Pakistan has to abide by tough IMF conditions out of ‘compulsion’ — defense minister

A woman walks past the International Monetary Fund headquarters in Washington, DC, on January 26, 2022. (AFP/File)
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Updated 29 January 2023
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Pakistan has to abide by tough IMF conditions out of ‘compulsion’ — defense minister

  • IMF wants Pakistan to reestablish market-based mechanism to determine Pakistani rupee's value
  • Defense Minister Khawaja Asif says government would try not to burden citizens under IMF’s conditions

ISLAMABAD: As Pakistan increased petrol prices by Rs35 per liter, Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif said on Sunday that the country had to agree to “very tough” conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) out of “compulsion” to address its economic woes.

The IMF’s mission is scheduled to visit Pakistan on January 31 to discuss the resumption of its $7 billion loan program, as Islamabad desperately seeks another loan tranche to shore up its foreign exchange reserves. Pakistan's forex reserves have declined to a staggering $3.6 billion, not even enough to cover a month of imports.

Earlier today, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar announced jacking up prices of petroleum products in the country by as much as Rs35 per liter. The minister said the decision was taken due to the Pakistani rupee's recent devaluation and up to an 11 percent increase in global fuel prices.

The hike in prices of petroleum products is part of the IMF's conditionalities to revive the stalled loan program, which requires Pakistan to do away with expensive energy subsidies. The price hike is expected to further increase decades-high inflation in the South Asian country. 

The global lender also wants Pakistan to reestablish a market-based mechanism to determine the value of the Pakistani rupee, which fell to a record low of 269.60 against the dollar in the open market this week. Such a mechanism is a key prior action for the country to receive IMF support.

“The IMF program, which we had to re-enter because of the [current] circumstances and out of compulsion, has set very strict and tough conditions for Pakistan,” Asif said on Sunday, speaking to reporters.

He added the government would undertake efforts to ensure the common man would not have to bear the economic burden of IMF’s conditions.

“We will try that only those belonging to the [upper] socioeconomic class will have to bear the economic burden of this crisis,” he said.

Answering a question related to the acute dearth of forex reserves in the country and the ensuing depreciation of the rupee against the dollar, the defense minister said people who have a foreign currency account in the country would still be able to withdraw “some” of their money in dollars.

“If someone here has a dollar account and wants to withdraw money from their banks, they can do so but in small amounts. For instance, if someone wants to take out money to pay for their children’s school fees, they can do so,” he clarified.

Asif also said the country’s imports, which had to be halted due to the dwindling reserves, were “gradually being relaxed.”

“Our exports are gradually being relaxed, so we will hopefully recover from the economic [turmoil] soon,” he said. “Slowly and gradually, things are being streamlined.”

Pakistan secured a $6 billion IMF bailout in 2019, which was topped up with another $1 billion last year. However, the lender then stalled disbursements in November due to Pakistan’s failure to make more progress on fiscal consolidation and economic reforms.


Despite Islamabad fightback, skipper Rossouw inspires Quetta to victory

Updated 22 February 2024
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Despite Islamabad fightback, skipper Rossouw inspires Quetta to victory

  • In low-scoring match, Rilee Rossouw holds his nerve with 34-run inning to guide Quetta to victory
  • Gladiators’ Abrar Ahmed, Mohammad Wasim take three wickets each to keep Islamabad at bay

Islamabad: Despite a valiant fightback by Islamabad United, Quetta Gladiators continued their impressive run of the tournament by beating the former by three wickets at the Qaddafi Stadium in Lahore on Thursday. 

“Continuing our winning streak,” the Gladiators wrote on social media platform X after the match ended. 

Batting first, United scored a lackluster 138/9 at the end of their 20 overs courtesy of a stellar bowling performance from the Gladiators. Spinner Abrar Ahmed returned figures of 3/18 while Mohammad Wasim finished with 3/20. Akeil Hosein finished with 2/32 while pacer Mohammad Hasnain returned figures of 1/35. 

United’s only resistance in the batting department came from Agha Salman, who top-scored with a decent 33-run knock from 23 balls while opener Alex Hales scored 21 from nine deliveries. 

What should have been an easy chase for the Gladiators turned into a difficult one when United took quick wickets to put the pressure back on Rossouw’s squad. United skipper Shadab Khan returned figures of 2/24 while pacer Naseem Shah finished with 2/34. 

Rumman Raees and Hunain Shah took a single wicket each before Rossouw guided United to victory with a composed 34-run innings that came off 38 balls and featured only three boundaries. 

Opener Jason Roy provided the Gladiators an impressive start to the game by smashing 37 runs off 18 balls while Sherfane Rutherford held his nerves to score 29 runs from 23 balls before Naseem rattled his stumps.

The Gladiators and table-toppers Multan Sultans both have three wins from the tournament so far. Islamabad, with a single win and two losses, is at number three on the PSL points table. 
 


