Pakistan opposition rejects budget 2024-2025, disputes key figures

In this photo released by the Pakistan Finance Ministry Press Service, Pakistan’s Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb speaks and parented, the Federal Budget before the National Assembly of Pakistan, in Islamabad on June 12, 2024. (Photo courtesy: Finance Ministry Press Service)
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Updated 16 June 2024
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Pakistan opposition rejects budget 2024-2025, disputes key figures

  • Finance Minister Aurangzeb presented $67.76 billion budget in parliament on Wednesday 
  • Opposition lawmakers allege government did not provide budget documents for their review

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s opposition lawmakers on Wednesday rejected the federal budget for the year 2024-25, alleging that the government had not fulfilled its constitutional requirements of providing budget documents for them to review and disputing key figures provided by Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb. 
The finance minister unveiled the much-awaited Rs18.877 trillion ($67.76 billion) federal budget for FY 2024-25 that set an ambitious revenue collection target of Rs13 trillion ($46.66 billion). The budget is expected to play a pivotal role in Pakistan’s negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to unlock yet another loan program. 
Opposition lawmakers from the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), backed by independent candidates affiliated with jailed former prime minister Imran Khan, protested during Aurangzeb’s speech. 
As they shouted slogans, the SIC lawmakers carried placards with “Release Imran Khan” written all over them. Throughout most of the finance minister’s speech, opposition lawmakers gathered in front of the Speaker’s dais and kept shouting anti-government slogans.
“A fake budget has been presented today, we reject it completely,” Omar Ayub Khan, the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, told reporters after the budget session.
“This is a joke with the nation and Pakistan.”
He described the budget as “illegal and unconstitutional,” saying the government had not provided budget documents for the opposition lawmakers’ perusal. He said it was possible the government would change important figures in the document by the next National Assembly session to be held on June 20.
“I want to categorically say here that today for the first time in the parliament, glaring constitutional violation has taken place during the budget,” he said. 
He disputed the government’s figures that said the gross domestic product (GDP) had grown by 2.38 percent, the agriculture sector by 6.25 percent, and the industrial and services sectors had each grown by 2.1 percent in the outgoing fiscal year.
“The budget they are presenting, this is not the real growth rate,” he alleged. 
Meanwhile, Aurangzeb credited the government’s policies for stabilizing the country’s economy. He noted that Pakistan’s reserves were no longer in a precarious situation and that the country’s economic indicators were improving. 
“Mr. Speaker, I think that despite political and economic challenges, our progress on the economic front in the past one year has been impressive,” the finance minister had said in his budget speech.

 

 

 However, SIC lawmaker Shandana Gulzar Khan said the public should have derived the maximum benefit from the government’s budget. Instead, she said they would have to pay heavy taxes. 
“You want to fix this country, you give this country to the people,” Gulzar told Arab News.
“Those who are paying taxes, you ensure that they get the maximum share of the budget, that they are able to send their children to school, that they are able to eat three times a day and they have access to a health card,” she added.

 


UN report says Kabul assisting Pakistani Taliban, Afghanistan’s ‘largest terrorist group’

Updated 32 sec ago
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UN report says Kabul assisting Pakistani Taliban, Afghanistan’s ‘largest terrorist group’

  • UN report says Kabul assisting Pakistani Taliban, Afghanistan’s ‘largest terrorist group’
  • It maintains the ongoing collaboration between TTP and Al Qaeda can transform the former into ‘extra-regional threat’

ISLAMABAD: The United Nations described the proscribed militant network Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as the “largest terrorist group” in Afghanistan this week, confirming Pakistani officials’ assertions the current Afghan administration is harboring the group and facilitating its cross-border attacks.

In November of last year, Pakistan issued a strongly worded statement against the Kabul administration, reporting a 60 percent increase in militant violence and a 500 percent surge in suicide bombings since the Taliban’s return to power in 2021.

Former caretaker Prime Minister Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar said there was evidence the Afghan Taliban were “facilitating” such attacks, despite repeated requests from Pakistani authorities to prevent their soil from being used against any state. He noted that 15 Afghan nationals were involved in suicide attacks in Pakistan while 64 had died in clashes with Pakistani law enforcement.

Pakistan also launched a deportation drive against “illegal immigrants,” primarily Afghans, citing security concerns.

“Notwithstanding continuing assertions by the Taliban that there are no foreign terrorist groups in Afghanistan other than ISIL-K [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Khorasan chapter], Member States reported that over two dozen groups still operate in the country, enjoying freedom of maneuver under the de facto authorities with oversight from the General Directorate of Intelligence,” said the report by the UN Sanctions Monitoring Team released on Wednesday.

“TTP remained the largest terrorist group in Afghanistan, with an estimated strength of 6,000–6,500 fighters,” it continued. “One Member State expressed concern that greater collaboration between TTP and Al-Qaida could transform TTP into an ‘extraregional threat.’“

It said that Al Qaeda’s training had resulted in TTP shifting tactics and highprofile attacks against hard targets.

The report highlighted weapon transfers to TTP as well as the release of Daesh prisoners from local jails after securing their consent to join the banned Pakistani militant network.

