Fiery Brook helps England set Pakistan 343-run target

England's Harry Brook falls as he tries to play a shot during the first Test match of the series against in Rawalpindi on December 4, 2022. (REUTERS)
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Updated 04 December 2022

Fiery Brook helps England set Pakistan 343-run target

  • England, who are playing their first Test series in Pakistan for 17 years, have brought a limited-overs aggression to their batting
  • Harry Brook's 65-ball 87 and Joe Root's 69-ball 73 saw England race to 264-7 before skipper Ben Stokes called his batters back

RAWALPINDI: Harry Brook and Joe Root blasted quickfire fifties as England set Pakistan an imposing 343-run target to win the opening Test on the fourth day in Rawalpindi on Sunday.
Brook's fiery 65-ball 87 and Root's 69-ball 73 saw England race to 264-7 before skipper Ben Stokes called his batters back to the pavilion, leaving the home side a maximum 130 overs to see out.
England are playing their first Test series in Pakistan for 17 years, and have brought a limited-overs aggression to their batting in the first of three matches.
Brook was bowled in Naseem Shah's last over before tea, adding 218 runs in the session after resuming at 46-2 after lunch.
Liam Livingstone remained unbeaten on seven.
Brook smashed 11 boundaries and three sixes in a swashbuckling knock, narrowly missing a century in each innings after his 153 in England's first-innings run-fest of 657.
The middle-order batter added 96 for the fourth wicket with Root who scored his 55th Test half-century, which included six boundaries.
Leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood dismissed Root and Stokes (naught) in the same over to finish with figures of 2-84.
Naseem took 2-66 and Mohammad Ali 2-64.
Opener Zak Crawley had earlier raced to a 48-ball 50 with seven boundaries while Ollie Pope (15) and Will Jacks (24) were the other contributors.
Jacks was the pick of the England bowlers, bagging 6-161 to help his side gain a 78-run first-innings lead.
England's innings started with a first-over dismissal as Ben Duckett -- one of four first-innings centurions -- was caught at slip off the second ball of pacer Naseem Shah for a golden duck.
Fellow centurion Pope cracked two boundaries before hooking fast bowler Ali into the hands of Naseem.
Earlier, debutant Jacks took all three wickets to fall after Pakistan resumed at 499-7 -- but not before the host's tail-enders scored freely on a much-maligned flat Rawalpindi Stadium pitch.
Agha Salman (53) and Zahid Mahmood (17) frustrated England for 50 minutes during their stubborn eighth-wicket stand of 57.


Pakistan court to indict ex-PM Khan on Feb. 7 in case involving sale of state gifts

Updated 31 January 2023

Pakistan court to indict ex-PM Khan on Feb. 7 in case involving sale of state gifts

  • Khan faces the charge of making ‘incorrect declarations’ of earnings to the country’s top election body
  • ECP disqualified him last October while referring the case to the judiciary for further proceedings

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani court on Tuesday announced to indict former prime minister Imran Khan on February 7 in a case that led to his disqualification by the country’s top election body last year which found him guilty of making “false statements and incorrect declarations” after receiving gifts from various international leaders.

The Toshakhana – or state repository for gifts – reference against Khan gained momentum after the downfall of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) administration in a parliamentary no-confidence vote last April.

Members of the current government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif urged the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to expedite the proceedings before Khan was disqualified under Article 63 of the Constitution.

According to local media reports, an additional sessions court in Islamabad announced to frame charges against the former prime minister in the coming week after his lawyer and the ECP counsel appeared before it and presented their arguments.

“District and Sessions Judge Zafar Iqbal heard the case and fixed February 7 (Tuesday) as the indictment date,” The Express Tribune said. “The former premier was also ordered to pay a bond of Rs20,000.”

The case involves accusations against Khan for misusing his position as prime minister to purchase and sell gifts received during state visits abroad that were worth over Rs140 million – or $5.4 million.

A major charge was that he had also failed to declare some of the earnings in his annual statements of assets submitted before the election commission.

Khan’s disqualification was followed by protests in different parts of the country, though the situation did not deter some local media outlets to continue their investigation into the issue.