Pakistan blocks X for the sixth day as activists criticize the social media platform’s shutdown

Updated 22 February 2024
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Pakistan blocks X for the sixth day as activists criticize the social media platform’s shutdown

  • Ex-PM Khan’s party says restrictions on X have been placed by authorities to muzzle its voice on social media
  • Social media platforms are often used by protest organizers in Pakistan to call followers out to streets, plan demonstrations

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s media regulators have blocked the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, with users across the country on Thursday enduring the sixth day of sweeping disruptions, partial and complete shutdowns.

There was no comment on the outage by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and government officials have not responded to repeated queries from The Associated Press for comment.

Human rights activists have demanded a full restoration of Internet services and access to social media. Washington has also urged Pakistan to lift restrictions on X.

The outage was first observed over the weekend when the political party of Pakistan’s imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan announced protests against what it says were rigged Feb. 8 parliamentary elections.

In the vote, candidates backed by Khan, who was barred from running, won most seats but short of a simply majority needed to form a government.

Social media platforms are often used by protest organizers to call followers out to the streets and spread the word about planned demonstrations.

Pakistan has witnessed an increase in political instability since the balloting. The country’s elections oversight body denies charges by Khan’s party that the vote was stolen. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party or PTI said on Thursday that the restrictions on X have been placed by the authorities to suppress its voice on social media.

On Wednesday, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller expressed concerns in a statement to reporters over the outage and restrictions on the freedom of expression and association in Pakistan.

“We continue to call on Pakistan to respect freedom of expression and restore access to a social media that has been restricted including Twitter, now known as X,” Miller said. “We have and will continue to emphasize the importance of respecting these fundamental freedoms during our engagements with Pakistani officials.”

Khan’s rivals, including the former Premier Shehbaz Sharif, are trying to form a coalition government. Sharif replaced Khan after his ouster in a no-confidence vote in parliament in 2022. Khan has since then been convicted offenses in what his supporters call politically motivated moves to keep him out of office.


Share in parliament’s reserved seats ‘legal right,’ ex-PM Khan’s party says

Updated 22 February 2024
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Share in parliament’s reserved seats ‘legal right,’ ex-PM Khan’s party says

  • Seventy reserved seats for women and non-Muslims in Pakistan’s assemblies are crucial in forming governments
  • Pakistan’s election regulator did not allocate reserved seats in Sindh, Punjab assemblies to party joined by Khan’s candidates

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said on Thursday that getting a share in the National Assembly’s reserved seats was its “legal right,” as political parties in the country race to form the next government in the South Asian country. 

The PTI announced on Monday its candidates who contested as independents during the Feb. 8 polls and won, would join the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) party to claim a share in the National Assembly’s reserved seats. 

A ruling by Pakistan’s top court in January meant members of Khan’s party could not contest the election from their party’s platform but only as independents. Consequently, Khan-backed candidates stunned observers by winning more than 90 seats in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament.

However, Khan’s party was faced with the prospect of losing reserved seats for women and minorities as they are only allotted to political parties based on their representation in the assembly.

“It is our legal right to claim and have the share in the reserved seats in the National Assembly and all four provincial assemblies,” advocate Shoaib Shaheen, a PTI spokesperson, told Arab News. 

“We will be getting our share through the SIC’s platform and have fulfilled all the legal requirements for it.”

Shaheen said the SIC would receive 27 reserved seats in the National Assembly, adding that there was “no reason or any legal justification for depriving us of these seats.”

There are 70 reserved seats in the National Assembly out of which 60 are for women and 10 for religious minorities in the 336-member house. These seats are allocated to parliamentary parties on a proportionate basis. Likewise, the reserved seats in the four provincial legislatures are also allocated to the parliamentary parties based on their numerical strength in the house.

Each reserved seat in the National Assembly would be allocated against 4.8 members and by this formula, the SIC may receive 19 seats as the party has 92 members in the National Assembly. 

As of Thursday, 86 independent members backed by Khan pledged their allegiance to the SIC and submitted their affidavits to Pakistan’s election regulator announcing they have joined the party. 

Shaheen explained that Khan-backed members joining the SIC was also necessary as the PTI wanted to bring all independent members of the party under a parliamentary party to avert defections, play a collective role in the legislation and vote, oppose, or abstain from voting on important matters, such as the national budget.

“We will have a formal alliance with the SIC after the PTI’s intraparty polls, which will hopefully be completed by the first week of March,” Shaheen said.

Political parties who had contested the polls had submitted a list of their members for the reserved seats for women and non-Muslims beforehand to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). 

However, the SIC did not do the same. 

Shaheen brushed aside the concern, saying that “it doesn’t matter” and that the SIC was now submitting a list for the ECP’s consideration.

As per notifications released by the ECP on Thursday, the regulator did not allocate any reserved seats to the SIC in Punjab or Sindh’s provincial assemblies. The list of allotted reserved seats for the National Assembly had not been published till the filing of this report. 

