Pakistan aims for July IMF agreement after presenting $67.76 billion federal budget

Pakistan’s Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb addresses a press conference a day after releasing the country’s annual federal budget for the fiscal year 2024-25 in Islamabad on June 13, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 14 June 2024

Pakistan aims for July IMF agreement after presenting $67.76 billion federal budget

  • Muhammad Aurangzeb remains optimistic about a positive outcome in the IMF talks, eyes 40% revenue increase
  • The finance minister declares current tax-to-GDP ratio unsustainable, says he wants 13% increase in three years

KARACHI: Pakistan hopes to sign a staff-level agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) by next month after presenting an Rs18.877 trillion ($67.76 billion) federal budget and setting a revenue collection target of more than 40 percent for the next fiscal year.
Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb on Wednesday unveiled the first budget of the newly elected administration of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, which is expected to play a pivotal role in Pakistan’s negotiations with the IMF to unlock yet another loan program.
“The talks with the IMF are going on in a positive direction and we are hopeful that in July we would move toward a staff-level agreement,” the minister told journalists during a post-budget media briefing in Islamabad.
The South Asian nation has set an ambitious revenue collection target of about Rs13 trillion ($46.55 billion) for the next fiscal year. This target is over 40 percent compared to the current fiscal year ending on June 30.
The government has projected the budget deficit to be 6.9 percent of the GDP while the primary surplus is expected to be at 1 percent of GDP. To achieve the tax collection target, the minister said the government’s basic principle was to expand the tax base.
“The current tax-to-GDP ratio is simply unsustainable,” Aurangzeb said, adding he wanted to increase it to 13 percent in the next three years.
The government measures are estimated to generate about Rs1.761 trillion through new revenue measures while income tax rates and slabs changes will unlock additional revenues of Rs70 billion from the salaried segment.
However, Aurangzeb insisted the salaried class would not be burdened.
“If you look on an individual level, the burden is not that heavy,” he said.
The government will collect about Rs350 billion from exporters and about Rs200 billion are estimated to be collected from retailers and wholesalers by increasing the advance sales tax.
The finance minister said the increase in petroleum development levy (PDL) would be gradually increased to Rs80 per liter and linked with international oil prices.
He said the government’s aim was to remove the concept of non-filers from the country by making them pay a higher rate of tax on transactions.
“I want to remove this concept of non-filers. I think Pakistan is the only country that has the non-filer category,” he added.
The finance minister said the government was in process of digitizing the country’s tax collection system operated by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to end the undocumented economy.
“The process of digitization of FBR is underway and it will help in the documentation of the economy and digitizing finances,” he said, adding the digitization would reduce human intervention and corruption.
Asked about tax collection from retail outlets, he said the government would relaunch points of sales (POS) to minimize the cash flow that is about Rs9 trillion in circulation.
Defending the massive allocation of Rs1.5 trillion for the Public Sector Development Program (PSDP), the finance minister argued that the government wanted to ensure that ongoing projects were completed as 81 percent of funds were allocated for schemes that were being implemented.
Responding to a question about the privatization program of the incumbent government, he said the government was working with all stakeholders.
“PIA [Pakistan International Airlines] and Islamabad Airport are already up for privatization and transactions are expected to be completed by August,” he informed, adding the Lahore and Karachi airports would be privatized next on the prime minister’s direction.

Bodies of Pakistanis killed in Oman mosque attack brought home, handed over to families

Updated 19 July 2024

Bodies of Pakistanis killed in Oman mosque attack brought home, handed over to families

  • Four Pakistanis were among six people killed when gunmen opened fire at Shia mosque in Oman this week
  • Pakistan’s foreign office earlier said at least 30 Pakistanis injured in attack were being treated at a hospital

Islamabad: The bodies of four Pakistani nationals, who were killed in a mosque attack in the Omani capital of Muscat this week, were brought back home by the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and handed over to their families, a PIA official confirmed on Friday.

Six people were killed when three gunmen, all brothers and of Omani nationality, opened fire on worshippers at a Shia Muslim mosque in Muscat on Monday evening.

The deceased included four Pakistanis, an Indian and a police officer who responded to the attack, claimed by the Daesh militant group.

Pakistan described the assault as a “terror attack,” while Omani police said the gunmen were “influenced by misguided ideas.”

“The bodies of all four Pakistanis killed in Muscat mosque attack were brought back through PIA flights and handed over to their families,” Abdullah Hafeez Khan, the PTI general manager for coordination and public affairs, told Arab News.

The body of Sulaiman Nawaz body reached Lahore via PIA flight PK230 at 5pm on Thursday. Syed Qaiser Abbas Bukhari’s body was brought back via PIA flight PK226 from Muscat to Karachi and from there, it was flown to Lahore by flight PK302, according to the PIA official.

The bodies of the other two victims, Ghulam Abbas and Hasan Abbas, reached Islamabad from Muscat via PIA flight PK292 at 1am on Friday.

Pakistan’s foreign office said that at least 30 Pakistanis were injured in the attack and they were being treated at hospital.

