Pakistan temporarily suspends visa issuance to Afghan nationals in European countries

n this picture taken on February 2, 2023, Afghan men stand in queue inside a fenced corridor as they wait to cross into Pakistan at the zero point Torkham border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Nangarhar province. (AFP/File)
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Updated 14 February 2023
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Pakistan temporarily suspends visa issuance to Afghan nationals in European countries

  • The decision was taken after 1,600 visas were issued to Afghan nationals in Sweden who provided fake residence permits
  • The foreign office confirms the instruction was given after ‘glitches’ were identified in the system which were being resolved

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s foreign office confirmed on Monday it had instructed its diplomatic missions in Europe to temporarily stop issuing visas to Afghan nationals after identifying some “glitches” in the system.

According to some reports, the decision was taken after the Pakistan embassy in Sweden issued 1,600 visas to people of Afghan origin who provided fake Swedish residence permits with their applications.

Pakistan currently hosts more than 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees, though their actual number is believed to be far greater than that.

Many Afghan nationals also settled down in different European countries after the Taliban seized control of Kabul in August 2021. Some of them continue to visit Pakistan to meet their relatives.

“We have imposed a temporary freeze on the issuance of certain visas in some countries after identifying some glitches in the system,” Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch told Arab News.

“These issues are being resolved,” she added.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry circulated a directive through email, a copy of which is seen by Arab News, instructing all its embassies in Europe to suspend all visa categories for Afghan nationals until further notice.

The letter was issued on February 8 and was addressed to the diplomatic missions in London, Glasgow, Bradford, Manchester, Birmingham, Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, Milan, Berlin, Frankfort, Lisbon, Athens, Vienna, Berne, Copenhagen, Oslo, Brussels, and the Hague.

Pakistan’s foreign office did not respond to questions regarding the 1,600 Afghan nationals who received visas on fake documents.

 


Brothers accused of sparking blasphemy riot against Christians in Pakistan last year released

Updated 5 sec ago
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Brothers accused of sparking blasphemy riot against Christians in Pakistan last year released

  • The brothers were detained on suspicion of defacing the Holy Qur’an in Jaranwala where a mob vandalized Churches
  • Christians make up around two percent of Pakistan’s population and occupy one of the lowest rungs in society

LAHORE: Two brothers accused of blasphemous acts that sparked a mob in Pakistan to ransack homes and churches in a Christian enclave last year have been freed from jail, their lawyer said Friday.
More than 80 Christian homes and 19 churches were vandalized by crowds in the eastern city of Jaranwala last August, after accusations spread that a Holy Qur’an had been desecrated.
Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in deeply conservative, Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam have provoked deadly vigilantism.
While police rounded up more than 125 suspected rioters, they also detained two Christian brothers on suspicion of having defaced a Holy Qur’an – a violation of Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws which can carry the death penalty.
But the brothers’ lawyer Tahir Bashir told AFP they had been freed after an anti-terror court declined to bring their case to trial on Thursday.
“Without a trial, no suspect can be detained indefinitely in jail,” Bashir said, declining to publicly name his clients out of fear for their safety.
“They are free, they are with their family. They were very happy to be released,” he added.
Hundreds of Christians fled Jaranwala’s Christian quarter last summer when rioters surged in, setting churches ablaze and raiding homes.
At its peak the crowd numbered around 5,000 and was spurred by mosque loudspeakers announcing a Holy Qur’an had been torn, scrawled with offensive words and stuck to the walls of a local mosque.
Christians, who make up around two percent of Pakistan’s population, occupy one of the lowest rungs in society and are frequently targeted with spurious blasphemy allegations.
Politicians have also been assassinated, lawyers murdered and students lynched over such accusations.
Last week, police were forced to intervene in the eastern city of Lahore when a woman wearing a shirt adorned with Arabic calligraphy was surrounded by a mob accusing her of blasphemy.
The crowd of men said the clothing depicted the Holy Qur’an but it was in fact emblazoned with the Arabic word for “beautiful.”
The woman issued an apology for causing offense, but none of the men were arrested.
Pakistan’s top Supreme Court judge has also been targeted by veiled death threats recently after ordering the release of a man accused of disseminating a blasphemous text.


