PM Sharif meets top Chinese diplomat in Pakistan ahead of crucial IMF board meeting

PM Sharif meets top Chinese diplomat in Pakistan ahead of crucial IMF board meeting
Pang Chunxue, Chinese chargé d’affaires in Pakistan, meets Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Islamabad on July 11, 2023. (PID)
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Updated 11 July 2023
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PM Sharif meets top Chinese diplomat in Pakistan ahead of crucial IMF board meeting

PM Sharif meets top Chinese diplomat in Pakistan ahead of crucial IMF board meeting
  • The prime minister says the two countries have always extended ‘unflinching support’ to each other in difficult times
  • Pakistani minister describes CPEC as ‘top national priority,’ seeks further expansion of bilateral cooperation with China

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday held a meeting with the Chinese chargé d’affaires in Islamabad amid efforts made by his administration to secure financing assurances from friendly nations ahead of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Executive Board meeting to discuss a $3 billion stand-by arrangement for his country.

Faced with dwindling foreign exchange reserves and rapidly depreciating currency, Pakistan has tried to stabilize its economy by seeking financial assistance from strategic partners to satisfy a major condition imposed by the international lender for the release of a $1.1 billion tranche under an Extended Fund Facility (EFF) signed in 2019.

The country’s finance minister Ishaq Dar announced earlier in the day Saudi Arabia had deposited $2 billion in Pakistan's central bank. China has also rolled over a $2 billion loan in recent months while the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has pledged $1 billion to shore up Pakistan’s forex reserves.

According to a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office, Sharif felicitated the Communist Party of China on its 102nd anniversary during the meeting with the Chinese diplomat, Pang Chunxue, noting that the two countries had “always stood together in difficult times” and extended “unflinching support to each other.”

“Recalling his substantive interactions with President Xi Jinping and more recently with Premier Li Qiang, the Prime Minister appreciated strong personal commitment of the Chinese leadership for strengthening bilateral ties between the two countries,” the statement added.

“Noting the upward trajectory in Pakistan-China ties and deepening economic and financial relationship, the Prime Minister thanked China for its support for Pakistan’s economic stability and expressed his firm commitment to further deepen development cooperation between the two countries under the rubric of Global Development Initiative and CPEC [China-Pakistan Economic Corridor].”

The Chinese official also mentioned the strategic partnership between the two states during the meeting, pointing out that her country accorded a special place to Pakistan in its neighborhood diplomacy.

She maintained that China regarded Pakistan as an important economic partner and would continue efforts to promote its socio-economic development and financial stability.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s planning minister Ahsan Iqbal co-chaired the 12th Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) meeting with a senior Chinese official in Beijing to review the progress made under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor program.

According to the Associated Press of Pakistan, he described CPEC as “the topmost national priority” while highlighting there was massive potential to further expand and develop bilateral ties between the two countries in agriculture, industry, technology, and mining sectors.


‘Highly controversial’ elections, weak coalition pose economic challenges to Pakistan — Moody’s

‘Highly controversial’ elections, weak coalition pose economic challenges to Pakistan — Moody’s
Updated 26 sec ago
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‘Highly controversial’ elections, weak coalition pose economic challenges to Pakistan — Moody’s

‘Highly controversial’ elections, weak coalition pose economic challenges to Pakistan — Moody’s
  • The upcoming coalition government’s electoral mandate may not be sufficiently strong to pursue difficult reforms
  • The credit rating agency warns that the rating would be downgraded if Pakistan were to default on its debt obligations

