Pakistan tightens enforcement against smuggling after ban on luxury imports

A shopkeeper deals with customer at his mobile shop in Islamabad, Pakistan, on May 20, 2022. (AFP/File)
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Updated 24 May 2022

Pakistan tightens enforcement against smuggling after ban on luxury imports

  • The country recently banned import of luxury, non-essential items to save precious foreign exchange
  • Pakistan has been witnessing an increase in current account deficit, with rupee hitting historic lows

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government has increased enforcement against the smuggling of contraband items, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail said on Tuesday, days after the South Asian country banned luxury imports to stop the outflow of precious foreign exchange. 

Pakistan last week announced a complete ban on imported cars and non-essential items as its current account deficit continues to spiral out of control and foreign exchange reserves tumble, pushing the Pakistani rupee to historic lows against the US dollar. 

The banned items include imported cars, home appliances, cellular phones, home appliances, shoes, cosmetics, chocolates, among others. 

"As the government has banned the import of a few non-essential items, we fear that smuggling of these items will increase," Ismail said on Twitter.  

"Therefore, we have increased enforcement against professional khaipyas (bootleggers)." 

The minister, however, said that common citizens bringing in a few items from abroad would not be harassed. 

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Customs said in a statement it had increased enforcement at the Karachi airport to prevent smuggling of items, which had recently been banned by the government. 

As a result of heightened vigilance, it said, officials had seized hundreds of kilograms of food stuff and fruit as well as sanitary ware, used mobile phones and branded shoes. 

"The enforcement staff has been directed to ensure deterrence in future and to make sure that unscrupulous elements may not use air travel to circumvent the recently imposed ban," the Pakistan Customs added. 


Ex-PM Khan moves top court against law revoking voting rights of Pakistani expats

Updated 04 July 2022

Ex-PM Khan moves top court against law revoking voting rights of Pakistani expats

  • Khan enjoys widespread support among some nine million Pakistanis living abroad
  • Last November, Khan government passed a law allowing electronic vote counting

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman and former Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday filed a petition in the Supreme Court against recent amendments in election laws under which the voting rights of overseas Pakistanis through internet voting have been revoked.

The Pakistani parliament on June 9 passed the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2022, under which overseas Pakistanis cannot vote through i-voting and electronic voting machines (EVMs) will not be used in the next election, scheduled for August 2023.

“Khan, filing the petition through his lawyers, has made the federal government, Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), and National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) parties in the case,” Geo News reported.

Khan urged the court to declare the amendments “unconstitutional, ultra vires and void, ab initio and to strike down the same.”

“Direct the ECP and all relevant authorities to take necessary steps to give effect to the right of overseas Pakistanis to vote in all future elections, especially the upcoming general elections from their country of residence,” the petition reads.

It also asked the court to direct the Election Commission of Pakistan to grant necessary approvals and funds to the National Database and Registration Authority to develop a new i-voting system to be used in the next general election.

“Grant a continuing mandamus and supervise the process of putting in place a system for ensuring that overseas Pakistanis are able to cast their votes in all future elections, especially the upcoming general elections, from their country of residence,” the petition reads.

Last November, while Khan was still prime minister - he was ousted in April this year in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence - Pakistan's parliament passed a law allowing electronic vote counting despite furious protests from the opposition which said it had been pushed through by the government to rig the next election.

Khan’s government had for months been trying to pass the law that allowed overseas Pakistanis to cast their ballot online.

Ex-PM Khan enjoys widespread support among some nine million Pakistanis living abroad.

Pakistan has a history of parties alleging vote rigging after every election. Khan has said he believes electronic vote counting will ensure transparency.


IMF program on track, Pakistani finance minister says, refuting media reports

Updated 04 July 2022

IMF program on track, Pakistani finance minister says, refuting media reports

  • “No truth to it,” Miftah Ismail says about reports IMF program “further postponed” over dispute on “anti-corruption regulations”
  • Pakistan last week said it had received targets from IMF that once ratified would pave way for resumption of stalled bailout scheme

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani finance minister Miftah Ismail said on Monday talks to resume an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout program, suspended earlier this year, were “on track,” refuting media reports that the scheme had been postponed.

Pakistan last week said it had received economic and financial targets from the IMF that once agreed and ratified should pave the way for the lender to unlock a suspended $6 billion loan program.

Pakistan desperately needs the money to avert a balance of payment crisis that is being brought closer by the day as result of the sharp rise in global oil and commodity prices. Central bank foreign currency reserves have fallen dangerously low, and the economy is reeling from a sharp depreciation in the Pakistani rupee and double-digit inflation.

Pakistan entered the IMF program in 2019 spread over three years and three months, but with less than half the amount disbursed, the IMF suspended the bailout earlier this year after the previous prime minister, Imran Khan, announced unfunded subsidies for the oil and power sectors. Khan’s government was ousted in April.

A Pakistani news website reported on Monday the IMF program had been “further postponed and the point of dispute is the improvement of anti-corruption regulations.”