Inflation in Pakistan hits 23.1%, reaching its lowest point since June 2022

Updated 26 min 47 sec ago
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Inflation in Pakistan hits 23.1%, reaching its lowest point since June 2022

  • Pakistan faces historically high inflation, though the situation has improved from 38 percent recorded last year in May
  • Given the February inflation rate, experts predict the central bank to begin monetary policy easing from this month

KARACHI: Pakistan’s inflation rate was recorded at 23.1 percent in February, marking its lowest level since June 2022, on an annual basis despite surging food and energy costs, according to official data released on Friday.
Pakistan continues to face historically high inflation, though the situation has improved from the all-time high level of 38 percent recorded last year in May.
Last month, the prices of tomatoes and cigarettes saw substantial increases of 114.6 percent and 71.2 percent, respectively, on an annual basis. Condiments and spices rose by 55.3 percent, sugar by 53.4 percent, fresh vegetables by 46.2 percent and wheat flour by 45 percent.
In the non-food category, gas charges skyrocketed by 318.7 percent, electricity charges by 74.9 percent, transport services by 35.1 percent, textbooks by 34.7 percent, newspapers by 34.2 percent and accommodation services by 29.5 percent.
February’s inflation, the lowest in 20 months, suggests a potential easing in the country’s monetary policy stance.
“The low inflation rate was expected and interestingly despite incorporating recent gas and petroleum price increase in February the number is low. We will see this trend continue in the future and inflation trajectory will be downward,” Tahir Abbas, head of research at Arif Habib Limited, told Arab News.
Given the February inflation rate, experts predict the central bank will begin monetary policy easing from March onwards, with the market anticipating an indicative interest rate cut of around 1 percent this month.
Since June last year, the State Bank of Pakistan has maintained the interest rate at an all-time high of 22 percent.
The central bank recently adjusted its average inflation forecast for the current fiscal year to 23-25 percent, up from 20-22 percent, due to hikes in energy prices.


Race for new Pakistan finance minister heats up ahead of crucial IMF negotiations

Updated 01 March 2024
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Race for new Pakistan finance minister heats up ahead of crucial IMF negotiations

  • Ishaq Dar remains the top contender, though he may be declared deputy PM if he does not get the portfolio
  • Pakistan’s interim finance minister and president of the country’s largest HBL bank are also said to be in the race

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s newly-formed ruling alliance is yet to finalize its finance minister, the person who has to lead an immediate effort to negotiate a new International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout, sources familiar with the discussions said.
The struggling $350 billion economy has a narrow path to recovery and the current IMF agreement expires on April 11, with critical external financing avenues linked to securing another extended program.
Former four-time finance minister Ishaq Dar remains the top contender, according to two sources in his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, which is leading the coalition.
PML-N’s Shehbaz Sharif has been nominated by the alliance to be prime minister in an election scheduled for March 3. He will announce his cabinet, including the finance minister, shortly after being elected.
But Dar is not the only candidate being considered, the sources said. Despite being a relative of, and close aide to, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, many political allies have criticized Dar’s handling of the economy in the last coalition set up.
He, however, has defended his actions, saying he had to take tough measures to avert a sovereign default by securing the IMF program, which former Prime Minister Imran Khan had scuttled days before leaving his office, a charge Khan denies.
Pakistan struggled for over four months to lock in the stand-by arrangement last summer when Dar was finance minister, and it took the intervention of his prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, to secure a last-ditch deal.
Dar also regularly criticized the IMF on public platforms in the middle of negotiations, and has long favored market interventions to prop up the Pakistani rupee – something the IMF has warned against.
If Dar doesn’t get the portfolio, his party might consider creating a position of deputy prime minister for him, one of the sources in the PML-N said.
Also being considered are caretaker Finance Minister Shamshad Akhtar, a former central bank governor, who is overseeing key policy measures under the current IMF program, both sources said.
Akhtar has been a key part of the caretaker set up that has been praised by the IMF for “decisive policy efforts” to maintain stability.
Another name being considered is Muhammad Aurangzeb, president and chief executive officer of the country’s largest bank, Habib Bank Limited, the sources said.
Aurangzeb had also served as the CEO of JP Morgan’s Global Corporate Bank based in Asia.
Akhtar did not respond to a Reuters request for a comment and Aurangzeb’s HBL said it would not comment on “rumors and speculations.”
A PML-N spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Dar himself told reporters before the parliament’s inaugural session on Thursday that there was no decision yet when asked if he would be the choice for finance minister again.
PML-N senior leader Irfan Siddiqui told the local newspaper The News that Dar will “most probably” be picked for the post.
Aside from negotiating a new and extended IMF program, the new finance minister will have about three months to prepare a federal budget that will need to strike a difficult balance between tough reforms and rejuvenating a struggling economy.
The PML-N, leading a minority government, will be relying on the support of different parties to pass critical legislation, with alliance partner Pakistan Peoples Party saying it would support the government on an issue-to-issue basis.
Efforts to assuage growing public anger at record inflation hovering around 30 percent will also be challenging with limited fiscal space.
“Pakistan needs someone who has broad and in-depth international experience to introduce the kind of reforms that have helped many other countries to come out of economic crises,” said Yousuf Nazar, a London-based economist and former Citigroup banker.
He, however, declined to say who was best suited.


