Pakistan's current $16 billion forex reserves will make import payments ‘easy’ — experts

A pedestrian walks past a foreign currency exchange shop in Quetta on Dec. 8, 2011. (AFP/File)
Short Url
Updated 10 April 2021

Pakistan's current $16 billion forex reserves will make import payments ‘easy’ — experts

  • The country's foreign currency reserves increased to $22.18 billion after four years, following significant Eurobond inflows
  • The situation has not done much for the national currency that may come under pressure in the long term due to debt servicing

KARACHI: Pakistan's foreign exchange reserves have reached $22.18 billion, with more than $16 billion held by the central bank, after a span of four years, as the country raised $2.5 billion by issuing Eurobonds, said an official statement released on Thursday.

"The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has received the proceeds of government's $2.5 billion Eurobond issuance in its account," said the statement circulated on Thursday night. "As a result, SBP's foreign exchange reserves closed above $16 billion, their highest level since July 2017."

According to economic analysts, the inflows have brought the government in a more comfortable position to pay for its imports, including any COVID-19 vaccines.

"The inflow of $2.5 billion has raised the cushion of the State Bank and it will also improve the country's current account position," Dr. Abid Qaiyum Suleri, member of the government's Economic Advisory Council (EAC), told Arab News on Friday.

"The inflows have made it easy for the country to make payments for imports of COVID-19 vaccine, wheat or sugar due to an improved reserves position," he continued. "This is also the right time to tap international market."

Some economists also suggested that Pakistan should utilize the Eurobond proceeds to pay off some of its debts.

"The country has arranged the liquidity to pay off previous external debts because time to make these payments is due and the prices of oil are also increasing with the ease of lockdown," Dr. Vaqar Ahmed, joint executive director at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), said.

"For the payment of external debts and oil imports the Eurobond proceeds can be utilized," he added.

The inflows did not generate any major fluctuations in the currency and interbank markets as the rupee only appreciated 0.05 percent to close at Rs152.94 against the greenback on Friday.

"Going forward the rupee can come under pressure due to debt servicing since the country is availing G20 debt relief at present," Samiullah Tariq, head of research at the Pakistan-Kuwait Investment, told Arab News. "Only strong and enduring inflows can resist the fall of rupee. Otherwise, we expect three to four percent depreciation in the long run."

Despite its limited impact on the national currency, an official statement announced that the country had returned to the international market for the first time by issuing securities since 2017.

"Pakistan has entered the international capital market after a gap of over three years by successfully raising $2.5 billion through a multi-tranche transaction of 5, 10 and 30-year Eurobonds," the finance ministry said on Thursday.

"The transaction generated great interest as leading global investors from Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the US participated in the global investor calls and the order book," it added.

This is for the first time that Pakistan has adopted a program-based approach with registration of Global Medium-Term Note program.

"The program will allow Pakistan to tap the market at short notice," the ministry continued in its statement. "The government intends to make full use of this program and become a regular issuer in the International Capital Markets."


Bomb kills four soldiers guarding coal mine — Pakistani military

Updated 14 June 2021

Bomb kills four soldiers guarding coal mine — Pakistani military

  • Attack happened at Marget Mines, about 75 kilometers east of the capital of Balochistan province
  • No one claimed responsibility but militants have previously attacked miners and soldiers in the region

QUETTA: A powerful bomb targeting paramilitary soldiers exploded at a coal mine in southwest Pakistan, killing four soldiers, the military said Monday.
The attack happened at Marget Mines, about 75 kilometers (45 miles) east of Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, a statement released by the military said.

Combination of photos shows paramilitary soldiers who lost their lives in an attack in southwest Pakistan on June 14, 2021. (Photo courtesy: ISPR)

It said the slain soldiers were guarding the coal mine and a search operation was still underway to track and arrest those who orchestrated the attack.
No one claimed responsibility but militants and separatists have previously attacked coal miners and security workers in the region and elsewhere. Pakistan has deployed troops to ensure the protection of coal mines and oil workers in the region.
Balochistan has for years been the scene of a low-level insurgency by small separatist groups who complain of discrimination and demand a fairer share of their province’s resources and wealth, such as natural gas and mines. The Pakistani Taliban and the Daesh group also have a presence.


Pakistan condemns Houthi drone attack targeting school in Saudi Arabia’s Asir region

Updated 14 June 2021

Pakistan condemns Houthi drone attack targeting school in Saudi Arabia’s Asir region

  • Saudi air defenses destroy armed drone launched by Yemen’s Houthi group toward southern Saudi city of Khamis Mushait on Monday
  • On Sunday, Saudi state media said drone rigged with explosives fell on school in Asir province but that no injuries were reported

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani foreign office on Monday condemned a Houthi drone attack on Saudi Arabia’s Asir region and called for an “immediate cessation” of such assaults. 
The Saudi Civil Defense said on Sunday it had received reports that a Houthi drone launched from Yemen toward one of the Asir region’s governorates had hit and damaged a school. No injuries were confirmed.
On Monday, Saudi Arabian air defenses intercepted and destroyed an armed drone launched by the Houthi group toward the southern Saudi city of Khamis Mushait, state television said, citing the Saudi-led military coalition, which has been battling the Houthis for over six years.
“These attacks not only violate the territorial integrity of the Kingdom but also threaten the lives of innocent people. We call for immediate cessation of such attacks,” the Pakistan foreign office said in a statement. “Pakistan reaffirms its full support and solidarity with the brotherly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against any threats to its security and territorial integrity.”


