Pakistan’s PM launches rebuilding plan in Geneva, seeks $8 billion to fill funding gap

Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif addresses a summit on climate resilience in Pakistan, months after deadly floods in the country, at the United Nations, in Geneva, Switzerland, on January 9, 2023. (REUTERS)
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Updated 09 January 2023

Pakistan’s PM launches rebuilding plan in Geneva, seeks $8 billion to fill funding gap

  • World leaders, representatives from around 40 countries, international financial institutions attend day-long conference in Geneva
  • UN chief Antonio Guterres says ‘massive investments’ needed for country’s rehabilitation which is expected to cost over $16 billion

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday launched the ‘Resilient Recovery, Rehabilitation, and Recons­truction Framework’ (4RF) and asked the world to fill the funding gap of $8 billion out of the $16.3 billion required to rebuild flood-affected areas of the country.

Sharif expressed these views while addressing the opening session of the day-long international conference on ‘Climate Resilient Pakistan’ which he co-chaired with United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Geneva.

Since mid-June, devastating floods in Pakistan have claimed more than 1,700 lives and affected 33 million people. According to the country’s post-disaster needs assessment (PDNA), which was carried out in collaboration with development partners, the total destruction and economic losses from the floods exceeded $30 billion, which is eight percent of Pakistan’s GDP, pushing nine million people into abject poverty.

On Monday, governments, leaders, and high-level representatives from around 40 countries and international financial institutions, foundations, and funds gathered to attend the conference both in person and virtually. Islamabad seeks the world’s assistance in speeding up its reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts.

“Pakistan has built a framework for the country’s uplift,” Sharif said during the conference, adding that the first part of this plan reflected priorities for recovery and reconstruction.

“Bearing in mind the minimum funding requirement of $16.3 billion, half of which was proposed to be met from domestic resources and the other half from development partners and friends, the funding gap for minimum recovery is $8 billion which will be needed over the next three years.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (L) speaks with Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif at the start of a Pakistan's Resilience to Climate Change conference in Geneva, on January 9, 2023. (AFP)

The second part of the framework incorporates flood resilience design and infrastructure projects such as protecting key highways, rail line networks, an early warning system, and capacity building for rescue and relief in future disasters, Sharif said.

“Pakistan’s ability to recover from the colossal flood disaster, to restore critical infrastructure, and revive rapid economic growth will hinge substantially on the speed of these actions,” he added.

“The scale of the resource gap for funding crisis recovery is so wide that it has redefined how we think about resilience. Frankly, it has changed life forever,” Sharif added.

In his remarks, UN Secretary-General Guterres appealed to the world to help Pakistan deal with the disaster.

“Massive investments are needed for the country’s rehabilitation which is expected to cost more than $16 billion,” he said, adding that the international community must match the heroic response of the people of Pakistan with massive investments to strengthen their communities for the future.

“Pakistan is doubly victimized by climate chaos and a morally bankrupt global financial system,” he said.
The UN boss reiterated his demand for finding creative ways for developing countries to access debt relief and financing.

Pakistan’s foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, said the country would need considerable support over the next several years from international partners to implement this comprehensive plan of reconstruction and rehabilitation of the flood victims.

“We will transform the challenge of recovery and reconstruction into an opportunity to build a more resilient Pakistan,” he said.

Bhutto-Zardari added that the South Asian nation was determined to implement a rebuilding plan in an open, transparent, and collaborative way.

Virtually addressing the participants, French President, Emmanuel Macron, said Paris would continue to provide financial support and expertise in the long term as required by Islamabad.

“France will bring a new contribution of $10 million for Pakistan aid support,” he added.

Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan sign deal with China's Gansu for transfer of high-mountain agriculture technology

Updated 15 sec ago

Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan sign deal with China's Gansu for transfer of high-mountain agriculture technology

  • Only one percent of land in the northern Pakistani region has been used for agriculture, according to the UNDP
  • Officials say the move will ensure food security by helping farmers increase production of wheat, maize and potato

GILGIT: The government in Pakistan's northern Gilgit-Baltistan region has signed an agreement with China's Gansu province for the transfer of high-mountain agriculture technology and machinery to mountainous region northern that will help local farmers increase their production of various crops, the GB agriculture minister said on Saturday. 

