Pakistani PM pushes ahead with PIA privatization, seeks implementation schedule within two days

Pakistan Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif chairs a meeting regarding privatization of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) in Islamabad on March 6, 2024. (Photo courtesy: PMO)
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Updated 07 March 2024
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Pakistani PM pushes ahead with PIA privatization, seeks implementation schedule within two days

  • PM Sharif asks authorities to present implementation schedule of national carrier’s privatization this week 
  • Pakistan agreed in June 2023 to overhaul loss-making state-owned enterprises under a deal with the IMF

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif instructed authorities to present the final implementation schedule of the privatization of Pakistan’s national flag carrier this week, warning officials he would not tolerate “laziness” or “carelessness” in this regard as the South Asian country moves to privatize its loss-making enterprise. 

Pakistan, eager to avoid a macroeconomic crisis, agreed in June 2023 to overhaul loss-making state-owned enterprises under a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in exchange for a $3 billion bailout program. The government decided to privatize PIA weeks after signing the IMF agreement.

Pakistan’s caretaker administration, which governed the country from August 2023 to February 2024, was empowered by the outgoing parliament to take any steps needed to meet the budgetary targets agreed with the IMF. However, Pakistan’s election regulator last month halted the caretaker government’s plans to privatize PIA, reminding the administration of its limitations as an interim setup. 

PM Sharif chaired a high-level meeting on Wednesday to discuss the PIA’s privatization and the restructuring of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), Pakistan’s main tax-collecting body. During the meeting, Sharif asked authorities to present the final implementation schedule of the PIA’s privatization in the next two days. 

“The prime minister issued strict instructions that laziness and carelessness will not be tolerated in this act,” the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said in a press release. “The prime minister directed that 100 percent transparency should be ensured at all stages.”

Sharif was informed about the progress so far in the national flag carrier’s privatization during the meeting, while the next steps in the plan were also discussed, the PMO said. 

On the FBR’s restructuring, the prime minister directed Pakistan’s law ministry to make recommendations for the resolution of pending cases and legal disputes in courts related to tax collections and revenue, so that the hurdles in the way of disbursement of Rs1.7 trillion to the national exchequer can be resolved.

One of the principal tasks of Sharif’s government would be to secure a long-term bailout program from the IMF as Pakistan’s current financial assistance deal with the international lender expires this month. 

Pakistan’s national airline has accumulated hundreds of billions of rupees in losses and arrears over the years, and is on the verge of default. In October last year, over a dozen domestic and international PIA flights were canceled due to fuel shortages after it emerged the PIA had not cleared the dues of the state-owned Pakistan State Oil (PSO). 


Pakistan PM finds rough landing of Iranian president’s helicopter ‘distressing,’ awaits ‘good news’

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Pakistan PM finds rough landing of Iranian president’s helicopter ‘distressing,’ awaits ‘good news’

  • Iranian media says the helicopter landed roughly while crossing a mountainous area on way back from Azerbaijan
  • In April, President Raisi visited Pakistan as the two neighbors sought to mend ties after tit-for-tat strikes this year

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Sunday reacted to the “distressing news” about rough landing of a helicopter carrying President Ebrahim Raisi in Iran’s northwest, saying he was anxiously waiting for the “good news.”

The helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian landed roughly when it was crossing a mountainous area in heavy fog on the way back from a visit to Azerbaijan, according to Iranian media.

The bad weather was complicating rescue efforts, the IRNA state news agency reported. Interior Minister Ahmed Vahidi told state TV that one of the helicopters in a group of three had “come down hard,” and that authorities were awaiting further details.

“Heard the distressing news from Iran regarding Hon. President Seyed Ibrahim Raisi’s helicopter. Waiting with great anxiety for good news that all is well,” PM Sharif said on Twitter.

“Our prayers and best wishes are with Hon. President Raisi and the entire Iranian nation.”

Raisi, 63, was elected president at the second attempt in 2021, and since taking office has ordered a tightening of morality laws, overseen a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers.

In Iran’s dual political system, split between the clerical establishment and the government, it is the supreme leader rather than the president who has the final say on all major policies.

