‘Recipe for disaster’: Experts say political turmoil jolting economy as dollar hits historic low

Commuters try to make their along a road partially blocked with transport trucks placed by local authorities in Rawalpindi on May 25, 2022, as all roads leading into Pakistan's capital were blocked ahead of protest planned by ousted prime minister Imran Khan. (AFP)
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Updated 25 May 2022

‘Recipe for disaster’: Experts say political turmoil jolting economy as dollar hits historic low

  • Pakistan’s economic woes compounded by anti-government march to capital by ex-PM Imran Khan
  • Rupee closes at Rs201.92 against US dollar, stock market traded 300 points below previous closing

KARACHI: Political turmoil in Pakistan over an opposition long march and uncertainty about the revival of a $6 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) program are continuing to jolt the country’s local currency, as the rupee hit another historic low against the United States dollar on Wednesday, closing at Rs201.92.

Pakistan’s economic woes have been compounded by an anti-government march to the capital announced by former prime minister Imran Khan. Clashes between Khan’s supporters and law enforcers on Wednesday have dampened investor confidence, economists and experts said.

On Wednesday, the country’s stock market also traded 300 points below the previous closing.

“The political noise and delay in the IMF [deal] has been affecting investor confidence. This is why the stock market and rupee are falling. Clarity on both will help restore confidence,” Muhammad Sohail, CEO of the brokerage company Topline Securities, told Arab News. 

The rupee was expected to show some recovery after the Saudi minister of finance said on Tuesday the kingdom was finalizing extending a $3 billion deposit to Pakistan. 

“The market was expected to depict some positive sentiments [after Saudi announcement] but the current political situation overshadowed it,” Samiullah Tariq, director of research at the Pakistan Kuwait Investment Company, said.

Pakistani economists and financial experts said the current political turmoil in the country was wreaking havoc on an already fragile economy. 

“The mayhem created by the call for the long march, coupled with [the government’s] unwise and violent means to stop PTI supporters, are going to completely wreck the already rustic and dysfunctional economic ship of Pakistan,” Dr. Ikram ul Haq, a Lahore-based financial expert, told Arab News. 

“With foreign reserves left for less than two months and the rupee plunging to the lowest in history by crossing the psychological barrier of 200, the call for the long march and the way it is being handled, is going to provide a sure recipe for disaster,” he added. 

Economic experts also say a nearly $1.5 billion fuel and electricity subsidy announced by the last government of Khan was proving to be an “economic land mine” for the current administration.

“The current economic crisis, whether it relates to the delay in the IMF program and fiscal stress, is to a large extent created by the outgoing government which laid economic land mines in the form of petroleum subsidies,” Dr. Sajid Amin, Deputy Executive Director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), told Arab News.

“The current economic problems and political uncertainty have been inherited by the incumbent government but its indecisiveness has further compounded the situation,” he added. 

Pakistan is currently negotiating with the IMF to secure around $3 billion needed to stabilize its economy, marred by an ongoing political crisis, rising trade and fiscal deficit, and depleting foreign-exchange reserves, which at $10.2 billion, are not enough to cover even two months of imports. 

“The outgoing government, sensing that it was about to go, had announced the relief package to push the incoming government in troubling waters and [had also] frozen petroleum prices, which was not possible,” Amin said. “It has distorted the IMF program. Now the incumbent government is not removing the subsidies, fearing a political cost.”

Negotiations with the international money lender come at a time when Pakistan is battling the second-fastest inflation rate in Asia at 13.4 percent. To sail through the IMF deal, the country has to make the politically tough decision of raising fuel prices to ensure financial viability. 

“Already burdened with the unbearable fuel subsidy left by the PTI coalition government, those at the helm of affairs are making sure that the state loses its financial viability,” said Haq. 

Muzzamil Aslam, PTI’s spokesperson on finance, denied political rallies were destabilizing the economy. 

“It is the indecisiveness of the current government,” he said, “which is responsible for the economic turmoil.” 


England to tour Pakistan for first time in 16 years from September 15

Updated 16 sec ago

England to tour Pakistan for first time in 16 years from September 15

  • England and Wales Cricket Board security team expected in Pakistan later this month to assess arrangements
  • Tour originally scheduled to be played in Rawalpindi last October but England had called off their visit

ISLAMABAD: Lahore and Karachi are likely to host seven T20Is between Pakistan and England from September 15 to October 2, ESPN cricinfo reported on Monday, quoting the Pakistan Cricket Board chairman. 

