Pakistan to suspend cellular services in Punjab, Balochistan during Sunday’s by-polls 

Pakistan’s women wait in a queue to cast their ballots to vote at a polling station during national elections in Lahore on February 8, 2024. (AFP/File)
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Updated 20 April 2024
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Pakistan to suspend cellular services in Punjab, Balochistan during Sunday’s by-polls 

  • Jailed ex-PM Imran Khan’s party terms the mobile service shutdown ‘illegal, unconstitutional and a plan to rig the results’
  • Pakistan’s national polls in Feb. were also marred by mobile service shutdown, result delays, leading to rigging allegations

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government announced on Saturday cellular services would remain suspended in parts of the Punjab and Balochistan provinces on April 21-22 on account of by-elections in 21 constituencies on Sunday, with the main opposition party calling the shutdown “unconstitutional and illegal.”
The by-polls on national and provincial assembly seats are the first major electoral exercise since the Feb. 8 national election in Pakistan, which were marred by a mobile service shutdown and result delays, leading to accusations that the vote was rigged and drawing concern from rights groups and foreign governments.
On Saturday, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), which regulates the Internet, said the decision to temporarily suspend cellular services in specific districts of Punjab and Balochistan was taken on the directions of the interior ministry.
“This decision has been taken to safeguard the integrity and security of the electoral process,” the regulator said in a statement on Saturday.
Sunday’s by-elections will be held on five National Assembly seats, 12 Punjab Assembly seats, and two seats each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan assemblies. They were left vacant due to postponement of polls or were vacated by lawmakers, who won multiple seats, in the Feb. 8 national election.
The PTA announcement came hours after the Punjab government requested the interior ministry to suspend mobile phone services during by-elections in Talagang, Chakwal, Kallar Kahar, Gujrat, Ali Pur Chatha, Zafarwal, Bhakkar, Kasur, Sheikhupura, Lahore, Sadiqabad, Kot Chutta and Dera Ghazi Khan.
“I have been directed to request that mobile Internet services may kindly be suspended on 21st April, 2024 for maintaining law and order situation and to avoid any untoward incident [in the aforementioned areas],” a section officer of the Punjab home department wrote in his letter to the interior ministry.
The developments came amid expectations of a fierce competition between candidates backed by jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and rival political groups.
In a statement, the PTI termed the shutdown of mobile phone services in districts where by-polls were being held "unconstitutional and illegal." “The Internet shutdown is unconstitutional, illegal and shameful, and a plan to rig the results,” it said.
The party urged its supporters to come out in large numbers to cast their votes to thwart these plans.
Meanwhile, the federal government authorized the deployment of civil armed forces and Pakistan Army to assist the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in peaceful conduct of by-polls.
In its code of conduct for the armed forces and civil armed forces on the polling day, the ECP said troops should not respond on their own to “an apparent irregularity” outside a polling station and bring the matter to the knowledge of the presiding officer for any necessary legal action.
The security forces were also directed not to “interfere in the counting process in any manner” and perform their duty outside the polling stations diligently, so that the counting process could be completed in a peaceful manner.


Five Pakistani soldiers killed in IED blast in northwestern Pakistan

Updated 21 June 2024
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Five Pakistani soldiers killed in IED blast in northwestern Pakistan

  • IED explosion targeted security forces vehicle in northwestern Kurram district, says army 
  • President Asif Ali Zardari condemns blast, resolves to uproot “terrorism” from Pakistan 

ISLAMABAD: Five Pakistani soldiers were killed in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast in northwestern Pakistan on Friday, the army’s media wing said, as Islamabad grapples with rising militancy in the country’s western provinces bordering Afghanistan.
The IED blast targeted the vehicle carrying security forces personnel in Kurram district in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement.
The army said that a sanitization operation was being carried out in the area to eliminate any “terrorists” there, vowing to bring the perpetrators of the act to book.
“Security forces of Pakistan are determined to eliminate the menace of terrorism and such sacrifices of our brave soldiers further strengthen our resolve,” the ISPR said.
President Asif Ali Zardari strongly condemned the blast, state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report. The president appreciated the martyrs’ sense of duty and patriotism, and the role of security forces in eradicating militancy from the country.
“He expressed the resolve to uproot the terrorism from the country’s soil, saying that the operations of the law enforcement agencies would continue till complete elimination of the menace,” APP reported.
Islamabad blames the uptick in attacks on neighboring Afghanistan, saying Pakistani Taliban, or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leaders have taken refuge there and run camps to train militants to launch attacks inside Pakistan. Kabul has previously said rising violence in Pakistan is a domestic issue for Islamabad and it does not allow militants to operate on its territory.
The TTP has been waging a war against the state to try to overthrow the government for nearly two decades. It wants to run Pakistan as an Islamic state governed by its own harsh interpretation of Islamic laws.


