Pakistan political crisis deepens as election body postpones Punjab elections to Oct. 8

Voters cast their ballot at a polling station during the by-election in Punjab province assembly seat in Lahore on July 17, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 22 March 2023

Pakistan political crisis deepens as election body postpones Punjab elections to Oct. 8

  • Not possible to hold and organize elections fairly and peacefully on April 30, says Pakistan's election regulator
  • Fresh schedule will be issued in due course of time with poll date on October 8, says Election Commission of Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's political crisis deepened on Wednesday as the election regulator announced polls in the country's most populous Punjab province would be postponed from April 30 to October 8.

The move is likely to irk former Prime Minister Imran Khan who, since his ouster from office last April, has been calling for early elections and holding mass demonstrations and sit-ins to pile pressure on the government. In recent days, Khan's party has said it would launch countrywide street protests if general elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where provincial assemblies were dissolved in January, are not held within a constitutionally mandated 90-day limit.

After much political and legal debate, Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi announced April 30 as the date for Punjab provincial assembly elections earlier this month. 

The president announced the date after Pakistan's top court ruled that elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provinces should be held within 90 days of the dissolution of the provincial legislatures.

The controversy was triggered when former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and allies dissolved the Punjab and KP  provincial assemblies in January, in a bid to force the government of PM Shehbaz Sharif to announce nationwide polls.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) said in a notification that it held meetings on March 20, 21, and 22 to "deliberate extensively" on the matter of Punjab elections after receiving briefings from law enforcement agencies, ministries of finance, defence, interior and the secretary of Punjab, 

"The Commission after considering the reports, briefing and material brought before it, has arrived at the just conclusion that it is not possible to hold and organize the elections honestly, justly, fairly, in a peaceful manner and in accordance with the Constitution and law," it said. 

"The Commission hereby withdraws the election program issued vide Notification No. F. 2(3)/2023/Cord dated 8th March, 2023 and fresh schedule will be issued in due course of time with poll date on 08th October, 2023," it added. 

"The constitution and the Supreme Court have been practically abolished," Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, a close aide of Khan, wrote on Twitter. "Pakistan is now without a constitution."




Ousted via a parliamentary vote in April 2022, Khan has been pressurizing the government to hold early elections, a demand repeatedly rejected by PM Shehbaz Sharif. Khan has alleged that the ruling coalition government is "running away" from elections out of fear of his surging popularity. 

Pakistani journalist taken away by police from Karachi home — family 

Updated 9 sec ago

Pakistani journalist taken away by police from Karachi home — family 

  • Zubair Anjum, producer with Pakistan’s Geo News channel, was taken ‘at gunpoint,’ brother says 
  • A number of journalists, rights activists have recently gone ‘missing’ in the South Asian country 

ISLAMABAD: Police officers took away a Pakistani journalist, Zubair Anjum, from his home in the southern port city of Karachi, the broadcaster Anjum worked for said on Tuesday, citing his family. 

Two police vans and double-cabin vehicles arrived at Anjum’s home near the Model Colony intersection late last night and took him away, according to Pakistan’s Geo News channel, where the television producer works. 

Some of the police personnel were uniformed while others were in plain clothes. 

“They asked for Zubair bhai and took him away at gunpoint. They also took along his mobile phone,” Anjum’s brother was quoted as saying. 

“The police did not give any reason for the arrest. They did not even let him wear his slippers. We repeatedly kept asking what the matter was.” 

The policemen forced their way into Anjum’s home and “manhandled” the family, according to the report. They also took away the digital video recorder (DVR) of a CCTV camera installed in the neighborhood. 

Speaking to Geo News, Faisal Bashir Memon, senior superintendent of police (SSP) in Qur’angi district, said his force had information about Anjum’s arrest. 

“Police from stations in the Qur’angi district have not arrested Anjum,” Memon told the broadcaster. “We are investigating the incident.” 

Meanwhile, the police have lodged a case relating to Anjum’s “disappearance” at the Model Colony police station, the report read. 

Anjum’s disappearance comes days after a prominent Pakistani human rights activist, Jibran Nasir, was “picked up” by about 15 men, dressed in plain clothes, in Karachi, his wife said. Nasir returned a day later, his cousin confirmed to Arab News, without divulging further details. 

As a rights activist, Nasir raised alarm over the crackdown against former prime minister Imran Khan’s party members and supporters over the violent protests that erupted after Khan’s arrest on May 9. 

The government denies reports it is illegally abducting dissenters, maintaining that only those who partook in violence and vandalism are being dealt with under the law. 

Last month, Sami Abraham, a prominent Pakistani television journalist, went missing apparently because of his public support to Khan. 

Abraham has long publicly opposed the government of Khan’s successor, PM Shehbaz Sharif. Khan, who has been at loggerheads with the government and the military, was in office in 2018-2022 and was ousted in a no-confidence vote in parliament last year. 

Abraham returned home days later on May 30. No one claimed responsibility for Abrahim’s abduction, but it was widely believed that he was being held by the country’s security agencies, which are often accused of abducting, harassing and torturing journalists. The security agencies deny the allegation. 

Another pro-Khan TV journalist, Imran Riaz, went missing last month and has yet to be found. 

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.”