Pakistan drafting fuel pricing scheme despite IMF concerns – minister

People wait for their turn to get fuel at a petrol station in Peshawar, Pakistan on January 30, 2023. (REUTERS/File)
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Updated 23 March 2023

Pakistan drafting fuel pricing scheme despite IMF concerns – minister

  • PM Sharif last week announced government's plans for fuel pricing scheme to help poor
  • Package envisages charging affluent consumers more for fuel, reducing prices for the poor

KARACHI: Pakistan is drafting a fuel pricing scheme aimed at helping the poor, the petroleum minister said, a programme that some economists fear could hinder a crucial International Monetary Fund pay out needed to prevent economic collapse.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif first announced the government's plans for fuel pricing last week.

Petroleum Minister Musadik Malik told Reuters his ministry had been given six weeks to draft the relief package, which envisages charging affluent consumers more for fuel and using that money to reduce prices for the poor who have been hit hard by inflation, which in February was at its highest in 50 years.

"It is not a subsidy. It is a pricing scheme. It is a relief programme for the poor," Malik said. A ministry spokesman said the price difference would be in the range of 100 Pakistani rupees (around 30 U.S. cents) a litre for the rich and the poor.

With enough foreign reserves to only cover about four weeks of necessary imports, Pakistan is desperate for the IMF agreement to disperse a $1.1 billion tranche from a $6.5 billion bailout agreed in 2019.

The government has implemented several fiscal measures, including devaluing the rupee, lifting subsidies and raising energy prices as preconditions for the agreement, which the finance minister said this month was "very close".

The resident IMF representative, Esther Perez Ruiz, said this week that the government did not consult the fund about the fuel pricing scheme.

She said the fund would ask the government for more details about the proposal, including how it will be implemented and what protection would be put in place to prevent abuse.

Asked about the IMF's concerns, Malik said the scheme was not a subsidy. "We haven't heard any concerns from the IMF," he said. "It is same like we did in the gas sector, and that was okay with the IMF," he added.

Earlier this year, the government implemented different prices for natural gas based on the amount of fuel consumed.

Economists said the scheme could derail the progress Pakistan had made so far in negotiations with the IMF.

"It seems this was not discussed with the IMF and, therefore, could delay the staff level agreement," said former central bank deputy governor Murtaza Syed.

($1 = 282.7200 Pakistani rupees)

PM Sharif attends President Erdogan’s inauguration, seeks Turkish investment in Pakistan

Updated 03 June 2023

PM Sharif attends President Erdogan’s inauguration, seeks Turkish investment in Pakistan

  • The prime minister describes Türkiye’s progress in the last two decades as a ‘remarkable achievement’
  • Shehbaz Sharif encourages Turkish business leaders to benefit from new bilateral trade arrangement

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif attended President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s inauguration ceremony in Ankara on Saturday where he also held meetings with leading Turkish businessmen and encouraged them to enter strategic collaboration with Pakistan in different economic sectors.

The prime minister arrived in the Turkish capital earlier in the day on Erdogan’s invitation who was reelected as his country’s president on May 28.

The 69-year-old leader has already led Türkiye for 20 years and will continue to be at the helm as his country celebrates its centenary in October.

During his interaction with Erdogan, the prime minister said Türkiye had made impressive strides in all fields in the last twenty years, saying the country’s progress during the two decades was nothing short of a “remarkable achievement.”

“As the Turkish Republic commemorates its centenary this year, it is befitting that President Erdogan continue to lead the great nation on the path to progress and prosperity,” the PM Office quoted Sharif as saying in a statement after the meeting of the two leaders.

He invited Erdogan to visit Pakistan and co-chair the Seventh Meeting of the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council (HLSCC), which provides strategic direction to the bilateral relations between the two countries, in Islamabad.

The prime minister later joined other world leaders at the banquet hosted by the Turkish president for visiting dignitaries.


Sharif also met leading Turkish businessmen in Ankara and invited them to establish strategic collaboration with Pakistan in the fields of energy, agriculture, information technology and construction.

A delegation of Anadolu Group calls on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Ankara on June 3, 2023. (Photo courtesy: Prime Minister's Office)

Last year, the two countries signed the Trade in Goods Agreement which became operational from May 1.

The agreement provides Pakistan preferential access to the Turkish market where it can sell leather, rice, dates, mangoes, sports good, seafood and several other items on concessional tariff rates.

Türkiye also enjoys the same privilege in the Pakistani market, though on a smaller number of items, including black tea, industrial raw materials and spare parts of machinery and electronic equipment.

“The Prime Minister outlined government’s vision to facilitate foreign direct investment and encouraged joint ventures,” said another statement released by his office in Islamabad after his meeting. “Their exchanges spanned around expanding trade and investment ties to maximize mutual gains from available opportunities in Pakistan and to enhance cooperation in key sectors of the economy through direct presence of Turkish enterprises and via joint ventures with Pakistani counterparts.”

