Ex-finance minister Dar to arrive in Pakistan in 15 days for corruption hearing — lawyer

Pakistan's former finance minister Ishaq Dar is pictured in Islamabad, Pakistan, on June 2, 2016. (AFP/File)
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Updated 23 September 2022

Ex-finance minister Dar to arrive in Pakistan in 15 days for corruption hearing — lawyer

  • Accountability court in 2017 declared Dar an absconder in a case involving an inexplicable increase in his wealth
  • Ex-finance minister is one of Nawaz Sharif’s closest political allies and Dar’s son has married Sharif’s daughter

ISLAMABAD: An accountability court in Islamabad on Friday suspended the permanent arrest warrant of former Finance Minister Ishaq Dar till October 7 in a case related to charges he amassed wealth beyond his known sources of income, with his lawyer saying the court had barred the politician from being arrested when he arrived in Pakistan from the UK within 15 days. 

A Pakistani anti-corruption court declared Dar an absconder after the veteran politician, who is a close aide to three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, failed to turn up for several court hearings in 2017. Dar, who has pleaded not guilty, has said he is receiving medical treatment in London and is unable to return. 

Through his lawyer Qazi Misbah, Dar filed an application before the accountability court to quash his arrest warrant on Thursday. The case was heard by Judge Mohammad Basheer of the accountability court.

“The court has ordered NAB [National Accountability Authority] authorities to not arrest Dar on his arrival in Pakistan by suspending his arrest warrant till October 7,” Misbah told Arab News.

“We have asked the court that he intends to join proceedings which was accepted by the court. He will come to Pakistan within 15 days and join the proceedings,” the lawyer added.

Misbah said he hoped the arrest warrant would be permanently revoked after Dar returned.

“We are hopeful that it will be permanently revoked as it was also stated by the honorable judge that he will decide on it after Dar’s physical appearance before court,” Misbah said, adding that the case would hopefully be quashed as NAB could not prove Dar had amassed assets beyond means.

The charges against Dar followed an investigation into the finances of former PM Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted in July 2017 after the Supreme Court disqualified him for not declaring a small salary from his son’s off-shore company.

The ex-finance minister is one of Sharif’s closest political allies and Dar’s son has married Sharif’s daughter. Both men deny any wrongdoing.

During his stint as finance minister from 2013-2017, Dar was initially lauded for steering Pakistan out of a balance of payments crisis in 2013 and returning the nuclear-armed country toward a higher growth trajectory.

But in the year before he stepped down as finance minister after Pakistan’s Supreme Court disqualified him from office, Dar faced widespread criticism for his refusal to allow the rupee to weaken to ease macroeconomic pressures. He was also accused of eroding the central bank’s independence.


New Pakistani finance minister known for propping up rupee in earlier stints

Updated 7 sec ago

New Pakistani finance minister known for propping up rupee in earlier stints

  • Ishaq Dar most famous for strong-arming central bank to liberally inject foreign exchange into market to prop up rupee
  • Pakistan’s foreign reserves currently stand at a level that cover just over a month of imports, making intervention difficult

ISLAMABAD: Ishaq Dar, Pakistan’s new finance minister, has strongly favored intervention in currency markets in three previous stints in the job, but faces a nation in economic crisis this time and the conditions of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) program.

Dar, a seasoned politician and chartered accountant, was sworn in on Wednesday.

The 72-year-old faces the daunting task of stabilising an economy that has for months been in a tailspin facing multiple threats of high inflation, a widening current account deficit and falling reserves — and is now reeling from devastating floods.

Currently a senator, Dar comes with a strong reputation from previous stints as finance minister, most recently from 2013 to 2017.

“Dar is an interventionist,” economist and former Citigroup banker Yousuf Nazar told Reuters. The minister is most famous for strong-arming the central bank to liberally inject foreign exchange into the market to prop up the rupee.

“He would like to see lower interest rates and a stronger rupee,” Nazar said. But he added the current global environment and the running IMF program would not allow Dar to pursue his signature policies.

Pakistan’s foreign reserves currently stand at a level that cover just over a month of imports — which makes intervention difficult.