GB has not officially been part of Pakistan but forms part of the portion of disputed Kashmir that is administered by Pakistan. The region is Pakistan’s only land link to China and is at the heart of the $65 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) infrastructure development plan. 

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the GB government and China's Gansu province was signed on Friday during the visit of an eight member GB government delegation, led by GB Agriculture Minister Muhammad Anwar, to China's Gansu province. 

The transfer of technology will modernize the GB agriculture sector and help local farmer increase production of wheat, maize, potato and buckwheat, according to officials. 

“The objective of the cooperation is to promote agriculture, food security, livestock and human development in Gilgit-Baltistan,” Khadim Hussain, a coordinator of the GB Economic Transformation Initiative who was also part of the delegation that visited Gansu, told Arab News. 

“From the Chinese side, Gansu province is the centre of the Belt and Road Initiative and Gilgit-Baltistan is the gateway of CPEC. So, to improve communication between these two regions, the Chinese government will help the government of Gilgit-Baltistan for the development of agriculture, food security, and human and livestock development.”  

Hussain noted the geography and weather of China’s Gansu was quite similar to GB, which is home to five out of 14 world peaks above the height of 8,000 meters. 

However, only one percent of GB land has been used for agriculture, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the GB agriculture department. The rest of nearly 72,000 square kilometers of administrative territory consists of 52 percent rangelands, four percent forests, while the remaining portion has mountains and barren land. 

“Under this agreement, Gansu Agriculture and Mechanical Company will provide machinery to the [GB] agriculture department that could be used for sowing, harvesting and silage. The company will train local farmers in running the machines. They will also provide technical and vocational training to locals,” Hussain said.  

“The cooperation will be boosted in the future and R&D (research and development) in the field of agriculture, livestock and fisheries will also be strengthened with the help of China.” 

Ghulamullah Saqib, a deputy director at the GB agriculture department, described the move as a "good omen" for the region. 

“The commitment of Gansu province to uplift the agriculture sector by transferring technology to GB is a good omen and welcoming thing,” Saqib told Arab News.  

“Only two percent area of the whole GB is arable. Of which, farming is happening at only one percent and the rest one percent is facing a water crisis.”  

The official said only one percent of agricultural land was not enough for the region, which was why the government had been purchasing wheat from the Pakistan Agricultural Storage & Services Corporation (PASSCO). 

“GB can produce food for its population for two months only and if we do not pay attention to the agriculture sector and modern farming, we will have to face famine in future,” Saqib said.  

“After this MoU, a ray of hope has emerged because it will help grow the agriculture sector in the region.”

Designated banks in Pakistan to receive Hajj applications on Saturday, Sunday

Updated 09 December 2023

Designated banks in Pakistan to receive Hajj applications on Saturday, Sunday

  • Pakistan has invited Hajj 2024 applications under the government’s scheme till December 12 
  • The South Asian country has a quota of 89,605 individuals for the Hajj pilgrimage next year 

ISLAMABAD: Designated bank branches in Pakistan will remain open on Saturday and Sunday as Pakistan continues to receive applications for next year’s Hajj, Pakistani state media reported on Saturday. 

The Pakistani religious affairs ministry invited Hajj 2024 applications under the government’s scheme from November 27 and the process will continue till December 12. 

The quota for Pakistanis performing the pilgrimage under the government’s scheme next year is 89,605, with the pilgrimage expected to cost Rs1,075,000 [$3,769] per person. 

“The designated banks will remain open on Saturday and Sunday for the receipt of Hajj applications,” the state-run Radio Pakistani broadcaster reported, quoting a religious affairs ministry spokesperson. 

