Pakistan’s new collateral-free financing scheme to benefit 10 million small businesses — traders 

In this picture taken on July 14, 2021, a general view of Sitara market is pictured in the Karkhano area on the outskirts of Peshawar. (AFP)
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Updated 20 August 2021

Pakistan’s new collateral-free financing scheme to benefit 10 million small businesses — traders 

  • Majority of small businesses that do not have collaterals currently borrow at a minimum 25 percent rate 
  • Central bank says the government will cover risk for small loans up to 60 percent under ‘SME Asaan Finance’ initiative 

KARACHI: A collateral-free financing scheme introduced by Pakistan’s central bank is expected to solve the liquidity problems of around 10 million Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the country, traders and a financial expert said on Friday. 
The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) this week rolled out an innovative initiative to improve access to finance for SMEs that cannot offer collateral or security to banks. 
Under the scheme, titled ‘SME Asaan Finance or SAF,’ the government will provide risk coverage of 40-60 percent to selected banks against losses, depending on the size of loans.  
A majority of SMEs in the informal sector are currently borrowing in cash at a minimum 25 percent interest rate due to several reasons, including higher loan losses, high-cost bank finance models, less use of appropriate technology for SME finance and a lack of acceptable security, according to the SBP. 
Union of Small and Medium Enterprises (UNISAME) President Zulfikar Thaver appreciated the SBP’s new initiative, calling it the fulfilment of a long-standing demand by SMEs. 
“This is indeed a very big step to facilitate the sector,” Thaver said. “This move will help some 10 million SMEs, including farmers, in playing a vital role in the national economy.” 
SMEs were previously entitled to get only a Rs100,000 loan on the provision of security or collateral, which was later increased to Rs1 million.  
“The collateral-free loans will enable thousands of small traders to get financing which is their right,” Thaver said.
The UNISAME president said SMEs were the backbone of the country’s economy and a major contributor to the export sector. “With the financing made available, the exports are expected to boost,” he told Arab News. 
“This risk cover will be 60 percent for small loans up to Rs4 million, 50 percent for midsize loans from above Rs4 million to Rs7 million, and 40 percent for relatively larger loans of Rs7 million to Rs10 million,” the central bank said about the new scheme. 
Pakistani SMEs play a key role in the national economy and are estimated to contribute 40 percent to the gross domestic product (GDP) and 25 percent to export earnings. Despite this, small businesses find it difficult to access bank finance as SME financing stood at Rs444 billion on March 31, or only 6.6 percent of the total private sector credit, according to the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority (SMEDA) and SBP. 
Under the new scheme, the central bank will provide refinancing for three years to selected banks. Banks will get refinancing from SBP at 1 percent per annum and extend financing to SMEs at the end-user rate of up to 9 percent per annum, which is very attractive compared to informal finance costs, according to SBP, which has also added Shariah compliant features to the SAF scheme to accommodate financing needs of faith-sensitive borrowers. 
Some traders say the 9 percent interest rate being offered is still high.  
“The interest rate is high and if the process is done through banks it would be difficult for small businesses to get financing,” Iftikhar Ghani Vohra, the convener of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry’s central committee on SMEs, told Arab News.  
Vohra said the FPCCI committee was studying the scheme and would present a detailed review at a later date. 
Samiullah Tariq, a research director at Pakistan-Kuwait Investment Company, said the relatively cheap financing rates would provide working capital to small businesses, which may ultimately enhance productivity. 
“This will help small businesses with liquidity for their working capital, expansion, vehicles and generators,” he said, “and will improve supply chain and productivity.”

In Karachi, 104-year-old migrant from India recalls potent memories of a violent partition

Updated 10 min 53 sec ago

In Karachi, 104-year-old migrant from India recalls potent memories of a violent partition

  • Muhammad Akram Khan’s family swapped an affluent life for an uncertain future in Pakistan in 1947
  • Khan got his passport made a few years ago but the dream to travel back to India could not come true

KARACHI: With six metal suitcases, three filled with gold and three with clothes, the family of Muhammad Akram Khan fled Jabalpur in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh for newly created Pakistan in 1947, leaving without saying goodbye even to best friends and forsaking a sprawling home and a vast business for an uncertain future in Karachi.