“I have been reading with some amusement all the tweets and stories about IMF program being postponed or delayed due to some anti-corruption law,” Ismail said on Twitter. “There is no truth to it. The IMF program is on track.”

 

Needing to get back in the IMF’s good graces, the new government, led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, has removed fuel subsidies, and made adjustments in a budget presented on June 10 that aimed at reducing the government’s fiscal deficit, which was one of the IMF’s key requirements.

Delivering an update following talks between Pakistani and IMF officials, Ismail said in a tweet last week that government had received the IMF’s Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies (MEFP) containing economic and fiscal targets under the seventh and eighth reviews of the program.

Having the two reviews completed at the same time raises the prospect of $1.9 billion being disbursed once the IMF board gives the all clear to resume the bailout program.


With fuel prices at record highs, Pakistani carpool app registers over 7,000 user within week

Updated 04 July 2022

With fuel prices at record highs, Pakistani carpool app registers over 7,000 user within week

  • Pakistan reported 21.3 percent inflation in June, a 13-year high, following an over 90% increase in fuel rates since May
  • Founder Mughira Irfan says carpooling expected to grow as inflationary outlook remains elevated for current fiscal year

KARACHI: A Pakistani startup offering online carpool service has received an “overwhelming” response in the wake of the recent fuel price hikes in the country, its founder said on Monday, with over 7,000 users signing up for the app in a week.

Last month, Pakistan reported 21.3 percent inflation, a 13-year high, following an over 90 percent increase in fuel rates since May 26.

Statistics show the rise in transportation costs contributed 61.46 percent to the overall inflation recorded in June this year.

“In the current circumstances, carpooling with enhanced security precautions is becoming an economically viable solution to the rising fuel costs,” Mughira Irfan, who launched the DriveLu app last Monday, told Arab News. 

“We have received overwhelming response from users that include both riders and drivers,” he added. “Within a week of its official launch, the number of users of the app went beyond 7,000. This was a number we expected to achieve after a few months.”

Irfan said he had started working on the idea when he was in university and had to travel on crowded buses.

“The idea was close to my heart because I used to face this issue during my university life,” he said. “I even waited for buses for more than an hour since they were mostly overcrowded.”

He recalled coming across people who offered him a ride for a nominal price.

“I realized there was a space here and people wanted to pick you up and give you rides for money,” Irfan said.

The startup founder said his idea was to turn a car into an asset that not only provided a safe commutation solution but also became an earning tool.

“The main goal was that if a vehicle was taken to the road, it should be an asset and help generate money,” he added. “The whole purpose was to bring down a driver’s fuel cost to zero and give him the opportunity to earn some additional income.”

Asked about the security of drivers and riders, he said they were both verified through their computerized national identity cards while an additional security button was also added to the app.

“We have addressed the issue of security because we think that carpooling now needs to be trusted by more people,” Irfan said. “We have the driver’s and rider’s CNIC information which is a must for both. Also, the vehicles’ registration information is always available with us. We even take CNIC numbers from single riders since there is no compromise on it.”

He said his team was also reaching out to the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA) for automation of the CNIC verification system.

“Currently we are manually doing this but our hope is that automation will reduce chances of error,” he said. “The embedded panic button in the app can also alert our monitoring team.”

The startup founder said he was planning to initially offer the service in Islamabad, Rawalpindi and their surrounding areas, adding that demand was also coming from other cities. 

As Pakistan’s inflationary outlook remains elevated for the current fiscal year, Irfan said he was hopeful the carpool idea would gain further traction. 

Pakistani startups have been on the global radar since 2021 when the country received about $365 million, accounting for over 60 percent of all deals completed by such firms within the past seven years.

The flow of funds also continued in the first two quarters of 2022, accounting for $266 million, according to Invest2Innovate and Alpha Beta Core data.


Coronavirus positivity rate rises, Pakistani officials urge caution as Eid Al-Adha nears

Updated 04 July 2022

Coronavirus positivity rate rises, Pakistani officials urge caution as Eid Al-Adha nears

  • Health minister says government “concerned” over increase in hospitalisation, positivity ratio
  • Says government mulling rolling out mass testing, particularly in major cities such as Karachi

ISLAMABAD: Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel on Monday expressed “concern” as Pakistan recorded 675 new coronavirus cases while the positivity ratio crossed 4.5 percent, data from the National Institute of Health (NIH) showed, urging caution ahead of the Eid Al-Adha holiday at the end of the week.

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

But over the past 24 hours, the national COVID positivity ratio had risen to 4.61% with 675 positive cases, nearly double the number at the start of last Monday, according to NIH data. Over 163 people were reported to be in critical care.

 

 

“The government is concerned over increase in hospitalisation and positivity rate over the last few days,” the minister told reporters. “Our average deaths are between 1.5 percent and the average number of patients on ventilators is five.”

Health ministry data shows the daily positivity rate registered a sharp decline from the peak 13 percent on January 22 to 0.37 percent on April 12 but started picking up again in June.

The minister said the government feared the rate could spike further with two religious festivals, Eid al-Adha and Muharram, coming up.

However, he said hospitals had enough ventilators, and ruled out smart or localized lockdowns.

