World Bank projects 1.8 percent growth for Pakistan as 40 percent fall below poverty line

Shoppers crowd at a market area in Lahore, Pakistan on March 31, 2024. (AFP/File)
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Updated 02 April 2024

World Bank projects 1.8 percent growth for Pakistan as 40 percent fall below poverty line

  • The bank notes macroeconomic risks remain very high amid a large debt burden and limited foreign exchange reserves
  • It says the current macroeconomic outlook projects growth that is below Pakistan’s potential, with little poverty reduction

KARACHI: The World Bank announced in its latest development update on Tuesday Pakistan’s economy is expected to grow by only 1.8 percent in the current fiscal year ending June 2024, emphasizing the need for structural reforms and warning that 40 percent of the population has slipped below the poverty line.

Pakistan’s economy has grappled with persistent financial woes in recent years, leading to a subdued economic performance marked by high inflation, dwindling foreign exchange reserves and slow growth. After concluding a short-term, $3 billion standby facility, the country now plans to pursue a new International Monetary Fund (IMF) program to stabilize its economy and address long-standing structural challenges.

According to World Bank’s latest “Pakistan Development Update: Fiscal Impact of Federal State-Owned Enterprises,” the subdued economic recovery in recent months emerges from tight monetary and fiscal policy, continued import management measures aimed at preserving scarce foreign reserves and muted economic activity amid weak confidence.

“The structural reforms needed to durably improve the economic outlook are known,” World Bank Country Director for Pakistan Najy Benhassine said in a statement. “Developing a clearly articulated reform implementation plan that is ambitious, credible and that shows quick progress is now essential to restore confidence.”

“In particular, better fiscal management will help to lower inflation, narrow the current account deficit, improve financial sector stability and increase credit to the private sector, all of which are critical for robust economic recovery,” he added.

The bank said in a statement that after a contraction in the last fiscal year, economic activity had strengthened over the first half of the current fiscal year on the back of strong agricultural output.

“But growth remains insufficient to reduce poverty, with 40 percent of Pakistanis now living below the poverty line,” it continued. “Macroeconomic risks remain very high amid a large debt burden and limited foreign exchange reserves.”

The bank noted a sustained medium-term recovery would require a prudent macroeconomic policy mix coupled with reforms to improve the quality of expenditures, broaden the tax base, address regulatory constraints to private sector activity and reduce state presence in the economy through the privatization process.

“The current macroeconomic outlook projects growth that is below Pakistan’s potential, with little poverty reduction and continued erosion of living standards,” the lead author of the bank’s report, Sayed Murtaza Muzaffari, said.

The report also highlighted the high fiscal costs of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) operating in key sectors of the economy.

It pointed out these SOEs had been consistently making losses since 2016, and the government had been providing significant financial support to them through subsidies, grants, loans and guarantees, leading to large and growing fiscal exposure.

“Direct government support to SOEs in the form of subsidies, loans and equity investments accounted for 18 percent of the federal budget deficit and 2 percent of GDP in FY22,” said Qurat Ul Ain Hadi, co-author of the report.

The World Bank recommended rapid progress with government plans for privatization, restructuring and divestment.

In addition, it called for new guarantee issuance rules, mitigating credit risks, ensuring adherence to International Financial Reporting Standards and developing risk monitoring procedures.

Climate change caused 26 extra days of extreme heat in last year — report

Updated 9 sec ago

Climate change caused 26 extra days of extreme heat in last year — report

  • In total, 76 extreme heatwaves were registered in 90 countries on every continent except Antarctica
  • Already this year, extreme heatwaves have afflicted swathes of the globe from Mexico to Pakistan

PARIS: The world experienced an average of 26 more days of extreme heat over the last 12 months that would probably not have occurred without climate change, a report said on Tuesday.

Heat is the leading cause of climate-related death and the report further points to the role of global warming in increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather around the world.

For this study, scientists used the years 1991 to 2020 to determine what temperatures counted as within the top 10 percent for each country over that period.