Former ECP secretary Kanwar Dilshad said it was the election oversight body’s “prerogative” whether it wanted to allocate reserved seats to the SIC or not.

“It is the sole prerogative of the election commission now to decide on the matter,” Dilshad told Arab News.

ECP spokesperson Hamid Raza said he would provide an update on the matter when the election regulator takes a decision. 

“At the moment, I am not in a position to comment on it,” Raza told Arab News.

Rashid Chaudhry, the deputy director of programs at the Free And Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in Pakistan, cited a precedent where three provincial legislators in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province joined the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) in 2019 after winning as independent candidates.

Chaudhry said the party was later allocated a reserved seat for women even though it had not submitted a priority list with the ECP before the elections.

“The precedent is there, and it is now up to the election commission to decide on it,” Chaudhry told Arab News. He said political parties could submit a new list of nominations to the ECP if their previous lists would stand exhausted.

“Obviously if the ECP denies the share of reserved seats to the SIC, the matter will land in the Supreme Court for adjudication,” he noted. 


Pakistan, Saudi Arabia can increase bilateral trade to $20 billion – commerce minister

Updated 22 February 2024
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Pakistan, Saudi Arabia can increase bilateral trade to $20 billion – commerce minister

  • Commerce Minister Dr. Gohar Ejaz is in Saudi Arabia with a delegation of Pakistani businessmen
  • Dr. Ejaz says Saudi investors to invest in Pakistan’s mines, minerals and agricultural commodities 

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Commerce Minister Dr. Gohar Ejaz said on Thursday that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia can increase bilateral trade to $20 billion, inviting Saudi investors to invest in the country’s mines, minerals, and agricultural commodities. 

Ejaz is in Saudi Arabia with a prominent Pakistani business delegation to promote bilateral trade and investment between the two countries. On Thursday, he met the chairman of the Federation of Saudi Chambers, Hassan Al-Huwaizi and chairman of the Saudi-Pakistani Business Council, Fahd bin Mohammed Al-Bash, Pakistan’s commerce ministry said.

“Saudi Arabia can increase trade with Pakistan to $10 billion,” Pakistan’s commerce ministry quoted Ejaz as saying. “Pakistan can increase trade volume with Saudi Arabia to 10 billion dollars.”

He said Saudi investors could avail “vast opportunities” for investment in Pakistan. 

“Saudi investors can invest in mines, minerals and agricultural commodities in Pakistan,” Ejaz was quoted as saying by the ministry. 

Speaking separately at the Saudi-Pakistani Business Forum event in Riyadh earlier on Thursday, Ejaz highlighted the role of the Free Trade Agreement between the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and his nation in increasing opportunities for investors from both regions. 

He reiterated his desire to increase the trade volume between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to $20 billion by improving the business environment between the two countries and encouraging the private sector. 

Pakistan enjoys strong economic and trade relations with Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is home to over 2.5 million Pakistani expatriates, serving as the top source of remittances for the cash-strapped South Asian country.

Saudi Arabia has also frequently bailed Pakistan out of its economic crisis over the years, serving as an important strategic partner for the South Asian country. 

Last year a delegation of 15 top Pakistani IT companies led by IT Minister Dr. Umar Saif visited Saudi Arabia and signed deals to accelerate digital transformation, foster innovation and advance digital infrastructure. 

The agreements will also boost the ecosystems for small and medium-sized enterprises and startups and encourage the transfer of businesses and the exchange of information on accelerators and incubators.


Pakistan ex-PM Imran Khan urges IMF to call election audit, his lawyer says

Updated 22 February 2024
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Pakistan ex-PM Imran Khan urges IMF to call election audit, his lawyer says

  • Pakistan’s bailout program with the international lender expires next month 
  • Khan and his party say results of Pakistan’s 2024 general elections were rigged

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s jailed former prime minister Imran Khan will write to the IMF urging it to call for an independent audit of the country’s controversial Feb. 8 national elections before it continues talks with Islamabad, his lawyer said on Thursday.

Pakistan averted default last summer thanks to a short-term International Monetary Fund bailout, but the program expires next month and a new government will have to negotiate a long-term arrangement to keep the $350 billion economy stable.

Khan and his party alleged that the polls, which did not return a majority for any party, were rigged. Candidates backed by Khan won the most seats, but an alliance of his rival parties has more seats and is in a position to form the next government.

“The letter from Imran Khan we will say clearly that if the IMF wants to talk to Pakistan, they should place conditions of an independent audit (of the polls),” Khan’s lawyer, Ali Zafar, told reporters outside the jail where the former premier and cricket hero is imprisoned.

Pakistan’s election commission denies widespread rigging and is hearing complaints by various applicants who allege irregularities.

Zafar said that multilateral agencies such as the IMF and international blocs such as the European Union can only give financial assistance on the condition that there is good governance and democracy, including free and fair elections.

The IMF met with political parties last year to seek assurances of their support of key objectives and policies under the bailout program.