Pakistan default fears spike on report of UN debt suspension advice

Pakistani pedestrians walk past a roadside currency exchange stall displaying examples of Pakistani and US currency notes in Karachi on February 11, 2013. (AFP/File)
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Updated 23 September 2022

Pakistan default fears spike on report of UN debt suspension advice

  • A UNDP memorandum says creditors should consider debt relief in the wake of deadly Pakistan floods
  • The memorandum proposes debt restructuring or swaps, in which creditors will forego some repayments

Pakistan's bonds slumped to just half their face value on Friday after the Financial Times said a United Nations development agency was urging the cash-strapped country to restructure its debt. 

Devastating floods engulfed large swathes of Pakistan this month, killing more than 1,500 people and causing damage estimated at $30 billion, fanning fears that Pakistan will not meet its debts. 

A memorandum the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is set to hand Pakistan's government this week says its creditors should consider debt relief in the wake of the floods, according to the Financial Times. 

The memorandum further proposed debt restructuring or swaps, in which creditors would forego some repayments in exchange for Pakistan's agreement to invest in climate change-resilient infrastructure, the paper said. 

Neither the foreign office in Islamabad or a UNDP spokesperson in Pakistan immediately responded to Reuters' request for comment on the memorandum. The country's finance and information ministers could also not be reached. 

The bond market reaction on Friday strengthened fears of another default by Pakistan, hammering its international market government debt. 

One of the main sovereign bonds due for repayment in 2024 slumped more than 10 cents to about 50 cents on the dollar , while another due in 2027 fell to about 45 cents.. 

Pakistan's Finance Minister Miftah Ismail told a Reuters interview earlier this week that there was no chance of a credit default risk. 

The government needs to pay $1 billion on bonds maturing in December. It has interest payments worth around $0.6 billion for the 2022-23 fiscal year but the next full bond redemption is not until April 2024. 

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif appealed on Friday to the world and rich nations for immediate debt relief, saying what had been done was commendable, but adding, "It's far from meeting our needs." 

Sharif, who along with Ismail is in New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly, told Bloomberg TV that Pakistan had taken up the debt relief issue with U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres and world leaders. 

"We have spoken to European leaders and other leaders to help us in Paris club, to get us a moratorium," he said, referring to rich nation creditors. 

Sharif and finance minister Ismail said they had also taken up the relief issue with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. 

Ismail said the IMF has "almost agreed" to the request for easing the conditions of Pakistan's $7 billion programme that was resumed in July after being delayed for months. 

"They've said almost yes," he told local Pakistani Dunya News TV in New York a day after Sharif met the IMF's managing director. 

The IMF's representative in Islamabad didn't respond to a request for comment. 

The country of 220 million would not be able to stand on its feet, Sharif added, "unless we get substantial relief". 

He said Pakistan would also seek relief from long-time ally China, to which it owes about 30% of its external debt. 

Both Pakistan's government and Guterres have blamed the flooding on climate change. 


Pakistan thanks Kuwait for support after deadly floods

Updated 5 sec ago

Pakistan thanks Kuwait for support after deadly floods

  • Last month, Kuwaiti charities said Pakistan was “witnessing one of the worst humanitarian disasters”
  • Kuwaiti foreign ministry collaborating with 27 local charities to provide urgent relief for flood survivors

ISLAMABAD: Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar, on Thursday thanked Kuwait’s ambassador to Pakistan for the Gulf nation’s support after recent floods in Pakistan that have killed at least 1,700 people and left 33 million scrambling to survive.

Last month, the Kuwait News Agency, KUNA, had reported that the Kuwaiti Ministry of Foreign Affairs was collaborating with 27 local charities to provide urgent relief to Pakistan flood survivors. Other Gulf states like the UAE and Saudi Arabia have also sent thousands of tons of relief goods to Pakistan via land and air routes. 

“Ambassador of Kuwait, H.E. Nassar Abdulrahman J Almutairi, called on Minister of State Hina Rabbani Khar at the Ministry,” the foreign office said. “MOS thanked Ambassador for Kuwait’s support during recent floods in Pakistan.”

Last month, Kuwaiti charities in a joint statement said Pakistan was “witnessing one of the worst humanitarian disasters.”

“Without urgent access to medical aid, food, water, and shelter, those affected are most exposed to grave risks,” the statement added, calling for more aid for the flood-ravaged nation.

The calls for aid from around the world come as hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis who fled their homes are living in government camps set up to accommodate them, or simply out in the open.

Stagnant floodwaters, spread over hundreds of square kilometers (miles), may take two to six months to recede in some places, officials say, and have already led to widespread cases of skin and eye infections, diarrhea, malaria, typhoid and dengue fever.

The crisis hits Pakistan at a particularly bad time. With its economy in crisis, propped up by loans from the International Monetary Fund, it does not have the resources to cope with the longer-term effects of the flooding without international aid. 


