Taliban call to unfreeze assets abroad ahead of OIC ‘extraordinary’ meeting in Pakistan

Afghan currency exchange dealers carry out their tasks after money exchange market reopens for business in Kabul on September 5, 2021. (AFP/File)
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Updated 17 December 2021

Taliban call to unfreeze assets abroad ahead of OIC ‘extraordinary’ meeting in Pakistan

  • US and allied countries suspended billions of dollars in international aid and froze $9.5 billon in Afghan central bank assets 
  • Meeting of foreign ministers from Islamic countries will be held in Islamabad on December 19 to discuss Afghan humanitarian crisis

KABUL: The continued US freeze on Afghan central bank assets is the main cause of Afghanistan’s deepening economic crisis, its finance ministry has said, as the country is on the brink of a mass starvation.
Afghanistan’s economy plunged into free-fall when its Western-backed administration fled the country in mid-August as the Taliban took control when US-led foreign troops withdrew from the country after 20 years.
The takeover prompted the US and allied countries to suspend billions of dollars in international assistance. The US froze some $9.5 billon in Afghan central bank assets and imposed sanctions on the Taliban, isolating the country from the global financial system and paralyzing its banks.
As assistance to the country’s aid-dependent economy has been suspended for nearly four months now and the new rulers have no access to its foreign reserves, UN agencies estimate 22.8 million Afghans, over half the population, are expected to face life-threatening levels of food insecurity.
A meeting of foreign ministers from Islamic countries will be held in Islamabad on December 19 to discuss the humanitarian crisis facing Afghanistan. The extraordinary meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will include delegations from the European Union and the so-called P5 group of the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China also invited.
"The frozen assets are the main reason behind this economic crisis in Afghanistan. If the international community unfreezes the money, all problems would be solved," Ahmad Wali Haqmal, finance ministry spokesman, told Arab News earlier this week.
“I must say that $9 billion of international assets frozen made the situation so hard, and the financial system of Afghanistan is worsening,” he said, adding that the freeze has “no legal justification and is against international principles and laws.”




Men gather outside the entrance gate of bank to withdraw money in Kabul, Afghanistan, on September 14, 2021. (AFP/File)

As the international community has not recognized the Taliban interim government, Western donors have grappled with questions how to provide aid without granting the new regime legitimacy or putting money directly into the Taliban government’s hands.
But Haqmal said the frozen assets do not belong to Taliban authorities but to the Afghan people.
“The money belongs to the Afghanistan people, and we hope that this money will be given back to its owners without any conditions,” he said, expressing hope that progress will be made during a next round of meetings with US officials.
Taliban delegates discussed the issue with Washington representatives during two-day sessions in Doha, Qatar, last week.
“Some agreements were also made to step up the unfreezing of these assets, and we hope that we can manage another round of talks in this regard in the near future,” Haqmal said. “We are hopeful that during the forthcoming round of negotiations we would make more progress about this issue.”
As the date for the next round of talks has not been announced yet by any of the parties, across Afghanistan, millions of people have gone months without steady incomes while the prices of food have soared beyond the reach of most of them.
The country has suffered from food shortages for decades, but without aid and access to its foreign reserves the crisis has drastically worsened.
According to UN agencies, 30 percent more Afghans faced crisis-level food shortages in September and October compared with the same period last year.
The number of affected people is expected to hit a record high in the coming months as the country’s worst drought in decades has dwindled this year’s wheat harvests.


In rare move, court orders ex-PM Khan aide’s police remand for another two days

Updated 11 sec ago

In rare move, court orders ex-PM Khan aide’s police remand for another two days

  • Dr. Shahbaz Gill was arrested last Tuesday over televised comments media regulator says were ‘seditious’
  • Senior PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry seeks judicial inquiry into alleged torture of Gill during police custody

ISLAMABAD: A local court in the federal capital on Wednesday remanded Dr. Shahbaz Gill, a senior Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader and former prime minister Imran Khan’s chief of staff, in police custody for two days for investigation in a sedition case.

Gill was arrested last Tuesday afternoon, a day after he made a controversial comment in a talk show aired by a private news channel, asking army officers not to follow orders of their top command if they were “against the sentiments of the masses.”

The country’s national media regulator described the statement as “seditious” and said it was tantamount of inciting revolt within the military. The regulator also issued a show-cause notice to the channel, ARY News, for airing the “illegal” content. The channel has since been off air. 

