Pakistan mulling army crackdown against electricity theft, line losses in distribution companies — official

Pakistani technicians work at a power grid station in Faisalabad on on November 16, 2016. (AFP/File)
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Updated 30 November 2023
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Pakistan mulling army crackdown against electricity theft, line losses in distribution companies — official

  • Power secretary says plan to bring in army will begin with Hyderabad Electric Supply Company as a pilot project
  • Energy Minister Mohammad Ali had said in September a crackdown would start to stop power theft of $1.92 billion

ISLAMABAD: The government has “carved out a plan” to involve the army in a crackdown against electricity theft and line losses of state-run power distribution companies, the federal secretary of the power division said in an interview to a top Pakistani newspaper published on Thursday. 

The South Asian nation’s power sector has been plagued by high rates of power theft and distribution losses, resulting in accumulating debts across the production chain — a concern also raised by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) during recent bailout talks.

There are ten distribution companies in Pakistan, which are locally called DISCOs. The high performing ones, with high recovery of bills, are based in the major eastern urban centers of Gujranwala and Faislabad, as well as in the capital, Islamabad, but other state-run companies make massive losses because of low recovery rates due to theft and line losses. 

The caretaker energy minister Mohammad Ali had said in September a crackdown would start to stop power theft of 589 billion rupees ($1.92 billion).

“We have carved out a plan which is yet to be approved by higher authorities. However, the top functionaries of Power Division have made up their minds to start implementing the plan from HESCO (Hyderabad Electric Supply Company) as a pilot project,” Secretary of the Power division Rasheed Langrial told The News, one of Pakistan’s top English newspapers, referring to plans for the army to supervise a crackdown against electricity theft and distribution losses. 

“This will help identify unscrupulous elements within the DISCO and people hand in glove with theft of electricity and causing billions of rupee losses to national exchequer.”

The army has not yet commented on Langrial’s remarks but the news comes after a crackdown on dollar hoarding and smuggling that has led to a continuing appreciation of Pakistan’s national currency and which currency dealers have widely credited the country’s all-powerful army of spearheading. Tens of millions of dollars have poured back into Pakistan’s interbank and open markets since raids on black market operators began on Sept. 6.

While there have been other attempts to curb the black market when the rupee has been under stress, the latest push came after licensed dealers requested army chief General Asim Munir to take action, rather than leave it solely to the civilian caretaker government that was put in place in August to run Pakistan till elections, currently expected to be held early next year. Munir had reportedly promised dealers “transparency in dollar exchange and interbank rates.”

According to the data for the financial year 2020-21 quoted in The News, the recovery of electricity bills in HESCO was at 73.7 percent, Sukkur Electric Supply Company 64.6 percent, Quetta Electric Supply Company at 34.66 percent and Tribal Electric Supply Company at 25.29 percent.

Pakistan’s resolve to undertake power sector reforms was crucial to reaching a staff level agreement unlocking a $3 billion standby arrangement from the IMF earlier this year.

The power sector has been specifically mentioned by the IMF, which called for a “timely” rebasing of tariffs to ensure that costs are recovered. This means hiking prices for consumers despite already record high inflation.


Pakistan’s PM criticizes Imran Khan’s ‘irresponsible’ demand for election audit in IMF bailout letter

Updated 29 February 2024
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Pakistan’s PM criticizes Imran Khan’s ‘irresponsible’ demand for election audit in IMF bailout letter

  • Prime Minister Kakar says there are proper forums in the country for the redressal of any election grievances
  • He says the letter has contradicted PTI’s own narrative that maintains Pakistan should not ‘surrender’ to the West

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar on Wednesday described Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party’s decision to send a letter to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), asking it to ensure election audit before any discussion on financial bailouts for the country, as “highly irresponsible” and in contradiction to its overall political narrative.

Last week, a group of lawyers representing the PTI founding leader, Imran Khan, said he wanted to send a letter to the IMF after raising the allegations of rigging in the recent general elections in the country earlier this month.

The party revealed on Wednesday it had dispatched the letter to the international lending organization, asking it to link any financing for Pakistan to “good governance” and the audit of at least 30 national and provincial assembly seats.