Pakistan government to file Supreme Court reference to revive Reko Diq gold mine project

Updated 06 October 2022

Pakistan government to file Supreme Court reference to revive Reko Diq gold mine project

  • Reko Diq project is in southwestern Pakistan hosts one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper and gold deposits
  • Project was suspended in 2011 after Pakistan denied a joint venture, Tethyan Copper Company, a licence to develop it

KARACHI: Pakistan’s federal government will file a reference in the apex court next week for the revival of Reko Diq, a gold and copper project located in Balochistan province, the attorney general said on Thursday.  

The Reko Diq project in southwestern Pakistan, which hosts one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper and gold deposits, was suspended in 2011 after Pakistan denied a joint venture, the Tethyan Copper Company, comprising Barrick Gold of Canada and Antofagasta Minerals of Chile, a licence to develop it. 

Pakistan’s Supreme Court blocked Tethyan Copper in 2013 from developing Reko Diq following a court case over how the contract had been awarded.

But Barrick Gold ended a long-running dispute with Pakistan and is set to start to develop the project under an agreement signed earlier this year.

Under the out-of-court deal, an $11 billion penalty slapped against Pakistan by a World Bank arbitration court and other liabilities will be waived and Barrick and its partners will invest $10 billion in the project, Pakistan’s then Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin had said.

On September 30, the federal cabinet approved filing a reference in the Supreme Court for the revival of the project.

“The reference will be filed after October 9 ... and all the consultations have been completed,” Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf Ali told Arab News. “This reference and the agreement [signed with Barrick Gold] will be put before the apex court with the question of whether it negates the earlier judgment of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.”  

The federal government plans to seek the court’s opinion on two questions:

“Whether the earlier judgment of the Supreme Court, the Constitution of Pakistan, laws or public policy prevent the federal and provincial governments of Balochistan from entering into the Reko Diq Agreements or affect their validity?' and 'If enacted, would the proposed Foreign Investment (Protection and Promotion) Bill, 2022 be valid and constitutional'," Pakistan's state-run media APP reported on Wednesday.

The International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in 2019 announced a huge award of $5.8 billion against Pakistan in the Reko Diq case, filed in 2012 by Tethyan Copper. Damages included compensation of $4.087 billion by reference to the fair market value of the Reko Diq project at the time of the mining lease denial, and interest until the date of the award of $1.753 billion. The Tribunal also awarded TCC just under $62 million in costs incurred in enforcing its rights and also imposed another fine of $4 billion.

However, in March this year, the government of former Prime Minister Imran Khan signed an agreement with Barrrick Gold to avoid the $11 billion penalty.

The project will be operated by Barrick, which owns 50% stakes, while 25% shares each will be owned by the Balochistan provincial government and Pakistani state-owned enterprises. 

The first production of copper and gold is expected in 2027-2028.


Pakistan is not seeking climate ‘reparations’ after deadly floods — PM

Updated 06 October 2022

Pakistan is not seeking climate ‘reparations’ after deadly floods — PM

  • Sharif’s own climate minister Sherry Rehman has called for climate reparations from the wealthy polluting nations
  • Rich countries say purse strings tight due to soaring energy costs, fallout of Ukraine war and COVID-19 pandemic

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has said this was not the “proper” time to seek climate reparations from wealthy nations, saying that instead he wanted them to take note of their climate impacts and act before it was too late.

Sharif’s statement comes as vulnerable countries ramp up demands for rich countries to pay compensation for losses inflicted on the world’s poorest people by climate change, and after deadly floods in Pakistan have killed over 1,700 people and affected 33 million, Hundreds of thousands of displaced people who are living in the open are being exposed to diseases like malaria, diarrhea, dengue fever, severe skin and eyes infections, cholera, dog and snake bites, all of which are fast spreading amid stagnant floodwaters that officials say will take several months to recede.

Amid the disaster, many Pakistani commentators, as well as Sharif’s own climate minister, Sherry Rehman, have been calling not for aid but for climate reparations from the wealthy polluting nations.

But in an interview to the Guardian published on Thursday, Sharif pushed back on this suggestion.

“We’re not asking about reparations,” he said. “No, we’re not. I don’t think talk of reparations is proper at this point in time. What I am saying is that they should take notice of the situation, take responsibility and act speedily before it’s too late, before the damage becomes irreparable – not just for Pakistan, but for the world.”

Sharif’s statement comes despite wealthy countries failing to deliver a promise for $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poor countries lower emissions and prepare for climate change. Loss and damage payments would be in addition to that $100 billion.

Indeed, when diplomats from nearly 200 countries meet on November 7 in the beachside resort town of Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, for the UN climate summit, this issue is likely to dominate the talks: “loss and damage,” or climate-related destruction to homes, infrastructure and livelihoods in the poorest countries that have contributed least to global warming.

The world’s 46 least developed countries, home to 14 percent of the global population, produce just 1 percent of the world’s annual CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels, according to the UN.

