Pakistan goes against IMF’s recommendation, retains fuel subsidies

Employees at a fuel station attend to their customers in Islamabad, Pakistan, on February 16, 2022, after a hike in prices of petroleum products. (AFP/File)
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Updated 02 May 2022

Pakistan goes against IMF’s recommendation, retains fuel subsidies

  • The IMF said recently Pakistan was willing to roll back unfunded subsidies to oil, power sectors
  • Local media says fuel subsidies will cost Rs40 billion to Pakistan in the next two weeks

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Saturday went against the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) recommendation to do away with subsidies and kept the fuel and power prices in the country unchanged. 

The IMF said on Monday Pakistan had agreed to roll back unfunded subsidies to the oil and power sectors ahead of the resumption in May of a review under the $6 billion loan program signed in July 2019. 

However, the finance ministry said on Saturday that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had rejected a summary by the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) to increase the prices of petroleum products and directed it to keep them unchanged. 

"In the fortnightly review of petroleum products' prices, the prime minister has rejected the proposal of OGRA for increase in prices of petroleum products and directed to maintain the prices of petroleum products at the current level so as not to burden the consumers with the hike in prices," the finance ministry said in a statement. 

An IMF mission is due to arrive in Pakistan this month to resume discussions over policies for completing the seventh review of the country’s Extended Fund Facility (EFF). 

Islamabad has already asked the international financial institution to increase the size and duration of the EFF program. 

“We have asked the IMF to extend the EFF from three to four years,” Pakistan's Finance Minister Miftah Ismail said late last month. 

He said he had checked Pakistan’s remaining quota relating to the IMF’s special drawing rights (SDR), adding that it amounted to $2 billion. 

“So, we have also requested the IMF to increase [the overall loan program] by $2 billion,” Ismail said. 

If the country manages to clear the IMF review, Pakistan will get more than $900 million and unlock additional sources of external funding. 

According to the local media, the decision to maintain fuel prices will put extra financial burden on the state. A report in Dawn newspaper said on Sunday the government would pay Rs40 billion to oil companies in the next two weeks to offset the growing price differential claims (PDCs). 

Soaring fuel prices in Pakistan have also contributed to growing inflation. Former prime minister Imran Khan and his government had faced backlash over rising fuel prices before being driven out of power in a no-confidence vote. 

The situation has not improved much as Pakistan’s statistics bureau said on Sunday the country’s CPI inflation rose to a two-year high of 13.37 percent in April compared to the same month last year. 

Annual inflation accelerated to 12.7 percent in March, marking a 1.61 percent monthly rise in April.

In a first, women avail free-of-cost bus service in Pakistan’s north

Updated 8 sec ago

In a first, women avail free-of-cost bus service in Pakistan’s north

  • Three 44-seater buses will cover routes in Gilgit and Skardu, official
  • GB government says will triple number of buses by January or February 2023

KARACHI: In a first, women in Pakistan’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) region availed a free-of-cost bus service on Wednesday, dedicated exclusively for women’s transport. 

GB Chief Minister Khalid Khurshid launched the ‘Pink Bus Service’ on Tuesday, October 4 to ensure women could avail free and safe transport in the region. 

“It’s a first in the history of Pakistan that a free-of-cost bus service has been launched for women in Gilgit-Baltistan,” Mohyuddin Ahmad Wani, GB chief secretary, told Arab News in a telephonic conversation on Wednesday. 

Wani said it took him only 10 days to launch the service, from conceiving the idea to its execution. “We renovated the buses we already had, but I plan to buy new ones in the future,” he added. 

Wani recalled how he disliked seeing young women suffer as they waited for transport on various roads in GB to commute in the mornings. He said males were forced to drop women at various locations and as a result, had to pay fares for multiple people. 

“The Pink Bus Service improves access, reduces financial burden and provides security,” he explained. “It is spacious with 44 seats and covers 80 percent of the routes while it will be operating in rush hours,” Wani added. 

Delving into the details of the project, Wani said three buses will travel in the Gilgit and Skardu regions. He said the government plans to expand the service to more areas in the region. 

Buses will travel twice a day and between four routes. The Pink Bus Service timings are 06:00 am to 09:00 am and then from 01:00 p.m. to 03:00 pm. 

“Students, doctors, teachers, lawyers, and women from various fields of work will benefit from the service,” Wani said. “I have directed the traffic police to facilitate these buses on the roads and I am gathering feedback from women using the service to be able to expand the service,” he added. 

“I will triple the number and routes by January or February 2023,” Wani said. 

He said women who attended the inauguration and used the buses felt comfortable and secure. 