In addition, under the ongoing IMF program, Pakistan has agreed to a market-based currency exchange regime and earlier this year passed a law that gave the central bank more autonomy and insulated it from government pressure.

Dar’s predecessor, Miftah Ismail, was a proponent of following a painful IMF stabilization program, which included removing fuel and power subsidies, despite the political cost with inflation rising above 27 percent year-on-year and the rupee tumbling to historical lows.

Recently, however, the government said the IMF has indicated it would soften program conditions because of the devastating floods that are estimated to have caused around $30 billion in losses, and will slow growth this year to below 3 percent from an earlier estimate of 5 percent.

Ahead of Dar’s formal appointment, the rupee has risen for the last three sessions this week — either an indication that the market was inflated because of a lack of control or because it was pricing in intervention.

’NO ROOKIE’

“Mr Dar’s main challenge is to stabilize the exchange rate in order to put the genie of massive inflation back in the bottle,” Aqdas Afzal, an economics professor at Karachi’s Habib University, told Reuters, adding the government wanted to use Dar’s previous experience of taming inflation, which it desperately needs ahead of the next elections.

“Dar is no rookie when it comes to handling the economy,” he said.

But Dar’s policies have a lot of critics, who say he ensured the rupee remained over-valued and hurt the balance of trade. It was this policy, critics say, that inflated the current account deficit to record levels of nearly $20 billion in the 2017-18 financial year.

The South Asian nation of 220 million had to return to the IMF for support months later in 2019.

An advantage for Dar is that he enjoys the complete trust of former premier Nawaz Sharif, who is the head of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Nawaz’s younger brother Shehbaz is currently the prime minister of the country because Nawaz himself is in exile in London.

Dar is also related to the Sharif family by marriage. His son is married to the elder Sharif’s daughter, giving him a seat in the inner-most circle of the party and the freedom to make quick decisions and cut through bureaucratic red tape that bedevils governance in Pakistan.

Managing the economy will not be his only challenge: He returns to Pakistan after five years of self-imposed exile, during which time he has been declared a fugitive by a Pakistani court because of his failure to appear in anti-graft proceedings against him.

Dar says the case is politically motivated.

His arrest warrants were suspended last week by the court, clearing him to travel to Pakistan without fear of arrest until Oct. 7, government prosecutors at the law ministry said. He was almost immediately handed the finance minister’s role following the development.

Dar attended chartered accountant institutes in London and Wales after studying commerce and accounting in the eastern city of Lahore, a hometown he shares with the Sharifs. He entered politics in the 1980s and has multiple stints as a parliamentarian.

He has previously been finance minister in 1998-99, 2008 and 2013-17 — besides holding portfolios of commerce, trade, industry and investment.


UN says disease outbreaks remain ‘growing concern’ in flood-hit Pakistan

Updated 57 min 46 sec ago

UN says disease outbreaks remain ‘growing concern’ in flood-hit Pakistan

  • Deaths from infections, malaria, dengue have caused more than 300 deaths since July in worst-hit province of Sindh
  • Flood-ravaged regions have become infested with diseases including malaria, dengue fever, diarrhea and skin problems

ISLAMABAD: The United Nations has said outbreaks of mosquito-borne and water-borne diseases in flooded Pakistan were a “growing concern,” as deaths from infections, malaria and dengue fever have caused more than 300 deaths since July in the worst-hit province of Sindh, according to health officials.

The death toll from the deluge itself has reached 1,663, including 614 children and 333 women, a figure that does not include deaths from fast-spreading diseases, according to data from the National Disaster Management Authority.

“Outbreaks of vector-borne and water-borne diseases are a growing concern in Sindh and Balochistan provinces, where many districts remain inundated by floodwaters,” Stephane Dujarric, a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said on Tuesday.

He said floods had damaged nearly 1,500 health facilities across the country, including more than 300 refrigerators and solar power systems, which was disrupting vaccine cold chains.

“Assessments are continuing, but an estimated 7.9 million people remain displaced by the catastrophic floods.  Nearly 600,000 people are living in relief camps, and more than 7,000 schools across Pakistan are being used as temporary relief camps,” the spokesperson said, adding that the UN and its humanitarian partners were continuing to scale up response and had reached more than 1.6 million people impacted by the floods.