Daesh’s operations have indicated the group is attempting a comeback after it was crushed by a US-led coalition following its occupation of large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate. It also inspired lone-wolf attacks in the West.

Any inroads in Gulf Arab oil producers such as Oman would raise fears in Washington and the region which has long viewed militant groups as a major threat.

Monday evening marked the beginning of Ashura, an annual period of mourning marked by Shia Muslims to commemorate the 7th-century death of Imam Hussain, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Amid investment push, Turkmenistan foreign minister to visit Pakistan next week

Updated 19 July 2024

Amid investment push, Turkmenistan foreign minister to visit Pakistan next week

  • Pakistan hopes to enhance its role as pivotal trade and transit hub connecting landlocked Central Asia to rest of the world
  • There has been a flurry of visits, investment talks and economic activity between Pakistan and Central Asian states recently

ISLAMABAD: Turkmenistan Foreign Minister Rasit Meredow will undertake a two-day visit to Pakistan from July 22-24, the foreign minister said on Friday, as the South Asian state pushes to boost trade with Central Asian states. 

Pakistan hopes to leverage its strategic geopolitical position and enhance its role as a pivotal trade and transit hub connecting the landlocked Central Asian republics with the rest of the world. In recent months, there has been a flurry of visits, investment talks and economic activity between Pakistan and Central Asian states, including meetings with leaders from Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan.

“Foreign Minister Rasit Meredown will visit Pakistan from July 22-24,” foreign office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said during a weekly press briefing on Friday. “He will hold extensive talks with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar and also call on the Pakistan leadership.”

The talks would cover “all aspects of bilateral relations” as well as regional and global developments, the FO added.

Located in a landlocked but resource-rich region, Central Asian countries need better access to regional markets including Pakistan, China, India, and the countries of West Asia. Meanwhile, Pakistan has huge energy demands that can be satisfied by growing trade with Central Asia. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, in which Beijing has pledged around $65 billion in energy, infrastructure and other schemes in Pakistan, also presents a strategic opportunity for Central Asian states to transport their goods more easily in regional and global markets.

Islamabad is seeking to bolster trade and investment relations with allies to stabilize its fragile $350 billion economy as it faces an acute balance of payment crisis amid soaring inflation and surging external debt.

Last week, Pakistan and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reached an agreement for a $7 billion, 37-month loan, capping negotiations that started in May after Islamabad completed a short-term, $3 billion program that helped stabilize the economy and avert a sovereign debt default.

Viral teen from Pakistan’s Hunza Valley aims for the stars with Coke Studio hit

Updated 14 min 21 sec ago

Viral teen from Pakistan’s Hunza Valley aims for the stars with Coke Studio hit

  • Coke Studio Season 15 came to a close with “Mehman,” featuring Noorima Rehan, Zebunnisa Bangash and Nizam ud Din Torwali
  • Rehan, 18, shot to fame last year with YouTube cover of Asha Bhosle song, has also performed virtually at King Charles coronation 

SHIGAR, Gilgit-Baltistan: Pakistani teenager Noorima Rehan first shot to fame last year after a video of her crooning famed Indian singer Asha Bhosle’s iconic song ‘In Aankhon Ki Masti’ became a viral hit. She was subsequently chosen to virtually join a star-studded lineup of performers at King Charles III’s coronation concert in May 2023. 

But the best was still to come.

Now, the 18-year-old from Hunza Valley in Pakistan’s picturesque northern Gilgit-Baltistan region is attracting both local and international attention with her debut on the latest season of Coke Studio, the longest-running annual TV music show in Pakistan.

Coke Studio Season 15 came to a close with the release of its eleventh and final song, “Mehman” — which translates to guest — featuring Rehan as well as the powerful vocals of Zebunnisa (Zeb) Bangash, a Pakistani singer-songwriter from Lahore, Punjab, and Nizam ud Din Torwali from the remote town of Taip Se Ban in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The song has been viewed almost 5 million times on YouTube since its release two weeks ago.

“My family supported me, my father supported me, and the community of Hunza and Gilgit supported me,” Rehan, who is the eldest of five siblings and also a professional ice hockey player, told Arab News in an interview. “So, I don’t think I faced a barrier that led to a gap between me and my passion for music.”

Noorima Rehan is pictured during her interview with Arab News Pakistan at Shigar Fort, located in Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan region, on July 11, 2024  (AN Photo) 

She also credited her family’s passion for music for her success and interest in the field. 

“My mother’s voice is very good and she sings very well. Even my father, brother and sisters sing quite well. However, no one [from my family] has pursued music as a profession. So, I am the only one who has chosen music as a career.”

Rehan, who will soon start an undergraduate degree in sociology at Islamabad’s Iqra University on a scholarship, said she got her chance on Coke Studio after the show’s producer Zulfikar Jabbar Khan, popularly known as “Xulfi,” came across her Asha Bhosle rendition on YouTube. 

Noorima Rehan poses for a photograph with her mother (left) and father (first right)​​​​ at Shigar Fort, located in Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan region, on July 11, 2024  (AN Photo) 

“Xulfi Bhai approached me [after watching the clip], which led to my journey with Coke Studio,” Rehan said. 


