Pakistan finance minister steps down amid IMF talks, budget preparations

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Speculation has been rife in recent days that Umar would be replaced, mostly over delays in reaching a bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund at a time of worsening economic outlook for the South Asian nation of 208 million people. (AFP/File)
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Asad Umar and with Imran Khan at PTI Workers Convention in 2017 – (Asad Umar Facebook)
Updated 18 April 2019

Pakistan finance minister steps down amid IMF talks, budget preparations

  • Asad Umar says was offered energy ministry by prime minister in cabinet reshuffle but declined
  • Warns no one should expect miracles from the new finance minister

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Finance Minister Asad Umar resigned from the cabinet on Thursday after Prime Minister Imran Khan tried to move him to the energy portfolio, heightening uncertainty about ongoing bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund and the government’s plan to deal with an economy in crisis.
Speculation has been rife in recent days that Umar would be replaced, mostly over delays in reaching a deal with the IMF at a time of worsening economic outlook for the South Asian nation of 208 million people.
“As part of a cabinet reshuffle PM [prime minister] desired that I take the energy minister portfolio instead of finance,” Umar said in a Twitter post. “However, I have obtained his consent to not take any cabinet position.”
At a press conference later in the day, he said Khan needed to pick a new finance minister “as soon as possible” but declined to comment on who would replace him.
Umar’s successor will have the monumental task of not just finalizing the IMF deal but also the national budget, due to be announced in May.
“We are at an advanced stage [of talks] with the IMF and this will also reflect in the upcoming budget,” Umar said. “Whoever comes in, he will have to face a thorny situation … Nobody should expect any miracle from the new finance minister.”
As part of a cabinet reshuffle, Umar said other changes in the cabinet would “be announced either tonight or tomorrow morning.”
Khurram Hussain, the business editor of Dawn newspaper, said Umar’s resignation was “ill-timed” and would add to uncertainty about the country’s economic future.
“At a time when the finance minister was engaged with the IMF and preparing the budget, his resignation is beyond comprehension,” Hussain told Arab News, adding that any new official would now have to start from scratch.
Dr. Athar Ahmed, a senior economist based in Karachi, said Umar’s resignation would shake the confidence of the IMF in Pakistan and possibly prolong the finalization of a deal.
Talks with the IMF began soon after Khan was appointed prime minister but stalled over austerity conditions imposed by the Fund, which has pressed Pakistan to improve tax revenue collection, bolster foreign currency reserves and narrow a current account deficit expected to top 5 percent of gross domestic product this year.
Pakistani officials say they agree on the need for reforms but do not want to sign up to conditions that would derail the economy, with growth set to slow this year to around 4 percent from 5.2 percent last year.
“We have finalized the IMF agreement on much better terms than before as I refused to take decisions that would have crushed the nation,” Umar said at Thursday’s press talk.

Thumbs-up: Pakistani woman defies risks to hitchhike across the country

Updated 14 September 2020

Thumbs-up: Pakistani woman defies risks to hitchhike across the country

  • Leaving corporate security behind, Maria Soomro has traveled solo around the country since the pandemic began
  • She documents her travels and uses YouTube and Instagram to provide tips on how to solo travel as a woman

RAWALPINDI: A few months ago, while doing a stable job in the banking sector, Maria Soomro decided to act on her gut instinct and leave behind the monotony and routine of her daily life to follow her dream of hitchhiking around Pakistan. 

30-year-old Soomro hails from Karachi and has been working in the banking sector since completing her university education. The corporate job gave her 40 days of annual leave which she utilized for travel, though she felt that something was missing. 

“I wasn’t fully able to immerse myself in enjoyment or the experience,” she told Arab News over the phone while traveling through Gilgit-Baltistan. “When I travel, I go to remote villages, off-the-beaten-path type places and get to know the locals, actually spend some time understanding where I am and who I am surrounded by. Five or 15 days don’t allow for that.” 

The idea of spending time doing what she loved as opposed to sitting at a desk kicked Soomro into high-gear. “I opted to turn the documenting of my travels, which I had been doing since 2015 on Instagram (@MariaSoomro_) and eponymous YouTube channel, into my full-time job.” 

Maria Soomro smiles for the camera in a ride she hitched near Burzil Pass, part of the historic caravan route between Srinagar and Gilgit on her Instagram page on September 11, 2020. (Picture courtesy of Maria Soomro) 

In March of this year, Soomro headed out on her hitchhiking journey. Being a solo female traveler in Pakistan is a steadily growing trend, though a woman who hitchhikes is almost unheard of.

 “Budget traveling is my focus. The largest chunk of your budget ends up being spent on accommodation and transportation, and both of these things can be covered when you’re hitchhiking,” said Soomro. 

But her travel ethos is another reason hitchhiking was so attractive. To her, there is no better way than this to know the places one is traveling through. 

“This is a shortcut to get to know local communities, be it Pakistan or another country. When you ask for a lift, you get a special introduction to their home, their points of view, and you learn from them,” she said, adding that one can build contacts as a bonus who can be assets to solo travelers. 

Soomro estimates that her hitchhiking adventure has allowed her to meet over 300 people, all of whom, she maintains, contact through social media. “The more people you meet the more stories you hear and the more people you can share your own story with,” said she. 

Maria Soomro shares tips and tricks on solo travel including how to keep one's tent from blowing away in a shot she shares from Golden Beach, Balochistan, on her Instagram page on June 14, 2020. (Picture courtesy of Maria Soomro) 

Instead of merely asking for a lift, Soomro has taken each ride as an opportunity to educate on what hitchhiking is, why she is doing it, and why she is traveling Pakistan. 

“It’s not very common here and I want to change that. The general consensus is that Pakistan is not safe, in particular for women, to travel alone.” 

When asked about how safe she has felt while traveling, Soomro said she follows “her gut instinct, assessing each ride” but also stressed the importance of “being prepared,” such as carrying personal protection equipment like pepper spray and knife. 

“My advice to Pakistanis who want to follow into my footsteps would be to take time to understand this kind of travel first and do not go straight for hitching,” she said. “Travel in groups and learn the areas you want to visit, know how roads work and, like any other passion, take time to educate yourself.” 

Soomro is doing her part in educating travel hopefuls on her YouTube channel and Instagram page with tips on how to hitchhike, where to go, and how to pitch a tent to withstand winds and what type of rides to expect around the country at present. 

“There are very few people who follow their passion in the world, and I am one of those crazy people since I thought I could do it,” said Soomro. “I am a free bird and travel is a part of me. I can’t imagine my life without this.”