Pakistan finance minister discusses energy, tax reforms with senior World Bank official

Pakistan Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb in a meeting with World Bank’s Regional VP for South Asia, Martin Raiser in Washington on April 19, 2024. (Photo courtesy: @Financegovpk/X)
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Updated 20 April 2024
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Pakistan finance minister discusses energy, tax reforms with senior World Bank official

  • Pakistan has vowed to broaden its tax base, reform energy sector and privatize loss-making state-owned entities
  • Pakistan’s finance minister is in Washington to attend spring meetings by the International Monetary Fund, World Bank

KARACHI: Pakistan’s Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb underlined the government’s resolve to carry out reforms in the energy and tax sectors in his meeting with a senior World Bank official this week, the finance ministry said on Saturday, as Islamabad grapples with an economic crisis amid surging inflation and low foreign exchange reserves.
Reeling from a macroeconomic crisis, Pakistan has assured international financial institutions and bilateral partners it would take concrete measures to broaden its tax base, carry out reforms in the energy sector and overhaul loss-making state-owned enterprises (SOEs).
Aurangzeb has been in Washington since last week to participate in spring meetings organized by the IMF and World Bank. His tour is an important one for the South Asian country as Pakistan’s ongoing nine-month, $3 billion loan program with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) designed to tackle its balance-of-payments crisis, expires this month.
Th Pakistan finance minister met with Martin Raiser, the World Bank’s regional vice president for South Asia, on Friday to discuss the government’s economic reforms.
“Underlined the reform thrust of the government in the areas of energy, tax reforms and SOEs,” the finance ministry said. “Informed that government was pursuing short and long-term goals in these sectors.”
Aurangzeb said the World Bank’s focus on climate change, digitalization and human development aligns with Islamabad’s priorities, highlighting the government’s vision to realize the country’s true potential for economic growth.
“Agreed on the need for reforms in the agriculture sector, water management and waste-water treatment,” the ministry said.
The development came amid Pakistan’s efforts to seek a new three-year, multi-billion-dollar bailout program from the IMF. The finance minister has expressed his hopes that the outline of the new program will be agreed next month. 
Separately, Aurangzeb met with President of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Jin Liqun, in Washington DC and told him that broadening the tax base, fixing the energy sector, and undertaking SOE reforms were key priorities of the government.
He apprised the AIIB president of Pakistan’s positive economic indicators, including improving foreign exchange reserves, a stable currency, declining inflation rates, and a surging stock market.
“Muhammad Aurangzeb reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to continue working closely with AIIB on the infrastructure development of the country,” the state-run Radio Pakistan broadcaster reported.
In his meeting with Makhtar Diop, managing director of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), Aurangzeb expressed gratitude to the IFC for its support in outsourcing the Islamabad airport, which he said would be followed by similar initiatives in Lahore and Karachi.
“He noted with satisfaction the uptick in IFC activities in the country and requested the corporation’s support in assisting the government in shifting its Public Sector Development Program (PSDP) to PPP (Public-Private Partnership) mode,” the report read.
The finance minister also met with Brent Neiman, the US Department of Treasury’s deputy under-secretary for international finance, and briefed him on Pakistan’s improving economic indicators in the wake of the $3 billion stand-by arrangement with the IMF.


Pakistan’s religion minister arrives in Makkah to review Hajj 2024 arrangements

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Pakistan’s religion minister arrives in Makkah to review Hajj 2024 arrangements

  • Chaudhry Salik Hussain to visit Saudi institutions, catering companies and residences of Hajj pilgrims today, says religion ministry
  • At least 22,696 Pakistani pilgrims arrived in Madinah via 93 flights since April 9 when Pakistan started pre-Hajj flight operations

ISLAMABAD: Religious Affairs Minister Chaudhry Salik Hussain reached Makkah on Sunday to review Hajj 2024 arrangements, the religion ministry said, as Pakistani pilgrims continue to arrive in Saudi Arabia ahead of the annual Islamic pilgrimage.
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and requires every adult Muslim to undertake the journey to the holy Islamic sites in Makkah at least once in their lifetime if they are financially and physically able.
Pakistani pilgrims have been arriving in Madinah since May 9 when Pakistan launched its pre-Hajj flight operations. At least 22,696 Pakistani pilgrims have since arrived in Madinah through 93 flights, the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA) said in a statement.
Hussain, who arrived in Madinah earlier this week to inspect Hajj arrangements, reached Makkah on Sunday to hold important meetings with Saudi officials and gauge preparations for the Islamic pilgrimage.
“Chaudhry Salik Hussain will visit Saudi institutions, catering companies, and residences of Hajj pilgrims today, Sunday,” MoRA said in a statement.
It added the minister would visit the Pakistan Hajj Mission in Makkah’s office after performing Umrah.
Pakistan’s religion ministry said over 11,000 Pakistani Hajj pilgrims visited the “Riazul Jannah” in Madinah, a small space between the pulpit and the grave of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Pakistan has a Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims this year, of which 63,805 people will perform the pilgrimage under the government scheme, while the rest will use private tour operators. This year’s pilgrimage is expected to run from June 14-19.