In this undated photo, Muhammad Akram Khan, 104-year-old migrant, photographed with the children in his family in his hometown, Jabalpur in India. (AN photo)

Khan’s family was among the millions whose lives were thrown into turmoil by the partition of colonial India into two states, mainly Hindu India and mostly Muslim Pakistan, when British rule ended in 1947.

One of the biggest mass migrations in history was marred by violence and bloodshed as about 15 million Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs swapped countries in a political upheaval that cost more than a million lives.

Muhammad Akram Khan, a 104-year-old transporter who migrated from Jabalpur in India after the independence of Pakistan 75 years ago, shares with Arab News his story of partition at Frere Hall, Karachi on August 2, 2022. (AN photo)

Before partition, Khan, now 104 years old, recalled that his family lived in harmony with Hindu neighbours and the young man’s best friend was a neighbour called Shankar Lal. But in the months running up to the partition of India on August 14, Khan said he began to feel unsafe and started convincing his reluctant father to leave for Pakistan.

“I’m alive today but tomorrow they’ll kill me,” he said, quoting his words to his father. “All young men will be killed if we don’t leave.”

When the family eventually left, they took the route of Khokhrapar, a border town situated in Tharparkar District in Sindh, considering it safer compared to Punjab province where much of the violence was taking place. With death looming over him, Khan walked for miles and miles with his family, often carrying his disabled mother on his shoulders, until they made it safely to the other side. 

The Sikh personnel who checked the family’s luggage at the border were kind, he said, and the Sikh and Hindus they met along the way, who were en route India, also didn’t show hate.

But the ordeal didn’t end there.

Muhammad Akram Khan, a 104-year-old migrant, chats with his sons and grandchildren in Karachi, Pakistan, on August 2, 2022. (AN photo)

In Pakistan “there was no shade,” Khan said, and his family had to wait a whole day to catch a train to Karachi. At first, the family lived in a small house owned by a relative, before moving to a shanty for several years. Finally, at a cost of Rs2,400, the government allotted them two small quarters in Karachi's Korangi area.

Muhammad Akram Khan, a 104-year-old transporter who migrated from Jabalpur in India after the independence of Pakistan 75 years ago, shares with Arab News his story of partition at Frere Hall, Karachi on August 2, 2022. (AN photo)

It took Khan a few months to grasp the new reality of his life, but he ultimately resumed the scrap business after selling the 12 kilograms of gold the family had brought with them from Madhya Pradesh and eventually bought cycle-rickshaws to launch a transportation business.

“I earned and built bungalows,” Khan said, smiling. “I have constructed 25 to 30 houses, all through my hard work.”

The centenarian said he had lived a full life, tying the knot four times.

“Now at my home there are 200 people,” he said smiling. His eldest daughter is in her 90s and youngest is 14 years old.  

Though he does not regret his decision to migrate to Pakistan, Khan said he was distressed by the country’s ever worsening economic situation.

“We dreamt of a great Pakistan,” he said. “We wanted young people to be honest, hardworking and respectful toward their parents and country.”

Khan got his passport a few decades ago and had a strong urge to return to Jabalpur to meet old friends. The dream of traveling back to India, however, has not come true.

“I don’t think I will be able to go now since my eyes don’t open,” he said, wistfully. “In any case, who am I going to meet there after so much time has passed?”

Norwegian woman climber on track to break 'super peaks' record

Updated 45 min 25 sec ago

Norwegian woman climber on track to break 'super peaks' record

  • Kristin Harila successfully summit Pakistan's Gasherbrum I on Thursday  
  • Pakistan has enjoyed a record-breaking climbing season this year

