Pakistan and IMF reach staff-level agreement under $3 billion loan facility

In this handout photograph released by Pakistan’s Press Information Department (PID) and taken on March 14, 2024, Pakistan’s Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb (2L) speaks with International Monetary Fund (IMF) Mission Chief for Pakistan Nathan Porter (2R) during a meeting in Islamabad. (AFP)
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Updated 20 March 2024
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Pakistan and IMF reach staff-level agreement under $3 billion loan facility

  • Talks for medium-term Fund-supported program for long term stabilization are expected to start in the coming months
  • Pakistan is expected to receive the final tranche of $1.1 billion from IMF after its executive board meeting in April

KARACHI: The International monetary Fund (IMF) and Pakistani authorities have reached a staff-level agreement on the second and final review carried out under a stand-by arrangement signed last year, clearing the way for the disbursement of the final tranche of nearly $1.1 billion, the fund announced on Wednesday.
An IMF delegation, led by Nathan Porter, visited Islamabad from March 14-19 to hold discussions on the second review of Pakistan’s economic program supported by the short-term financial arrangement.
Subject to the approval of the international lender’s executive board, Pakistan will now be able to access about $1.1 billion. The IMF board is expected to give the final approval during a meeting in the month of April.
The staff-level agreement followed the IMF’s recognition of strong program implementation by the State Bank of Pakistan and the country’s caretaker administration which was managing its financial affairs before the February 8 general elections.
“Pakistan’s economic and financial position has improved in the months since the first review, with growth and confidence continuing to recover on the back of prudent policy management and the resumption of inflows from multilateral and bilateral partners,” Porter said in a statement.
However, he added the growth was expected to remain modest this year and inflation well above the target.
The IMF official emphasized the ongoing policy and reform efforts should continue to address the country’s deep-seated economic vulnerabilities amid the challenges posed by elevated external and domestic financing needs and an unsettled external environment.
“The new government is committed to continue the policy efforts that started under the current SBA to entrench economic and financial stability for the remainder of this year,” Porter said.
He noted Pakistan’s central bank was committed to maintaining a prudent monetary policy to lower inflation and ensure exchange rate flexibility and transparency in the operations of the forex market.
The Pakistani authorities also expressed interest in a successor medium-term IMF-supported program with the aim of permanently resolving the country’s fiscal and external sustainability weaknesses, strengthening its economic recovery, and laying the foundations for strong, sustainable and inclusive growth.
The IMF statement said the upcoming discussions are set to focus on strengthening public finances by gradually consolidating fiscal policies and broadening the tax base. This will include integrating undertaxed sectors and enhancing tax administration to improve debt sustainability and allow increased spending on development and social assistance for the vulnerable.
Additionally, plans are in place to restore the energy sector’s viability through cost-reducing reforms, such as improving electricity transmission and distribution, transitioning captive power demand to the grid, enhancing governance in distribution companies and intensifying efforts to combat theft.
Efforts to bring inflation back to the target will also be supported by a more transparent and flexible foreign exchange market, aiding external rebalancing and the replenishment of foreign reserves.
Moreover, promoting private sector-led activity, coupled with the removal of market distortions, advancing state-owned enterprise reforms, and increasing investment in human capital, aims to foster resilient and inclusive growth, enabling Pakistan to achieve its economic potential.


Pakistan repays $1 billion in Eurobonds, says central bank

Updated 8 sec ago
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Pakistan repays $1 billion in Eurobonds, says central bank

  • The bond, which was launched in 2014 and repaid on Friday, was maturing this month
  • It comes as Islamabad struggles with balance of payments crisis, currency devaluation
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s central bank has repaid $1 billion in Eurobonds, it said on Saturday, a scheduled payment ahead of the South Asian nation seeking a long-term bailout from the International Monetary Fund. The bond, launched in 2014 and repaid on Friday, was maturing this month. “The payment was made to the agent bank for onward distribution to the bond holders,” the central bank said in a statement. Islamabad has been struggling with a balance of payments crisis, record inflation and steep currency devaluation since an IMF standby arrangement averted a sovereign default. Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb is due to leave on Sunday for Washington to attend the IMF-World Bank spring meeting, where he will start negotiations for Pakistan’s 24th long-term IMF bailout. Aurangzeb briefed Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif about the new IMF program on Friday, the government said in a statement. The IMF standby arrangement of $3 billion Islamabad secured last summer expired on Thursday. Its final tranche of $1.1 billion is expected to be released after the multilateral lender’s board meets later this month. The two sides have spoken in recent weeks about negotiating the longer-term bailout to continue with necessary policy reforms to rein in deficits, build up reserves and manage soaring debt servicing. Pakistan is in discussions with the IMF for a potential follow-up program, the IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva said on Thursday.