A press release by Coke Studio described Mehmaan as a multi-artist collaboration that spoke to the “idea of hospitality, not just on Earth but also from a higher, more divine plane. The song speaks to those seeking answers and guidance from the sublime and its abundant wisdom.”

The picture shared by Coke Studio on July 5, 2024, shows singers Noorima Rehan (right), Zebunnisa Bangash (center), and Nizam ud Din Torwali, featured in song “Mehman.” (Coke Studio)

Rehan said for her, the song felt like her, Bangash and Torwali were “dreaming together” of a return to Eden. 

“This was my first time with them, and I had to record in a very short period,” she said. “But before that, they had shared the lyrics and melody with me and I practiced .... then I went there and after a little jamming session, we recorded the song.”

Rehan described being a “little nervous” at the outset since she had never recorded professionally before but found the Coke Studio team “very kind and helpful.”

“For me, the most interesting part of this journey was Nizam [Torwali],” she recalled. “I met him there. He was different and couldn’t speak Urdu. So, I tried from my side to help him. He was kind of funny. So, I enjoyed a lot while working with him.”

It was also a fan girl moment for her to sing alongside Bangash, a well-established artist already. 

“From listening to her songs to performing with her was a big thing,” Rehan said. “She is very calm, kind with a humble personality. She helped me a lot in the whole journey.”

Rehan’s father Rehan Shah, a local politician and gemstone dealer, said his daughter had made the family name “proud.”

“We want to thank God she has been getting opportunities. And working with Coke Studio at such a young age is a proud movement for us,” Shah told Arab News. “Talent is hidden in a child. But the main thing is how do we support them and provoke their talents. We have been supporting her and will definitely support her in the field of music in the future also.

“In our society, girls are a soft target in fields like music and there is no exception for Noorima as well. You have to face criticism because a girl is singing songs. But we will fight against this social pressure and always support our children.”

Pakistan arrests Al-Qaeda leader, files case over plans to sabotage government installations

Updated 19 July 2024

Pakistan arrests Al-Qaeda leader, files case over plans to sabotage government installations

  • Amin ul Haq is considered a close associate of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks
  • Counter-Terrorism Department has accused Haq of planning to sabotage important installations in Punjab

LAHORE: Pakistani counter-terror officials have arrested an Al-Qaeda leader, Amin ul Haq, describing him as a close associate of the dead Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

The Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) in the most populous province of Punjab said it had registered a legal case against ul Haq, accusing him of having planned sabotage targeting important installations in the province.

“In a significant breakthrough in the fight against terrorism, CTD, in collaboration with intelligence agencies, successfully apprehended Amin ul Haq, a senior leader of Al-Qaeda,” the department’s spokesperson added in a statement.

Bin Laden was killed in 2011 during a US raid on his hideout in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.

Kashmiris mark ‘Accession to Pakistan Day’ amid renewed calls for right to self-determination

Updated 19 July 2024

Kashmiris mark ‘Accession to Pakistan Day’ amid renewed calls for right to self-determination

  • Muslim-majority Himalayan region has been a flashpoint between arch-rivals Pakistan and India since independence in 1947
  • Both countries rule parts of the Himalayan territory but claim it in full and have fought two out of three wars over the disputed region

ISLAMABAD: Kashmiris in parts of the world are observing the “Accession to Pakistan Day” today, Friday, with a renewed pledge to continue struggle for their right to self-determination, Pakistani state media reported.

The Muslim-majority Himalayan region of Kashmir has been divided between Pakistan and India since their independence from British rule in 1947. Both countries rule parts of the Himalayan territory but claim it in full and have fought two out of three wars over the disputed region.

On July 19, 1947, Kashmiri representatives had unanimously passed the resolution of Kashmir’s Accession to Pakistan during a meeting of the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference in Srinagar. The resolution called for the accession in view of aspirations of Kashmir people and their religious, geographical, cultural and economic proximity to Pakistan.

The Accession to Pakistan Day is observed by Kashmiris every year to renew their pledge to complete the merger. The Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK) government has announced a public holiday on the occasion to facilitate the masses to participate in the special programs.

“Wide-scale programs have been chalked out to observe the day throughout Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK),” Pakistani state-run APP news agency reported.

Pakistan calls for the right of self-determination for the people of Indian-administered Kashmir and urged New Delhi to hold a plebiscite in line with the resolutions of the UN Security Council.

The day is being observed at a time when the part of the territory administered by New Delhi has been witnessing an uptick in violence.

Four Indian soldiers were killed and at least six others were wounded in gunbattles with militants in Indian-administered Kashmir, a senior police officer said this month. Prior to that, two soldiers and six suspected militants were killed in two separate gunbattles in the Kulgam district, police said.

Separatist groups have waged an insurgency since 1989, demanding independence for the territory or its merger with Pakistan. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of civilians, soldiers and rebels. India accuses Pakistan of supporting the separatists, a charge denied by Islamabad.