“There has never been such an initiative or a bus service for the general public [in Gilgit Baltistan], let alone women,” Muheen Zaman, a 23-year-old journalist, told Arab News. 

“Women in GB used taxis or Suzuki [vehicles] to commute which is quite unsafe and expensive. It’s a good initiative from the GB government,” Zaman added. She hails from GB’s Ghizer District. 

Journalist Kiran Qasim, 29, told Arab News women often faced harassment while commuting in vans as two women often had to share the front seat with the driver. 

Qasim, who is from Gilgit, said while no action was taken against harassment complaints, it is a relief that women can now travel safely in spacious buses. “The routes are also quite good as women have long commutes for work so they can have a comfortable ride,” she added. 

While the bus was launched officially yesterday, the service has begun its operations from today, Wednesday. 

Shereen Karim, a freelance journalist based in GB, appreciated the initiative. However, she said the timings aren’t suitable for professionals other than teachers. 

“The timings aren’t suitable for working women; these timings, I suppose, are fixed for college and university students,” Karim told Arab News. 

“So, it’s a good facility for students who cannot afford transport but not for working women. It would be good if the timings can be extended,” she added.

In tent classroom, teachers in flooded Pakistani valley race to keep kids at school

Updated 7 min 56 sec ago

In tent classroom, teachers in flooded Pakistani valley race to keep kids at school

  • Floods destroyed 3,000 schools in Balochistan, locking nearly 390,000 students out of the classroom
  • 400 children of Government Boys School in Hanna Urak are attending classes in makeshift tents

QUETTA: As they stood up when their white-bearded maths professor entered a tent on Teacher’s Day on Wednesday, students in flood devastated Urak valley showed their respect not only for his role in their education, but in getting them back to class. 

The sole Government Boys School in Hanna Urak, some 40 km Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, was destroyed when the floods, caused by abnormal monsoon rains and glacial melt, have submerged huge swathes of the South Asian country since mid-June. 

The southwestern province was one of the worst hit by the deadly floods, which destroyed homes and more than 3,000 schools, locking nearly 390,000 students out of the classroom. 

In Urak, children could not return to their damaged school when floodwaters subsided. And as the building is no longer usable, many parents gave up on their education, asking them to help rebuild their ruined households instead. 

Students of the primary standard take classes in tents in Government Boys High School Hanna Urrak in Balochistan Pakistan on October 5th, 2022. (AN Photo)

As concerns are already rising of a lost generation of Pakistani children, who again are unable to reach the classroom after already missing out on schooling during the coronavirus pandemic, the maths teacher, Abdul Aleem, reached out to their parents to allow them to attend classes in tents. 

“I believe education in bad circumstances is better than stopping the children from school,” he told Arab News. 

“We have met the parents and students to convince them to education, and resumed the classes.” 

A teacher seen studying his students in a tent class in Government Boys High School Hanna Urrak in Balochistan Pakistan on October 5th, 2022. (AN Photo)

As most of the parents have agreed and classes resumed last month, Aleem who has been teaching for the past four decades, said it kept his “hopes alive for the educational future of our country.” 

Nadeem Shair Tareen, the school’s principle said he knows that it is hard now for the students and was doing his best to make sure they do not drop out. 

The children know it and they appreciate the efforts. 

The secondary students seen taking their class in Government Boys High School Hanna Urrak in Balochistan Pakistan on October 5th, 2022. (AN Photo)

“The teachers in this school are concerned about the students,” Sohail Khan, a Grade 10 student, one of the school's 400 pupils, told Arab News. 

“Despite the lack of classrooms, we have been getting an education.” 

During army chief’s US visit, Islamabad and Washington agree to improve ties through trade, investment

Updated 05 October 2022

During army chief’s US visit, Islamabad and Washington agree to improve ties through trade, investment

  • General Qamar Javed Bajwa is in US on a week-long visit to discuss bilateral ties and regional security
  • Washington has over the years worked closely with Pakistani army chiefs alongside civilian governments

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa met top US military and security officials during a week-long visit to Washington, with both sides agreeing on the need to boost bilateral ties by improving economic cooperation, trade and investment.

Washington has over the years worked closely with Pakistani army chiefs alongside civilian governments.

On Tuesday, Gen Bajwa called on US defense secretary General Lloyd James Austin III (Retired), national security adviser Jacob Jeremiah Sullivan, and deputy secretary of state Wendy Ruth Sherman.

“Both sides agreed that Pakistan-US have long history of bilateral cooperation and shall continue improving through economic ties, trade and investment,” the Pakistan army’s media wing said in a statement.

“Both sides had convergence on major international issues including Afghanistan and need for cooperation to avoid humanitarian crisis and improving peace and stability in the region.”

