Amid forex crunch, Pakistan army chief assures businessmen of 'transparency' in exchange rates

Special Amid forex crunch, Pakistan army chief assures businessmen of 'transparency' in exchange rates
A man enters a foreign currency exchange shop in Islamabad, Pakistan on July 11, 2023. (AFP/File)
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Updated 04 September 2023
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Amid forex crunch, Pakistan army chief assures businessmen of 'transparency' in exchange rates

Amid forex crunch, Pakistan army chief assures businessmen of 'transparency' in exchange rates
  • The assurance came at a meeting between army chief, business figures at a time when Pakistan is grappling with an economic crisis
  • Lahore Chamber of Commerce says the business community held significant discussions with the army chief on the economic situation

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's army chief, General Asim Munir, has assured business community of fostering "transparency" in the dollar exchange and interbank rates, the Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry (LCCI) president said on Sunday, following a meeting between the two sides. 

The meeting between the army chief and leading business figures at the army's corps headquarters in Lahore came at a time when Pakistan is grappling with a severe economic crisis, with the national currency at a historic low against the dollar, forex reserves dwindling and inflation hovering above 27 percent. 

Representatives of the business community held significant discussions with the army chief over the economic situation of the South Asian country, which barely averted a sovereign default in June by securing a $3 billion bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund. 

LCCI President Kashif Anwar apprised Gen Munir of critical issues faced by the public and suggested a number of proposals, including greater control over the rates of the US dollar in both interbank and open markets, to help steer the country out of the economic turmoil, the LCCI said in a statement. 

"General Asim Munir responded positively, assuring that money exchanges would be brought under the purview of taxation, fostering transparency in dollar exchange and interbank rates," the statement read. 

Last week, Pakistan's rupee fell to an eighth consecutive record closing low, dropping to 305.5 per US dollar. 

The rupee lost 0.4 percent as Pakistan eased import restrictions to abide by conditions set under the $3 billion IMF deal and on political instability. Pakistan imposed import restrictions from 2022 to stem outflows from its shrinking foreign reserves. 

Anwar pointed out that the disparity between the central bank rate and 'Hundi' rates often led to the preference for Hundi channels when it came to sending remittances. He emphasized that if these rates were aligned, remittances would naturally flow through the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). 

The LCCI president proposed a reduction in income and sales tax rates on electricity bills.  

"He noted that the populace grapples with the burden of high taxation on electricity, impacting daily lives, businesses and common people," the LCCI statement said. 

"Anwar introduced a pragmatic approach to fuel adjustment charges, advocating for their collection during the winter months when electricity consumption is lower, alleviating financial stress on consumers." 

Poverty-stricken Pakistanis have staged several demonstrations and strikes over the last two weeks in protest over the rising costs of living, fueled by the recent hikes in energy prices. 

A caretaker administration is currently governing Pakistan, tasked with steering the country through to a national election that is due to take place by November. It is also grappling with acute political tension. 

Gen Munir highlighted the pivotal role of the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), emphasizing its potential to attract of up to $100 billion investments from countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and others to alleviate the suffering of Pakistani people. 

To bolster economic decision-making, he revealed the formation of task forces that were focused on economic matters and different sectors. 

The outgoing government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced in June the formation of the SIFC, aimed at seeking investments in the energy, IT, minerals, defence and agriculture sectors from the Gulf countries 

The SIFC, which includes the army chief and other military leaders in key roles, aims to take a “unified approach” to steer the country out of the economic turmoil. 

On the occasion, the LCCI president emphasized the importance of an enhanced and sustained interactive dialogue between the business community and relevant authorities.  

"Anwar called for a unified commitment from political parties, suggesting the signing of a charter of the economy as a precondition before any upcoming elections," the statement read. 

"This gathering exemplified the shared dedication of both the business community and the military leadership to work collaboratively in addressing pressing economic challenges and propelling the nation toward growth." 


Pakistani officials say Makkah Route initiative approved for Karachi airport

Pakistani officials say Makkah Route initiative approved for Karachi airport
Updated 52 min 21 sec ago
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Pakistani officials say Makkah Route initiative approved for Karachi airport

Pakistani officials say Makkah Route initiative approved for Karachi airport
  • The initiative allows for the completion of immigration procedures at the pilgrims’ country of departure
  • Pakistani pilgrims performing Hajj under government scheme have already been availing facility in Islamabad

KARACHI: Saudi authorities have approved the expansion of the Makkah Route initiative, which is aimed at facilitating Pakistani Hajj pilgrims, to the Karachi airport, Pakistani officials said on Monday.

The statement came a day after a two-member delegation from Saudi Arabia visited the Jinnah International Airport in the southern Pakistani city to inspect facilities and discuss arrangements for the pilgrims.

Launched in 2019, the initiative allows for the completion of immigration procedures at the pilgrims’ country of departure. This makes it possible to bypass long immigration and customs checks upon reaching Saudi Arabia, which significantly reduces the waiting time and makes the entry process smoother and faster.