“I guess this is not the appropriate time for smart lockdown,” he said, adding that 86 percent of the eligible population above 12 years of age was partially vaccinated while the government was administering at least one million booster doses on average a day.

Since the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in February 2021, Pakistan has fully vaccinated over 127 million individuals aged 12 years and above and administered 272 million doses in total so far.  More than 25.77 million people have also received a booster dose.

Talking about Karachi where the daily positivity was recorded at 20.61 percent in the last 24 hours, Patel said the provincial government had been directed to increase the number of tests to ascertain the actual spread of the virus.

“Karachi is a congested city, they need to increase testing,” the minister said, adding that instructions were issued to all provincial governments to be ready for all kinds of emergencies, including setting up of isolation centres.

Pakistan disbanded the National Command and Operations Center, its main pandemic response body, on March 31 as infections fell to the lowest level since the outbreak began in 2020.

However, the South Asian country on May 23 reconstituted the NCOC at the NIH after health officials detected a new omicron sub-variant in a passenger arriving from Qatar.

Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) last week once again made it mandatory for all passengers on domestic flights to wear masks. Authorities are also urging eligible individuals to get booster vaccine shots.

Patel on Friday called masks "essential" during the upcoming Eid holiday, appealed to religious scholars to ensure social distancing at mosques and urged the public to avoid hugging and shaking hands during Eid.

Last Thursday, Pakistan issued fresh standard operating procedures (SOPs) for government office.

The NIH in a notification urged government staffers to avoid shaking hands and mandated wearing face masks and incorporating social distancing in seating plans and during prayers.

Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chaired a meeting to take stock of the coronavirus situation, urging masses to take precautions against the infection.

“The NCOC is closely monitoring the situation and we are prepared for any scenario,” Patel said on Monday, adding that the government was mulling rolling out mass testing, particularly in major cities such as Karachi.

Public health experts have also expressed concerns over the rise in the number of daily COVID-19 infections and suggested people get booster doses.

“The daily positivity trend clearly shows this [infections] will spike again in coming weeks,” Dr Javed Akram, a member of the government’s scientific task force on COVID-19, told Arab News. “The government should strictly enforce health guidelines in all public places to check the spread of the virus.”

“Everybody should get a COVID-19 booster dose after six months of being fully vaccinated to augment the immunity,” he said. “All vaccines are safe and effective, get any one of your choice to stay safe.”

President Dr. Arif Alvi also took to Twitter on Monday and stressed the implementation of COVID prevention rules during Eid.

 

 


Family vindicated, for now, as medical board says Dua Zehra Kazmi aged 15-16 years

Updated 04 July 2022

Family vindicated, for now, as medical board says Dua Zehra Kazmi aged 15-16 years

  • Kazmi says she is an adult who married 21-year-old Zaheer Ahmed of her own will
  • Kazmi's parents say she is a minor who was kidnapped from outside home in Karachi

KARACHI: A medical board on Monday declared a young Pakistani girl - who has said she eloped but whose parents say she was kidnapped from outside her Karachi home in April - to be aged 15-16 years, in a closely-watched case that has divided public opinion over which side was telling the truth.

The parents of Dua Zehra Kazmi, who had gone missing on April 16, say she is underage and was "kidnapped," but the girl told a Sindh High Court (SHC) judge last month she was not abducted and had married a man, Zaheer Ahmed, of her “free will.” The high court ruled on June 8 that Kazmi could decide her own fate and disposed of the case.

However, Kazmi's parents subsequently challenged the high court's verdict in the Supreme Court, which on June 25 ordered the formation of a new medical board to determine her age.

“The consensus opinion regarding the overall age of Ms. Dua Zehra d/o Syed Mehdi Kazmi is between fifteen to sixteen years nearer to fifteen years based on physical examination and dentition,” the medical board concluded in its report, a copy of which is available with Arab News.

The report, however, mentioned an "unusual discrepancy" in Kazmi's age on the basis of different examinations. It said she aged between 14 and 15 based on the physical examination, whereas the dentition evaluated on physical and OPG examination, a panoramic X-ray of the upper and lower jaws, including the teeth, suggested her age to be between 13 and 15.  Her bone age, however, was between 16-17 years.

At the time of her disappearance, Kazmi resided with her family in Pakistan's Sindh province, where the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013 prohibits the marriage of a child under the age of 18 and provides penalties for a male contracting party, the person who solemnizes the marriage as well as the parent or guardian concerned.

But in Punjab, where Kazmi married Ahmed, the legal age of marriage is 16.

Jibran Nasir, the lawyer who represents Kazmi's family, told Arab News the trial court would take up the case on Wednesday, but he would move the superior courts as well.

“The medical report has established that the family had rightly been saying that their child was 14-year-old,” he said. "We will soon move the superior courts too."

While the laws determine the legal age of marriage in both provinces, they are silent on the validity of nikah (marriage contract) of underage spouses, according to legal experts.  

In several cases over the last few years, the courts have separated underage couples and sent the girls to shelter homes but did not nullify the nikah.