Next, they looked at the 12 months to May 15, 2024, to establish how many days over that period experienced temperatures within — or beyond — the previous range.

Then, using peer-reviewed methods, they examined the influence of climate change on each of these excessively hot days.

They concluded that “human-caused climate change added — on average, across all places in the world — 26 more days of extreme heat than there would have been without it.”

The report was published by the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Center, the World Weather Attribution scientific network and the nonprofit research organization Climate Central.

2023 was the hottest year on record, according to the European Union’s climate monitor, Copernicus.

Already this year, extreme heatwaves have afflicted swathes of the globe from Mexico to Pakistan.

The report said that in the last 12 months some 6.3 billion people — roughly 80 percent of the global population — experienced at least 31 days of what is classed as extreme heat.

In total, 76 extreme heatwaves were registered in 90 different countries on every continent except Antarctica.

Five of the most affected nations were in Latin America.

The report said that without the influence of climate change, Suriname would have recorded an estimated 24 extreme heat days instead of 182; Ecuador 10 not 180; Guyana 33 not 174, El Salvador 15 not 163; and Panama 12 not 149.

“(Extreme heat) is known to have killed tens of thousands of people over the last 12 months but the real number is likely in the hundreds of thousands or even millions,” the Red Cross said in a statement.

“Flooding and hurricanes may capture the headlines but the impacts of extreme heat are equally deadly,” said Jagan Chapagain, secretary general of the International Federation of the Red Cross.

‘Welcome development,’ says Pakistan as Spain, Norway, Ireland to recognize Palestinian state today

Updated 28 May 2024

‘Welcome development,’ says Pakistan as Spain, Norway, Ireland to recognize Palestinian state today

  • Three European states have said they will formally recognize Palestinian state from May 28
  • This followed recognitions by Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday congratulated Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez for pushing ahead with a decision to recognize a Palestinian state from today, Tuesday, as the European nation joins Ireland and Norway in implementing last week’s announcement.

The prime ministers of Spain, Ireland and Norway made the announcement on Wednesday, following recent recognitions by Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas. The additions have brought the total number of countries recognizing the Palestinian state to nearly 150.

“The recognition of the reality of Palestine by a country like Spain is a positive and welcome development on the international scene,” Sharif said in a statement released by his office.

“Honorable [Spanish PM] Pedro Sanchez and the people of Spain have rejected the ongoing historical oppression and usurpation ambitions of Israel on innocent Palestinians with this decision.”

By joining more than 140 of the 193 member-states of the United Nations that recognize a Palestinian state, Madrid, Dublin and Oslo have said they sought to accelerate efforts to secure a ceasefire in Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

“This is a historic decision that has a single objective: that Israelis and Palestinians achieve peace,” Sanchez said in a televised address before a cabinet meeting that will formally approve the measure.

Spain will recognize a unified Palestinian state, including the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, under the Palestinian National Authority with East Jerusalem as its capital, he said.

The Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank under Israeli military occupation, has welcomed the decision.

Sanchez said Madrid will not recognize any changes to pre-1967 borders unless agreed to by both parties.

“It’s the only way of advancing toward what everyone recognizes as the only possible solution to achieve a peaceful future, one of a Palestinian state that lives side by side with the Israeli state in peace and security,” he added.

Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs said last week it would upgrade its representative office in Ramallah in the West Bank to an embassy and appoint an ambassador and upgrade the status of the Palestinian mission in Ireland to an embassy.

The three countries say they hope their decision will spur other European Union countries to follow suit.

Israel has repeatedly condemned the move, insisting that it bolsters Hamas, which staged the Oct. 7 attack on Israel from its Gaza base.

“Sanchez, when you... recognize a Palestinian state, you are complicit in incitement to genocide against the Jewish people and in war crimes,” Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz wrote on X on Tuesday.

The Palestinian flag was flying outside the Irish parliament as the government was set to approve the recognition in a cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning.

“The people of Ireland know that a two-state solution is the only way to bring peace and stability to people in Israel, and to people in Palestine,” Prime Minister Simon Harris told journalists before the cabinet meeting.