The army chief thanked the US for its assistance in the aftermath of recent floods and condoled over death and devastation in a hurricane in Florida.

Last month, Pentagon announced the US State Department had approved the potential sale of F-16 aircraft sustainment and related equipment to Pakistan in a deal valued at up to $450 million. The State Department subsequently said the equipment would sustain Pakistan’s “capability to meet current and future counterterrorism threats.”

The US-built F-16 aircraft are a critical part of the military arsenal of Pakistan, whose arch-rival India worries that the fleet could be used against it by its neighbor.

Officially for years allies in fighting terrorism, Pakistan and the United States have had a complicated relationship, bound by Washington’s dependence on Pakistan to supply its troops in Afghanistan but plagued by accusations Islamabad was playing a double game.

Tensions grew that militants that targetted American troops in Afghanistan were long allowed to shelter on Pakistani soil. Islamabad denies this.

Investment, climate cooperation with US key to reducing Pakistan’s growing reliance on China — study

Updated 05 October 2022

Investment, climate cooperation with US key to reducing Pakistan’s growing reliance on China — study

  • Study group released its findings during a visit to Washington by the head of Pakistan’s powerful military
  • Says US must move beyond leveraging aid to change Pakistan’s policies, a tactic that has been a proven failure

WASHINGTON: The United States needs to keep engaging Pakistan despite lingering distrust over Afghanistan, with investment and climate cooperation key to reducing the South Asian nation’s growing reliance on China, a study group recommended Tuesday.

The group released its findings during a visit to Washington by the head of Pakistan’s powerful military, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, a week after a trip by the civilian foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

The study group, which did not involve the US government, included scholars and former US ambassadors to Pakistan Ryan Crocker, Cameron Munter and Robin Raphel, along with Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador in Washington.

Pakistan and the United States were partners in the Cold War and, officially, in the Afghanistan war. But American officials lost patience with Islamabad which they suspected of quietly maintaining support for the Taliban, who triumphed as US troops withdrew last year.

“Instead of allowing existing differences to define the partnership, it may be time to recognize that both sides need to understand the other’s interests so that they can then find a way to work on areas of mutual concern,” the study group said.

The United States must move beyond leveraging aid to change Pakistan’s policies, a tactic that has been a proven failure.

Islamabad, in turn, needs to accept “that all of Pakistan’s problems, especially terrorism and militancy, cannot be laid at the door of the US.”

Pakistan has forged increasingly close relations with China, triggering warnings from the United States that Beijing — seen as Washington’s key global competitor — will saddle the economically troubled nation with debt.

The study group said that after previously linking the Pakistan relationship to Afghanistan or its historic rival India, the United States should avoid now seeing ties through the lens of China.

Instead, the United States can “help build Pakistan’s capacity for transparency and compliance” on Chinese loans and can reduce reliance on China by encouraging investment by US companies and others, it said.

The United States can also focus on building climate resilience — a key challenge for Pakistan, which was recently devastated by floods.

While the United States wants to step back from Afghanistan, the study group said the need for counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan “has if anything increased” due to the loss of US intelligence assets on the ground.

“While Pakistan and the US often fail to see eye-to-eye when it comes to Afghanistan, China, or India, they do share mutual interests in seeking stability in the region, combatting the problem of extremism and averting armed conflict in nuclear South Asia,” it said.

Two Pakistani soldiers, 7 militants killed in shootouts 

Updated 04 October 2022

Two Pakistani soldiers, 7 militants killed in shootouts 

  • First firefight happened near Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province
  • Separately, troops killed four militants in northwestern town of Tank in overnight raid

PESHAWAR: Militants with small arms attacked a convoy of Pakistani security forces near the northwest border with Afghanistan, triggering an intense shootout that killed two soldiers and three insurgents, the military said Tuesday.
The firefight happened near Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The military provided no further details and the identities of the slain insurgents were not known.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
Separately, in an overnight raid, troops killed four militants in Tank, a northwestern town that also borders Afghanistan, the military said. It provided no further details.
Mohammad Khurasani, a spokesperson for the Pakistani Taliban, said the four men killed in Tank were their “holy warriors.” In a statement, he said such military raids indicate that the government and its institutions do not want peace in Pakistan.
The Pakistani Taliban are a separate group but are allies of the Afghan Taliban, who seized power in Afghanistan more than a year ago as the US and NATO troops were in the final stages of their pullout.
The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has emboldened the Pakistani Taliban, who are known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP. 
A monthslong cease-fire between the TTP and Pakistan is intact.
Although the Taliban in Afghanistan have encouraged Islamabad and the TTP to reach a peace agreement, talks between the two sides that started in May have not had results.