No plans to impose economic emergency in Pakistan — finance division

A Pakistani shopkeeper attaches rate cards on sacks of rice at the main wholesale market in Karachi on June 1, 2016. (Photo courtesy: AFP/File)
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Updated 07 December 2022

No plans to impose economic emergency in Pakistan — finance division

  • Rebuts “false message” on economic emergency proposals
  • Says IMF negotiations on ninth review in “advanced stage”

KARACHI: The finance division on Tuesday “strongly” rebutted reports that the government was considering imposing an economic emergency in the country, saying it had put in place a number of austerity measures to deal with a difficult economic scenario.

The South Asian nation, which is reeling from devastating floods that are estimated to have caused over $30 billion of damage, has been facing a balance of payments crisis with fast-depleting foreign reserves and a widening current account deficit.

Referring to a “false message” on economic emergency proposals, the finance division said:

“Finance Division not only strongly rebuts the assertions made in the said message but also categorically denies it and that there is no planning to impose economic emergency.”

The division said the message was aimed at creating “uncertainty” by those who did not want Pakistan to prosper and were against the “national interest.” It attributed Pakistan’s economic crisis to “exogenous factors” like the Russia-Ukraine war, global recession, trade headwinds, a commodity super-cycle, and devastation caused by record-breaking floods this summer. 

With the reserves down to hardly one month of imports, Pakistan desperately needs bilateral and multilateral external financing as it awaits the 9th review of a $7 billion bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), pending since September.

Both Pakistan and the IMF said last week that pre-review talks had begun online.

The IMF approved the seventh and eighth reviews together in August for the bailout program agreed in 2019, to allow the release of over $1.1 billion.

In its press release, the finance division said negotiations with the IMF on the ninth review were at an “advanced stage.”


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

Updated 28 min 17 sec ago

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 47 min 21 sec ago

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.


Death toll from mosque blast surges to 93 as Pakistan Taliban deny responsibility

Updated 9 min 29 sec ago

Death toll from mosque blast surges to 93 as Pakistan Taliban deny responsibility

  • Explosion occurred Monday at Peshawar compound where headquarters of police are located
  • Pakistan Taliban say attacking mosques, madrasas, other sacred places ‘an impeachable crime’

PESHAWAR/KARACHI: The death toll from Monday’s bomb blast at a mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar surged to 93 on Tuesday morning, said a senior government functionary, as conflicting accounts emerged from the Pakistani Taliban over a claim of responsibility.

Police said up to 350 worshipers were gathered for afternoon prayers when the explosion occurred at a mosque located inside a compound where the headquarters of the provincial police are located. Peshawar Commissioner Riaz Mehsud has said it was premature to call the attack a suicide bombing.

“Death toll into the mosque bombing has reached 93 now,” he told Arab News. “Rescue operation will be completed very soon, very soon, and it will be done today. We have to remove debris from the blast site very carefully because last night we pulled out an injured person from the wreckage.”

Akbar Khan, an official working for the social welfare organization Edhi Center in Peshawar said its volunteers and those from other charities such as Rescue-1122, Chippa and Al-Khidmat were still carrying out rescue work:

“Hopefully, the rescue operation will be completed today.”

Wounded policemen get treated at a military hospital a day after the mosque blast inside the police headquarters in Peshawar on January 31, 2023. (AFP)

Funeral prayers for the policemen who died in the blast were held on Monday night, police in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province said on Twitter.

On Monday night, the Pakistani Taliban group said the militant group was not behind the explosion while one commander of the group said on Twitter the outfit was responsible for the latest assault.

“Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has nothing to do with this incident,” the group said in a statement shared with journalists. “Any action in mosques, madrasas, funeral homes and other sacred places is an impeachable crime.”

However, TTP commander Sarbakaf Mohmand claimed responsibility for the attack in a post on Twitter. His account has since been suspended.

While the TTP as a group denied responsibility for the bombing, it has recently carried out similar attacks, with assaults on the rise since last November when the outlawed outfit called off a cease-fire signed with the government in May.


Conflicting reports emerge about Pakistani Taliban’s ‘responsibility’ for Peshawar mosque attack 

Updated 31 January 2023

Conflicting reports emerge about Pakistani Taliban’s ‘responsibility’ for Peshawar mosque attack 

  • Group says attacking mosques, madrasas, other sacred places “an impeachable crime”
  • TTP commander Sarbakaf Mohmand claims responsibility for attack in a post on Twitter

Karachi: The Pakistani Taliban group said late on Monday the militant group was not behind an explosion at a mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar in which at least 87 people were killed, while one commander of the group said on Twitter the outfit was responsible for the latest assault.

Police said up to 350 worshipers were inside the mosque for afternoon Zuhr prayers on Monday when the bomber struck.

“Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has nothing to do with this incident,” the group said in a statement shared with journalists. “Any action in mosques, madrasas, funeral homes and other sacred places is an impeachable crime.”

However, TTP commander Sarbakaf Mohmand claimed responsibility for the attack in a post on Twitter.

While the TTP as a group denied responsibility for the bombing, it has recently carried out similar attacks, with assaults on the rise since last November when the outlawed outfit called off a cease-fire signed with the government in May.

“The death toll has now surged to 87 as of 8:00 a.m. today (Tuesday),” Muhammad Asim, a spokesperson at the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) in Peshawar, told Arab News. “Almost 50 wounded are under treatment in the hospital while the rest were either died or discharged after treatment,” he added. 

Commissioner Peshawar Riaz Mehsud said a “big explosion” had completely damaged the mosque’s roof.

“It will be premature to say whether it was a suicide explosion,” he told Arab News on Monday afternoon.

“We haven’t yet confirmed how many policemen are dead and wounded but I think 90 percent casualties are of police personnel because most of those offering prayers in the mosque were policemen.”