-With inputs from Reuters

Journalist with Pakistan’s ARY News ‘taken’ by officers, whereabouts unknown — family 

Updated 28 May 2024

Journalist with Pakistan’s ARY News ‘taken’ by officers, whereabouts unknown — family 

  • Journalist Hafiz Maaz Bin Khalid works as a Digital Media Coordinator for ARY News
  • Video shows police taking Khalid from his house in a police van early Tuesday morning 

KARACHI: The father of a journalist from one of Pakistan’s top television news networks said on Tuesday he was picked up from his home in Karachi city by plain-clothes and uniformed officials and his whereabouts were unknown while the family feared for his safety.

The journalist, Hafiz Maaz Bin Khalid, works as a Digital Media Coordinator for ARY News. A video shared with media by the family showed officers taking Khalid away in a police van from Karachi’s Buffer Zone area early on Tuesday morning. 

“They arrived in three mobile vans and a double cabin, climbed over the wall, and took my son with them, claiming they were taking him for investigation to the Crime Investigation Agency center,” Khalil Ur Rehman, the journalist’s father, told Arab News, adding that officers, who were both in police uniform and plain clothes, did not produce warrants when asked. 

“They took him along with his national identity card and mobile phone. When I went to the CIA center, I was told my son was not brought there. I am unaware of his whereabouts,” the father added.

“They had informed us that they were taking Maaz for questioning for an hour. Almost ten hours have passed, but we are still unaware.”

Senior Superintendent of Police Zeeshan Siddiqui told Arab News police had not arrested the journalist and declined further comment. Neither police nor family commented on why Khalid might have been arrested but two of his colleagues at ARY who declined to be named said they believed it was over recent social media posts critical of the army and police.

Journalists in Pakistan are increasingly reporting on growing media censorship, with many blaming Pakistan’s powerful military for putting pressure on critical voices. The military and the government deny they suppress the press. 

In a report released on May 3 to coincide with World Press Freedom Day, the International Federation of Journalists watchdog said more than 300 people associated with the information industry in Pakistan had faced repressive state tactics designed to quell dissent during the course of about a year.

“Over 300 journalists and bloggers this year were affected by state coercion and targeted, including dozens of journalists arrested for durations between several hours to four weeks and nearly 60 served legal notices or summons for their journalism work or personal dissent online,” the IFJ Pakistan country report for 2023-2024 said. “At least eight were charged for alleged sedition, terrorism and incitement to violence – all serious charges carrying lengthy sentences and even the death penalty.”

The report also said four journalists were killed during the period under review while at least 59 journalists and bloggers were charged with sedition, terrorism, incitement to violence, defamation or contempt.

Pakistan aims to turn Gwadar port into logistics hub, increase exports to China

Updated 28 May 2024

Pakistan aims to turn Gwadar port into logistics hub, increase exports to China

  • Beijing is major ally, investor in Pakistan but militants have attacked Chinese projects over recent years
  • Establishment of Agriculture Demonstration Zones important project in next phase of CPEC, PM says