Pakistan’s private news channel Geo TV interviewed a Dubai-based businessman Umar Farooq Zahoor who said he had paid Khan $2 million to buy a watch the ex-premier had received after he went to Saudi Arabia on an official trip in 2018.

The account presented by the channel contradicted the ex-premier’s narrative who has consistently claimed innocence in the case while pointing out that all receipts and records regarding the gifts and their sales were already present in the Toshakhana.

Khan subsequently filed a defamation case against the media house and the UAE-based businessman. However, the reference against him has been taken up by the court after the ECP referred the matter to the judiciary in its ruling last October.


Pakistan’s currency to weaken further, exacerbate inflationary pressure – Fitch Ratings

Updated 31 January 2023

Pakistan’s currency to weaken further, exacerbate inflationary pressure – Fitch Ratings

  • Pakistan’s rupee plummeted to 24-year low last week after markets removed cap on exchange rate
  • Fitch says rupee devaluation ‘positive’ for long-term outlook, helping unlock future IMF disbursements

ISLAMABAD: An international credit rating agency on Tuesday forecast that Pakistan’s national currency would depreciate further, exacerbating the imported inflationary pressure across the country in the days to come.

In its bid to revive a stalled $7 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan program, Pakistan agreed to remove artificial controls from its exchange market. The rupee plummeted to a record 24-year low last week after foreign exchange companies removed the cap on the exchange rate. 

The removal of the currency cap has been one of the principal demands of the IMF. Pakistan, with a staggering $3.6 billion in reserves barely enough to cover three weeks of imports, is actively seeking an IMF bailout program to avoid a balance-of-payments crisis. 

In its latest forecast for Pakistan, Fitch Ratings said its earlier forecast of the dollar rising to Rs248 is “now looking out of date.”

“We believe that the rupee’s weakness still has further to run, particularly with Pakistan’s balance of payments position likely to remain weak for several more months,” Fitch said. 

The rating agency said currently there is “a considerable amount of uncertainty” at this juncture, adding that it is difficult to gauge the extent to which the latest rupee devaluation has caused investor confidence to dip. 

It said a weakening rupee would also have broader economic implications in the near future. “In the near term, it could exacerbate imported inflationary pressure, and may eventually result in steeper policy rate hikes from the SOP,” Fitch added. 

While it said that Pakistan’s economy was expected to contract by 0.3 percent in FY2022/23, the rupee’s devaluation would help Pakistan secure further disbursements from the IMF. Fitch said it would be “a positive for the longer-term outlook,” helping Islamabad ease its balance of payments strains. 

An IMF mission is currently in Islamabad till February 9, 2023, to discuss the loan revival. The mission will examine Pakistan’s policies to restore domestic and external sustainability, including strengthening the country’s fiscal position with durable measures while supporting those affected by devastating floods last year.


Envoy says three Afghans who died in Pakistan jail were denied cancer, heart treatment

Updated 31 January 2023

Envoy says three Afghans who died in Pakistan jail were denied cancer, heart treatment

  • Afghanistan’s acting consul general Karachi says jail authorities did not get Afghan prisoners the medical help they needed
  • Superintendent Malir Prison says all inmates get treatment, including three Afghan nationals who died of cancer and heart disease

KARACHI: Three Afghan citizens imprisoned in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi had died in jail from cancer and heart diseases since October last year, a Pakistani jailer and a senior Afghan diplomat said on Monday, with the latter alleging the patients were denied medical help during their incarceration.

Several Afghans flee to Pakistan without valid documents to seek medical treatment, evade persecution by the Kabul government, or to seek employment opportunities. In a report released last year, Pakistan’s National Commission on Human Rights said there was a “drastic rise” in the number of Afghans seeking to leave their country following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in August 2021.

Pakistan last year intensified its crackdown against Afghans who illegally cross the border and enter its territory without valid documents.

In a letter seen by Arab News, the superintendent of a correctional facility in Karachi’s District Malir informed the Sindh prisons police chief on Monday that three under-trial Afghan prisoners incarcerated there had died in judicial custody due to health complications.