Foreign investment in Pakistan’s stock market surges to $19.9 million since Feb. 8 polls

Updated 01 March 2024
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Foreign investment in Pakistan’s stock market surges to $19.9 million since Feb. 8 polls

  • Financial experts describe the development as a result of growing investor confidence in the country
  • The stock market benchmark closes at 65,325 points after National Assembly held its first two sessions

KARACHI: Pakistan witnessed a substantial increase in foreign investment through the stock market in the last three weeks after international corporations and overseas Pakistanis brought $19.9 million into the country, reflecting improved investor confidence in the wake of the Feb. 8 polls, as confirmed by financial experts on Friday.
After months of uncertainty surrounding the general elections, Pakistan held the polls last month, though their conduct and outcome led to widespread speculations of vote fraud. The split mandate in the electoral contest was followed by political negotiations that led to a power-sharing agreement between Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) of three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
Despite the allegations of rigging and ensuing political protests, the elections brought clarity to Pakistan’s capital market, which was reflected in the bullish sentiments including the rise in foreign equity investment.
Foreign corporations invested around $18.5 million in the equity market, while overseas Pakistanis bought shares worth $1.4 million after Feb. 8. In the last three weeks, the net investment amounted to $19.9 million, according to the National Clearing Company of Pakistan Limited (NCCPL), an institution that provides clearing and settlement services to the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX).
“The surge in the foreign portfolio investment reflects the clarity in the market after holding of general elections,” Khurram Schehzad, CEO of Alpha Beta Core, a financial advisory firm, told Arab News.
In February 2024 alone, the foreign investment amounted to $25.7 million as compared to the $8.5 million recorded in the corresponding month last year.
During July to February 2024, net foreign investment stood at about $59.6 million in equity market as compared to $16.3 million recorded during the same period in 2023.
Schehzad said the market would further consolidate after the formation of the next government.
Discussing the development, Ali Nawaz, CEO of Chase Securities, described the rise in foreign investment in the country’s equity market as “promising.”
“This can be attributed to factors like improved economic stability, successful International Monetary Fund loan agreement, and potentially positive policy changes anticipated under the new government,” he told Arab News.
“Once a stable government is formed, clearer economic direction and potential reforms will further incentivize foreign investors, making Pakistan’s stock market even more attractive,” he added.
The country’s equity market has witnessed a strong rebound during the latter half of the previous month, after the vote fraud allegations.
The stock market closed weekend trading session at 65,325 points after easing of political uncertainty. The formation of a coalition government at the center is expected to keep the investor sentiment positive.
“Stocks closed higher amid reports of inflation falling to 23 percent for February 2024 and the National Assembly session held to form the new government,” Ahsan Mehanti, CEO of Arif Habib Corporation, commented.
Mehanti said the American assurance to support Pakistan in its effort to break free from the vicious cycle of debt and international financing also played a key role in keeping the bullish sentiments alive at PSX.
Matthew Miller, spokesperson of the US State Department, noted on Thursday Pakistan’s economic stability was crucial to the long-term strength of its government.
“Pakistan’s new government must immediately prioritize the economic situation because the policies over the next several months will be crucial to maintaining economic stability for Pakistanis,” he said while responding to a question about the political situation of the country.


Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa CM-elect demands top election official resign over alleged vote-rigging

Updated 23 min 21 sec ago
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Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa CM-elect demands top election official resign over alleged vote-rigging

  • Ali Amin Gandapur says his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party was not given a playing field in polls, let alone a level one
  • Ahead of the Feb. 8 national election, Khan’s PTI party was barred from contesting the polls for breaching electoral laws

PESHAWAR: Ali Amin Gandapur, who was elected as the chief minister of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, on Friday demanded the country’s top election official resign over alleged rigging of Feb. 8 national election in the South Asian country.
The provincial assembly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Friday elected Gandapur, backed by jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, as new chief minister of the province.
Gandapur secured 90 votes in Friday’s election, while his opponent, Dr. Ibadullah Khan, from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party secured 16 votes. The Awami National Party (ANP) and the Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI) boycotted the election.
Ahead of Feb. 8 national election, Khan’s PTI party was barred from contesting the polls for breaching electoral laws. Resultantly, the PTI fielded its members as independent candidates, who later joined the minority Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) party to claim reserved seats.
But independent candidates, most loyal to Khan, swept the polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by winning 91 out of 113 provincial seats. They were followed by the JUI that secured seven seats, while the rest went to other parties.
“The rigging that has happened, it was the responsibility of the election commission to hold free and fair election constitutionally. They have failed in fulfilling their responsibility. I hereby demand the chief election commissioner tender resignation,” Gandapur said in his maiden speech after being elected as the chief minister.
He urged the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the chief justice to form an independent judicial commission and provide justice to people for their “stolen” mandate.
Khan’s PTI party had been severely hamstrung ahead of the polls, with rallies banned, its party symbol taken away, and dozens of its candidates rejected from eligibility to stand.
But despite facing what it says a state-backed crackdown, the independents, most loyal to Khan, stunned observers by winning the highest 101 seats in parliament and sweeping the polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“History, not only in Pakistan but in the world, has not witnessed the cruelty which has been faced by our party, our leader and our workers,” Gandapur said.
“Our party symbol was stolen, forget about the level playing field, we were not given a playing field [in the election]. My leader Imran Khan has been put in jail in fake FIRs [first information reports], the reason for his arrest is he spoke for Pakistan and its people, of the sovereignty of Pakistan, of Kashmir and Palestine.”
Khan has been in jail on a slew of charges, which the ex-premier maintains are “politically motivated.” The ex-premier accuses Pakistan’s powerful military of sidelining him and his party from politics. The military denies Khan’s accusations and says it does not interfere in political affairs.
In his speech, Gandapur demanded immediate release of Khan and called for an “open, free and fair trial” of the ex-premier. He demanded all cases registered against his party’s members and supporters be quashed within a week.
“We don’t want revenge as this country and these institutions are ours, but we want reforms,” he said. “We want a system where no one in the country should do unjust and take the law into their hands and take unlawful action against anyone.”
The newly elected chief minister announced he did not seek revenge against his rivals and promised to take all stake-holders along in governing the province.
“I am everyone’s chief minister, I won’t take any political revenge,” Gandapur said. “No person or organization will be allowed to act against the law.”
Dr. Ibadullah congratulated the newly elected chief minister, speaker and deputy speaker of the KP Assembly.
“We have not been sent to abuse each other, the public has sent us and are expecting from us,” he said. “The whole opposition will stand with you [government] in good acts.”
Later, Speaker Babar Saleem Swati adjourned the assembly session for an indefinite period.
Gandapur will take oath of his office at 3pm on Saturday, which would be administered by KP Governor Hajji Ghulam Ali.
On Thursday, the provincial assembly elected Swati as the speaker and Suraiya Bibi as the deputy speaker of the house.