Pakistan finance minister expresses hope of larger IMF program amid Washington meetings

In this handout photograph, taken and released by Pakistan’s finance ministry, Pakistan Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb (R) speaks to S&P Global and Fitch Ratings representatives on the sidelines of IMF and World Bank Spring meetings in Washington on April 20, 2024. (Photo courtesy: Finance Ministry)
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Updated 22 April 2024

Pakistan finance minister expresses hope of larger IMF program amid Washington meetings

  • Pakistan’s finance minister is in Washington to attend spring meetings by the International Monetary Fund, World Bank
  • The visit comes days before expiry of Pakistan’s current $3 billion program, which helped it avert a default last year

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s finance minister, Muhammad Aurangzeb, on Saturday expressed hope about his country securing a larger bailout program from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Pakistani state media reported, amid Aurangzeb’s meetings with officials of global financial institutions in Washington.
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 IMF expires this month.
Speaking to journalists and think-tank officials, the finance minister said Pakistan was requesting a “larger and longer” multi-billion-dollar loan program from the IMF and discussions were underway with the Fund’s officials, the state-run APP news agency reported.
“Once the mission is back in Islamabad, we are going to agree on the priorities and the principles,” he was quoted as saying.
“We have our own views and we’ll share it with IMF. But I would rather leave it to the joint meetings in terms of the size and the duration of the program.”
Pakistan signed the $3 billion agreement with the IMF in June 2023, which helped the South Asian country avoid a default. The country is believed to have requested the IMF for another $8 billion bailout program.
The finance minister’s visit to the US also comes at a time when the IMF has published its updated World Economic Outlook, projecting Pakistan’s growth at 2 percent. The Fund has kept the country’s expected growth rate at 3.5 percent for the next fiscal year.
Separately, Aurangzeb met with representatives of rating agencies, S&P Global and Fitch Ratings, and addressed their concerns on the external side, inflation, primary balance and interest rate regime.
“The minister shared an update on the positive indicators of the country on the back of Standby Arrangement (SBA) signed with IMF,” the APP reported. “He highlighted ongoing reforms in the priority areas of taxation, energy and privatization over the short, medium and long-term horizon.”
Aurangzeb referred to his meetings with officials of multilateral institutions and reaffirmed that the World Bank agenda of climate change, digitalization and human development aligned with priorities of the Pakistani government. He also mentioned potential Saudi investments in Pakistan.

Pakistan PM to travel to UAE today amid push for foreign investment

Updated 8 sec ago

Pakistan PM to travel to UAE today amid push for foreign investment

  • PM Sharif to meet UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, says foreign office
  • Both personalities to discuss bilateral relations with “special focus” on trade and investment

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif will travel to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) today, Thursday, with a high-level delegation to discuss bilateral relations, trade and investment, the foreign office said, as Pakistan eyes foreign investment whilst navigating a tricky path to economic recovery.
Sharif’s will take place amid a flurry of high-level engagements in recent weeks with business and diplomatic delegations from Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Japan and Qatar visiting Pakistan to discuss trade and investment in the South Asian country’s vital economic sectors.
Reeling from high inflation, low forex reserves and an unstable currency, PM Sharif has vowed to rid Pakistan of its economic crisis by enhancing bilateral trade with allies and attracting foreign investment.
“Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif will pay a visit to the United Arab Emirates on 23 May 2024,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) said in a statement. “The Prime Minister will be accompanied by a high-level delegation comprising key ministers of the cabinet.”
Sharif will meet UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to discuss bilateral relations “with a special focus on trade and investment,” the foreign office said.
“Prime Minister Sharif is also likely to hold meetings with other Emirati dignitaries, businesspersons, and heads of financial institutions,” the statement said.
“The Prime Minister’s visit marks an important step toward further deepening multifaceted bilateral collaboration between Pakistan and the UAE.”
The UAE is Pakistan’s third-largest trading partner, after China and the United States. Policymakers in Pakistan consider the Gulf state an optimal export destination due to its geographical proximity, which minimizes transportation and freight costs while facilitating commercial transactions.
The Gulf country is also home to more than a million Pakistani expatriates and the second-largest source of remittances to the South Asian country, after Saudi Arabia.