Pakistani government’s coalition allies distance themselves from ‘tax-heavy’ budget in parliamentary debate

Updated 21 June 2024
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Pakistani government’s coalition allies distance themselves from ‘tax-heavy’ budget in parliamentary debate

  • Dr. Farooq Sattar, a lawmaker of government ally MQM-P, demands a more “people-friendly” budget
  • PPP lawmakers confirm no breakthrough reached with ruling party PML-N on budget differences

ISLAMABAD: The government’s key coalition allies criticized its tax-heavy federal budget during a parliamentary session on Friday, urging authorities to adopt “people-friendly” policies as Islamabad’s hopes the document will prove instrumental in securing another International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout package.
Pakistan’s parliament kicked off the debate into the federal budget on Thursday, with opposition party Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) labelling the government’s move to present the budget as “economic terrorism” against the people. Islamabad has set an ambitious tax revenue generation target of about Rs13 trillion ($46.55 billion) in the budget, which was presented on June 12 by Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb.
When the budget debate resumed in the National Assembly on Friday, the government’s key coalition allies distanced themselves from the taxes imposed in the finance bill, calling on authorities to levy them on landlords and the affluent class rather than the salaried group.
“If sanity fails to prevail and a public-friendly budget is not prepared, then this traditional budget is going to be the biggest threat to the country’s security,” Dr. Farooq Sattar, a senior lawmaker of the government’s coalition partner, Muttahida Quami Movement-Pakistan, (MQM-P) said during the parliamentary session.
He said the budget signaled that the status quo continued to wield power in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) lawmaker Shazia Marri confirmed that no breakthrough had been reached in talks held between the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party and the PPP’s senior leadership on their differences regarding the budget.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari led a high-level delegation of his party to meet Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the government’s senior leadership on Thursday. The two sides attempted to iron out their differences over the federal budget.
The PPP has accused the government of ignoring its recommendations in the budget. While not a member of the federal cabinet, the PPP voted for Sharif in the prime minister’s election and forms the government in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province. The PML-N-led government requires the PPP’s votes for the budget to pass.
After the meeting between the two sides ended on Thursday, a handout issued by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said both sides had agreed to form committees to work out their differences over the budget.
Speaking during the National Assembly session on Friday, Marri pointed out that the government’s ministers had not attended the session.
“Relevant ministers must be present in the house during budget session,” Marri said, adding that her party was reluctant to participate in such sessions till it resolved its differences with the government on the budget.
Another PPP leader Sharmila Faruqi said both parties’ relevant committees would hold meetings to reach a consensus on the budget before voting on the finance bill takes place next week.
“Not much of a breakthrough, subsequent meetings to follow,” Faruqi told Arab News about the meeting between the two sides. “PML-N must honor its commitments to PPP.”
Meanwhile, SIC lawmaker Sajid Khan criticized the government for imposing heavy taxes in the budget on medicines and food items.
“The government should reopen border with Afghanistan from Angoor Ada [town in northwestern Pakistan] to resume trade and business activities,” he recommended.
Khan said the government should review tax measures and allocate a special budget for the development of the erstwhile tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.
“The government should allocate the promised 3 percent of the National Finance Award for the development of the tribal regions,” he said.


ADB, Pakistan sign $250 million loan agreement for investment in infrastructure, services

Updated 21 June 2024
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ADB, Pakistan sign $250 million loan agreement for investment in infrastructure, services

  • Loan to help drive investments in infrastructure, services through public-private partnerships
  • ADB has committed over $52 billion in public and private sector loans and grants since 1966

KARACHI: The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Pakistan on Friday signed an agreement for a $250 million loan that would help drive sustainable investments in the country’s infrastructure and services sectors, the Pakistan chapter of the bank confirmed.
The ADB announced on June 5 that it had approved a $250 million policy-based loan to help drive investments in Pakistan’s infrastructure and services sector through public-private partnerships (PPPs).
“ADB Country Director for Pakistan Yong Ye and Secretary Economic Affairs Division of Pakistan Kazim Niaz today signed the agreement for $250 million policy-based loan,” ADB Pakistan wrote on social media platform X.
In its earlier press statement on June 5, ADB said its PPP program supports the implementation of government policies to create a fiscally affordable environment for public-private partnerships, apart from promoting economic growth. 
“The reforms will facilitate efficient infrastructure planning and promote sustainable development practices in infrastructure projects, such as climate risk screening and gender considerations in project feasibility assessments and PPP contracts,” ADB Director-General for Central and West Asia Yevgeniy Zhukov had said.
The regional development bank has committed over $52 billion to Pakistan, one of its founding members, since 1966 in public and private sector loans, grants, and other forms of financing to promote inclusive economic growth in the country.
In December 2023, the ADB approved three projects totaling $658.8 million to improve Pakistan’s domestic resource mobilization, rehabilitate schools damaged by the devastating August 2022 floods, and enhance agricultural productivity to improve food security.