Kakar expressed his displeasure over the development during an interview with a local news channel.

“This is highly irresponsible,” he told Samaa TV. “And I am making a very mild statement. Otherwise, one can use much harsher words in response to this.”

“In the caretaker government, the biggest challenge we faced was not only conducting elections but also to the revival of the economy, improvement in financial indicators and achieving our revenue targets,” he continued. “To an extent, we have met [all these objectives]. As a result, the IMF is negotiating with Pakistan positively.”

He said the country was now expecting a $6 billion deal with the international lender and could also get $2 billion more in climate finance deal.

The prime minister noted this was vital for the country’s economic health, adding that the financial plans of the future government also depended heavily on this.

“Whatever your views are regarding the electoral process, there are proper forums to express them,” he continued. “They are not the IMF.”

Kakar said the PTI leadership’s letter had also contradicted its own narrative which required the country not to “surrender” to Western power.

He maintained that Khan’s party had gone against that by seeking external intervention in the country.

However, predicted the letter would not have any major impact on Pakistan, though it would have a political cost for the PTI.

The IMF already refused to comment on the “ongoing political developments” in the country, saying it was willing to work with the new government.


Pakistani security forces kill six militants in intelligence-based operation in northwest

Updated 29 February 2024
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Pakistani security forces kill six militants in intelligence-based operation in northwest

  • An official statement says the militants were involved in violent activities against North Waziristan’s residents
  • The Pakistani security forces also recovered weapons, ammunition and explosives from the dead militants

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s security forces killed six militants in an intelligence-based operation (IBO) in the country’s northwest on Wednesday, saying they were involved in violent activities against the civilian population in the area.

Pakistan has witnessed an uptick in militant activities since Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a proscribed conglomerate of armed factions, called off a fragile ceasefire with the government in November 2022.

The violence has largely been confined to the western provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan that share frontier with the neighboring state of Afghanistan.

The country’s security forces and law enforcement agencies have carried out several operations in recent months to deal with militants in places like North Waziristan where the recent engagement with the militants took place.

“During the conduct of operation, intense fire exchange took place between own troops and the terrorists,” the military’s media wing, ISPR, said in a statement, adding that this led to the killing of six militants.

“Weapons, ammunition and explosives were also recovered from the killed terrorists, who remained actively involved in numerous terrorist activities including target killing as well as extortion & abduction of innocent civilians,” it added.

The ISPR said one of the Pakistani soldiers who participated in the operation also got injured.

It informed the Pakistani forces started a “sanitization operation” to find other militants who might have taken refuge in the area.

Pakistan’s North Waziristan district was once described as the hub of militancy before the government launched a clear-and-hold military operation to reclaim the territory.


US urges new Pakistan government to prioritize economy, continue working with IMF on reforms 

Updated 29 February 2024
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US urges new Pakistan government to prioritize economy, continue working with IMF on reforms 

  • The US says it supports Pakistan’s efforts to break free from the vicious cycle of debt and international financing
  • Analysts believe government will have to negotiate another IMF loan program amid continuing economic challenges

ISLAMABAD: The United States said on Wednesday Pakistan’s new government should address the economic situation facing the country on priority, emphasizing it was important for the emerging administration in Islamabad to continue engagements with international financial institutions.

Pakistan is holding the first National Assembly today, Thursday, in which the newly elected lawmakers will take oath. The country’s new government is expected to take the reins of power within the next few days after the in-house election of the next prime minister.

The issue of Pakistan’s economy came up for discussion during a regular State Department briefing after a journalist asked about a letter written by former premier Imran Khan’s party to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), asking it to link the next loan facility to “good governance” in the country.

“I’ll just say with respect to the IMF that we support Pakistan’s efforts to break free from the vicious cycle of debt and international financing,” Spokesperson Matthew Miller said. “The long-term health of Pakistan’s government – or economy is crucial to its stability.”

“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 added. “And we urge Pakistan to continue working with the IMF and other international financial institutions toward macroeconomic reforms.”

Pakistan has been facing significant financial challenges in recent years, with dwindling foreign exchange reserves and declining value of its national currency.