US returns 133 stolen artifacts to Pakistan valued at $13 million

Updated 22 May 2024

US returns 133 stolen artifacts to Pakistan valued at $13 million

  • illegal antiquities trade is a multi-billion-dollar global industry, as per a 2018 report by Standard Chartered 
  • This marks fifth such transfer between US and Pakistan, from where artifacts dating to Gandhara period were stolen

ISLAMABAD: The United States this week returned 133 pieces of stolen antiquities valued over $13 million to Pakistan, state-run media reported, marking the fifth such transfer to the South Asian country from where artifacts dating back to the Gandhara period were stolen.

Artifacts are man-made objects, such as pieces of art or tools, that are of particular cultural, historical, or archaeological interest. 

The illegal antiquities trade is a multi-billion-dollar global industry according to a 2018 report by Standard Chartered Bank. The trade is also often a major funding source for criminal and militant groups on the supply side, according to a report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). 

“The United States returned to Pakistan 133 pieces of stolen antiquities worth over $13 million at a ceremony at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in New York on Tuesday,” the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported. 

Some of the antiquities were displayed during the ceremony at which Pakistani Consul General in New York Aamer Ahmed Atozai said the artifacts would adorn museums across Pakistan. 

“The consul general also signed an agreement with the Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, Matthew Bogdanos, who heads the Antiquities Trafficking Unit for the repatriation of the returned artifacts to Pakistan,” APP said. 

Bogdanos said he was delighted to return “glorious pieces of Pakistani heritage” to the country whose civilization dates back to 5,000 years, APP said. 

Pakistan and the US regularly collaborate to return stolen artifacts to Pakistan. In 2021, the US, after conducting a probe into an Indian-American art dealer Shubash Kapoor, had returned 192 stolen antiquities worth around $3.4 million.

In August 2022, the US again returned 104 artifacts valued at $3.3 million to Pakistan that were among thousands of antiquities looted from Asian countries and seized from Kapoor.

Rain washes out England-Pakistan T20 opener

Updated 22 May 2024

Rain washes out England-Pakistan T20 opener

  • Match was supposed to be launchpad for England’s defense next month of T20 World Cup title
  • Both teams will now meet each other on Saturday at Edgbaston in second of four-match series 

Leeds, United Kingdom: Persistent rain saw the first Twenty20 international between England and Pakistan at Headingley on Wednesday abandoned without a ball being bowled.

The match was meant to be the launchpad for reigning champions England’s defense next month of their T20 World Cup title in the Caribbean and the United States.

But a heavy and lengthy downpour in Leeds led the umpires to call the game off approximately an hour before the scheduled 17:30 GMT start.

The four-match series against Pakistan, the team England beat to win the 2022 T20 World Cup final in Melbourne, will now continue at Birmingham’s Edgbaston ground on Saturday before games next week in Cardiff and at the Oval.

England were also the defending champions heading into last year’s 50-over World Cup in India but Jos Buttler’s men suffered a tame exit, losing six of their nine matches.

The Pakistan T20 series could see the return to international duty of England fast bowler Jofra Archer. Injuries have blighted the quick’s career, with elbow and back problems sidelining the 29-year-old from top-level cricket for 14 months.

Pakistani media regulator bans TV channels from airing news on ongoing court cases 

Updated 22 May 2024

Pakistani media regulator bans TV channels from airing news on ongoing court cases 

  • Authority directs TV channels to report only written orders of courts, refrain from airing news related to court hearings
  • Journalists’ associations reject directives, call on Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority to withdraw notification 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s media regulatory body has banned TV channels from airing news, opinions, and commentary on proceedings of ongoing court cases, prompting journalist associations on Wednesday to reject the directive and call it a violation of the country’s constitution.