“One Member State detailed how the Taliban exerts pressure on TTP through funding, reportedly providing 3.5 million afghanis ($50,500) on a monthly basis to TTP leader Noor Wali Mehsud ... while also directing him to garner additional sources of revenue from donors,” it added.

The UN document said the Afghan Taliban remained concerned that excessive pressure might push TTP towards collaboration with Daesh.

It acknowledged that TTP had intensified attacks against Pakistan, “significantly increasing from 573 in 2021 to 715 in 2022 and 1,210 in 2023, with the trend continuing into 2024.”

The report also noted that advanced military equipment, especially night vision devices transferred to TTP after the Taliban takeover, had added lethality to the groups attacks against Pakistan’s military border posts.

“Despite current stability, Afghanistan will remain a source of insecurity for Central Asia and the region in most scenarios,” it added, questioning the ability of the Taliban administration to with complex governance challenges in Afghanistan.


Heavy rainfall deluges Pakistan’s cultural capital, Lahore, as authorities ramp up relief efforts

Updated 12 July 2024
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Heavy rainfall deluges Pakistan’s cultural capital, Lahore, as authorities ramp up relief efforts

  • Pakistan’s disaster management body has forecast heavy rains and flash floods for the next two days
  • Lahore division’s top administration official visited different parts of the city to monitor the situation

ISLAMABAD: Heavy rainfall lashed Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore on Friday, said a senior district administration official, as provincial authorities stepped up relief efforts to manage the aftermath of the intense downpour.

Known as the cultural capital of Pakistan, Lahore is famed for its historical buildings and a blend of old and new localities. The city has experienced significant flooding in the aftermath of heavy rains in the past, with people complaining of waterlogging in streets and heavy traffic congestion.

“Today maximum of 247mm [millimeter] rain is recorded while dozens of Lahore areas received more than 120mm rain in a very short period,” Lahore Commissioner Zaid Bin Maqsood was quoted by his office in a social media post. “All machinery and human resources are working in full swing [to clear rainwater].”

The post added that he visited various areas of the city to monitor the water removal efforts by the Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA).

Earlier in the day, Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) warned of heavy rains and flash floods in the upper and central parts of the country for the next two days.

The NDMA cautioned about urban and flash flooding in local water streams and river tributaries if the rainfall exceeds 50-100 millimeters, urging residents of Lahore and other cities to take precautionary measures and directing local authorities to closely monitor the situation.

According to WASA, the first spell of rainfall in Lahore occurred from early morning until the afternoon, recording 315mm of rain in Tajpura, 170mm at Lakshmi Chowk, 162mm at Nishter Town, 155mm at Chowk Nakhuda and 153mm in Samanabad.

Earlier this year in April, heavy rains triggered landslides and flash floods across Pakistan, resulting in 92 deaths and 116 injuries.

Punjab province reported 21 deaths from lightning and roof collapses, while Balochistan province reported at least 15 deaths from torrential rains.


Ex-PM Khan demands election commissioner’s resignation after landmark Supreme Court verdict

Updated 12 July 2024
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Ex-PM Khan demands election commissioner’s resignation after landmark Supreme Court verdict

  • Court says ECP misconstrued election symbol judgment and forced PTI candidates to contest Feb. 8 polls independently
  • Imran Khan calls for treason charges against people who ‘disenfranchised millions’ of his party voters and supporters

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan on Friday demanded Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja and his top team to resign, following a Supreme Court decision criticizing them for misconstruing one of its verdicts and forcing candidates of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party to contest the Feb. 8 polls independently.
The apex court upheld the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) decision to strip the PTI of its electoral symbol, the cricket bat, for holding intra-party elections that were deemed to be flawed and not in keeping with its constitution.
Subsequently, the ECP rejected the nomination papers of PTI candidates, who were listed as independents with individual electoral symbols.
The court decision that came just weeks before the general elections significantly impacted PTI’s ability to present a united front and contest the national polls with full preparation.
“I have repeatedly raised concerns about the prejudice exhibited by the Chief Election Commissioner of Pakistan against me and PTI,” Khan said in a social media post. “Today’s Supreme Court decision – establishing the ECP’s bias and malafide against PTI – reinforces our stance.”
“We demand criminal proceedings under Article 6 of the Constitution [that deals with treason] against all those responsible for disenfranchising millions of voters and supporters of Pakistan’s largest political party,” he continued. “Sikandar Sultan Raja and the ECP members must resign immediately!”

