by corruption, civil war, coups or other calamities. They muddle along, but with an undue burden of suffering.

Here’s a look at a few of the economies that are in dire straits or at greatest risk.

PAKISTAN

Like Sri Lanka, Pakistan has been in urgent talks with the IMF, hoping to revive a $6 billion bailout package that was put on hold after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government was ousted in April. Soaring crude oil prices pushed up fuel prices which in turn raised other costs, pushing inflation to over 21 percent. A government minister’s appeal to cut back on tea drinking to reduce the $600 million bill for imported tea angered many Pakistanis. Pakistan’s currency, the rupee, has fallen about 30 percent against the US dollar in the past year. To gain the IMF’s support, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif has raised fuel prices, abolished fuel subsidies and imposed a new, 10 percent “super tax” on major industries to help repair the country’s tattered finances. As of late March, Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves had fallen to $13.5 billion, equivalent to just two months of imports. “Macroeconomic risks are strongly tilted to the downside,” the World Bank warned in its latest assessment.


AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan has been reeling from a dire economic crisis since the Taliban took control as the US and its NATO allies withdrew their forces last year. Foreign aid — long a mainstay — stopped practically overnight and governments piled on sanctions, halted bank transfers and paralyzed trade, refusing to recognize the Taliban government. The Biden administration froze $7 billion in Afghanistan’s foreign currency reserves held in the United States. About half the country’s 39 million people face life-threatening levels of food insecurity and most civil servants, including doctors, nurses and teachers, have been unpaid for months. A recent earthquake killed more than 1,000 people, adding to those miseries.

ARGENTINA

About four of every 10 Argentines are poor and its central bank is running perilously low on foreign reserves as its currency weakens. Inflation is forecast to exceed 70 percent this year. Millions of Argentines survive largely thanks to soup kitchens and state welfare programs, many of which are funneled through politically powerful social movements linked to the ruling party. A recent deal with the IMF to restructure $44 billion in debt faces questions over concessions that critics say will hinder a recovery.

EGYPT

Egypt’s inflation rate surged to almost 15 percent in April, causing privation especially for the nearly one-third of its 103 million people living in poverty. They were already suffering from an ambitious reform program that includes painful austerity measures like floating the national currency and slashing subsidies for fuel, water and electricity. The central bank raised interest rates to curb inflation and devalued the currency, adding to difficulties in repaying Egypt’s sizable foreign debt. Egypt’s net foreign reserves have fallen. Its neighbors Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have pledged $22 billion in deposits and direct investments as assistance.

LAOS

Tiny, landlocked Laos was one of the fastest growing economies until the pandemic hit. Its debt levels have surged and like Sri Lanka, it is in talks with creditors on how to repay billions of dollars worth of loans. That’s an urgent issue given the country’s weak government finances. Its foreign reserves are equal to less than two months of imports, the World Bank says. A 30 percent depreciation in the Lao currency, the kip, has worsened those woes. Rising prices and job losses due to the pandemic threaten to worsen poverty.

LEBANON

Lebanon shares with Sri Lanka a toxic combination of currency collapse, shortages, punishing levels of inflation and growing hunger, snaking queues for gas and a decimated middle class. It, too, endured a long civil war, its recovery hampered by government dysfunction and terror attacks.

Proposed taxes in late 2019 ignited longstanding anger against the ruling class and months of protests. The currency began to sink and Lebanon defaulted on paying back worth about $90 billion at the time, or 170 percent of GDP — one of the highest in the world. In June 2021, with the currency having lost nearly 90 percent of its value, the World Bank said the crisis ranked as one of the worst the world has seen in more than 150 years.

MYANMAR

The pandemic and political instability have buffeted Myanmar’s economy, especially after the army seized power in February 2021 from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. That brought Western sanctions targeting commercial holdings controlled by the army, which dominate the economy. The economy contracted by 18 percent last year and is forecast to barely grow in 2022. More than 700,000 people have fled or been forced from their homes by armed conflicts and political violence. The situation is so uncertain, a recent global economic update from the World Bank excluded forecasts for Myanmar for 2022-2024.

TURKEY

Worsening government finances and a growing trade and capital account deficit have compounded Turkey’s troubles with high and rising debt, inflation — at over 60 percent — and high unemployment. The Central Bank resorted to using foreign reserves to fend off a currency crisis, after the beleaguered lira fell to all-time lows against the US dollar euro in late 2021. Tax cuts and fuel subsidies to cushion the blow from inflation have weakened government finances. Families are struggling to buy food and other goods, while Turkey’s foreign debt is about 54 percent of its GDP, an unsustainable level given the high level of government debt.

ZIMBABWE

Inflation in Zimbabwe has surged to more than 130 percent, raising fears the country could return to the hyperinflation of 2008 that reached 500 billion percent and heaping problems on its already fragile economy. Zimbabwe struggles to generate an adequate inflow of greenbacks needed for its largely dollarized local economy, which has been battered by years of de-industrialization, corruption, low investment, low exports and high debt. Inflation has left Zimbabweans distrustful of the currency, adding to demand for US dollars. And many skip meals as they struggle to make ends meet.