Taj Muhammad, who was arrested on January 22, 2022, died on October 24, 2022, according to the letter, while Abdul Khalil, taken into custody on November 6, 2022, died on December 15, 2022. A third Afghan, Wali Khan, was arrested on November 5 last year, and died on January 22, 2023. His body is being kept at the Chhipa morgue in Karachi, the letter added, while the bodies of Muhammad and Khalil were handed over to family and the Afghan consulate respectively.

Syed Abdul Jabbar Takhari, Afghanistan’s acting consul general in Karachi, said Khan passed away last week from a heart attack while Muhammad and Khalil had succumbed to cancer. 

“These people died because they didn’t get treatment,” Takhari told Arab News, saying that his mission had informed Sindh authorities about the inmates’ health condition. “They knew about their health condition as these people had come here for treatment.”

Takhari said nearly 870 Afghan nationals were still languishing in Sindh prisons, many of them struggling with health issues, and as per the law, jail authorities were not allowed to detain cancer or heart patients.

“Instead, they should have been admitted to a hospital,” he said.

Superintendent Malir Prison Arshad Shah rejected Takhari’s allegations, saying all inmates were provided treatment, including the three Afghan nationals who died.

“We have medical facilities but the ones with serious conditions are sent to hospital, either to the Jinnah Hospital or the Civil Hospital,” Shah told Arab News.

Murtaza Wahab Siddiqui, a Sindh government spokesperson, said any person who violated Pakistani law would be prosecuted:

“Ailment can serve as grounds for bail to be granted but that doesn’t mean they can’t be arrested.”

Muniza Kakar, a lawyer who campaigns for the release of Afghan nationals in detention, said around 2,000 people had been arrested since authorities started a crackdown against Afghan nationals in July 2022.

“Of them, about 900 have been deported, some possessing refugees’ cards were released on bail while around 1,000 are still languishing in jails in Karachi, Hyderabad, and Sukkar cities of the province,” she told Arab News. “These include women, children, and aged people and most of them are patients with serious diseases.”

Kakar gave the example of an Afghan asylum seeker who she alleged was not provided treatment after suffering a cardiac arrest in jail on Sunday.

“She was seen by a jail doctor and on Monday, she was brought to court where she fell down,” Kakar said, “but she was taken to jail instead of being taken for treatment to a health facility.”


Bangladesh secures $4.7 billion from IMF as Pakistan, Sri Lanka see delays

Updated 31 January 2023

Bangladesh secures $4.7 billion from IMF as Pakistan, Sri Lanka see delays

  • Bangladesh has seen a sharp widening of its current account deficit, depreciation of its currency
  • Pakistan, IMF negotiations expected to begin from today as Islamabad seeks to shore up its foreign reserves

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved loans of $4.7 billion to Bangladesh for disbursal starting immediately, making it the first to secure such funds out of three South Asian countries that applied last year amid economic trouble.

The loans are a win for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ahead of a general election early next year and will help the country, which has seen a sharp widening of its current account deficit, depreciation of the taka currency and a decline in its foreign exchange reserves.

Bangladesh will get about $3.3 billion under the IMF's extended credit facility and related arrangements, with an immediate disbursement of about $476 million. The IMF executive board also approved about $1.4 billion under its newly created Resilience and Sustainability Facility for climate investments for Bangladesh, the first Asian country to access it.

The IMF said the loans will "protect macroeconomic stability and rebuild buffers, while helping to advance the authorities’ reform agenda". The agenda includes creating fiscal space to enable greater social and developmental spending, strengthening Bangladesh's financial sector, boosting fiscal and governance reforms and building climate resilience.

"Since independence, Bangladesh has made steady progress in reducing poverty and significant improvements in living standards," Antoinette M. Sayeh, the IMF's deputy managing director, said in a statement.

"However, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent Russia’s war in Ukraine interrupted this long period of robust economic performance," Sayeh added. "Multiple shocks have made macroeconomic management challenging in Bangladesh."

The country last year also sought $2 billion from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank amid efforts to bolster its foreign exchange reserves.

Bangladesh's regional counterparts, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, are doing much worse economically but have not been able to get final approval for IMF loans.