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Wednesday Pakistan would turn Gwadar port into a logistics hub with Beijing’s cooperation and had made it a priority to increase its exports to China. 
China is a major ally and investor in Pakistan but both separatist and religiously motivated militants have attacked Chinese projects in recent years, killing Chinese personnel. In the last attack on Mar. 26, five Chinese workers were killed in a suicide bombing on their vehicle on their way to a hydropower project funded by Beijing and being built in Dasu in the country’s northwest. 
The assault was the third major attack in little over a week on China’s interests in the South Asian nation, where Beijing has invested more than $65 billion in infrastructure, energy and other projects as part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
On Tuesday, PM Sharif held a review meeting on increasing cooperation between Pakistan and China in which various ministries presented their recommendations. 
“Pakistan wants to increase cooperation with China in agriculture, information technology, energy sectors and increase exports of Pakistani products to China on priority basis,” Sharif was quoted as saying in a statement released by his office as he invited Chinese industries, particularly textiles, to set up shop in Pakistan. 
Sharif said the government would provide all possible facilities to Chinese industrialists and investors, while the Chinese-funded deep-sea Gwadar port would be made a logistics hub with Beijing’s cooperation
“Establishment of Agriculture Demonstration Zones will be an important project regarding the next phase of CPEC,” the PM’s office said. “Concerned ministries should prepare for new Pakistan-China cooperation projects and take steps to increase business-to-business ties …China can help Pakistan in setting up a strategy to increase exports.”
Sharif also addressed the issue of the security of Chinese nationals working in Pakistan, saying a “comprehensive” plan had been prepared for their “foolproof security.” 
Last week, Pakistani authorities said they had arrested 11 militants who were involved in the Mar. 26 suicide bombing, adding that evidence showed the insurgents had been taking instructions from Pakistani Taliban leaders in Afghanistan.
Pakistani military had already said the attack was planned in Afghanistan and that the suicide bomber was also an Afghan national, a charge Kabul denies.

Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif set to retake ruling party presidency after six years

Updated 28 May 2024

Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif set to retake ruling party presidency after six years

  • Nawaz Sharif, who founded the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in 1993, stepped down as president in 2018 
  • Over 3,500 members of PML-N party’s general council will elect new president through a show of hands today

ISLAMABAD: The election for the presidency of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) will be held today, Tuesday, in Lahore, the party said in a statement, with three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif expected to take over the top position after a hiatus of six years.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif resigned as PML-N president earlier this month saying it was time for his elder brother to “resume his rightful place” as the party’s leader.
Sharif, who founded the PML-N in 1993, stepped down as its president in 2018 after the Supreme Court ruled that an individual disqualified under Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution, which outline the rules for qualification and disqualification for parliamentarians, could not serve as the head of a political party. 
“The central general council meeting of the party will be held in Lahore today (Tuesday) for the election of PML-N President,” the PML-N said in a statement.
“Voting will be held in the general council meeting at 4 p.m. in a local hotel in Lahore. If only one candidate submits papers then the election will be uncontested, otherwise the election will be by show of hands.”
Around 3,500 members of the party’s general council are expected to vote today.
The election schedule had been announced by the party’s election commission, PML-N Chief Election Commissioner Rana Sanaullah said in a press conference on Monday.
“11 nomination papers have been issued to different party leaders including Sharif, Bashir Memon, Irfan Siddiqui, Anusha Rehman, Raja Farooq Haider, Shah Ghulam Qadir,” Sanaullah told reporters. 
Sharif was disqualified as prime minister by the Supreme Court in July 2017, which declared him “dishonest” for not disclosing a separate monthly income from a company owned by his son. The court also ordered the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to open a criminal trial into the ownership of London flats and several other revelations about the ex-PM’s family wealth disclosed in the Panama Papers’ leaks. 
A year later, following the investigations ordered by the court, Sharif was sentenced to 10 years in prison for corrupt practices linked to his family’s purchase of the upscale London flat and subsequently to seven years in jail in a separate case for being unable to prove the source of income that had led to his ownership of a steel mill in Saudi Arabia. 
Sharif has since been acquitted in both cases, which he always maintained were politically motivated. 
As Sharif faced a slew of cases, Shehbaz Sharif, his younger brother, subsequently became president of the PML-N but had always maintained it was a temporary arrangement until his brother was exonerated by the courts.
After being jailed in 2018, Sharif flew to London in 2019 after a court allowed him to leave for medical treatment, on the condition he returned when fit. However, he went into exile and ran his party affairs from London, while former cricketer Imran Khan ruled as prime minister until April 2022, when he was ousted in a parliamentary vote of no confidence. 
Shehbaz took over after Khan and became prime minister for 16 months ahead of general elections on Feb. 8, after which he once again came to power in March and became premier and is now ruling Pakistan through a fragile coalition with smaller parties.
Sharif returned from exile to Pakistan in October last year in a chartered jet, surrounded by supporters and journalists.