Last Friday, after Gill had been in police custody for two days, the court sent him to jail on judicial remand, rejecting a request by the police to extend the suspect’s physical remand. Islamabad Advocate General Jahangir Khan Jadoon filed a plea in the Islamabad High Court on Saturday last week challenging the order and saying the physical remand of Gill was important to help complete the investigation.

Prosecutor Raja Rizwan Abbasi on Wednesday urged the court to allow physical remand of the suspect as investigators have yet to recover his mobile phone and conduct a polygraph test. In a rare move, the court accepted the demand for another round of police remand. 

“We are yet to investigate the person who approved the script [of what Gill said on TV show],” Abbasi told district and session judge Zeba Chaudhry during the hearing.

Gill’s counsel Barrister Salman Safdar opposed the prosecution’s plea for physical remand and said he had already faced torture by police last week.

“Shahbaz Gill has been tortured in police custody,” Safdar said, referring to a previous period of physical remand, adding that Gill was blindfolded when subjected to torture: “Even his private parts were tortured in custody.”

After hearing arguments from both the sides, the judge first reserved the verdict and later announced that Gill should be handed over to police on physical remand for 48 hours.

Meanwhile, senior PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry called for an independent inquiry.

“A judicial inquiry should be conducted and an independent board should be constituted on which both Shahbaz Gill and prosecution have the trust,” he told reporters.

PTI chairman Imran Khan wrote on Twitter he was “very concerned about Shahbaz Gill being sent into police remand again.”

“He is in a fragile state of mental & physical health because of the torture inflicted on him when he was abducted & taken to undisclosed location & then again at the police station,” Khan said.


Pakistan to host ten international cricket teams over next 4 years

Updated 37 min 4 sec ago

Pakistan to host ten international cricket teams over next 4 years

  • Cricket-obsessed Pakistan will also host Asia Cup and Champions Trophy during this period
  • Pakistan has struggled to convince international players to visit since attack on Sri Lanka team in 2009

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will host ten test playing nations between 2023 and 2027, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said on Wednesday as it unveiled the country’s cricketing schedule under the next Future Tours Programme.

International cricket teams stopped visiting Pakistan after a 2009 attack on Sri Lankan players in Lahore and Pakistan hosted most bilateral international series in the UAE.

However, international matches partially resumed in May 2015, when Zimbabwe toured the South Asian country, followed by other international teams. 

Early this year, the Australian team visited Pakistan in February for their first cricket tour in nearly 24 years and later West Indies played three one day matches in Pakistan in June.

“The PCB has scheduled around 238 days of international cricket during the four-year period comprising 27 ICC World Test Championship fixtures (13 home and 14 away), 47 One-Day Internationals (26 home and 21 home) and 56 Twenty20 Internationals (27 home and 29 away),” PCB said in a statement.

“Pakistan’s FTP 2023-2027 reflects that it will play hosts to 10 out of 12 ICC Full Member nations for the first time in more than two decades.”

Pakistan will also host major cricket events like the Asia Cup and Champions Trophy. 

“Pakistan will host the Asia Cup 2023 and triangular series in February 2025 in the lead up to the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 and the ICC Champions Trophy 2025, respectively, it will play 11 T20Is against the Netherlands, Ireland and England in the build up to the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2024, which will be jointly hosted by the United States and the West Indies,” PCB said.

“I am sure that our cricket fans will be delighted to know that top-ranked and attractive sides such as Bangladesh, England, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the West Indies will visit Pakistan to compete in matches for the ICC World Test Championship,” PCB Chief Executive Faisal Hasnain said.


Pakistan fulfills another FATF condition, makes currency declaration mandatory for air travelers

Updated 17 August 2022

Pakistan fulfills another FATF condition, makes currency declaration mandatory for air travelers

  • No passenger will be able to board a flight or leave the airport without submitting the declaration form
  • The global financial watchdog praised Pakistan for implementing its recommendations in its last meeting