Bangladesh's current account deficit hit a record $18.7 billion in the last financial year, which ended on June 30, as exports of garments failed to offset a surge in energy costs. The Bangladesh central bank expects the deficit to fall to about $6.8 billion at the end of the current fiscal year.

The government has also raised fuel and energy prices in recent months as it approached the IMF. It announced a 5% increase in retail power prices from Wednesday, the second such rise this month.


What’s behind the Pakistani Taliban’s insurgency?

Updated 31 January 2023

What’s behind the Pakistani Taliban’s insurgency?

  • TTP commander Sarbakaf Mohmand claimed responsibility for one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in recent months
  • TTP spokesperson Mohammad Khurasani distanced the group from the bombing, saying it was not its policy to target mosques

ISLAMABAD: When a suicide bomber struck a mosque inside a police compound in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Monday, suspicion immediately fell on the Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP.

In a post on Twitter, a commander for the group, Sarbakaf Mohmand, claimed responsibility for one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in recent months.

But more than 10 hours later, TTP spokesperson Mohammad Khurasani distanced the group from the bombing, saying it was not its policy to target mosques or other religious sites, adding that those taking part in such acts could face punitive action under TTP’s policy. His statement did not address why a TTP commander had claimed responsibility for the bombing.

The TTP’s denial also came after the Afghan Foreign Ministry condemned attacks on worshippers as contrary to the teachings of Islam.

Relations already are strained between Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, who are sheltering the TTP leadership and fighters.

A look at the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has waged an insurgency in the country for 15 years:

WHY IS THE TTP FIGHTING AN INSURGENCY?

Angered by Pakistan’s cooperation with Washington in the war on terrorism, the TTP was officially set up by Pakistani militants in 2007 when different outlawed groups agreed to work together against Pakistan and support the Afghan Taliban, who were fighting US and NATO forces.

The TTP seeks stricter enforcement of Islamic laws, the release of its members in government custody, and a reduction in Pakistani military presence in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the province bordering Afghanistan that it has long used as a base.

The TTP has stepped up attacks on Pakistani soldiers and police since November, when it unilaterally ended a cease-fire with the government after the failure of months of talks, hosted by Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers in Kabul. The TTP has repeatedly warned police not to take part in operations against its fighters in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE TTP AND THE AFGHAN TALIBAN?

The TTP is separate from but a close ally of the Afghan Taliban, and that group’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 emboldened the TTP, which shares the group’s ideology.

TTP fighters used to hide in Pakistan’s tribal northwest and also had sanctuary in Afghanistan, but they mostly lived a fugitive existence.

However, the Afghan Taliban started openly sheltering the TTP when they came to power. The Afghan Taliban also released TTP leaders and fighters who had been arrested by previous administrations in Kabul.

The Taliban have repeatedly said they will not allow anyone, including the TTP, to use Afghan soil for attacks against any country, including Pakistan. But Pakistani officials say there is a disconnect between the words and actions of the Afghan Taliban, who could stop the TTP from launching attacks inside the country but are failing to do so.

The Pakistani Taliban have expressed their allegiance to the head of the Afghan Taliban, said Abdullah Khan, a senior defense analyst and managing director of the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies.

He added, however, that they have their own agenda and strategy.

TTP’s operations have largely been aimed at targeting Pakistani forces, similar to the Afghan Taliban’s agenda of ousting foreign forces from the country.

Khan fears that Pakistan will see a surge in militant violence in the coming weeks and months.

HAS VIOLENCE INCREASED RECENTLY?

Pakistan has seen innumerable militant attacks in the past two decades, but there has been an uptick since November, when the TTP ended a cease-fire with the government that had lasted for months.

The Pakistani Taliban regularly carry out shootings or bombings, especially in rugged and remote northwestern Pakistan, a former TTP stronghold.

The violence has raised fears among residents of a possible military operation in the former tribal regions of North and South Waziristan, now two districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Hours after Monday’s mosque bombing, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan told the independent Geo news channel that Afghan Taliban rulers must stand by their commitment to the international community to not allow anyone to use their soil for attacks against another country.

“They should honor their promises,” he said.