Capital gains tax cuts in Pakistani fiscal budget spark bullish sentiments at PSX

Updated 14 June 2021

Capital gains tax cuts in Pakistani fiscal budget spark bullish sentiments at PSX

  • Analysts say CGT cut, withdrawal of withholding tax on National Clearing Company and slashing turnover tax positive for equity market
  • Pakistani exporters of value-added textiles unhappy because government ignored demands including restoration of zero rating of general sales tax

KARACHI: Buoyed by the federal government’s step to cut capital gain tax to 12.5 percent, Pakistan’s equity market opened on a high note on Monday — the first day of trading after the fiscal budget was presented on Friday, equity analysts said. 
Pakistani finance minister Shaukat Train on Friday presented what has been called a “pro-growth” and “people-friendly” fiscal budget for 2021-22, with a total outlay of Rs8.4 trillion. 
Some of the proposals in the budget include reducing capital gains tax to 12.5 percent from 15 percent, removing withholding tax (WHT) on National Clearing Company of Pakistan Limited (NCCPL), a Pakistan capital market institution providing clearing and settlement services to Pakistan Stock Exchange Limited, and slashing turnover tax to 1.25 percent from 1.5 percent. 
Pakistan’s stock market started off the day Monday with a 662 point surge and remained bullish throughout the trading session, before closing at 48,726 points, gaining 421 points due to profit taking. 
“Stocks closed higher led by selected scrips across the board as investor weighed federal budget FY22 relief in the capital gains tax, withholding tax to brokerages and IMF relaxations on industrial tariff,” Ahsan Mehanti, the chief executive of Arif Habib Corporation, told Arab News. “Record higher global crude oil prices, relief for pharma and services exporters in the federal budget FY22 played a catalyst role in bullish close.”
Major activity was witnessed in energy sector shares because subsidies announced in the budget are believed will resolve the circular debt issue. 
“Pakistan’s federal budget is positive for the stock market,” Samiullah Tariq, Head of Research at Pakistan Kuwait Investment, told Arab News. “Overall the sentiment of investors is very positive and they are optimistic about the growth numbers presented by the government.”
Not everyone is happy, though, especially Pakistani exporters of value-added textile who say the government did not incorporate their anticipated demands for restoration of Zero Rating of General Sales Tax (GST) and the No Payment No Refund System, suspension of collection of Export Development Fund (EDF) surcharge, and reduction of the WHT rate to 0.5 percent. 
“Imposition of 17 percent GST has made textile exporters, especially Small and medium Enterprises (SME) exporters, financially unviable as their liquidity remained stuck up,” Jawed Bilwani, chairman of the Pakistan Apparel Forum, said at a press conference in Karachi on Monday. “The small and Medium textile operators throughout the year face financial crunch that makes it difficult to discharge export commitments, pay utilities and salaries to staff and laborers and also reluctant to take new export orders.”
Exporters say due to elimination of zero rated facility, 33 percent or 2,102 small and medium textile enterprises have closed down their business. 
“It is on record that 33 percent SME exporters have closed their export business as compared to last year due to imposition of 17 percent which blocked exporters liquidity,” Bilwani said adding: “With the continuation of 17 percent GST in 2021-22, many more SME textile exporters who managed to survive last year are feared to close due to liquidity. The GST on exports and refund after months is the key hurdle in the boost in exports.”
Value-added textile exports contribute around 62 percent in total exports, provide 42 percent urban employment, particularly to the female workforce, earn the nation the highest foreign exchange and support approximately 40 allied industries, according to exporters.


Of rhymes and ‘gawky’ reasons: Pakistani rap group traces journey back to Riyadh years

Updated 14 June 2021

Of rhymes and ‘gawky’ reasons: Pakistani rap group traces journey back to Riyadh years

  • Gawky Gang’s three members met in Riyadh and became known as the only three Pakistani rappers in the Saudi capital
  • Though they are now based in Pakistan, they hope to take their music back to Saudi Arabia soon “on a bigger scale, Insha’Allah!”