“Nearly 600,000 people are living in relief camps, and more than 7,000 schools across Pakistan are being used as temporary relief camps … More than two million houses have been damaged by the heavy rains and floods. More than 25,000 schools and 13,000 km of roads have also reportedly been damaged.”

Record monsoon rains in south and southwest Pakistan and glacial melt in northern areas triggered the flooding that has affected nearly 33 million people in the South Asian nation of 220 million, sweeping away homes, crops, bridges, roads and livestock and causing an estimated $30 billion of damage.

Hundreds of thousands of displaced people are in dire need of food, shelter, clean drinking water, toilets and medicines. Many have been sleeping in the open by the side of elevated highways.

The economic losses from the flooding will slash the country’s GDP growth to around 3 percent from the estimated target of 5 percent set out in the budget when it had narrowly escaped defaulting on its debt in a balance of payment crisis.

Pakistan was already reeling from economic blows when the floods hit, with its foreign reserves falling as low as one month’s worth of imports and its current account deficit widening.


PM Sharif, army chief congratulate Saudi crown prince on becoming prime minister

Updated 28 September 2022

PM Sharif, army chief congratulate Saudi crown prince on becoming prime minister

  • Saudi King Salman ordered the cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday
  • King’s son Khalid bin Salman becomes defense minister

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Wednesday congratulated Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on becoming the kingdom’s prime minister.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz announced the cabinet reshuffle that also saw his second son Prince Khalid as defense minister, and another son, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, as energy minister, a royal decree, carried by state news agency SPA, said on Tuesday.

“I congratulate my brother Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman,” Sharif said, praying for Saudi Arabia’s continued progress and prosperity.

The Pakistani army chief also shared his congrats with the crown prince, saying Pakistan valued its “historic and brotherly” relations with Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan and Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih remained unchanged, the decree showed.

The crown prince had previously been the defense minister of Saudi Arabia. Prince Khalid bin Salman, his younger brother, previously served as deputy defense minister.

King Salman will still preside the cabinet meetings that he attends, the decree said.

The 86-year-old king, the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, became ruler in 2015 after spending more than 2-1/2 years as the crown prince. He has been hospitalized several times over the last two years.

Prince Mohammed has changed Saudi Arabia radically since 2017, leading efforts to diversify the economy from dependence on oil, allowed women to drive and curbed the clerics’ power over society.


Blinken defends Pakistan arms sales against Indian criticism

Updated 28 September 2022

Blinken defends Pakistan arms sales against Indian criticism

  • Top US diplomat defends $450 million F-16 deal for Pakistan approved in September, says package for maintenance of existing fleet
  • Pakistan’s military relies heavily on US equipment but the relationship soured during the two-decade-long US war in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday defended military sales to Pakistan after withering criticism from growing US partner India, which considers itself the target of Islamabad’s F-16 planes.

Blinken met in the US capital with India’s foreign minister a day after separate talks with his counterpart from Pakistan.

The US-Pakistan alliance, born out of the Cold War, has frayed over Islamabad’s relationship with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

The top US diplomat defended a $450 million F-16 deal for Pakistan approved earlier in September, saying the package was for maintenance of Pakistan’s existing fleet.

“These are not new planes, new systems, new weapons. It’s sustaining what they have,” Blinken told a news conference with his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

“Pakistan’s program bolsters its capability to deal with terrorist threats emanating from Pakistan or from the region. It’s in no one’s interests that those threats be able to go forward with impunity,” Blinken said.

Jaishankar did not criticize Blinken in public. But on Sunday, speaking at a reception for the Indian community in the United States, Jaishankar said of the US position, “You’re not fooling anybody.”

“For someone to say, I’m doing this because it’s for counter-terrorism, when you’re talking of an aircraft like the capability of the F-16, everybody knows where they are deployed,” he said, referring to the fleet’s positioning against India.

“Very honestly, it’s a relationship that has neither ended up serving Pakistan well nor serving American interests well,” he said.

Pakistan’s military relies on US equipment but the relationship soured during the two-decade US war in Afghanistan, with Washington believing that elements in Islamabad never severed support for the Taliban, who seized back power last year.