ISLAMABAD: Norwegian climber Kristin Harila has just three mountains left in her bid to climb the world's 14 "super peaks" in record time after successfully summiting Pakistan's Gasherbrum I, officials said Thursday.
Nepali Nirmal Purja holds the record for climbing the world's 8,000 meter-plus (26,000 feet) mountains -- six months and six days -- but Harila now has until early November to complete her quest and beat his time.
Harila's latest successful summit was reported on her official social media pages and confirmed by Karrar Hadri, secretary of Pakistan's Alpine Club.
"The second phase in Pakistan was very challenging and dangerous: ever-changing weather conditions, being hit by a rock, illness and a very tight schedule," read a message on Harila's Instagram page.
"But here we are with only three peaks left."
Five of the 14 super peaks are in Pakistan -- including K2, the world's second highest mountain -- and the country has enjoyed a record-breaking climbing season this year.
Sajid Hussain, head of the tourism department in Gilgit Baltistan, told AFP they had issued about 1,780 permits for the top peaks.
"It has boosted our tourism and has increased our foreign exchange," he said.
Only around 40 people in history have summited all 14 of the super peaks, but none have come close to Purja's 2019 expedition.
He demolished the previous record for accomplishing the feat with supplemental oxygen, set by Poland's Jerzy Kukuczka in the 1980s at seven years, 11 months and 14 days.
In an interview with AFP earlier this year, 36-year-old Harila said she was inspired to show women were as capable as men of achieving great mountaineering feats.
"In history and until now, it has been the strong macho men going out climbing mountains," she said.
"When I talk to people that are not in this sport, they believe that men are more capable than women... If we are going to change, we need to get attention and show that women are just as capable."
The three remaining mountains for Harila are Cho Oyu (sixth highest, in Nepal/China), Manaslu (eighth, Nepal) and Shishapangma (14th, China). 

Government in Pakistan’s northwest takes note of Taliban resurgence, pledges to ensure writ of state

Updated 11 August 2022

Government in Pakistan’s northwest takes note of Taliban resurgence, pledges to ensure writ of state

  • Swat Valley was a former Pakistan Taliban bastion seized by Pakistan’s army in a major offensive in 2009
  • This week saw widespread reports of the return of the Pakistani Taliban to Swat and parts of Waziristan

PESHAWAR: A spokesperson for the government of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province said on Thursday the local administration had taken notice of a protest against reports of the return of a banned militant outfit to the area, ensuring the public that the government would ensure it write.

Swat Valley was a former Pakistan Taliban bastion seized by Pakistan’s army in a major offensive in 2009. During a reign of terror under the Taliban before the military operation, militants decapitated people and tied the heads to the victim’s feet. Bodies were left hanging by telephone poles and for days no one was allowed to take them down for burial.

This week, there have been widespread reports of the return of the Pakistani Taliban, also known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, to Swat and parts of Waziristan.

“The provincial government has already taken notice following a security incident in Swat and a sit-in by tribesmen in the country’s restive North Waziristan tribal district,” KP government spokesman Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif told Arab News on Thursday.

“The province’s top police officer, district administration and security officials are in Swat to address reservations of people regarding the presence of some armed men in remote mountains. We’ll ensure writ of the government at every cost because our security officials have already rendered matchless sacrifices for peace there.”

The reports of the resurgence of the Taliban come as the government of Pakistan and the TTP are holding peace talks to end violence in the country, with the latest round of negotiations held last month in Kabul and mediated by the Afghan Taliban who rule Afghanistan.

The TTP, which has carried out some of the bloodiest attacks in Pakistan since 2007, is not directly affiliated with the Afghan Taliban.

Swat police spokesperson Moin Fayyaz said a search operation by Swat police was being conducted in remote areas, including Kabal and Khwazkhela, to purge the region of” miscreants” who two days ago opened fire at a police party, leaving a senior police officer wounded.

For the past several days, an unverified video has been making the rounds on social media, showing security officials, including a senior police officer, in the captivity of militants. The hostages were later released on the mediation of tribal elders in the area, according to media reports.

Zahid Khan, an elder and social worker from Swat, told Arab News the presence of militants had been observed in the Kanala and Balasoor mountainous regions of Swat, who were threatening well-off people, traders and contractors to pay extortion money.

“We’ve summoned a grand jirga on August 17 of all tribes in Mingora, the main town in Swat, in which we will develop consensus on how to deal with emerging threats posed by militancy,” Khan added.

In 2009, thousands of families in Swat were forced to flee to safer areas after authorities asked people to leave their homes following a military operation against militants there.

“We can’t afford to leave our homes again and live a refugee life in other districts. We’ll offer stout resistance against any eventuality,” Khan added.