KARACHI: Moody’s Investors Service on Tuesday warned of political risks following “highly controversial” general elections in Pakistan that could lead to insufficient mandate for the next government to pursue difficult economic reforms needed at this stage.
The international agency maintained Pakistan’s ratings, including its Caa3 long-term issuer rating, with a stable outlook unchanged after completing a periodic review of the country’s ratings.
“Pakistan’s credit profile reflects the government’s very high liquidity and external vulnerability risks as the very low levels of foreign exchange reserves remain well below what is required to meet its very high external financing needs over the near to medium term,” Moody’s said in the review report.
The agency did not announce a credit rating action but highlighted the “country’s very weak fiscal strength and elevated political risks” that may also constrain the credit profile.
The South Asian nation is in the process of forming a government after key political parties, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), agreed on a power-sharing formula last week.
The general elections were marred by allegations of rigging and manipulation.
“Political risks are high, following a highly controversial general elections held on 8 February 2024,” the agency said.
Although a coalition government looks set to be formed, the report said there was high uncertainty around the newly elected government’s willingness and ability to quickly negotiate a new International Monetary Fund program soon after the current $3 billion short-term loan expires next month.
Moody’s said Pakistan’s ability to secure loans from other bilateral and multilateral partners would be severely constrained until the new IMF financing was reached.
Its assessment comes only a year after it downgraded the country’s rating to Caa3 from Caa1, following deadlock in talks with the IMF amid depletion of foreign exchange reserves.
The large amount of external financing required over the medium term along with Pakistan’s very low reserves position imply material default risks if there were funding delays from the IMF and other partners.
“Social pressures and weaknesses in governance may also raise challenges in meeting criteria for future IMF funding,” the agency said.
The agency warned that the rating would likely be downgraded if Pakistan were to default on its debt obligations to private-sector creditors and the expected losses to creditors as a result of any restructuring were larger than consistent with a Caa3 rating.


Imran Khan’s party asks IMF to consider Pakistan’s political stability in bailout talks, sources say

Imran Khan’s party asks IMF to consider Pakistan’s political stability in bailout talks, sources say
Updated 41 min 49 sec ago
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Imran Khan’s party asks IMF to consider Pakistan’s political stability in bailout talks, sources say

Imran Khan’s party asks IMF to consider Pakistan’s political stability in bailout talks, sources say
  • Cash-strapped Pakistan secured a $3 billion bailout from the IMF last summer
  • A new Pakistani government may need to seek more funds from the global lender

ISLAMABAD: The party of Pakistan’s former prime minister, Imran Khan, has asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to factor in the country’s political stability in any further bailout talks, two people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
Khan’s party has sent a letter to the IMF detailing its position, two senior sources in Khan’s party with knowledge of the letter said.
Pakistan’s cash-strapped economy is struggling to recover from an economic crisis and secured a $3 billion bailout from the IMF last summer. Analysts say that a new government — which Khan’s opponents are expected to form after this month’s national election — may need to seek more funds from the global lender.


After 11-day blockade, Pakistani users report being able to use X without VPN

After 11-day blockade, Pakistani users report being able to use X without VPN
Updated 28 February 2024
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After 11-day blockade, Pakistani users report being able to use X without VPN

After 11-day blockade, Pakistani users report being able to use X without VPN
  • X first went down on Feb. 17 when a government official confessed to manipulating votes in Feb. 8 elections
  • X’s prolonged disruption has raised widespread concerns about state of democratic freedoms

ISLAMABAD: After being inaccessible for millions of Pakistanis for 11 consecutive days, many users reported they were able to use the social media platform X without enabling a Virtual Private Network (VPN) on Wednesday morning. 

X first went down on Feb. 17 when a government official confessed to manipulating votes in Pakistan’s Feb. 8 general election. The admission came as former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and other political parties staged protests countrywide, alleging the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had rigged elections, which it denies. Mobile phone services were also shut down on polling day over security threats. 

X’s prolonged disruption has raised widespread concerns about the state of democratic freedoms in the country, with the United States and several international organizations urging Pakistan to provide unhindered Internet access and leading digital rights activists calling the blockade a “blatant violation” of civil liberties. 

On Wednesday afternoon, multiple Arab News staffers were able to access X without a VPN, which can mask the identity and location of users to help access websites and services that may be blocked in a certain region. 

VPNs have become increasingly popular in the days since access to X was cut off for much of the country but software application Surfshark reported this week the Pakistan government was working to restrict VPN as well, which the company’s engineers were working to bypass. 

“Twitter (X) is working without VPN in #Pakistan,” journalist Shiraz Hassan said on X. 

A day earlier on Tuesday, Internet observatory group Netblocks said metrics showed X had remained restricted in Pakistan into a tenth day, “as the nation joins an exclusive set of countries that have imposed extended or permanent bans on international social media platforms.” 

Before the latest blockade, Pakistan experienced multiple Internet disruptions in recent weeks that made social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, X and Instagram inaccessible. Recent occurrences were on Jan. 20, Jan. 7 and Dec. 17, when Khan’s PTI party was holding virtual events. The government had blamed those disruptions on “technical glitches.” 

Such shutdowns have previously had a devastating impact on Pakistan’s economy. The day after Khan’s arrest in May last year, Reuters reported that point-of-sale transactions routed through Pakistan’s main digital payment systems fell by around 50 percent according to the region’s two largest payments system operators, 1LINK and Habib Bank Limited.