But many see Raisi as a strong contender to succeed his mentor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has strongly endorsed Raisi’s main policies.

In April, Raisi arrived in Islamabad on a three-day official visit to Pakistan as the two Muslim neighbors sought to mend ties after unprecedented tit-for-tat military strikes earlier this year.

The Iranian president had held delegation-level meetings in the Pakistani capital as well as one-on-one discussions with Pakistan’s prime minister, president, army chief, Senate chairman and National Assembly speaker.

During the visit, Raisi had also overseen the signing of eight agreements between the two countries that covered different fields, including trade, science technology, agriculture, health, culture, and judicial matters.


Turkish FM arrives in Islamabad amid Pakistan’s efforts to attract foreign investment

Updated 35 min 8 sec ago
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Turkish FM arrives in Islamabad amid Pakistan’s efforts to attract foreign investment

  • Pakistan last month completed a short-term $3 billion IMF program that helped stave off a sovereign default last year
  • The country is still dealing with high fiscal shortfall and has to meet a primary budget deficit target of $1.4 billion by June

ISLAMABAD: Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan on Sunday arrived in Islamabad on a two-day official visit to Pakistan, the Pakistani foreign ministry said, amid efforts by the South Asian country to boost foreign direct investment.

Islamabad has seen a flurry of high-level exchanges from diplomats and business delegations in recent weeks from Saudi Arabia, China, Japan, Azerbaijan, Qatar and other countries.

Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has vowed to rid the country of its chronic macroeconomic crisis through foreign investment and efficient handling of the economy.

Upon arrival in Islamabad, Pakistan’s Additional Foreign Secretary Ambassador Ahmed Naseem Warraich received the Turkish foreign minister.

“Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan will call on Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif and hold extensive discussions with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Senator Mohammad Ishaq Dar,” the Pakistani foreign ministry said in a statement.

“The two sides will review the state of bilateral relations and assess preparations for upcoming high-level engagements between the two countries.”

Pakistan, which has been facing low foreign exchange reserves, currency devaluation and high inflation, completed a short-term $3 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) program in April that helped stave off a sovereign default last year.

However, the South Asian country is still dealing with a high fiscal shortfall and while it has controlled its external account deficit through import control mechanisms, it has come at the expense of stagnating growth, which is expected to be around 2 percent this year, compared to negative growth last year.

Pakistan has to meet a primary budget deficit target of Rs401 billion ($1.44 billion), or 0.4 percent of its gross domestic product, for the current fiscal year before the government presents its budget in June. The country is already in talks with the IMF for a fresh, longer-term bailout.


Pakistan Deputy PM to attend SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Kazakhstan tomorrow

Updated 19 May 2024
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Pakistan Deputy PM to attend SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Kazakhstan tomorrow

  • The SCO is a major trans-regional organization and its member states collectively represent nearly half of world population
  • Deputy PM Ishaq Dar will also hold bilateral meetings with his counterparts on sidelines of the SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting

ISLAMABAD: Ishaq Dar, Pakistan’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, will attend a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on Monday, Pakistani state media reported.

Founded in 2001, the SCO is a major trans-regional organization spanning South and Central Asia, with China, Russia, Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan as its permanent members. The SCO member states collectively represent nearly half of the world’s population and a quarter of global economic output. 

The organization’s agenda of promoting peace and stability, and seeking enhanced linkages in infrastructure, economic, trade and cultural spheres, is aligned with Pakistan’s own vision of enhancing economic connectivity as well as peace and stability in the region. 

The two-day meeting of the SCO Council of Foreign Ministers will begin in Astana on Monday, according to the state-run Radio Pakistan broadcaster.

“Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Muhammad Ishaq Dar will represent Pakistan at two-day meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of Shanghai Cooperation Organization, beginning at Astana in Kazakhstan tomorrow,” the report read.

“The Foreign Minister will also hold bilateral meetings with his counterparts on the sidelines of the Council of Foreign Ministers meeting.”

Since becoming a full member of the SCO in 2017, Pakistan has been actively contributing toward advancing the organization’s core objectives through its participation in various SCO mechanisms.