Several Turkish companies briefed Sharif on their existing and future investment plans in Pakistan, thanking him for facilitating their operations in his country.

A considerable number of Turkish enterprises are already operating in the South Asian state in various sectors while contributing to its economic development.

The Pakistani government believes, however, there are still several opportunities for cooperation and collaboration in various economic sectors, including hydro and solar power, housing and construction, infrastructure development along with transport and tourism.

Pakistan trains Hajj assistants to facilitate pilgrims in Saudi Arabia

Updated 03 June 2023

Pakistan trains Hajj assistants to facilitate pilgrims in Saudi Arabia

  • Religious affairs ministry deploys 3,000 individuals at different locations to aid people performing Hajj
  • These people include Urdu and Arabic-speaking Hajj assistants, ministry officials and medical personnel

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry has started conducting training sessions for Hajj assistants to help pilgrims traveling to Saudi Arabia in the best possible way, a statement from the spokesperson of the ministry said on Saturday.

This year, Saudi Arabia reinstated Pakistan’s pre-pandemic Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims and scrapped the upper age limit of 65 in January. About 80,000 Pakistani pilgrims are expected to perform the pilgrimage under the government scheme this year, and the rest will be facilitated by private tour operators.

The first batch of Pakistani Hajj pilgrims reached the holy city of Madinah on May 22, while the last flight would depart from Pakistan on June 20.

“Moavineen e Hujjaj (Hajj assistants) are engaged in daily training across different phases to enhance their skills in guiding and assisting pilgrims during the five-day Hajj pilgrimage, which takes place from the 8th to the 12th of Dhu al-Hijjah,” the spokesperson of the religious ministry said in a statement.

“The main aim of this extensive training is to provide [Hajj assistants] with the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively lead and assist pilgrims in reaching their assigned camps, and ensuring a seamless experience during their Hajj pilgrimage.”

The ministry said it has deployed 3,000 individuals, including Urdu and Arabic-speaking Hajj assistants and medical personnel, at different locations during the Hajj period.

“To ensure their efficiency, the volunteers are participating in daily group training sessions facilitated by experienced trainers. Each training group consists of approximately 40 to 50 individuals per day,” the report added.

The primary objective of the comprehensive training, the ministry said, was to equip Hajj assistants with the essential expertise and knowledge needed to guide intending pilgrims to their designated camps, thereby enabling them to navigate the Hajj rituals smoothly throughout their Hajj journey.

“The [assistants] received instructions, supported by maps, to ensure that Pakistani pilgrims are properly guided to their designated camps, even in the event of any forgetfulness on the pilgrims’ part,” the report said.

Hajj is an obligatory religious ritual for adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of carrying it out. It involves visiting the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah at least once in a lifetime and takes place during the last month of the lunar Islamic calendar called Dhu Al-Hijjah.

Pakistani court acquits ex-PM Khan’s loyalist accused of inciting attack on army general’s residence

Updated 03 June 2023

Pakistani court acquits ex-PM Khan’s loyalist accused of inciting attack on army general’s residence

  • Dr. Yasmin Rashid was released by the anti-terrorism court due to lack of ‘incriminating material’ against her
  • She served as a provincial health minister and was arrested after an audio leak which she said was ‘doctored’

ISLAMABAD: An anti-terrorism court on Saturday acquitted a female leader of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party following her arrest last month on charges of inciting people to target the official residence of a top general in Lahore who stormed the building and set it on fire.

The incident took place on May 9 when Khan was arrested from the Islamabad High Court on corruption charges, leading to violent protests in various parts of the country. Hundreds of people vandalized government buildings which also included sensitive military installations.

The development was followed by audio leaks of PTI leaders, suggesting the senior party members were instigating their supporters to target state properties.

Former Punjab health minister Dr. Yasmin Rashid, who is known for her loyalty to Khan, was also accused of provoking people on the basis of a recorded phone conversation, though she maintained her audio clip had been “doctored” to falsely implicate her in the case.

In this picture, taken on January 30, 2023, former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's aide Dr. Yasmin Rashid gestures during a press conference in Lahore. (Photo courtesy: APP/File)

“Investigating Officer has requested for 14-day physical remand of Yasmin Rashid for Photogrammetry, Voice Match Tests and recovery of mobile phones etc. whereas perusal of record reveals that neither Dr. Yasmin Rashid is nominated in FIR [police complaint] nor involved through supplementary statement and she was summoned in this case on the disclosure of co-accused which has no evidentiary value in the eye of law,” said the court while announcing its decision.

“Since no incriminating material is available on record to connect her with the commission of offence, therefore, request of Investigating Officer is turned down and she is accordingly discharged from instant case,” it added. “She be released forthwith, if not required in any other case.”