Karachi couple dedicates engagement ceremony to solidarity with Palestine

Updated 25 min 13 sec ago
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Karachi couple dedicates engagement ceremony to solidarity with Palestine

  • Ismail Talha and Hamna Hamayun set aside their carefully laid plans for the ceremony, making keffiyehs the dress code
  • Rather than accepting the traditional ‘salami’ cash gift, they requested the guests to put the money into Gaza donation box

KARACHI: Like most couple, Ismail Talha and Hamna Hamayun had made numerous plans to make their engagement memorable, though they decided to abandon them in the wake of Israel’s war in Gaza to express solidarity with the people of Palestine in a unique way.
As the guests started arriving at the Tulip Banquet Hall in Karachi on Friday night, they adorned Palestinian keffiyehs in keeping with the new plan. The hosts served them carefully cooked food and delectable desserts.
Instead of adhering to the tradition of presenting “salami,” a cash gift for the couple, however, the guests put the money into a Gaza fund donation box, symbolizing solidarity with the victims of Israel’s ongoing military campaign in the Palestinian territory.

A donations box for Gaza placed at the engagement ceremony of couple who who dedicated their engagement ceremony to solidarity with Palestine in Karachi, Pakistan on April 12, 2024. (AN Photo)

“We also had our desires,” Talha told Arab News, remembering how he and his fiancée discussed ideas of how to make their engagement ceremony memorable. “But when we saw the injustices being done to our Muslim brothers and sisters, mothers, and children in Palestine, we said how could we [implement all those plans].”
“We thought why not create awareness about Palestine,” he continued, explaining the decision of incorporating the Palestinian cause into the engagement ceremony.
While the idea was unconventional for all guests, it left a lasting impression on some, Junaid Tariq being one of them.
“Usually, when we attend such ceremonies, we witness music and new themes being planned,” he told Arab News. “But what I saw at this ceremony felt very good. They remembered the Muslims of Palestine.”
“I found the concept very impressive,” he added.
Talha’s father, Shaikh Muhammad, captured the sentiment of the ceremony, pointing out it was not possible to overlook the plight of Palestinians even in moments of joy.
“This is an occasion of joy, everyone [we know] is gathered here, food and drinks are being served, but our sorrow [over the situation in Gaza] on this occasion of happiness is overwhelming,” he said.
A successful entrepreneur in the travel industry, he emphasized his desire to convey the message of solidarity to the Palestinian people, assuring them that Pakistan would continue to firmly stand with them in their struggle.
“Our hearts can’t rejoice because of the situation in Palestine, the oppression and atrocities committed by Israel, the way they bombarded women and children and the way they are committing crimes against humanity,” Talha’s father said.
“Our hearts beat with them,” he said, before presenting a keffiyeh to a guest in an expression of solidarity and support for Palestine.


Two soldiers, one high-value militant killed in security operation in northwestern Pakistan

Updated 13 April 2024
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Two soldiers, one high-value militant killed in security operation in northwestern Pakistan

  • The operation was conducted after security forces received information on militant presence in Buner district
  • The militant killed in the operation was involved in extortion and target killings, with a bounty of Rs5 million

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s security forces lost two soldiers while carrying out an intelligence-based operation in the country’s northwestern Buner district on Saturday, during which a high-value militant target was killed and two of his accomplices were injured.
Pakistan has witnessed an uptick in militant violence for well over a year after the banned militant network, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), called off a fragile ceasefire with the government in November 2022.
Since then, there has been a resurgence of deadly suicide bombings targeting security forces, political rallies and Chinese workers, primarily in the western provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, which are situated adjacent to Afghanistan.
“On 13 April 2024, security forces conducted an intelligence based operation in Buner District, on reported presence of terrorists,” the military’s media wing, ISPR, announced in a statement.
“During the conduct of operation, after an intense fire exchange, HVT [high-value target] Terrorist ring leader Saleem [alias] Rabbani was [killed], while two other terrorists were injured,” it added.
The ISPR said the targeted militant was involved in several militant activities against the security forces as well as extortion and target killings of civilians.
It continued that he was wanted by the law enforcement agencies and the government had fixed a bounty of Rs5 million on him.
“During the operation, two brave sons of soil, Lance Havildar Mudassar Mehmood (age-36 yrs; resident of district Rawalpindi) and Lance Naik Haseeb Javed (age-27 yrs; resident of district Poonch, AJ&K), having fought gallantly, embraced Shahadat [martyrdom],” the ISPR said.
The statement informed the security forces were carrying out sanitization operation in the area to eliminate any other militants found in the area.