Pakistani pilgrims performing Hajj under the government scheme have been availing this facility at the airport in Islamabad for the last couple of years and the government wanted the initiative to be extended to other cities as well.

“The Saudis have okayed Jinnah International Airport Karachi,” Saifullah, a spokesperson for the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA), told Arab News.

Gulzar Soomro, director at the Hajj directorate in Karachi, confirmed the development, saying a contract had also been awarded to a company to design the project.

A spokesperson for Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Islamabad could not be immediately reached for confirmation.

During the visit to the Karachi airport on Sunday, the two-member Saudi delegation showed particular interest in the entry process for intending pilgrims and the allocation of immigration space, according to the PCAA. It came weeks after Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry announced completion of a survey for the Makkah Route initiative at the Karachi airport.

The South Asian country expects more than 60 percent of pilgrims performing Hajj this year to benefit from the initiative. People opting for the private Hajj scheme can also avail the facility, given the tour operators providing them services have contacted the Pakistani religious ministry for the purpose.

Saudi Arabia last year restored Pakistan’s pre-pandemic Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims and abolished the upper age limit of 65 years. More than 81,000 Pakistani pilgrims performed Hajj under the government scheme in 2023, while the rest used private tour operators.

This year’s pilgrimage is expected to run from June 14 till June 19.


Pakistan’s Sindh to step up efforts against street crime after dozens killed in Karachi

Pakistan’s Sindh to step up efforts against street crime after dozens killed in Karachi
Updated 22 April 2024
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Pakistan’s Sindh to step up efforts against street crime after dozens killed in Karachi

Pakistan’s Sindh to step up efforts against street crime after dozens killed in Karachi
  • Karachi, the country’s commercial hub, has reported nearly one murder every other day since the start of this year
  • At least 18 killings, including that of an army major, occurred during muggings in the holy fasting month of Ramadan

KARACHI: The government in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province on Monday decided to intensify its efforts against rampant street crime, following the killing of dozens of people in muggings and other violent crimes in the provincial capital this year.

The decision was made at a law and order meeting held at the Chief Minister’s House, which was attended by members of the provincial cabinet, top bureaucrats, provincial and city police chiefs, Karachi Corps Commander Lt Gen Babar Iftikhar and Sindh Rangers Director-General Maj Gen Azhar Waqas.

The development comes after the killing of at least 57 people in Karachi, the country’s commercial hub and home to roughly 30 million people, averaging nearly one murder every other day since the start of this year, according to a tally collected from media reports.

At least 18 of the killings, including that of an army major who was assigned with the Coast Guard, occurred during the holy fasting month of Ramadan. The officer was shot by muggers on March 30 and died after being hospitalized for a week.

“Meeting has decided to take measures to monitor the sale of stolen or snatched mobile phones and vehicles as spare parts or in their complete form in the markets of Karachi,” read a statement issued from the CM House after the huddle.

Officials informed the participants that the police had 467 encounters with criminals this year, in which 67 suspects were killed, 489 were injured and 1,766 were arrested.

Additionally, the police were directed to revamp Madadgar-15 service for reporting crimes.

“The Home Minister announced that an additional 168 vehicles, including 120 motorbikes, would be deployed to enhance the police force’s capabilities,” the statement read.

“The Chief Minister instructed the Inspector General (IG) of police to initiate the E-tagging of repeat offenders.”


Pakistan posts highest monthly current account surplus in nine years

Pakistan posts highest monthly current account surplus in nine years
Updated 22 April 2024
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Pakistan posts highest monthly current account surplus in nine years

Pakistan posts highest monthly current account surplus in nine years
  • Cumulatively, the current account balance improved from July till March, recording a deficit of only $0.5 billion
  • Karachi-based research firm Topline Securities says significant monthly surplus is due to higher remittances on Eid

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan recorded a current account surplus of $619 million in March, the central bank said on Monday, which was the highest in nine years.

Cumulatively, the country’s current account balance improved significantly from July 2023 till March 2024 and recorded a deficit of $0.5 billion only, compared to $4.1 billion during the same period in the previous year, according to the State Bank of Pakistan.

“Pakistan recorded Current Account Surplus of $619mn in Mar-2024 vs $537mn last year and $98mn in Feb-2024,” Topline Securities, a Karachi-based brokerage and research firm, said in its report.

“This is the highest monthly surplus after 9 years. We believe significant monthly surplus is due to higher remittances amid Eid inflows.”

The development comes amid hopes of the country’s successful talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a new bailout program, after Pakistan’s current $3 billion arrangement expires this month, as well as investment from friendly countries, including Saudi Arabia.

In March, remittances sent by Pakistani workers abroad increased by 31 percent on a month-on-month basis, with Saudi Arabia being the top contributor.

Pakistani expatriates remitted a total of $3 billion back home in the month of March, according to official figures shared by the SBP.

Pakistan’s finance minister, Muhammad Aurangzeb, has recently held meetings with official of the IMF, World Bank and other multilateral financial institutions.

During the meetings, the minister highlighted the government’s reforms and the country’s improved economic indicators for investment.