The country’s caretaker administration negotiated a $3 billion, short-term loan facility with the IMF that is scheduled to expire in March.

Pakistan’s economic challenges persist, prompting many analysts to point out it will continue to need external financing from the international lending agency.
 


Pakistan’s National Assembly convenes as Imran Khan-backed MNAs protest vote result

Updated 29 February 2024
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Pakistan’s National Assembly convenes as Imran Khan-backed MNAs protest vote result

  • PML-N’s 79 and PPP’s 54 seats together make a simple majority in parliament to form a government
  • Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf won 93 seats but does not have the numbers to form a government

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s National Assembly convened for its first session on Thursday, with opposition lawmakers continuing to protest the results of a general election on Feb. 8 that has been widely marred by allegations of rigging. 

The agreement between Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of three-time Premier Nawaz Sharif on Feb. 20 ended days of uncertainty and negotiations after an inconclusive election threw up a hung National Assembly. 

PML-N’s 79 and the PPP’s 54 seats together make a simple majority in parliament to form a government, and they have also roped in smaller parties in the coalition. Candidates backed by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) won 93 seats, but do not have the numbers to form a government. He and his party have rejected the results of the elections, alleging widespread rigging, which the election commission has denied.

Thursday’s session started with ruckus as soon as the national anthem ended and Khan-backed lawmakers, who have joined the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), surrounded the speaker’s podium.

“Who will save Pakistan? Imran Khan! Imran Khan!” PTI lawmakers chanted after the oath taking and as newly elected MNAs signed the NA register roll. 

The coalition alliance has announced Shehbaz Sharif, the brother of three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, as its PM candidate. Shehbaz is himself a former premier and replaced Khan when he was ousted through a no-confidence vote in parliament in 2022. Since then, Khan has been convicted of several offenses in what his supporters call politically motivated moves to keep him out of office. 

The coalition alliance is backing former President Asif Ali Zardari of the PPP as their joint candidate for president when the new parliament and all the four provincial legislatures elect the successor of the outgoing President Arif Ali, a close Khan ally, in the coming weeks.

Shehbaz will take over the country at the time when the new government would need to take tough decisions to steer the country out of financial crisis, including negotiating a new bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund/ The current IMF program expires in March. A new program will mean committing to steps needed to stay on a narrow path to recovery, but which will limit policy options to provide relief to a deeply frustrated population and cater to industries that are looking for government support to spur growth.

Other big moves include privatization of loss-making state owned enterprises such as the flagship carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).

Pakistan is also facing a troubling rise in militancy, which any new government will have to tackle. Lowering political temperatures will also be a key challenge as Khan maintains mass popular support in Pakistan, and a continued crackdown on his party and his remaining in jail would likely stoke tensions at a time when stability is needed to attract foreign investment to shore up the economy.


Two Pakistanis charged over calls for Dutch far-right leader’s killing

Updated 29 February 2024
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Two Pakistanis charged over calls for Dutch far-right leader’s killing

  • The Netherlands and Pakistan do not have an extradition treaty, leaving prospects for a trial unclear
  • A Dutch court says the Pakistanis were suspected of publicly calling on people to kill Geert Wilders

AMSTERDAM: A Dutch court said it had charged two Pakistani nationals on Wednesday over public calls for the murder of far-right anti-Muslim leader Geert Wilders, who aims to lead a new government after his party won elections in November.

In a statement on Wednesday, the court said prosecutors had asked authorities in Pakistan to extradite the two suspects – aged 55 and 29 – to stand trial in the Netherlands.

It said the two Pakistanis were suspected of publicly calling on people to kill Wilders and promising them a reward in the afterlife if they did so. It did not say how those calls were made.

In September, a Dutch court sentenced a Pakistani former cricketer to 12 years in prison after he was tried in absentia for publicly urging people to kill Wilders.

“I hope they (two suspects) will be extradited, convicted and jailed!” Wilders wrote in a post on X.

The court scheduled its first hearing on the case for Sept. 2. The Netherlands and Pakistan do not have an extradition treaty, leaving prospects for a trial unclear.