UN-linked body grants ‘A status’ to Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights

Updated 19 May 2024
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UN-linked body grants ‘A status’ to Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights

  • Accreditation allows National Commission for Human Rights to sit at Human Rights Council, other UN bodies’ meetings
  • NCHR was formed in 2012 for promotion and protection of human rights in Pakistan as per country’s constitution

ISLAMABAD: The Global Alliance for National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI), one of the largest rights networks worldwide, has granted Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) an A-list status, making it a “historic first” for the South Asian country, state media reported this week, 
Representing over 110 National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), their members and staff across all regions, GANHRI is one of the largest human rights networks worldwide. It is also a trusted partner of the United Nations. 
The NCHR was formed in 2012 for the promotion and protection of human rights in Pakistan as per the country’s constitution and international rights instruments. 
“Despite it being extremely rare for commissions to attain A status in the first round, Pakistan’s NCHR has been accredited with this highest grade in its first try,” the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported on Saturday. 
“It is also the only country to have attained new A status in this year’s session.”
The status grants NCHR a seat at the Human Rights Council and other UN bodies, APP said, adding that it was “a historic first” for Pakistan. 
“In the past, Pakistan’s commission could only act as an observer but now will get a voice at the table,” it said. 
“NCHR Pakistan joins the ranks of the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, France and others as an A status NHRI.”
The NCHR’s application process involved submitting a lengthy 125-page report about its establishment, independence, composition, organizational infrastructure, working methods, mandate, and quasi-judicial functions.
The NCHR team was interviewed by a committee comprising over 25 persons and select chairpersons of accredited commissions throughout the world before it attained the prestigious status.
“This milestone positions Pakistan’s NCHR in a global alliance of quality, world-class commissions,” the state media said.
“It allows NCHR to speak at the UN Human Rights Council and other global forums to present Pakistan’s case for human rights. Its voice is strategic for financial concessions to Pakistan such as GSP+, FATE, and IME.”


Special flight carrying first batch of Pakistani students from Bishkek arrives in Lahore

Updated 58 min 50 sec ago
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Special flight carrying first batch of Pakistani students from Bishkek arrives in Lahore

  • Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi receives first batch of 140 Pakistani students stranded in Bishkek following violent clashes
  • Pakistan’s deputy PM to travel to Bishkek today as part of a delegation to review arrangements for students’ safe return

ISLAMABAD: A special flight carrying 140 Pakistani students from the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek landed at the Lahore airport late Saturday night, following violent attacks against foreign nationals in the city this week after a dispute between locals and migrants that led to evacuation requests.
This was the first batch of Pakistani students to arrive in the country after violence erupted in Bishkek on Friday night. Videos of a brawl between Kyrgyz and Egyptian students went viral online, prompting furious mobs to target hostels of medical universities and private lodgings of international students, including Pakistanis, in the city.
According to official statistics, around 10,000 Pakistani students are enrolled in various educational institutions in Kyrgyzstan, with nearly 6,000 residing and studying in Bishkek.
Speaking to Arab News on Saturday, many students reported the Pakistan embassy had advised them to stay indoors, though they had run out of food and water. Some even expressed fears that rioting might resume at night and requested evacuation by the authorities.
Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi welcomed the first batch of Pakistani students as they arrived at the Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore and inquired about their well-being, the interior ministry said in a statement.
“Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi asked students about the tragic incident in Bishkek and inquired about their problems,” the ministry said. 
Naqvi said Pakistani students in Kyrgyzstan are “children of the nation,” vowing that those from cities other than Lahore would be provided free transport.
A statement released by the PM’s Office on Saturday evening said Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had directed Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar and another cabinet member, Amir Maqam, to travel to Bishkek on Sunday and address the situation there.
The two Pakistani officials will meet with senior government officials in the Kyrgyz capital to ensure medical treatment for injured students and review arrangements for their return.
“Our first concern is the safe return of Pakistani students,” Naqvi said. “God willing, more students would be brought back via additional flights tomorrow [Sunday].”
The country’s ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Hasan Zaigham said on Saturday that five Pakistani medical students had been injured in the mob attack. One student was admitted to a local hospital with a jaw injury, while the other four were released after receiving first aid.
“No Pakistani was killed or raped in the violence,” he told Arab News over the phone, dispelling rumors circulating on social media. “The situation is under control now as Bishkek authorities have dispersed all the miscreants.”
Separately, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said on Saturday it had summoned and handed a note of protest to Kyrgyzstan’s top diplomat in the country in response to violence against Pakistani students in Bishkek.
“It was impressed on the Kyrgyz charge d’affaires that the Kyrgyz government should take all possible measures to ensure the safety and security of Pakistani students and citizens,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
The statement said the Kyrgyz health ministry had confirmed four Pakistanis were given first aid and discharged while one was still under treatment for injury.