The former PM, who remains incarcerated on a number of charges since his arrest last August, reiterated that he wanted Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa to distance himself from all the cases involving him or his party.
The Supreme Court delivered a landmark 8-5 verdict, saying the PTI party was eligible for these seats in parliament.
The short order made it clear the denial of the election symbol did not affect in any way PTI’s right to be a political party or participate in elections.
Reading portion of a minority verdict, Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa noted the ECP had ‘misinterpreted’ the court’s earlier verdict related to PTI’s election emblem.
“The ECP by misinterpreting the judgment of this Court dated 13 January 2024, which was regarding non-holding [of] intra-party elections in PTI, wrongly mentioned the said candidates of the PTI as independents in Form 33 of the Election Rules,” he said. “The ECP had no authority to declare validly nominated candidates of a political party to be independent candidates.”
The PTI is currently entitled to around 23 reserved seats in the National Assembly, which does not affect the parliamentary majority of the Sharif-led coalition administration.
Political parties are allocated a total number of 70 reserved seats, including 60 for women and 10 for non-Muslims, in proportion to the number of seats won in general elections. This completes the National Assembly’s total 336 seats.
A simple majority in Pakistan’s parliament is 169 out of 336 seats.


Pakistani Taliban deny plans to attack public places during Muharram amid security alerts

Updated 12 July 2024
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Pakistani Taliban deny plans to attack public places during Muharram amid security alerts

  • Spokesperson Mohammad Khorsani says striking public places neither permissible nor aligned with TTP’s objectives
  • The TTP claimed responsibility for several deadly attacks in the past, including the massacre of 134 school children

ISLAMABAD: A proscribed militant network, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), on Friday responded to recent security alerts issued by state agencies about its plans to launch attacks during Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, saying that targeting public places was neither permissible nor aligned with its objectives.

The TTP, also known as the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for some of the deadliest attacks in Pakistan since its formation in 2007, including the massacre of 134 children in a school attack.

Pakistan has accused the interim Taliban administration in Kabul of providing sanctuary to TTP leaders and facilitating their attacks. Although the two groups are not directly affiliated, the Pakistani Taliban owe allegiance to their Afghan counterparts.

Pakistan has historically experienced sectarian violence during Muharram, a significant month for Shia Muslims who observe mourning rituals to commemorate the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) grandson in the Battle of Karbala.

“We consider it necessary to clarify that not only during Muharram but at any time, we do not consider it permissible to attack public places nor is it among our goals,” TTP Spokesperson Mohammad Khorasani said in a statement on Friday.

“Such fake threats and statements attributed to us have nothing to do with us,” he added, referring to the security alerts circulated by Pakistani law enforcement agencies.

Khorasani blamed the state for spreading fear among people by saying the TTP wanted to launch attack in Muharram.

“Our objectives are clear and pre-announced, which do not include targeting any group, sect or individual based on religious and intellectual differences,” he added.

Since 2007, Pakistan has conducted multiple military operations against the TTP, yet the militant network continues its attacks, primarily targeting the two western provinces bordering Afghanistan.

These attacks have surged since November 2022, following the collapse of a fragile truce brokered by the Afghan Taliban between Islamabad and the TTP.


Pakistan flour millers’ strike over withholding tax enters second day, threatening shortages

Updated 12 July 2024
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Pakistan flour millers’ strike over withholding tax enters second day, threatening shortages

  • Budget for fiscal year 2024-25 imposed 5.5% withholding tax on sales of flour mills 
  • Around 1,600 flour mills employing some 4,000 workers are shut across Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: A strike by Pakistani flour millers due to a dispute with the government over the imposition of new taxes on sales entered its second day on Friday, threatening flour shortages in parts of the South Asian country.
Hundreds of mills across Pakistan went on strike on Thursday on a call by the Pakistan Flour Mills Association (PFMA), which represents over 900 mills, against a new 5.5 percent withholding tax imposed on the sales of flour mills in the federal budget for fiscal year 2024-25, which came into effect on July 1. 
The PFMA says the government has also directed flour mills to collect another 2.5 percent withholding tax on the sale of essential commodities to retailers (non-filers) and 2 percent from wholesalers (non-filers). The association says millers also now have to collect 0.5 percent withholding tax on the sale of flour from retailers (filers) and 0.10 percent tax from wholesalers (filers).
“We are observing a nationwide strike against the government for imposing taxes and making flour millers tax collection agents,” Javed Yusuf, a former PFMA chairperson, told Arab News. 
“Our strike will continue till the government accepts our demand of withdrawal of all taxes levied in the budget.”
Yusuf said around 1,600 flour mills, which directly employed some 4,000 workers, were shut across Pakistan:
“We cannot collect taxes on behalf of the FBR, it’s not our job,” he added.
The strike takes place as Pakistan navigates a tricky path to economic recovery amid double-digit inflation and a deepening macroeconomic crisis. The South Asian country has been scrambling to secure foreign investment from friendly nations and a bailout from the IMF in a bid to keep its fragile $350 billion economy afloat. 
The tax-laden budget with a tax revenue target of Rs13 trillion ($46.66 billion) for the current fiscal year, up about 40 percent from the previous one, has been rejected by almost all major trade bodies and opposition parties. Pakistan’s government has taken the unpopular measures amid negotiations with the IMF, which has made tax reforms and increasing revenue a major precondition for a fresh loan program.
There are 1,725 flour mills in Pakistan and the daily national flour consumption stands at around 45,000 tons, according to the PFMA.
The ongoing strike has already halted flour supply to grocery stores across Punjab, the country’s most populous province, and market stocks are expected to last only one week.