Pakistan seeks parliament ruling to empower authorities to tackle ex-PM Khan's party

In this file photo, taken on March 27, 2022, supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party arrive to attend a rally next to a billboard with a picture of party's chief Imran Khan in Islamabad. (AFP/File)
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Updated 22 March 2023

Pakistan seeks parliament ruling to empower authorities to tackle ex-PM Khan's party

  • Ruling was asked for in joint session of parliament convened over instability caused by crisis over Khan
  • Interior minister requested house give "guidance" to government about violence stoked by Khan's supporters

LAHORE: Pakistan's Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah on Wednesday sought a parliament ruling to empower authorities to tackle former Prime Minister Imran Khan's party's alleged involvement in violence.

The ruling was asked for in a joint session of parliament convened over the instability caused by the crisis over Khan.

Sanaullah told the house nearly 68 security personnel were injured in clashes and 16 arrested Khan aides will be tried on terrorism charges.

The clashes erupted after Khan's supporters prevented police and paramilitary forces from arresting him in a case in which he is accused of unlawfully selling state gifts during his tenure as premier from 2018-2022. He denies any wrongdoing.

The minister requested the house give "guidance" to the government about the violence stoked by Khan's supporters, who he said included "miscreants, armed groups, and terrorists".

"It is required that the security forces should be given authority and other measures to deal with this issue," he said, adding that Khan's agenda is "chaos and anarchy."

The government has alleged that Khan's supporters had militants among them and ministers have called for proscribing Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

Khan has rejected the allegation, saying that the government wanted his party out of politics.

The former premier has demanded snap elections since he was ousted in a parliamentary vote of confidence in April last year. Khan's successor Shehbaz Sharif has said that a general election will be held as scheduled later this year.


In Baghdad, FM Bhutto-Zardari calls for transforming Pakistan-Iraq ties into partnership 

Updated 06 June 2023

In Baghdad, FM Bhutto-Zardari calls for transforming Pakistan-Iraq ties into partnership 

  • Relations between Pakistan and Iraq have received a boost with a number of ministerial-level exchanges in recent years 
  • In August last year, Iraq’s Foreign Minister Dr. Fuad Hussein visited Islamabad to discuss ways to strengthen bilateral ties 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who is on a three-day visit to Iraq, has stressed the need to enhance cooperation between the two countries, Pakistani state media reported on Tuesday. 

The foreign minister attended Pakistan-Iraq Business Forum in Baghdad and a ceremony for the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Pakistani and Iraqi federations of chambers of commerce and industry. 

“There is immense potential to increase trade and economic cooperation between Pakistan and Iraq,” the state-run Radio Pakistan broadcaster reported. 

“Both the countries need to transform the fraternal relationship into a partnership.” 

Pakistan would cooperate with Iraq in all fields, especially with business communities, to benefit from trade and investment opportunities, he assured. 

The two sides signed a memorandum of understanding on this occasion. 

“The MoU will facilitate linkages between business community of both countries,” the Pakistani foreign office said. 

Bhutto-Zardari arrived in Baghdad on a three-day visit Monday morning. During the visit, the foreign minister has held meetings with the Iraqi leadership and will lay the foundation stone of Pakistan’s own embassy building in Iraq, according to the Pakistani foreign office. 

On Monday, Pakistan and Iraq signed agreements to enhance cultural cooperation and abolish visas on diplomatic passports of both countries. 

Relations between Pakistan and Iraq have received a boost with a number of ministerial-level exchanges in recent years. 

In August last year, Iraq’s Foreign Minister Dr. Fuad Hussein visited Islamabad to discuss ways to strengthen bilateral relations. 


Pakistani Shariah-compliant buy-now-pay-later startup makes waves globally

Updated 06 June 2023

Pakistani Shariah-compliant buy-now-pay-later startup makes waves globally

  • Shershah Hassan, Waleed Amjad Islam KalPay featured on Forbes “30 under 30 Asia” list this year
  • KalPay allows customers to buy products and pay in three equal installments without interest

KARACHI: It was in 2020 that school and university friends Shershah Hassan and Waleed Amjad Islam began brainstorming a business idea that would help change people’s lives.

Hassan, 26, and Islam, 25, came up with Kalpay, a Shariah-compliant buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) startup that is making waves globally and was featured on this year’s prestigious Forbes “30 under 30 Asia” list.

Launched in June 2021, KalPay is already working with around 500 e-commerce merchants across multiple product and service categories, allowing customers to buy products and pay in three equal monthly installments using cards, e-wallets and bank transfers without any interest or extra charges.

Credit card penetration is less than 1 percent in Pakistan and almost 90 percent of transactions are done by cash. Pakistan has the third largest unbanked adult population globally, with about 100 million adults without a bank account in a population of 220 people, according to the World Bank.
 
“The idea was generated back in 2020, we thought about a product that could help ease financing problems and offer solutions to basic banking problems,” Hassan, who is the CEO and cofounder of KalPay, told Arab News in an interview on Monday.

“The drive was that I have to do my own business and the goal was that the work should be impact focused to improve the lives of consumers by giving them access to finance,” he said. “That dream is being fulfilled.”