RAWALPINDI: Mohad Ali, the only Pakistani in a group of Arab rappers in Riyadh, was instantly drawn to compatriots Muzammil Wahid and Raamis Ali when he met them in 2009 at a time the hip-hop and rap music scene was evolving among locals and expatriates alike in the Kingdom’s small but talent-packed community.
Thus was born Gawky Gang, a rap band that was initially influenced by the members’ experience of growing up as Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia but whose repertoire has since expanded to include much broader themes like social justice and women empowerment. 
“Luckily, M.ZHE [Muzammil’s stage name] and I were living in the same neighborhood and started to meet more regularly after realizing we were the only three Pakistani rappers in Riyadh,” Mohad, 23, told Arab News. 
“We’d see people rapping in the streets [of Riyadh] and making graffiti art on random walls [as a way to express themselves],” M.ZHE, 24, who hails from the Pakistani city of Faisalabad, said. 
Inspired, the group launched the Riyadh City Cypher Series on YouTube, garnering “thousands of likes” for their online videos.
“The Riyadh City Cypher series ... became well known among Riyadh’s Pakistani community... and received love from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh too,” M.ZHE said.

Mohad Ali, Hashim Nawaz, M.ZHE, Raamis, and Aqeel Sarfraz in a photo shared by Sarfaraz on his Instagram account on October 28, 2018 (Aqeel Sarfaraz)

But the initial years were not easy, especially when it came to holding live performances in Saudi Arabia. 
But Mohad said the “struggles and difficulties” the rappers faced “influenced us to do more in terms of our music and write about our different experiences growing up in Saudi Arabia.” It also brought the band a loyal fan following among Arab musicians. 
“We’ve been appreciated by many Arab rappers, including Faris Albalad … we still receive appreciation messages from him,” Mohad added, saying that support was priceless since it was a response to music produced in a language many Arabs did not understand.
While living in the kingdom, the band members said they mostly performed in English or Arabic, not Urdu or Punjabi, which was their preference. 
It was the language barrier that eventually pushed them to return to Pakistan in 2016, they said, and launch the Gawky Records label, an extension of their stage name.
“It is not easy to leave a place where you have spent your entire life, especially your childhood,” Raamis said. “Pakistan is a very welcoming country and full of opportunities, but it was difficult to opt for a completely different lifestyle from which we were used to in Riyadh.”
Also, the hip-hop and rap scene was still in its teething stages in Pakistan in 2016, with many “misconceptions” about the genre. 
“It’s a little difficult for our culture to accept,” Hashim Nawaz Malik, one of the artists working with Gawky Records, told Arab News.
But things are taking a turn for the better for the rap scene. A recent edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) – the largest domestic T-20 cricket tournament in the country – included rap performances in the series’ official theme song.
“When we first started, there were maybe 100 desi rappers in total,” M.ZHE said. Raamis added: “Now there’s 100 in each street of Karachi.”
Raamis said the Gawky Gang was supportive of local talent too, using earnings from music streams such as Spotify to provide recording, mixing and mastering services to other artists.
“[We are] signing new talent on our label, sponsoring music videos... just for the sake of Pakistani hip hop,” Raamis said.
“We are trying to push everyone who’s with us since day one; this is how we have been since the Saudi Arabian days,” Mohad added.
But even as the band makes more and more music in and about Pakistan, its members still reminisce about Saudi Arabia, especially the food and the early years of producing music.
“Sometimes, when we are sitting in the studio, I get flashbacks from when we were in Saudi Arabia … and now ten years later we are in Pakistan,” M.ZHE said. “Maybe after ten years, we will be in a different country and a different setting but for the sake of music.”
Maybe back in Riyadh, where it all started?
“Exactly! Take the music back to Saudi Arabia,” he said, “back from where it started, but on a bigger scale, Insha’Allah!”


Flip out: Pakistan police detain 19 restaurant staffers after being denied free burgers

Updated 14 June 2021

Flip out: Pakistan police detain 19 restaurant staffers after being denied free burgers

  • Following outcry, nine police officers involved were suspended on Sunday, Punjab police chief says
  • Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly called for a reform of Punjab’s powerful police force

LAHORE: A group of police officers in Pakistan flipped out when a takeaway joint refused to hand over free burgers, detaining all 19 staff at the restaurant.

Workers at the trendy chain Johnny & Jugnu in the eastern city of Lahore were rounded up and held for seven hours overnight on Saturday, leaving behind unattended kitchens and hungry customers.
“This is not the first time something like this has happened with our kitchen teams at our restaurant, but we want to make sure this is the last,” the fast food chain said in a statement published on social media.
The beef started when staff at the restaurant refused a “request from a very high profile special guest.”
Restaurant staff told AFP that most of those arrested were young people, including many university students.
Following outcry among fans, nine police officers involved were suspended yesterday, senior provincial police official Inam Ghani said on Twitter.
“No one is allowed to take the law into his own hands,” Ghani said.
Pakistan’s police officers are often accused of corruption and for demanding kickbacks from local businesses, though they deny the charge.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has called for a reform of Punjab’s police force, saying “cronies” had been appointed by politicians to control police stations.