Pakistan climbing season reaches new heights as 1,400 foreign mountaineers arrive

Updated 11 min 55 sec ago

Pakistan climbing season reaches new heights as 1,400 foreign mountaineers arrive

  • The country is home to five of the world’s 14 mountains higher than 8,000 meters
  • 57 expeditions planned for 23 Pakistan peaks this season, with 370 climbers climbing K2

SKARDU: Pakistan is enjoying a bumper climbing season with around 1,400 foreign mountaineers bidding to scale its lofty peaks — including hundreds on the 8,611-meter (28,251-feet) K2, the world’s second-highest.

The country is home to five of the world’s 14 mountains higher than 8,000 meters, and climbing them all is considered the ultimate achievement of any mountaineer.
“It is a record number,” Raja Nasir Ali Khan, tourism minister of Gilgit-Baltistan region, told AFP about the number of foreign climbers this year.
Karrar Haidri, secretary of the Alpine Club of Pakistan, told AFP there were 57 expeditions planned for 23 Pakistan peaks this season — with 370 climbers having a crack at K2, known as “the savage mountain.”
Besides being far more technically difficult to climb than Everest, weather conditions are notoriously fickle on K2, which has only being scaled by 425 people since 1954.
More than 6,000 people have climbed Everest since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first reached the top in 1953 — some of them multiple times.
Haidri said climbers this year include 90 women — including at least two Pakistanis aiming to become the country’s first to scale K2.
Russian Oxana Morneva is leading a team on the mountain, having failed in her own attempt in 2012 when she was forced back after injuring her knee.
“My rope was broken by falling rocks,” she told AFP.
She said she had no apprehension about returning.
“When we go to the mountain we have to be peaceful inside, and we have to know what we are doing,” she added.
Around 200 climbers will attempt to scale the 8,051-meter Broad Peak, while similar numbers will try Gasherbrum-I (8,080 meters) and Gasherbrum-II (8,035 meters).
A 36-year-old Norwegian climber, Kristin Harila, is also aiming to reach the world’s 14 highest mountain summits in record time.
Having already climbed seven peaks of over 8,000 meters, Harila hopes to match, if not beat, Nepali adventurer Nirmal Purja’s ambitious six months and six days record.
The summer climbing season that started in early June lasts until late August.


Pakistan advises holiday-goers to follow COVID-19 guidelines over Eid festival 

Updated 16 min 48 sec ago

Pakistan advises holiday-goers to follow COVID-19 guidelines over Eid festival 

  • Pakistan has had very few COVID-19 cases in recent months and did away with almost all precautions
  • In 24 hours, Pakistan recorded 805 positive cases, fresh COVID guidelines issued for five-day Eid holiday 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s National Institute of Health (NIH) on Wednesday urged people to strictly follow COVID-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) while holidaying during the Eid Al-Adha festival that starts on Sunday. 

Pakistan has had very few COVID-19 cases in recent months and did away with almost all precautions.

But the South Asian nation has seen a spike in COVID-19 infections in recent weeks, with the national positivity ratio rising to 4.69 percent in the last 24 hours, as 805 tests turned out positive. Over 168 patients are currently in critical care at hospitals across the country.

The National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), Pakistan’s federal pandemic response body, also said the COVID-19 positivity rate had reached 17.46 percent in Abbottabad, a main tourist destination in the northwest of the country.

“Strictly adhere to coronavirus safety precautions during your tourist trips,” the NIH said in a statement. “The risk of spreading the coronavirus increases at crowded places, so make sure to use a face mask and [use] hand sanitizer.”

The body also advised people to maintain social distance and ensure that all those traveling to tourist destinations were fully vaccinated and had gotten booster doses

On Tuesday, the government issued fresh guidelines for Eid Al-Adha. 

“Eid UI Adha prayers should be organized in open spaces under stringent COVID protocols. In case of any compulsion to offer the prayers inside mosques, then all windows and doors should be kept open for ventilation / to minimize the chances of disease spread,” the NCOC said in a statement.

The body said up to three Eid prayers should be organized at a single venue with staggered timings to allow maximum people to offer prayers with COVID-19 protocols in place.

“All ulemas leading Eid prayers should be sensitised to keep sermons ... short so that people remain present in the prayer venues for a brief duration,” the guidelines said. “Efforts should be made to discourage sick, elderly and young children from attending Eid prayers.”

People without face masks should not be allowed to enter prayer venues, the NCOC said, adding that prayer venues should have multiple entry and exit points and venue organizers should ensure the availability of hand sanitisers.

“It should be mandatory for all coming for prayers to use sanitisers before entering the venue,” the guidelines said.

“To ensure social distancing protocols, venue organizers to ensure prominent marking (6 feet apart) to allow sufficient space/distance between individuals. People should be encouraged to perform abulution at home before coming for the prayers and also bring their own prayer mats to the venue. Efforts should be made to sensitise people to refrain from embracing and handshaking after the prayer to avoid chances of disease transmission. There should not be any gathering at the prayer venue before the prayer and people should be asked to disperse immediately after the prayer.”