After bootstrapping for around 9 months, Hassan raised investment in June 2021 and then left his job at a US company. In October of that year, he launched the startup along with his friend Islam. The funding came from local and foreign investors, including venture capital firms and angel investors from Saudi Arabia, Europe, Singapore and the United States.

“Currently KalPay is working on three verticals and providing BNPL ecommerce-based solutions through working with 500 companies and giving users access to easy financing,” Hassan, who is an Accounting and Finance graduate from the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), said.

The KalPay chief said his firm offered financing between Rs2,000 to Rs500,000, that could be paid back in three installments. Two of its new verticals are KalPay Rasayi and KalPay Taleem, offering BNPL services on the purchase of productive assets like smartphones and laptops and fee payments for education and skill development services. 

“If we are financing a laptop or a smartphone to a freelancer or Foodpanda rider, the laptop and smartphone are the source of income to them,” Hassan explained. “That is how we are creating impact in society because these products could change the lives and future of people.” 

The startup’s growth in terms of value and volume is in double digits on a month-on-month basis, and Hassan said he and his partner were planning further growth and consolidation.

Responding to a question about the rationale behind launching a Shariah-compliant product, Hassan said his research had revealed that a majority of people in Pakistan didn’t want to engage in interest-based financing.

“Obviously our [Pakistani] market is Muslim majority, so while searching from a financing perspective, one thing came into the spotlight that some customers don’t get financing because of religious concerns and I also wanted to have Shariah-compliant products,” Hassan said, adding that the service was not only for Muslims.

Talking about the challenges of the business, especially amid record inflation in Pakistan, Hassan said:

“The cost of capital and cost of financing has substantially gone up [in Pakistan]. Of course, it is a tough market to operate and the risk remains that if you are giving a loan to someone today and after six months he won’t be able to pay back.” 

The CEO admitted that some people defaulted but said the ratio remained in the single digit. 

Commenting on the cofounders’ inclusion in the Forbes list, Hassan said it came as a surprise.

“It was a sort of surprise for me because they don’t disclose before publication,” he said. “It is an honor for me, my team and of course, for Pakistan.”


Soldier killed in fire exchange with militants in northwestern Pakistan — army

Updated 06 June 2023

Soldier killed in fire exchange with militants in northwestern Pakistan — army

  • There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack
  • South Waziristan is known for attacks by the Pakistani Taliban

ISLAMABAD: A soldier was killed in an exchange of fire between Pakistani troops and militants in Pakistan’s northwestern South Waziristan District, the military said on Monday.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack in an area where Pakistani Taliban, or TTP, have been known to carry out attacks against security forces.

“Own troops effectively engaged the terrorists’ location,” the army’s media wing said. “However, during intense exchange of fire, Lance Naik Muhammad Sabir (age 30 years, resident of District Mansehra) having fought gallantly, embraced shahadat [martyrdom].”

“Sanitization of the area is being carried out to eliminate any other terrorists found in the area,” the army added.

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

The uptick in 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.


Pakistani PM promises business-friendly, pro-people budget as IMF deal remains elusive

Updated 05 June 2023

Pakistani PM promises business-friendly, pro-people budget as IMF deal remains elusive

  • Sharif approves increasing Public Sector Development Program from Rs700 billion to Rs950 billion
  • Pakistan's national inflation rate rose to 37.97% in May, setting national record for second month

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Monday the budget for fiscal year 2023-24, due to be presented on June 9, would bring economic prosperity, business friendly policies and public welfare to the country, as an International Monetary Fund bailout deal remains elusive after months of talks. 

Millions of Pakistanis are struggling to cope as Pakistan's annual inflation rate rose to 37.97% in May, setting a national record for the second month in a row and adding to the South Asian nation's problems of a balance of payment crisis and the risk of a sovereign default. Inflation has been on an upward trend since early this year after the government took painful measures as part of fiscal adjustments demanded by the IMF to unlock stalled funding.

The IMF demands include the withdrawal of subsidies, a hike in energy prices, a market-based exchange rate and new taxation to generate extra revenue in a supplementary budget.

Islamabad says it has met the demands, but the IMF has yet to release the $1.1 billion funding stalled since November as part of the $6.5 billion Extended Fund Facility agreed in 2019.

The funding is critical for Pakistan to unlock other bilateral and multilateral financing. The IMF program is set to expire on June 30 this year.

“The central point of the fiscal year 2023-24 budget is going to be economic prosperity, public welfare and business friendly policies,” the prime minister said in a statement, as he approved increasing the Public Sector Development Program (PSDP) from Rs700 billion to Rs950 billion to boost growth and create job opportunities.

The statement came after the prime minister held a detailed meeting with coalition partners in Islamabad to incorporate their proposals in the upcoming budget.

“The government is endeavouring to ensure prudent utilisation of all available resources despite economic challenges,” he said, promising to allocate a “sufficient amount” for those affected by floods last year and start a flood response program to deal with the disaster in future.