As COP27 approaches, climate losses are surging — in rich and poor countries alike. In recent weeks, wildfires have swallowed huge swathes of land in Morocco, Greece and Canada, drought has ravaged Italy’s vineyards, and fatal floods hit Gambia, China and Pakistan.

But COP27 will not be easy, as rich countries arrive with purse strings tightened by soaring energy costs, the economic fallout of the Ukraine war and the COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted wealthy countries spend trillions of dollars propping up their economies.


Pakistan central bank to complete probe soon into alleged FX manipulation by banks

Updated 06 October 2022

Pakistan central bank to complete probe soon into alleged FX manipulation by banks

  • Rupee has fluctuated wildly this year, leading authorities to suspect manipulation by banks and exchange companies
  • Rupee is currently at around 223.94 to the US dollar, down around 20 percent in 2022, it had lost 27% at one stage

KARACHI: Pakistan’s central bank will soon complete an investigation into alleged manipulation by commercial banks of foreign exchange operations in the country, an official said on Wednesday.

Pakistan’s rupee has fluctuated wildly this year, particularly recently, hitting record lows against the US dollar last month before suddenly rising in recent days, leading authorities to suspect manipulation by banks and exchange companies.

“The investigations are being carried out by the regulator and results might come soon,” the chief spokesperson for the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), Abid Qamar, told Reuters.

He said he could not give an exact date for the completion, but said the probe had started some time back during the tenure of the previous finance minister.

The rupee is currently at around 223.94 to the US dollar, down around 20 percent in 2022. It had lost 27 percent at one stage, hitting a low of 220 on Aug. 31.

A parliamentary committee on Tuesday directed the SBP to take appropriate action against all banks and exchange companies involved in volatility in the exchange rate in recent weeks.

In 16 sessions up to Sept. 22, the rupee lost close to 9 percent against the dollar. Since then, it has gained about 7 percent, without any changes in economic fundamentals.

The rupee gains coincided with the return of Ishaq Dar as finance minister for his fourth stint. Dar has strongly favored intervention in currency markets and has come down hard on exchange speculation in the past.


10 Pakistani kids all set for Street Child World Cup in Doha this month

Updated 06 October 2022

10 Pakistani kids all set for Street Child World Cup in Doha this month

  • This is the third time Pakistan is participating in the series which will take place from October 8-15
  • Pakistan reached final in 2018 but lost to Uzbekistan, latest team chosen after yearlong trail and training

ISLAMABAD: Sometimes, Sahil Khattak still can’t believe his luck.

The sixteen-year-old boy who grew up in a small village in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, working at a shop to earn a daily wage to support his family, is headed this month to Doha as part of a team of 10 Pakistani footballers who will compete in the Street Child World Cup.

The 11-day event, which runs from October 8-15, will include 28 teams from 24 countries, and has been organized by Street Child United, a UK-based non-profit. This is the fourth edition of the tournament, with the last three held in South Africa (2010), Brazil (2014) and Russia (2018).

Pakistan reached the final in 2018 but lost the title to Uzbekistan. In 2014, it finished third place.

“I still can’t believe I have been selected,” Khattak, a goalkeeper, said in Islamabad ahead of practice with his 10-member-team, which has players from Balochistan, KP, Punjab and Gilgit-Baltistan.

The team was chosen out of up to 90 players who were trained during a yearlong trial process conducted by the charity Muslim Hands Pakistan, its program officer, Syed Muhammad Owais, said.

“The kids were trained in Mirpur, Azad Kashmir, after the initial selection, and as time passed, there was a final selection process for the top 10,” Owais added.

Muslim Hands Pakistan, which operates worldwide, conducted trials in nine academies in different parts of the country, “providing the opportunity to youth to showcase their passion on an international platform,” Owais said.

Head coach Muhammad Rasheed said the trail project had helped reach street players who did not have the means to enter academies.

“Those who do not get a chance to reach this point, we go to them and conduct trials and bring them here and groom them technically, tactically, mentally and in terms of their PR, we also do personality grooming,” the coach said.

During the trial process, the families of selected candidates were also given stipends so they would allow their children, many of whom work, to play professional football, Owais said.

About 3.3 million Pakistani children are trapped in child labor, depriving them of their childhood, their health and education, and condemning them to a life of poverty, according to UNICEF.

“Basically, I had no support from my family, they never allowed me to play,” Khattak said, smiling wryly. “Even to give the trial, I came without telling my family and took a day off from the shop [where I work], for which I was badly beaten because I didn’t get my daily wage that day.”

“Back in the day, my father was also a goalkeeper but he quit playing football due to [financial] circumstances and warned me against playing also.”

Now, however, Khattak said he was “very happy” to be part of the team and glad that eight long months of training had paid off.

Captain Muhammad Safdar said he was satisfied with the team’s performance and hopeful they could win.

“The way we have been practicing, sir [coach] has trained us day and night,” he said. “So, we are hopeful that we will win the title.”