The NCOC said efforts would be made to promote and encourage central and collective sacrifices through various public, private and community organizations, while ensuring adherence to the COVID-19 protocols of mask-wearing, social distancing and avoidance of crowds.


77 people killed in monsoon rains in Pakistan since June 14 — climate minister

Updated 06 July 2022

77 people killed in monsoon rains in Pakistan since June 14 — climate minister

  • Half the deaths in Balochistan province where 39 people have died
  • In 2010, worst floods in memory affected 20 million people in Pakistan 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani minister for climate change Sherry Rehman said on Wednesday that 77 people had died since June 14 as monsoon rains wreaked havoc in the country, with almost half the deaths taking place in the impoverished southwestern province of Balochistan.

The Pakistan Metrological office had predicted heavy rainfall and thunderstorms from June 30 to July 5 and also issued a weather warning for urban floods in some regions.

“77 people have died since June 14 in monsoon rains,” Rehman said at a press conference, adding that the monsoon rain pattern was moving from the north of the country to the southern provinces of Balochistan and Sindh.


Children wade through a flooded area after a monsoon rainfall in Quetta, Pakistan on July 5, 2022. (AFP)

“Most of deaths were in Balochistan till morning [Wednesday]. We got the figure of 39 deaths in the province,” she said, adding that children and women were among those who had lost their lives. Media reported that at least 20 of the Balochistan deaths had occurred in the last 24 hours of rain.

Rehman said Pakistan had received “above normal” levels of rains during June and July.

The district administration of Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, established a flood emergency control room to monitor and address emergencies in the city and its adjacent areas.

“Rescue & relief operation of @PDMABalochistan & Quetta district administration is underway, food items & other necessities have been distributed among rain affected families in Bakra Mandi Western By Pass & other areas,” assistant commissioner in the Sariyab area of Quetta said.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) urged provincial authorities to take preventive measures to avoid loss of life and damage to property.

The rains have also affected telecommunication and power supply in some parts of the country.

In 2010, the worst floods in memory affected 20 million people in Pakistan, with damage to infrastructure running into billions of dollars and huge swaths of crops destroyed as one fifth of the country was inundated.


Pakistan sets up parliamentary committee to oversee talks with local Taliban, ensure process constitutional

Updated 06 July 2022

Pakistan sets up parliamentary committee to oversee talks with local Taliban, ensure process constitutional

  • PM Shehbaz Sharif chairs in-camera meeting attended by over 100 lawmakers
  • Use of force sole prerogative of state, says parliamentary committee

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Tuesday set up a parliamentary committee to oversee talks with the local Taliban and to ensure the process does not exceed the limits of the constitution, as Islamabad looks to end years of conflict with militants through negotiations. 

Pakistan’s Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) on Tuesday gave its formal approval to the government to conduct peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). 

The TTP is a separate group from the Afghan Taliban but shares common roots with them. The militant outfit has carried out some of the bloodiest attacks in Pakistan since 2007, seeking to impose its own brand of Islamic law via force. 

However, on June 4, the TTP extended a cease-fire with the government for an indefinite period, after two days of talks with a delegation of Pakistani tribal elders that were facilitated by the Afghan Taliban. 

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chaired an in-camera meeting in Islamabad attended by over 100 lawmakers and officials to deliberate on peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban.  

“The Parliamentary Committee on National Security formally approved the process of negotiations and approved the formation of a ‘Parliamentary Oversight Committee’ which would be responsible for overseeing the process within the constitutional limits,” an official statement said. 

“The session also endorses the importance of the ‘National Grand Reconciliation Dialogue’ and said the [Parliamentary Committee on National Security] meeting was the first step in that direction,” the statement added. 

It added that with the support of the Afghan government and led by Pakistan’s civilian and military officials, the government is negotiating with the outlawed TTP within the constitution’s framework to ensure peace in the country and the region. 

“The meeting stated that the final outcome would be implemented after the completion of the procedure within the ambit of the Constitution of Pakistan and the approval of the Government of Pakistan,” the statement said. 

Participants of the meeting reiterated that Pakistan has made remarkable achievements against terrorism and extremism which have been recognized globally. 

 “The meeting reiterated that under the Constitution of Pakistan, the use of force is the sole prerogative of the state,” the statement said. 

Pakistan military leadership held an on talks with the TTP and on national security issues. 

 Last month, Pakistan’s top civil and military leadership after a meeting in Islamabad agreed that talks with the Pakistani Taliban were taking place within the ambit of the constitution and any decision on negotiations with the outlawed group would be taken with parliament’s approval.

The TTP is asking Pakistan to scrap a 2018 law that did away with the semi-independent status of the former tribal regions that dates back to British colonial rule. The law aimed to grant equal rights to millions of residents in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) once they were incorporated into Pakistan’s authority as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The Pakistani Taliban also want the country’s troops to pull out of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, release all TTP fighters in government custody and revoke all cases against them.