The police and caretaker administration of Punjab said they had arrested people involved in vandalism through scientific means, including facial recognition and geofencing.

The former prime minister’s party questioned the arrests of its leaders and supporters after Rashid’s release, saying they had been thrown into prison on fake cases.

“Who will be punished for keeping thousands of PTI workers, including Dr. Yasmin Rashid, in jail for 24 days in a false case and spreading false propaganda in the media,” the PTI asked in a Twitter post.

It added that Rashid was an elderly woman who had survived cancer and spent her whole career as a medical practitioner saving people’s lives.

Khan has denied in the past that his party members were involved in the violent May 9 protests while pointing a finger at intelligence agencies for orchestrating the mayhem to justify a crackdown on his party.

Iran contemplates naval alliance with Gulf states, Pakistan and India to ensure regional stability

Updated 03 June 2023

Iran contemplates naval alliance with Gulf states, Pakistan and India to ensure regional stability

  • Iranian official says regional states have realized only cooperation with each other will bring security to the area
  • Iran is yet to elaborate the shape of the alliance which may also include Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates

DUBAI: Iran’s navy commander said his country and Saudi Arabia, as well as three other Gulf states, plan to form a naval alliance that will also include India and Pakistan, Iranian media reported on Saturday.

“The countries of the region have today realized that only cooperation with each other brings security to the area,” Iran’s navy commander Shahram Irani was quoted as saying.

He did not elaborate on the shape of the alliance that he said would be formed soon.

Iran has recently been trying to mend its strained ties with several Gulf Arab states.

In March, Saudi Arabia and Iran ended seven years of hostility under a China-mediated deal, stressing the need for regional stability and economic cooperation.

Naval commander Irani said the states that will take part in the alliance also include the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Qatar, Iraq, Pakistan, and India.

Saudi Arabia’s rapprochement with Iran has frustrated Israel’s efforts to isolate Iran diplomatically.

The UAE, which was the first Gulf Arab country to sign a normalization agreement with Israel in 2020, resumed formal relations with Iran last year.

Bahrain and Morocco later joined the UAE in establishing ties with Israel.

Pakistani official praises innovation as UAE-based bank opens country’s first ‘digital lifestyle branch’

Updated 03 June 2023

Pakistani official praises innovation as UAE-based bank opens country’s first ‘digital lifestyle branch’

  • Launched by Bank Alfalah, the branch seeks to provide unique digital experience and meet customers’ financial needs
  • Among other facilities, the branch will also provide biometrically secured digital lockers that will remain available 24/7

ISLAMABAD: The top central bank official in Pakistan has praised the country’s financial sector for making technological upgrades after a private commercial bank inaugurated its first “digital lifestyle branch” in the southern Karachi port city to improve the overall customer experience and reduce the brick-and-mortar footprint earlier this week.

Launched by Bank Alfalah, a Pakistani subsidiary of a company based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the initiative seeks to provide a unique digital experience and meet the lifestyle and financial needs of customers.

According to the bank, the state-of-the-art branch will offer a 24/7 digital self-service banking area comprising a virtual self-service machine (VSM), biometrically secured digital lockers, cash-deposit machines (CDMs), auto-teller machines (ATMs), and tech-gadget machines along with round-the-clock Wi-Fi access, among other facilities.

The branch was launched in Karachi by Pakistan’s top central bank official on June 1.

“Governor State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Mr. Jameel Ahmad has said that Pakistan’s banking industry was investing in technological upgrades to facilitate its customers and improve their overall banking experience,” said a statement circulated by the bank.

“He was optimistic that exciting projects like Bank Alfalah’s first digital lifestyle branch will unlock new opportunities, making banking easier to access and leading to a more financially inclusive and digitally empowered nation.”

According to the statement, Ahmad said that digitalization would entail a reduction in the brick-and-mortar footprint of the banking industry globally, adding that Pakistan was no exception.

“The governor of SBP was confident that the successful implementation of this model will show the way forward to the new entrants of the banking industry in Pakistan. In his concluding remarks, he stressed the need for a proactive approach by the banking industry in tailoring customers’ products and services based on their specific preferences and changing behavior,” it added.

The top SBP official further maintained that customers’ fair treatment and protection should be a top priority of banks.

The virtual self-service machine will allow customers to instantly open accounts, receive debit cards swiftly, and get statements printed by a video teller immediately after a transaction, the bank said.

The facility will also provide “easy-to-use and biometrically secured digital lockers” which will be accessible to customers at any time of the day or night without any staff interaction.

Bank Alfalah witnessed an exponential growth of over 95 percent in digital banking transactions with an annualized volume of over Rs3.5 trillion. The bank’s record further reveals that 77 percent of new-to-bank (NTB) account holders prefer digital transactions over conventional methods.

Over 75 percent of the bank’s transactions are now online, and 70 percent of bank accounts are opened via digital channels.