Floods from record monsoon rains in Pakistan and glacial melt in the country’s mountainous north last year affected 33 million people and killed over 1,500, washing away homes, roads, railways, bridges, livestock and crops in damage estimated at $30 billion.

Separately, the Prime Minister’s Coordinator for Economy and Energy, Bilal Azhar Kayani, told Arab News Sharif’s government would be presenting a “pro-investor and pro-poor budget.”

He declined to share the total outlay of the budget or its revenue and taxation targets, saying: “These details will be revealed in the National Assembly on the budget day.”

He said finance ministry officials, including Finance Minister Senator Ishaq Dar, were meeting all stakeholders, including industrialists and professionals, to get their input on the budget: “We will be trying to entertain proposals of all stakeholders to make an investor friendly budget.”

Economists said the country’s net federal receipts were not sufficient to even pay for the markup and the government had to take domestic and foreign loans to bear all expenditures.

“Pakistan’s budget is in serious distress and in need of serious repair,” Dr Khaqan Hassan Najeeb, a former economic adviser to the government, told Arab News.  

He said that a look at the budget of FY-23 would reveal that Pakistan’s net federal receipts with the federal government would not be sufficient to even pay for the markup which had risen from the budgeted amount of Rs 3900 billion to Rs 5300 billion.  

“It is unfortunate that all other expenditures would have to be borne by taking domestic and foreign loans,” he said, adding that the same fact would become even larger as the markup payment for the FY-24 budget would be much bigger considering the rise of the policy rate to 21 percent.

“The borrowing needs would be higher without meaningful expenditure and tax reforms,” Najeeb said. “Without containment of a fiscal deficit to near 5 percent of GDP on a permanent basis Pakistan’s fiscal and debt sustainability will never be ensured.”

The Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) suggested the government ensure tax reforms in the country and add new taxpayers to boost revenue.

“The taxation system in Pakistan contributes less than 10 percent of the GDP to the national exchequer, indicating that it is not balanced, broad-based and simplified,” Irfan Iqbal Sheikh, President FPCCI, told Arab News.

The taxation system's heavy reliance on indirect taxation and surcharges was damaging the economy, he said, adding that taxes were insufficient for debt servicing, defence, social welfare and public-sector development programs.

Sheikh said the upcoming federal budget was a golden opportunity for the government and the business community alike to agree upon and introduce budgetary measures and policies to enable industrial growth in Pakistan, explore avenues for import substitution and revive sick units through targeted, phased and result-oriented fiscal measures.  

“Industrialization is the key to wealth creation and reversing the trend of dwindling per capita income in the country; bridge trade deficit and create employment in these difficult times,” he said.

“We can only have healthy foreign exchange reserves on a sustainable basis if our industry earns substantive sums in a number of industrial sectors like many of our regional and sub-regional countries.”


Pakistan’s embattled ex-PM Imran Khan faces blackout on local media

Updated 05 June 2023

Pakistan’s embattled ex-PM Imran Khan faces blackout on local media

  • Coverage of Khan has disappeared from all mainstream news channels in the country
  • Khan's name and image not being aired, his mention has disappeared from news websites

ISLAMABAD: Coverage of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan has disappeared from all mainstream news channels in the country after the media regulator asked networks to block out people involved in rioting last month, a Reuters survey showed on Monday.
A directive, seen by Reuters, was put out by the regulator last week referring to violent protests in Pakistan last month following Khan’s brief arrest that saw military installations ransacked, allegedly by the former prime minister’s supporters.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) asked television licensees to ensure that “hate mongers, rioters, their facilitators and perpetrators” are “completely screened out from media.” It did not refer directly to Khan.
However, coverage of the former prime minister — Pakistan’s most popular leader according to polls — has disappeared to the extent that his name and image are not being aired. His mention has also disappeared from news websites.
PEMRA officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment and queries on whether the directives pertained to Khan, and if the directive was meant to be an all-encompassing ban.
Khan has long been the most televised politician in Pakistan, with his speeches and gatherings getting wall-to-wall coverage and widespread viewership.

'BLANKET BAN'

The ban comes amidst a wider crackdown on Khan and his party that has seen dozens of his party members and thousands of his supporters arrested, which, he says, is being done by the country’s powerful military.
The military has not responded to a request for comment on that allegation by Khan. It has previously denied orchestrating his removal his removal from power in a parliamentary vote last year.
Khan himself was arrested on charges of graft but released two days later after courts deemed the manner of his detention illegal. He remains out on bail, but faces dozens of cases.
In an interview, Khan said that the incidents of violence was used as a “pretext” to for a “blanket ban” on him and his party.
“We cannot be mentioned on television,” said Khan, who now regularly speaks through his party’s YouTube channel.
Senior officials of four major news channels did not respond to request for comment.
Even ARY News, considered a pro-Khan channel by the former prime minister’s political opponents, had no mention of Khan on Monday, despite his standoff with the military dominating headlines globally for weeks.
“The reports of blocking all news related to Imran Khan is the latest in a series of disturbing steps that authorities have taken to crack down on the opposition,” Dinushika Dissanayake, Deputy Director South Asia at Amnesty International, said in a statement.