PCB is yet to announce the fixtures for the series, which will be the first instance of England touring Pakistan in 16 years. 

The England and Wales Cricket Board’s three-member security team is expected to arrive in Pakistan later this month to assess arrangements, the cricket website said. 

The matches were originally scheduled to be played in Rawalpindi last October but England had called off their visit, following New Zealand doing the same at the last minute over security issues. 

Though Pakistan have Multan and Rawalpindi as other venues to consider, PCB chairman Ramiz Raja said the schedule is “very tight and we can’t go elsewhere.” 

The upcoming series is significant as England have not toured Pakistan since 2005 and two of Pakistan’s home series in 2012 and 2016 were forced to be played in the UAE. 

After England decided to withdraw their men’s and women’s teams from tours to Pakistan last year, Raja had hit out at cricket’s “western bloc.” 

The ECB cited bubble fatigue and “increasing concerns about traveling to the region” to pull out of the series. 

Following the series with England, Pakistan will depart for New Zealand on October 4 to participate in a T20I tri-series (also involving Bangladesh) in Christchurch from October 7 to 14.  

England, meanwhile, will return to Pakistan following the 2022 T20 World Cup for a three-Test series in November as part of the World Test Championship. 

England’s new white-ball captain Jos Buttler last week said he did not expect to have his best team available for the series due to fixture congestion. England’s red-ball players are unlikely to be available at the start of the limited-overs series in Pakistan, with England’s third Test against South Africa due to finish on September 12. 


Torrential rains kill seven, including women and children, in southwest Pakistan

Updated 8 min 33 sec ago

Torrential rains kill seven, including women and children, in southwest Pakistan

  • More than 300 mud houses were destroyed in Quetta after Monday’s downpours in southwestern Balochistan
  • Five people, including two young girls, went missing after a flash flood hit the city's Bhosa Mandi area

QUETTA: At least seven people, including women and children, were killed as torrential rains wreaked havoc in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan on Monday, officials said. 

The rains, which came with the onset of monsoon season in southwest Pakistan, destroyed hundreds of mud houses in the provincial capital of Quetta. 

In an alert this week, the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) said strong monsoon currents, which were likely to prevail for 10 days, could trigger flash floods in Balochistan and southern Sindh provinces. 

“Seven people, including three children and two women, were killed after monsoon rains hit Quetta city on July 04, 2022, while more than 300 mud houses collapsed in different neighborhoods of the city,” Naseer Khan Nasir, director-general of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), told Arab News. 

He said more than 13 people were injured in different rain-related incidents, while two young girls among five others had gone missing after a flash flood hit Bhosa Mandi area of the city. 

He said rescue teams were searching for the missing people, while the district administration was distributing relief goods among people affected by the downpours. 

Sevak Kumar, who hails from Thul area of Sindh, lost six of his family members after a wall collapsed on their tent accommodation on Quetta's Link Badini Road. 

“The family members were sitting inside the tent when the mud wall collapsed due to heavy rain,” said Kumar, who along with his family came to work as laborers. "The women and children were killed on the spot." 

The rains affected telecommunication and power supply remained suspended for more than nine hours as 53 out of 90 electricity feeders tripped across the city. 

Hameed Khan Awan, a Quetta Electricity Supply Company (QESCO) official, said supply through major feeders in the city had been restored, but nearly two dozen feeders were still not functional and QESCO staffers were working on them. 

“The rains caused a breakdown in the city as dozens of electricity pylons collapsed in different areas,” Awan said. "Efforts are now under way to restore supply to areas on the outskirts of Quetta." 

The Quetta district administration has established a flood emergency control room to monitor and address any emergency situation in the city and adjacent areas. 

According to the Met Office, Quetta has so far received 22 millimeters of rain. 

Provincial Minister Mir Zia Langove, who oversees the PDMA, said the government was making relief efforts during the monsoon spell. 

“PDMA teams have reached all major affected areas and distributed food and goods among people rendered homeless after Monday’s downpour,” he told reporters in Quetta. 