During his visit to China this week, Dar also met SCO Secretary-General Ambassador Zhang Ming and reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to the organization’s charter and its ideals, the Pakistani foreign ministry said in a statement.

“He expressed Pakistan’s strong commitment to advancing SCO’s security and development cooperation agenda,” the statement said.


Pakistan’s Punjab warns of ‘intense’ heatwave in southern districts next week

Updated 19 May 2024
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Pakistan’s Punjab warns of ‘intense’ heatwave in southern districts next week

  • Authorities asked to set up heatwave counters in all hospitals, ensure supply of essential medicines
  • Citizens are requested to take precautionary measures, avoid exertion and exercise in strong sunlight

ISLAMABAD: Authorities in Pakistan’s Punjab province have warned of an “intense” heat wave in southern districts of the province next week, urging people to take precautions and avoid going outdoors unnecessarily.

There is a severe risk of heatwave in Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Dera Ghazi Khan and Multan districts from May 21 to May 27, according to the provincial disaster management authority (PDMA).

Authorities have been given instructions to set up heatwave counters in all hospitals and ensure the supply of all essential medicines.

“All departments can fight heat wave by working together and cooperating [with each other],” PDMA Director-General Irfan Ali Kathia said in a statement. “The next ten days are predicted to be engulfed by severe heat wave.”

Climate change-induced extreme heat impacts human health in multiple ways. Direct effects of exposure to extreme heat and heatwaves can include heat-related illnesses such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and hyperthermia. It can make certain chronic conditions worse, including cardiovascular, respiratory, and cerebrovascular disease and diabetes-related conditions, and can also result in acute incidents, such as hospitalizations due to strokes or renal disease.

Citizens are being informed about the dangers of heatwave through print, electronic and social media, according to the PDMA DG.

“The public is requested to take precautionary measures. Avoid exertion and exercise in strong sunlight,” he said. “Do not step out of the house unnecessarily. Wear light colored cotton clothes.”

People may dial the PDMA helpline 1129 or Rescue 1122 in case of an emergency situation, the official added.

Increased exposure to heat, and more heatwaves, have been identified as one of the key impacts of climate change in Pakistan, with people experiencing extreme heat and seeing some of the highest temperatures in the world in recent years. The South Asian country of more than 241 million, one of the ten most vulnerable nations to climate change impacts, has also recently witnessed untimely downpours, flash floods and droughts.

According to the Global Climate Risk Index, nearly 10,000 Pakistanis have died while the country has suffered economic losses worth $3.8 billion due to climate change impacts between 1999 and 2018. A deadly heatwave that hit Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi, the capital of Sindh, claimed 120 lives in 2015.

In 2022, torrential monsoon rains triggered the most devastating floods in Pakistan’s history, killing around 1,700 people and affecting over 33 million, a staggering number close to the population of Canada. Millions of homes, tens of thousands of schools and thousands of kilometers of roads and railways are yet to be rebuilt.
 


Helicopter carrying Iran’s president suffers a ‘hard landing,’ state TV says without further details

Updated 19 May 2024
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Helicopter carrying Iran’s president suffers a ‘hard landing,’ state TV says without further details

  • Ebrahim Raisi was traveling in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province
  • State TV described the area of the incident as being near Jolfa

DUBAI: A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi suffered a “hard landing” on Sunday, Iranian state television reported, without immediately elaborating.
Raisi was traveling in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province. State TV described the area of the incident happening as being near Jolfa, a city on the border with with the nation of Azerbaijan, some 600 kilometers (375 miles) northwest of the Iranian capital, Tehran.
Raisi had been in Azerbaijan early Sunday to inaugurate a dam with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. The dam is the third one that the two nations built on the Aras River.
Iran flies a variety of helicopters in the country, but international sanctions make it difficult to obtain parts for them. Its military air fleet also largely dates back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Raisi, 63, is a hard-liner who formerly led the country’s judiciary. He is viewed as a protégé of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and some analysts have suggested he could replace the 85-year-old leader after his death or resignation from the role.