Pakistan’s benchmark index posts nearly 100% growth in a year, hits 80,000 barrier

Updated 21 June 2024
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Pakistan’s benchmark index posts nearly 100% growth in a year, hits 80,000 barrier

  • Benchmark KSE 100 index hits all-time high at 80,059.87 level during intraday trading
  • Analysts say surge due to investors’ optimism about Pakistan securing another IMF loan

KARACHI: Pakistan’s key stock index hit an all-time high of 80,000 points on Friday, with data showing the benchmark index posted a growth of nearly 100 percent in a year, as analysts attributed the recent surge to optimistic investors confident Islamabad will extract another bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The benchmark KSE 100 index crossed the key psychological barrier of 80,000 points to hit an all-time high of 80,059.87 points. This is an almost 100 percent increase recorded in the benchmark index since June 21, 2023.
However, following the profit-taking at higher levels— a situation where buyers sell shares at higher prices to gain maximum profit— the index dropped to 78,169 points during trading and closed at 78,810.49 points.
The index figure at the close shows that the benchmark has posted a growth of 96 percent in a year, according to the Pakistan Stock Exchange’s (PSX) data.
“Positive sentiments, led by a tax-laden budget which investors feel will help in getting IMF’s long-term loan, have tossed the index above the 80,000 level which was 40,000 a year back,” Muhammad Sohail, CEO of Topline Securities, told Arab News.
Pakistan’s Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb presented the $67.76 billion federal budget for the fiscal year 2024-25 in parliament on June 12. Analysts expect the budget will play a pivotal role in Pakistan’s negotiations with the IMF to unlock yet another loan from the international lender.
Islamabad has set an ambitious tax revenue generation target of about Rs13 trillion ($46.55 billion) for the year fiscal year 2025 in the budget. The tax collection target has been increased more than 40 percent from the target for the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30.
Pakistan equity investors also celebrated the government’s move to refrain from an anticipated increase in capital gains tax (CGT) and tax on dividend income. In addition, the taxes imposed on the real estate sector will also make the stock market an attractive destination for investment, analysts said.
“Before the budget, there was a rumor in the Pakistan stock market that capital gains tax and tax on dividends is going to be increased,” Shehryar Butt, portfolio manager at Darson Securities said. “But after the budget, those taxes were not imposed. That was positive for the market.”
Butt said the budget presented by the incumbent government seemed to be as per the IMF’s directions and expectations. 
“It is very likely that Pakistan will get a longer program of IMF after presentation of the budget and it has also been marked by international rating agencies including Fitch,” Butt noted, adding that global financial institutions are optimistic about Pakistan achieving its revenue collection target.
Analysts hope the stock market will continue to perform strongly and the KSE 100 index will add another 10,000 points in the coming days.
“Factors that would support the bullish sentiments at the stock market in coming days include inflation and the monetary policy easing,” Tahir Abbas, head of research at Arif Habib Limited, said.
Abbas said average annual inflation is expected to be around 12-12.5 percent while interest rates are expected to decline from the current 20.5 percent figure to around 16 percent in a year.
“Based on these factors we expect that the KSE 100 index would hover around the 88,000 level by the end current year,” he said.


Pakistan bans public gatherings in largest province as ex-PM Khan’s party announces protests

Updated 21 June 2024
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Pakistan bans public gatherings in largest province as ex-PM Khan’s party announces protests

  • Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party called for nationwide protests on Friday to demand his release from prison
  • Punjab government imposes ban on public gatherings, rallies, protests, sit-ins and demonstrations for seven days

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Punjab government imposed a ban on all kinds of public gatherings throughout the province on Friday after jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party called for nationwide protests to demand his release.
In a video statement earlier this week, PTI leader and former National Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser urged Khan supporters to come out on the streets across the nation on Friday to demand Khan’s release from prison.
The former prime minister has been in jail since August 2023 after he was convicted by a local court on corruption charges. Khan denies the allegations, saying they are politically motivated to keep him and the PTI away from Pakistani politics.
“It has been observed that in view of the prevailing law and order situation and security threats, any gathering/ assembly is likely to provide soft targets to terrorists and miscreants,” a notification issued by the Punjab Home Department said.
“Which not only pose serious security threats but is also likely to cause threat to public at peace and order as well as inconvenience to public at large.”
The notification said the government was imposing Section 144, which empowers the administration to ban any activity in the general interest of the public for a specific time period, across Punjab for a period of seven days.
The notification said assemblies, gatherings, sit-ins, rallies, processions, demonstrations, protests and other such activities have been prohibited across the province effective immediately.
PTI leader Raoof Hasan criticized Punjab government’s “shameful” decision in a post on social media platform X.
“It reflects how mortified they are of the person of @ImranKhanPTI & his vision of an independent & sovereign Pakistan where its people would become the true arbiters of their fate,” Hasan wrote.
Khan’s tensions with the government and Pakistan’s powerful military came to a head on May 9 2023 when angry supporters took to the streets and attacked government and military installations following his brief detention in a land corruption case.
The move sparked a nationwide crackdown launched by the government against Khan’s party which saw several PTI leaders and supporters rounded up in jails. Many Khan aides announced parting ways with him following the crackdown on his party. Pakistan’s military announced it would try those involved in the May 9 violence in military courts.
Khan initially said the protests were a natural reaction by his supporters but later distanced himself from it, blaming Pakistan’s intelligence agencies for instigating the riots. Pakistan’s military and government rubbished his allegations.