India historically has bought military equipment from Moscow and has pressed the United States to waive sanctions required under a 2017 law for any nation that buys “significant” military hardware from Russia.

Speaking next to Blinken, Jaishankar noted that India has in recent years also made major purchases from the United States, France and Israel.

India assesses quality and purchase terms and “we exercise a choice which we believe is in our national interest,” he said, rejecting any change due to “geopolitical tensions.”

The United States since the late 1990s has made warm relations with India a top goal, seeing common cause between the world’s two largest democracies on issues from China’s rise to the threat of Islamist extremism.

The United States has largely turned a blind eye to India’s continued relationship with Russia since the Ukraine invasion but was pleased when Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently told President Vladimir Putin that it was “not a time for war.”

Jaishankar indicated that India was working behind the scenes, saying it had “weighed in” with Russia during UN- and Turkish-led negotiations that opened up grain shipments from the blockaded Black Sea.

India “is widening its international footprint,” Jaishankar said.

“There are many more regions where we will be intersecting with American interests. It is to our mutual benefit that this be a complementary process,” Jaishankar said.

But once rock-solid support for India in the US Congress has seen gaps amid concern over rights under Modi, a Hindu nationalist whose government has been accused of marginalizing Muslims and other religious minorities and pressuring activists through legal action and financial scrutiny.

Blinken addressed the issue delicately, saying the two nations should commit to “core values including respect for universal human rights, like freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression, which makes our democracies stronger.”

Jaishankar responded indirectly that both nations were committed to democracy but “from their history, tradition and societal context.”

“India does not believe that the efficacy or indeed the quality of democracy should be decided by vote banks,” he said.


Dar takes oath as minister today before becoming new Pakistan finance chief

Updated 28 September 2022

Dar takes oath as minister today before becoming new Pakistan finance chief

  • Dar on Tuesday took oath as senator, a day after returning from self-imposed exile in London
  • Dubbed Daronomics, his approach kept rupee stable between Rs98 and Rs105 against greenback in last tenure

ISLAMABAD: Ruling party Senator Ishaq Dar took oath as a federal minister today, Wednesday, paving the way to becoming the finance minister of Pakistan five years after he was ousted from the role by a court in a corruption case.

President Dr Arif Alvi administered the oath to Dar at the Presidency at 10am.

Dar on Tuesday took oath as a senator, a day after he had landed in Pakistan from London where he has lived in self-imposed exile for five years.

Dar is a member of PM Shehbaz Sharif’s ruling PMLN party and has already been finance minister four times. Dubbed Daronomics, his approach kept the rupee stable between Rs98 and Rs105 against the greenback during his last stint in office from 2013-2017 but he was also widely criticized for deliberately undervaluing the rupee by pumping dollars in the market.

“The arrival of Dar has changed the sentiments in the currency market and many people think that he would take punitive actions against the speculators,” Zafar Paracha, General Secretary of the Exchange Companies Association of Pakistan (ECAP), told Arab News on Tuesday as the rupee recouped Rs5.74 or 2.3 percent during the last two consecutive trading sessions following the nomination of Dar, known to favor a strong currency, as finance minister.

Pakistan’s currency has lost its value by 6.48 percent during the current month and has depreciated by 24.54 percent since January this year as demand for imports exerted pressure on the rupee.

A Pakistani anti-corruption court declared Dar an absconder after the veteran politician, who is a close aide to three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, failed to turn up for several court hearings in 2017.

Dar, who has pleaded not guilty to charges he amassed wealth beyond known sources of income, said he was receiving medical treatment in London and unable to return to Pakistan.

The charges against Dar followed an investigation into the finances of former PM Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted in July 2017 after the Supreme Court disqualified him for not declaring a small salary from his son’s off-shore company.

Both Dar and Nawaz say the cases against them are politically motivated.

During his stint as finance minister from 2013-2017, Dar was initially lauded for steering Pakistan out of a balance of payments crisis in 2013 and returning the nuclear-armed country toward a higher growth trajectory.

But by 2017 when he stepped down as finance minister after Pakistan’s Supreme Court disqualified him from office, Dar faced widespread criticism for his refusal to allow the rupee to weaken to ease macroeconomic pressures. He was also accused of eroding the central bank’s independence.