The development takes place amid tensions between the government and the Islamabad High Court over the alleged kidnapping of Kashmiri poet Ahmad Farhad last week. The poet’s family has accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency of abducting Farhad from his Islamabad residence for his critical social media posts that targeted the military.

Media extensively reported on the case’s hearings this week as the high court directed authorities to produce the missing poet within four days, warning it would otherwise summon senior government officials. The court also criticized Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, prompting the law minister to say on Monday that the court’s comments were “shocking.”

Journalists in Pakistan have spoken of growing press and media censorship, with many blaming Pakistan’s powerful military for illegally detaining journalists and torturing them. The military has repeatedly denied the allegations. 

“TV channels are directed to refrain from airing tickers/headlines with regard to court proceedings and shall only report the written orders of the court,” a notification from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) said on Tuesday. 

The regulator also directed TV channels to air “no content including commentary, opinions or suggestions about the potential fate of sub judice matter which tends to prejudice the determination by a court, tribunal.”

However, PEMRA allowed TV channels to report on court proceedings if they were broadcast live by the judiciary.

Journalists’ associations covering Pakistan’s Supreme Court and the IHC rejected the directives, saying it was in violation of the country’s constitution.

“Both the journalists’ associations covering court proceedings reject PEMRA’s notification while terming it against press freedom and independent judiciary,” the Press Association of the Supreme Court (PAS) and the Islamabad High Court Journalists Association said in a joint statement on Wednesday. 

“PEMRA has no legal right to ban coverage of court reporting,” the statement said, adding that the regulator’s notification was a “serious violation” of journalists’ rights enshrined in the constitution.

The associations demanded that PEMRA withdraw its notification, warning that they would otherwise challenge it in court. 

Pakistan to enhance production of indigenous petroleum products— minister

Updated 22 May 2024

Pakistan to enhance production of indigenous petroleum products— minister

  • Cash-starved Pakistan spends over $20 billion each year on petroleum imports to meet energy demand
  • Pakistan welcomes foreign companies to invest in its oil and gas sector, says Petroleum Minister Musadik Malik

KARACHI: Pakistan wants to enhance the production of its indigenous petroleum products, Petroleum Minister Musadik Malik said on Wednesday, citing the financial burden that expensive crude oil imports have on the country’s fragile economy. 

Cash-strapped Pakistan relies heavily on imported petroleum products as its energy demands grow. Struggling with a balance of payments crisis, high inflation and steep currency devaluation, Pakistan is looking to secure cheaper energy imports and find alternate ways to lessen the cost of power generation. 

According to the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP), the country’s indigenous oil production meets only about one-fifth of Pakistan’s current oil needs. The rest is met through high-cost imports.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has urged the government to turn toward renewable energy resources. Last month, he said the country currently imports oil worth $27 billion to meet its power and transportation needs, which puts a strain on the cash-strapped nation. 

Speaking at the Pakistan Energy Symposium, Malik said it would be difficult to manage the country with such a huge energy import bill when Pakistan’s exports were around $30 billion. 

“We want to first of all, produce as much of the petroleum products, including gas and crude, indigenously as much as possible,” the minister said, adding that the government has put blocks for bidding and is actively trying to attract global players in exploration activities.

Malik said the government is expediting oil and gas exploration within the country, adding that it welcomes foreign companies to invest in the sector.

“So, we are telling the world that Pakistan is open for business, our regulatory process, particularly the petroleum concession process is very dense and opaque,” he said. 

He said investment processes and information about oil and gas exploration have been digitized and simplified to facilitate the government’s aims to enhance indigenous production of energy resources. 

Malik advocated for increasing the utilization of Pakistan’s abundant renewable energy resources, pointing out that the country’s solar energy costs have significantly decreased.