Jamal Dawar, a tribal elder from the North Waziristan tribal district, said that a sit-in staged by thousands of tribesmen has entered its 26th day, closing all main arteries of the district including a route leading to the Pak-Afghan Ghulam Khan border.

He said the protesters were demanding security following a sharp rise in targeted killings in the restive district.

“We’re just told that a high level delegation of all political parties including government and security officials will meet the protesters in Edak, a village where the sit-in is underway, to address our prime demand of security and getting rid of targeted killings,” Dawar added.

According to a notification, a copy of which was seen by Arab News, the federal government has constituted a committee comprising senior political leaders to meet tribesmen in North Waziristan district and address their concerns.

“The formation of a committee by the federal government to meet protesters in North Waziristan is nothing but a political gimmick and political point-scoring,” the KP spokesperson said. “The provincial government is already in contact with the elders of the district to address their legitimate issues.”

PM Sharif hopes GSP+ trade status will continue for Pakistan beyond 2023

Updated 11 August 2022

PM Sharif hopes GSP+ trade status will continue for Pakistan beyond 2023

  • European Union is Pakistan’s second biggest trade partner
  • Pakistan’s GSP+ status is set to expire on December 31, 2023

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Thursday he hoped the European Union's (EU) preferential trade arrangement with Pakistan known as the GSP+ would continue beyond 2023.

Sharif was meeting with Dr. Riina Kionka, the newly appointed Ambassador of the European Union to Pakistan.

The Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) was first institutionalized in 1971 and has since been a trade and development policy instrument which allows the EU to remove duties from products exported by vulnerable developing countries.

Under the GSP+ status, designated countries get special access to the European market after making commitments to implement several international conventions on human rights, environmental protection and governance.

Pakistan’s GSP+ status is set to expire on December 31, 2023.

In a meeting with ambassador Kionka PM Sharif underlined that Pakistan attached "high importance" to its relations with the EU, as well as its historically close and cooperative bilateral ties with EU member states.

“He [PM Sharif] credited the current GSP Plus scheme with enhancing the mutually beneficial trading ties between Pakistan and EU and hoped that Pakistan would continue to be part of the arrangement beyond 2023,” a statement from the PM Office said.

The EU is Pakistan’s second biggest trade partner, accounting for 14.3 percent of the country’s total trade in 2020 and absorbing 28 percent of its total exports.

“Prime Minister expressed the confidence that the upcoming visits to Pakistan by the EU Parliamentary delegations as well as the next rounds of political and security Dialogues under EU-Pakistan Strategic Engagement Plan would pave the way for more substantive cooperation between the two sides,” the statement added.

“Dr. Riina Kionka thanked the Prime Minister for receiving her and expressed her resolve to work for further deepening of EU-Pakistan relations during her tenure in Islamabad,” the statement said. 

Last year in April, the European Parliament moved a resolution against Pakistan, seeking an immediate review of its eligibility for GSP+ status over what it called violence and discrimination against religious minorities and other vulnerable groups, as well as a crackdown on media.

Spain evacuates 294 more Afghan workers and families through Pakistan 

Updated 11 August 2022

Spain evacuates 294 more Afghan workers and families through Pakistan 

  • Group included who had worked for or helped Spanish government officials and Spanish troops 
  • Government will continue to bring former Afghan workers and their families, says Spanish foreign minister

MADRID: A plane provided by the Spanish government has brought 294 Afghan refugees via Pakistan to Spain, authorities said Thursday, bringing to 3,900 the number of people evacuated by Madrid since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last year.

A government statement said the latest group of Afghan workers and their families flew into an air base near Madrid late Wednesday and were met by government officials, including Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister José Albares.

“This flight is further evidence that we are keeping our commitment to not leave anyone behind,” Albares said in the statement.

The group included people who had worked for or helped Spanish government officials and Spanish troops stationed in Afghanistan before the Taliban takeover.

The statement said Spain has carried out five evacuation operations over the past year.

Albares told Spanish National Television on Thursday that the government will continue to bring former Afghan workers and their families to Spain, but for security reasons he couldn't say how many.

Spain launched the flights to bring workers who hadn’t been able to leave Afghanistan during the airlift operation in August 2021, when it pulled out about 2,200 Spaniards and Afghans via Kabul’s airport.