Pakistan’s opposition alliance launches anti-government campaign, demands release of ex-PM Khan

Updated 22 min 49 sec ago
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Pakistan’s opposition alliance launches anti-government campaign, demands release of ex-PM Khan

  • The six-party alliance asks parliament to withdraw all cases against Khan in jail by passing a resolution
  • The alliance also downplays the May 9 violence which led to a state crackdown against Khan’s PTI party

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani opposition alliance on Saturday demanded release of jailed ex-premier Imran Khan in its first anti-government rally in Pishin, Balochistan, while vowing to hold nationwide public gatherings for the supremacy of the constitution and rule of law in the country.
Khan has been in jail since August last year and has been convicted in a number of cases. The candidates supported by his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party bagged the maximum number of seats in the February 8 elections despite a state crackdown against its leaders and workers.
The PTI has frequently claimed it won 180 National Assembly seats in the national polls, adding that its mandate was undermined after the authorities changed the election results to declare its rival factions victorious. The party formed the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province after the elections but rejected the results in the central government and the other three provinces.
The PTI has joined hands with other opposition parties, including the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP), Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM) and Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), to oust the government by building public pressure against it.
In its first public gathering in Pishin to inaugurate the anti-government campaign, the six-party alliance urged all sections of society, including trade unions and bar councils, to join its struggle to uphold the constitution and rule of law in the country.
“Parliament should withdraw all cases against Imran Khan and his associates through a resolution,” said alliance chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai while addressing the gathering.
He said Khan was the leader of the majority party in parliament, and all cases against him should be withdrawn. He also criticized the state’s reaction to the May 9 violence last year, when Khan’s supporters attacked military installations following his brief detention on graft charges, saying heavens did not fall on that day.
The violence was followed by the crackdown against the PTI and its leadership, with the country’s army deciding to try many suspects in military courts.
“We have to bring a revolution with the support of the public,” he said, adding that it was important to legally stop the extensions of service for judges and generals.
Achakzai said the opposition alliance had decided to rise up against “oppression,” adding the purpose of the opposition’s movement was to ensure the supremacy of the constitution.
Earlier, the provincial administration of Balochistan imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) in Pishin district, prohibiting a gathering of more than five people along with closure of highways.
Addressing the public gathering, Khan’s close aide and the leader of opposition in the National Assembly, Omar Ayub, demanded that the closed-circuit television footage of the May 9 incidents must be made public to reveal the facts about the day.
“The supremacy of the constitution will help secure the release of Imran Khan, other leaders and workers arrested illegally,” he continued, adding the opposition alliance would hold public rallies across the country to mobilize various segments of society, including students, trade unions and bar councils.


Pakistan announces joint inquiry after viral videos show soldiers allegedly beating police officers

Updated 13 April 2024
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Pakistan announces joint inquiry after viral videos show soldiers allegedly beating police officers

  • The army says the ‘unfortunate incident’ in Bahawalnagar was promptly addressed by both state institutions
  • The top cop in Punjab also blames social media ‘propaganda’ for blowing the incident out of proportion

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan army announced to carry out a joint inquiry with police on Friday after a series of videos showing its soldiers beating up cops in Bahawalnagar district emerged on social media in the last few days.
A brief statement issued by the military’s media wing, ISPR, mentioned the “unfortunate incident” without providing further details.
According to the information available in the public domain, however, there was a brawl between the uniformed personnel belonging to both institutions after a soldier’s relative was arrested by the police without the necessary paperwork.
“An unfortunate incident occurred in Bahawalnagar recently, which was promptly addressed and resolved through collaborative efforts of military and police authorities,” the ISPR said. “Despite this, certain factions with vested motives started fanning vitriolic propaganda on social media to create divisions between state institutions and government departments.”
“To ensure a fair and deliberate inquiry, and to determine responsibility for violation of laws and misuse of authority, a joint inquiry comprising security and police officials will be conducted for ascertaining the facts and apportioning responsibility,” it added.
Similar incidents have also been recorded in the past where the army officials roughed up police personnel.
In September 2016, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa police registered a complaint against army officials accused of beating four Motorway Police employees after the latter issued them a traffic ticket for reckless driving.
Earlier this week, police in Punjab, where Bahawalnagar district is located, described the social media videos as “fake propaganda” earlier this week after the incident was “taken out of context and exaggerated.”
Punjab Inspector General Police Dr. Usman Anwar also blamed the social media for blowing the incident out of proportion, saying this had benefited the country’s enemies who were trying to create the impression that Pakistani state institutions were at odds.
He noted there were no differences between the army and the police, adding the two sides had taken steps to address the issue as soon as it happened.