Nawaz Sharif touts past economic success, signaling political comeback amid party leadership change

Updated 19 May 2024
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Nawaz Sharif touts past economic success, signaling political comeback amid party leadership change

  • Sharif is poised to be re-elected as party president on May 28 after his younger brother and current PM stepped down
  • He was widely viewed as the favorite for Pakistan’s top political office before the Feb. 8 polls failed to produce clear results

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif appeared on national television screens on Saturday after maintaining a relatively low profile since the February 8 general elections, highlighting the achievements of his previous tenures and contrasting them with the prolonged economic turmoil for which he held his rivals accountable.
Sharif, who went into self-exile in November 2019 after being convicted in a corruption case, returned to Pakistan in October last year and was widely viewed as the favorite candidate for the prime minister’s post with the support of the country’s powerful army.
However, he decided against taking the PM’s office after the national polls failed to produce a clear winner, leading to speculation that his role in the country’s politics had all but ended.
However, Sharif’s appearance at the Central Working Committee meeting of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party in Lahore showed he was once again ready to assert his control over his political faction and, by extension, national politics.
“The price of every item was at a nominal level when I was prime minister, whether it was electricity, gas, vegetables, petrol or other essential items of life,” he said while reflecting on his political career, during which his administrations could not complete the constitutionally stipulated five-year tenure.
He maintained that inflation was low, the country was progressing and the interest rate hovered just above five percent during his rule.
“Today, it stands at 22 percent,” he continued.
Sharif emphasized that people should consider which political party had safeguarded their economic interests and which one had made their lives difficult before deciding who should run the country.
“Do you think before voting about what Nawaz Sharif’s performance was and how his rivals fared in contrast?” he asked. “Do you consider the prices during Nawaz Sharif’s tenure to where they are today?”
The PML-N founding leader raised these issues at a time when his party is forced to take stringent financial measures to secure a fresh International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan, leading to high inflation and a depressed economy.
He is also poised to be re-elected to the post of party president on May 28 after his younger brother and the incumbent Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif stepped down from the position earlier this month.
The younger Sharif took over the PML-N presidency after his elder brother was removed following a Supreme Court verdict that disqualified him from holding public office or serving as head of any political faction.
The three-time prime minister also sought the accountability of the judges who removed him from power amid preparations to reclaim his party.


Nida Dar becomes top wicket-taker in women’s T20Is despite Pakistan’s loss to England

Updated 19 May 2024
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Nida Dar becomes top wicket-taker in women’s T20Is despite Pakistan’s loss to England

  • Despite Dar’s milestone, Pakistan fell to England by 65 runs, allowing the hosts to secure a 2-0 series lead
  • Pakistan are now gearing up for the third and final T20I against England, set to take place on May 19 in Leeds

ISLAMABAD: Nida Dar, captain of the Pakistan women’s cricket team, made history by becoming the top wicket-taker in Women’s T20 International cricket with her 137th wicket during the second match against England in Northampton on Friday.

Despite her milestone, Pakistan fell to England by 65 runs, allowing the hosts to secure a 2-0 series lead.

England, batting first, were restricted to 144-6, thanks in part to Dar’s two wickets. However, Pakistan struggled in reply, collapsing to 79 all out within 15.5 overs as English spinners Sophie Ecclestone, Alice Capsey and Sarah Glenn collectively snagged seven wickets.

The International Cricket Council recognized Dar’s historic performance on its website after the match.

“Dar overtook Australia’s Megan Schutt (136 wickets) to lay her claim at the top of the leading wicket-takers chart in women’s T20I on Friday, 17 May,” the ICC proclaimed. “She is the only Pakistan woman in the top 10 list.”

The Pakistan skipper, who started the game with 135 career wickets, was on the verge of setting the new record during Pakistan’s recent home series against the West Indies.

In the match against England, she edged closer to the milestone by getting Capsey stumped in almost the middle of the game and later, in the final over, clinched her landmark 137th wicket by dismissing Amy Jones.

Pakistan are now gearing up for the third and final T20I against England, set to take place on May 19 in Leeds.