Hajj, an annual Islamic pilgrimage in practice for over 1,400 years, is one of the five pillars of Islam, and requires every adult Muslim to undertake a journey to the holy Islamic sites in Makkah at least once in their lifetime (if they are financially and physically able). 

This year, Saudi Arabia has also included Karachi in its Makkah Route Initiative, following successful operations in Islamabad. The initiative allows pilgrims performing Hajj under the government scheme the convenience of undergoing all immigration requirements to enter Saudi Arabia from their home countries’ airports. 

Applicants for next year’s Hajj would also not be required to submit COVID-19 immunization certificates as the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the disease no longer a public health emergency. 

Pakistan military exercise with special forces contingents from Bahrain, Iraq and Kuwait concludes

Updated 09 December 2023

Pakistan military exercise with special forces contingents from Bahrain, Iraq and Kuwait concludes

  • The two-week exercise commenced on Nov. 27 at the National Counter Terrorism Center in northwest Pakistan 
  • The exercise, attended by contingents from Bahrain, Iraq and Kuwait, helped nurture joint employment concepts 

ISLAMABAD: Fajar Al Sharq-V, a multinational joint special forces exercise, concluded on Saturday at the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) in northwest Pakistan, the Pakistani military said, with participation from multiple Arab countries. 

The two-week exercise commenced on November 27 at the NCTC in Pabbi in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, according to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the military’s media wing. 

The exercise was attended by special forces contingents from Bahrain, Iraq and Kuwait. 

“The exercise was aimed at further harnessing the historic military to military relations among brotherly countries and helped nurture joint employment concepts against counter terrorism, besides identifying areas of mutual interest for future military collaborations,” the ISPR said in a statement. 

Besides the participating troops, officers from the brotherly nations also witnessed the closing ceremony on the final day of the exercise. 

Pakistan, which has proven its mettle in the field of counter-terrorism, routinely holds joint military exercises with friendly states to foster joint employment concepts. 

These exercises help the participating nations enhance their combat capabilities to thwart any threats and ensure peace in the region. 

Minister acknowledges threats to politicians ahead of Pakistan national elections

Updated 09 December 2023

Minister acknowledges threats to politicians ahead of Pakistan national elections

  • The statement comes amid surge in militant attacks across in Pakistan’s western regions bordering Afghanistan 
  • Pakistan is scheduled to go to hold national elections on February 8 after months of delay and political uncertainty 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Caretaker Interior Minister Sarfaraz Bugti on Friday acknowledged that there were threats to political leadership in Pakistan as they gear up for national elections, scheduled to be held on February 8. 

The development comes amid a surge in militant attacks across in Pakistan’s western regions bordering Afghanistan ever since a fragile truce between Islamabad and the Pakistani Taliban broke down in November 2022. 

Recently, the Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam Pakistan (JUI-F), a prominent religious party, urged the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) last month to delay polls till the security situation in the country improves and the cold in Pakistan’s northern areas dissipates. 

The interior minister agreed there was a “general threat” to public rallies in the country, but no specific threat to a political leader, except for the JUI-F chief. 

“Definitely, there are threats to the political leadership,” he said. “There is definitely a general threat to public rallies.” 

Bugti said the caretaker government had the “capacity and will” for the conduct of a peaceful election. 

Bugti’s statement came a day after the head of Pakistan’s election regulator said it would issue a schedule for the upcoming national elections “in few days.” 

A senior official of the ECP this week requested the government for the deployment of armed forces and other law enforcement agencies personnel at polling stations during the February 8 polls. 

“Whatever requirement the election commission would have with regard to paramilitary forces, we will provide that,” Bugti said at the press conference. 

“We will try providing maximum security.” 

He, however, said the deployment of army was a domain of the country’s defense ministry. 

Documented Afghan migrants in Karachi say suffering fallout of Pakistan’s deportation drive

Updated 09 December 2023

Documented Afghan migrants in Karachi say suffering fallout of Pakistan’s deportation drive

  • Government says registered refugees can stay but many complain of losing jobs and homes, police intimidation
  • Top officials have openly said Afghans were behind terror attacks in Pakistan and a drain on the economy

KARACHI: Rubina Hidayatullah has seen it all since she moved to Pakistan from neighboring Afghanistan with her three-year-old son to seek medical treatment for her ailing husband in 2005.