According to the Internet Society’s monitor Pulse, it is becoming an increasingly common tactic for governments to shut down the Internet on a national or sub-national level to either control civil unrest, stem the flow of misinformation, sway the results of general elections or to gain strategic advantages in territories with ongoing wars.
 


PM denies state responsibility for Baloch missing persons during Islamabad court appearance 

PM denies state responsibility for Baloch missing persons during Islamabad court appearance 
Updated 28 February 2024
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PM denies state responsibility for Baloch missing persons during Islamabad court appearance 

PM denies state responsibility for Baloch missing persons during Islamabad court appearance 
  • Pakistan’s army, intelligence agencies deny carrying out enforced disappearances
  • Balochistan province is the site of a decades long low-level separatist insurgency 

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said on Wednesday the Pakistani state was not responsible for enforced disappearances, a recurring problem that is often blamed on security agencies in the country’s impoverished southwestern Balochistan province.

The prime minister issued the statement during an appearance before the Islamabad High Court in connection with a case regarding Baloch missing students.

Balochistan has long been plagued by enforced disappearances, with families saying men are picked up by security forces, disappear often for years, and are sometimes found dead, with no official explanation. Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies deny they carry out enforced disappearances.

Separatist groups like the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the most prominent of several separatist groups operating Balochistan, have been fighting a decades long insurgency for independence for mountainous and mineral-rich Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province by territory but the smallest in terms of population. Rights activists, political leaders and families say the insurgency has been used as a pretext to pick up innocent civilians, which the state denies. 

“It is not correct to consider the entire state guilty [for enforced disappearances in Balochistan],” Kakar was widely quoted by local media as telling the court, castigating state critics for not holding separatists and militants responsible when they killed innocent civilians and security officials. 

Balochistan borders Afghanistan to the north, Iran to the west and has a long coastline on the Arabian Sea. It has Pakistan’s largest natural gas field and is believed to hold many more undiscovered reserves. It is also rich in precious metals including gold, the production of which has grown over recent years.

Balochistan is a key location in China’s huge multi-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), part of President Xi Jinping’s massive Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. Though separatists mostly target Pakistani security forces and state installations in Balochistan, they have also attacked Chinese workers and projects. 

In a rare statement on the issue in 2019, the military sympathized with families of missing Balochs but said some may have joined militant groups and “not every person missing is attributable to the state.”

Pakistan has repeatedly blamed India for fanning militancy in Balochistan, a charge New Delhi denies. 


Ex-PM Khan calls for nationwide election protests over alleged vote counting fraud on Saturday

Ex-PM Khan calls for nationwide election protests over alleged vote counting fraud on Saturday
Updated 28 February 2024
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Ex-PM Khan calls for nationwide election protests over alleged vote counting fraud on Saturday

Ex-PM Khan calls for nationwide election protests over alleged vote counting fraud on Saturday
  • Khan’s PTI party claims it won from 179 national constituencies, though it was deprived of nearly 85 seats
  • The party has asked its followers and supporters to take to the streets in large number to protect its mandate

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party issued a protest call to its supporters on Tuesday, urging them to take to the streets and demonstrate against the alleged election manipulation following the February 8 polls.

Pakistan’s national polls were marred by a countrywide outage of cellphone networks and delays in the announcement of results by election authorities, leading to widespread suspicions of fraud during the vote counting process.

Several political parties, including the PTI, have been protesting against election irregularities, claiming the results were altered in favor of their opponents.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) denies these allegations.

“Imran Khan has given a message to all of Pakistan today from jail that there will be a protest against the theft of our mandate between 11 and 12am on Saturday,” PTI leader Sher Afzal Marwat said during a news conference.

“I have been assigned the responsibility of the protest in Islamabad,” he added. “We will start the demonstration from F9 Park and it will conclude at the Press Club. We will remain completely peaceful.”

Marwat maintained people had come out to vote for his party at a time when its candidates were not even allowed to run their campaign.

He said it was now everyone’s responsibility to protect that mandate by taking to the streets in large numbers.

The PTI leader claimed the politicians who were taking over power in Punjab and at the National Assembly had not even been elected on their seats.

Independent candidates supported by Khan’s party won over 90 seats and emerged as the single largest bloc in the National Assembly.

It says it can prove its victory from 179 national constituencies, though it was deprived of nearly 85 seats during the vote counting process.