Ex-PM Khan’s party to launch Pakistan-wide agitation over by-poll ‘rigging’

Ex-PM Khan’s party to launch Pakistan-wide agitation over by-poll ‘rigging’
Updated 22 April 2024
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Ex-PM Khan’s party to launch Pakistan-wide agitation over by-poll ‘rigging’

Ex-PM Khan’s party to launch Pakistan-wide agitation over by-poll ‘rigging’
  • Pakistan conducted by-polls in 21 constituencies amid suspension of mobile networks
  • Unofficial results suggest PM Sharif’s party bagged most seats in Sunday’s by-elections

ISLAMABAD: Jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party will hold nationwide rallies on April 26 to protest the results of Sunday’s by-elections in Pakistan, PTI members said on Monday.

Pakistan conducted by-polls in 21 national and provincial constituencies on Sunday amid a partial suspension of mobile phone networks in parts of Punjab and Balochistan provinces. The polls were the first major electoral exercise since the Feb. 8 national election, marred by a nationwide mobile Internet shutdown on election day, arrests and violence in its build-up and unusually delayed results, leading to accusations that the vote was rigged.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, which formed a coalition in the center after Feb. 8 polls, won two out of the five national seats and 10 out of 16 provincial seats, according to unofficial results reported widely by local media.

Speaking at a press conference, members of Khan’s PTI said the by-polls were “blatantly rigged” in Gujrat, Sheikhupura, Lahore and elsewhere in the country, and announced a series of demonstrations to protest the results.

“This Friday... we call for a protest in all four provinces,” said Omar Ayub, opposition leader in the National Assembly, adding that protests would follow in Faisalabad, Karachi and others parts of the country soon.

PTI Chairman Gohar Khan said April 21 was a “black day for democracy” in the country.

“I have neither seen such blatant and open violation of law, nor have I heard of it,” he said. “We demand the election commission that those who rigged [the polls] in Punjab, their notification be withheld.”

Khan, who was PM from 2018-2022, remains jailed in multiple cases, including a 14-year jail sentence for him and his wife for the illegal sale of state gifts. Khan was first imprisoned after being handed a three-year prison sentence in August 2023 by the Election Commission for not declaring assets earned from selling gifts worth more than 140 million rupees ($501,000) in state possession and received during his premiership. In January, Khan and wife Bushra Bibi were handed 14-year jail terms following a separate investigation by the country’s top anti-graft body into the same charges involving state gifts.

An anti-graft court in Islamabad also handed Khan a 10-year jail term in January for revealing state secrets, a week before national elections on Feb. 8. In February, Khan and his wife were also sentenced to seven years on charges they violated the country’s marriage law when they wed in 2018 — the fourth sentence so far for Khan and the second for his wife.

Khan has also been indicted under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism law in connection with violence against the military that erupted following his brief arrest related to the Al-Qadir case on May 9. A section of Pakistan’s 1997 anti-terrorism act prescribes the death penalty as maximum punishment. Khan has denied the charges under the anti-terrorism law, saying he was in detention when the violence took place.

Khan’s convictions mean he is banned from holding public office and ruled the 71-year-old out of general elections earlier this year. Arguably Pakistan’s most popular politician, Khan says all cases against him are motivated to keep him out of politics.


Pakistan army says 11 militants killed in two operations in country’s northwest

Pakistan army says 11 militants killed in two operations in country’s northwest
Updated 22 April 2024
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Pakistan army says 11 militants killed in two operations in country’s northwest

Pakistan army says 11 militants killed in two operations in country’s northwest
  • Security in regions of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan has deteriorated in recent months
  • Five Japanese nationals narrowly escaped a suicide bombimg on their vehicle last week

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan army said on Monday it had killed eleven militants in two different operations in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, amid a surge in terror attacks in the South Asian country. 

Security in areas of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan has deteriorated in recent months. Attacks, some claimed by the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) Islamist militant group, have risen, mostly targeting police and security officials, while separatist groups have also launched attacks in the country’s southern and southwestern regions.

Five Japanese nationals narrowly escaped a suicide bombing on their vehicle last week, while unknown gunmen killed two customs officers on Sunday, following the killing of five other customs officials in the area in recent days.

“An intelligence-based operation was conducted in Dera Ismail Khan District on reported presence of terrorists. During conduct of the operation, after an intense fire exchange, ten terrorists were successfully neutralized and sent to hell,” the military’s media wing said

“In another encounter in North Waziristan District, own troops effectively engaged the terrorists’ location as a result of which one more terrorist was sent to hell.”

The army said the militants had been involved in “numerous terrorist activities in the area against security forces as well as the innocent civilians.” The two operations took place on April 21-22. 

The current rise in attacks has escalated tensions between Pakistan and the Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban administration. Pakistan, saying militants have been using Afghan territory to launch attacks, has called on the Taliban to take action and carried out an airstrike last month on Afghan territory.

The Taliban have denied allowing the use of Afghan soil for militancy and said Pakistan’s security issues are a domestic issue for Islamabad.