She has lived the difficult life of a refugee in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi. Her husband passed away just a few years after she moved to Pakistan. She raised her three children, two of them born in Pakistan, alone. And she worked long hours as a housemaid to make ends meet.

But nothing could have prepared her for the challenge that came two months ago. 

Just as her two sons both got jobs and she hoped she would get a chance at some respite in life, the Pakistan government on Oct. 3 announced a deportation drive against “illegal immigrants,” calling on them to leave voluntarily by Nov. 1 or face forcible expulsion. Although the government says the policy is targeted at all undocumented foreigners, it has disproportionately hit Afghans, who form the largest number of migrants to Pakistan. Since the announcement of the expulsion drive, over 370,000 have returned to their country or been deported.

Many of those who have left have told Arab News they had documents but were fleeing out of fear of arrest and persecution. Many Afghans who have stayed behind have gone underground. Reports of police harassment and arrests have been widespread, while many Afghans say they have been sacked from their jobs or asked by landlords to leave their homes.

“I had one boy working in a restaurant, and the other, at the age of nine, became an apprentice at a workshop,” Hidayatullah, 50, a registered refugee, told Arab News, at her tiny apartment in Karachi. “Since the Afghan [deportation] issue began, both of them have been laid off from their jobs.”

Many Afghans have also lost their homes.

Maulana Ikramullah Khan, another registered refugee, said he had lived in the city’s Ancholi neighborhood for nearly a decade before losing his home and moving to the Sohrab Goth slum.

“The landlord came and asked for my identity card,” Khan said. “When I showed him my [refugee] card, he said, ‘You are an Afghan, and we will not rent the house to Afghans.’ So, he told me that the month was almost ending, and I should vacate the house.”

“It is very distressing for a person to live in one place for 31 years, where you get married, have children, and then, after 31 years, you face a situation where you’re treated in a manner where [you’re told], ‘Leave from here, we will not give you a house, or evacuate our house’.”

The already precarious state of education for refugee children has also been hit.

“Our school has been impacted, we had 300 students enrolled, and now the number has dwindled to less than a hundred,” Syed Mustafa, principal of the Jamal Uddin Afghani School in Karachi, said. “Most landlords are not renting to Afghans now.”

The difficulties come against the background of various government officials, including the prime minister and the army chief, openly saying Afghans were behind terror attacks in Pakistan and a drain on the economy. The interior minister has accused Afghan nationals of being involved in organized crime and responsible for 14 out of 24 suicide attacks in Pakistan this year. Last month Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said the move to expel hundreds of thousands of undocumented Afghans was a response to the unwillingness of the Taliban-led administration in Kabul to act against militants using Afghanistan to carry out attacks in Pakistan.

Hajji Abdullah, the chairman of the refugee council in Karachi, confirmed Afghan nationals were losing jobs and facing midnight raids due to the government’s new policy. 

“Afghan refugees who were legal and used to work in companies, those companies have now sacked them, saying that the government has urged [Pakistanis] not to employ Afghans,” he told Arab News. 

“Unemployed, they are now sitting at home hungry … They should be allowed to resume their work and earn for their children.”

The Sindh home ministry could not be reached for comment despite multiple attempts. A spokesperson for Karachi Police, Abrar Hussain Baloch, said the state was only fulfilling its responsibility to “act against Illegal immigrants.”

He denied “any sort of action which may cause harm or affect the lives of legal refugees.”

In the meantime, refugees like Hidayatullah continue to live in uncertainty and fear. 

“I have neither gone to Afghanistan, nor can I go there,” she said when asked if she would be leaving for Afghanistan because of the difficulties created by the expulsion drive.

“I don’t have anyone whom I would visit … I have no brothers in Afghanistan and no father.”