ISLAMABAD: The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of Pakistan has made it mandatory for all incoming and outgoing passengers to fill out a currency declaration form, said an official statement on Tuesday, to meet yet another requirement of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
Pakistan has been on the international watchdog’s “grey list” of countries since 2018 due to inadequate controls over money laundering and terrorism financing.
However, the country moved closer to exiting the list in recent months after implementing FATF recommendations to strengthen its financial system.
The Paris-based international watchdog also praised Pakistani officials for making substantial progress while saying its team would soon carry out an onsite visit of the country.
The CAA notification on Tuesday said no passenger would be allowed to board a flight or leave the airport without submitting the declaration.
“For inbound flights, airlines are required to ensure in-flight announcement by the flight crew for every inbound flight for submission of subject declaration wherein the passengers will mention the currency under the regulatory requirement of FATF,” the notification informed.
“The said declaration will be deposited at the customs counter before the immigration desk at international arrival,” it added.
The CAA said airline staff and travel agents should provide a copy of the declaration form to all potential passengers who intend to be on an outbound flight while booking their tickets.
“At check-in counters, airlines are directed to issue boarding pass only once the passenger has deposited the declaration with the them,” the notification added.


Pakistan's finance minister criticizes manufacturers for importing parts instead of building them

Updated 54 min 11 sec ago

Pakistan's finance minister criticizes manufacturers for importing parts instead of building them

  • Miftah Ismail says cellphone manufacturers were only adding five percent value to their products
  • He points out that automobile manufacturers had not exported cars to lucrative destinations in 30 years

ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue Miftah Ismail on Wednesday highlighted the structural problems of the country’s economy, saying that Pakistani companies preferred to import parts of their products instead of manufacturing them indigenously at home.

The government recently imposed a temporary ban on the import of luxury items since it was facing a massive current account deficit along with dwindling forex reserves and a rapidly depreciating currency.

The finance minister issued the statement against the same backdrop while addressing a conference of business leaders in the federal capital where he specifically mentioned the country’s cellphone and automobile manufacturers.

“We have given subsidies and 10 percent duty advantage to mobile industry to manufacture phones in Pakistan but their value addition is not more than five percent,” he said. “They get all of their parts from outside and only assemble them here. We have given double duty protection than its value addition and the same thing holds true for car manufacturing companies as well.”

Ismail noted that automobile manufacturers had been working in Pakistan for more than 30 years, but they had not exported vehicles worth a single dollar.

“Pakistani companies are selling inside the country only, though they should try to sell [their products] in rich markets of the United States, Europe and far eastern countries,” he added. “They sell locally to earn more profit because it is a protected market.”

The minister pointed out that out of Pakistan’s $30 billion exports, around $20 billion were generated by the textile sector.

“We import $80 billion worth of goods from abroad which is unsustainable,” he continued. “Our industries have to increase exports instead of only making local sales.”

Ismail also maintained that agriculture was the backbone of Pakistan’s economy, though he added it needed more innovation by adopting advanced Agri-Tech.

“My focus is to strengthen our agriculture as we have imported $450 million tons of wheat this year and more is still required,” he said.

The money spent on the import of wheat, the minister continued, could be used to support farmers and introduce latest technology in the sector.


Pakistani minister promises voting rights to overseas nationals while visiting Saudi Arabia

Updated 17 August 2022

Pakistani minister promises voting rights to overseas nationals while visiting Saudi Arabia

  • The interior minister met expats in Jeddah where he described overseas Pakistanis as country’s ‘assets’
  • The kingdom is home to the highest number of Pakistanis living abroad, making it the biggest source of remittances

ISLAMABAD: Federal Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told a group of Pakistani nationals in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday the government was finalizing the modalities of voting process for citizens living abroad ahead of the next general elections that are scheduled to take place in August next year.

The minister, who went to the kingdom to perform Umrah, met with representatives of Pakistani community in Jeddah where he described the overseas nationals as “the country’s assets.”

Saudi Arabia has the highest number of Pakistani expatriates, making it the top source of remittances for the South Asian country.

“The government will ensure that overseas Pakistanis manage to use their voting right in the coming elections,” the interior minister said, adding it was “finalizing the modalities of the voting procedure.”

Pakistan’s ruling coalition revoked the voting right of overseas Pakistanis in May by passing the Election Amendment Bill, 2022, which also prevented the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in general elections.

The country’s ousted prime minister Imran Khan’s administration sanctioned the use of EVMs during a joint parliamentary sitting in February, though its political rivals resisted the move and vowed to challenge it in the country’s top court.

“Overseas Pakistanis are our best national asset,” Sanaullah said. “Their remittances are key for the economic stability [of the country].”

Discussing the Pak-Saudi ties, the minister said the kingdom had always helped Pakistan in the most difficult of situations.

“We are grateful to the Saudi government for providing employment opportunities to Pakistani workers and professionals,” he added.