Pakistan arrests key suspect in Karachi bombing that killed three Chinese nationals

Updated 05 July 2022

Pakistan arrests key suspect in Karachi bombing that killed three Chinese nationals

  • The three Chinese nationals were killed after a woman suicide bomber blew herself up at Karachi University
  • CM Shah also meets a Chinese delegation, briefs on security arrangements for 3,637 Chinese nationals in Sindh

KARACHI: Pakistan police have arrested a key suspect in connection with an April bombing that killed three Chinese nationals at a university campus in the southern port city of Karachi, a senior police official said on Monday. 

The three Chinese nationals were among four people killed on April 26, when a woman suicide bomber blew herself up outside the Confucius Institute at Karachi University. The separatist Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) claimed responsibility for the attack. 

Militant groups based in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province have frequently targeted Chinese interests in the country, where Beijing has invested heavily in infrastructure projects that are part of a multibillion-dollar joint regional connectivity initiative, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). 

“In the in-depth investigation of the case, technical and ground sources have been utilized,” Sindh IG Ghulam Nabi Memon was quoted as saying, in a statement shared by the Sindh chief minister’s office. 

“With the efforts of the CTD Intelligence team, an important accused has been arrested. The details of the investigation have been shared with the Chinese concerned authorities.” 

The Sindh government spokesman, Murtaza Wahab, and senior police officials are due to share details of the arrest at a press conference in Karachi today, on Tuesday. 

Also at Monday’s meeting, CM Murad Ali Shah and a Chinese delegation, led by deputy director-general of China’s Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) Gao Fei, discussed security arrangements for Chinese nationals working in Sindh, according to the statement. 

The chief minister said his government had deployed 3,361 security men, including 1500 police, 517 army personnel, 173 Rangers, 28 Frontier Corps (FC) personnel and 1,143 private security guards, for the security of 3,637 Chinese nationals, who were working on eight CPEC projects in Sindh. 

“The Chinese delegation told the chief minister that they were technically strengthening CTD and the Special Branch of Sindh Police,” the statement read. 

The Karachi University bombing was the first major attack on Chinese nationals in Pakistan since last year, when a suicide bomber blew up a passenger bus, killing 13 people, including nine Chinese working on the Dasu Hydropower project in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. 

Beijing has pledged over $60 billion for infrastructure projects in Pakistan under the CPEC framework which is central to its initiative to rebuild a new “Silk Road” through land routes and sea lanes to connect with markets in the Middle East, Africa and Europe. 


Military leaders to brief Pakistani lawmakers on talks with local Taliban today

Updated 28 min 11 sec ago

Military leaders to brief Pakistani lawmakers on talks with local Taliban today

  • Over 100 lawmakers, officials will attend the in-camera briefing at Parliament House
  • Military officials likely to brief on negotiations with the outlawed Pakistani Taliban

Islamabad: Pakistan’s Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) will hold an in-camera meeting in Islamabad on Tuesday, the lower house of Pakistan parliament said, which will be briefed by top military officials on talks with the Pakistani Taliban. 

Over 100 lawmakers and officials would attend the meeting to discuss the negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban, or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is a separate movement that shares common roots with the militants that took power in Afghanistan last year, local media reported. 

The TTP, which has carried out some of the bloodiest attacks in Pakistan since 2007, on June 4 extended a cease-fire with the government for an indefinite period, after two days of talks with a delegation of Pakistani tribal elders that were facilitated by the Afghan Taliban. 

“6th in-camera meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security will be held on Tuesday, the 5th July 2022 at 3:00 p.m. in the Chamber of National Assembly, Parliament House,” the National Assembly, the lower house of Pakistan parliament, said on Twitter. 

“The agenda will include the Briefing on current issues of National Security.” 

Last month, Pakistan’s top civil and military leadership after a meeting in Islamabad agreed that talks with the Pakistani Taliban were taking place within the ambit of the constitution and any decision on negotiations with the outlawed group would be taken with parliament’s approval. 

After the meeting, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah announced that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif would hold an in-camera briefing in parliament to inform legislators about the progress in negotiations. 

The TTP is asking Pakistan to scrap a 2018 law that did away with the semi-independent status of the former tribal regions that dates back to the British colonial rule. The law aimed to grant equal rights to millions of residents in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) once they were incorporated into Pakistan’s authority as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. 

The Pakistani Taliban also want Pakistani troops to pull out of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, release all TTP fighters in government custody and revoke all cases against them.


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.