Pakistan says discussing new three-year, multi-billion-dollar loan program with IMF

Pakistan says discussing new three-year, multi-billion-dollar loan program with IMF
Pakistan's Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb speaks during an interview with AFP at the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, DC on April 15, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 16 April 2024
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Pakistan says discussing new three-year, multi-billion-dollar loan program with IMF

Pakistan says discussing new three-year, multi-billion-dollar loan program with IMF
  • Finance minister Aurangzeb is in Washington for spring meetings organized by International Monetary Fund, World Bank
  • Meets Pakistan Business Council, Climate Vulnerable Forum chief, Pak-US businessmen and tech entrepreneurs

KARACHI: Pakistan has initiated discussions with the IMF over a new multi-billion dollar loan agreement to support its economic reform program, its new finance minister told AFP on Monday, during a visit to Washington for spring meetings organized by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

An ongoing nine-month, $3 billion loan program with the IMF designed to tackle a balance-of-payments crisis which brought Pakistan to the brink of default last summer will expire this month. 

With the final $1.1 billion tranche of that deal likely to be approved later this month, Pakistan has begun negotiations for a new multi-year IMF loan program worth “billions” of dollars, Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb said during an interview in Washington.

“The market confidence, the market sentiment is in much, much better shape this fiscal year,” said Aurangzeb, a former banker who took up his post last month.

“It’s really for that purpose that, during the course of this week, we have initiated the discussion with the Fund to get into a larger and an extended program,” he added.

An IMF spokesperson told AFP that the Fund is “currently focused on the completion of the current Stand-by Agreement program,” referring to the ongoing nine-month program scheduled for completion shortly.

“The new government has expressed interest in a new program, and Fund staff stands ready to engage in initial discussions on a successor program,” the spokesperson added.

During his visit to Washington, Aurangzeb will also attend the spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank, which kick off in earnest Tuesday, with two clear objectives: to help countries combat climate change, and to assist the world’s most indebted nations.

The meetings, which bring central bankers together with finance and development ministers, academics, and representatives from the private sector and civil society to discuss the state of the global economy, will kick off with the IMF’s publication of its updated World Economic Outlook.

“US VS. CHINA”

Pakistan held elections in February this year which were marred by allegations of rigging, with opposition leader Imran Khan jailed and barred from running, and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party subject to a crackdown.

The shaky coalition that emerged, led by Shehbaz Sharif, is now tasked with engineering an economic turnaround by implementing a raft of unpopular belt-tightening measures.

“I do think that we will at least be requesting for a three year program,” Aurangzeb said. “Because that’s what we need, as I see it, to help execute the structural reform agenda.”

“By the time we get to the second or third week of May, I do think we’ll start getting into the contours of that discussion,” he added.

Pakistan has close economic ties to both the United States and China, which has put it in a tricky position as the two countries have embarked upon a costly trade war.

“From our perspective it has to be an and-and discussion,” Aurangzeb said when asked how the Sharif government plans to conduct its trading relationships with the world’s two largest economies.

“[The] US is our largest trading partner, and it has always supported us, always helped us in terms of the investments,” he said. “So that is always going to be a very, very critical relationship for Pakistan.”

“On the other side, a lot of investment, especially in infrastructure, came through CPEC,” he said, referring to the roughly 1,860-mile-long China-Pakistan Economic Corridor designed to give China access to the Arabian Sea.

Aurangzeb said there was a “very good opportunity” for Pakistan to play a similar role in the trade war as countries like Vietnam, which has been able to dramatically boost its exports to the US following the imposition of tariffs on some Chinese goods.

“We have already a few examples of that already working,” he said. “But what we need to do is to really scale it up.”

As part of the structural reform program agreed to by the previous government, Pakistan is in the middle of a privatization drive to sell off its poorly-performing state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

The first SOE on the list is Pakistan International Airlines, the country’s flag carrier.

“We will get to know in the next month or so with respect to interest from prospective bidders,” Aurangzeb said.

“Our desire is to go through with that privatization and take it through the finishing line by the end of June,” he added.

If the PIA privatization goes well for the government, other companies could soon follow.

“We’re creating an entire pipeline,” he said, adding: “Over the next couple of years we want to really accelerate that.”

“MEETINGS WITH BUSINESS COMMUNITY”

In a meeting with members of the Pakistan Business Council (USPBC) on the sidelines of the IMF and World Bank spring meetings, the finance minister appreciated the important role of the US corporate sector in strengthening Pak-US economic ties. 

“Despite the challenges, the government was committed to implementing difficult but necessary reforms to ensure long-term economic growth and macro-economic stability,” Aurangzeb said. 

He highlighted key initiatives, including the Investment Policy 2023, aimed at attracting more foreign investments to enhance investor confidence and streamline project implementation, particularly in priority sectors such as agriculture, IT, energy, minerals and mining. 

“The new policy would simplify business regulations, provide foreign investors freedom to repatriate their profits abroad in their own currency and receive special protection,” the finance minister informed USPBC.

“He also apprised them of the government’s efforts to digitalize the economy and expand the tax base to ensure sustainable economic growth.”

Separately, in a meeting with the secretary general of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) Mohamed Nasheed, who is a former president of the Maldives, Aurangzeb highlighted Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate-induced disasters, drawing attention to 2022 floods that affected 33 million people and caused losses of approximately $15.2 billion. 

“He emphasized the need for developed economies to scale up their efforts to provide additional financing, technology transfer, and capacity-building assistance to developing countries, including Pakistan,” a statement from the finance ministry said. 

Aurangzeb also highlighted Pakistan’s pro-active role in mobilizing global support for a Loss and Damage Fund at COP 28. 

Aurangzeb also met influential Pakistani American businessmen and tech entrepreneurs and lauded the important role of the Pakistani diaspora in the socio-economic development of Pakistan, calling them “bridge-builders in deepening trade and investment ties between Pakistan and the United States.”

The Minister highlighted various initiatives taken by the government to improve business-friendly environment and attract foreign investment in Pakistan and specifically highlighted the potential of Pakistan in the IT sector as a host to a community of over a million freelancers, ranked third globally in the freelance market and annually producing over 75,000 IT graduates from 250+ recognized universities. 

The finance minister also attended a seminar on “Opportunities and Challenges for the Pakistani Economy through 2024 and Beyond” hosted by the Atlantic Council. 

In his address, he highlighted the prevailing economic conditions in Pakistan and measures being taken by the government to put the economy on a higher growth trajectory by facilitating exports, increasing remittances, expanding the tax-base, improving ease of doing business, digitalizing economy and attracting FDI into the country. 

“Positive trends in the industrial activity, better agriculture outlook, and improvements in the Composite Leading Indicators (CLI) of Pakistan’s major export markets were all signs that the economy was on a recovery path,” Aurangzeb said, adding that the implementation of reforms under the 9th IMF Stand-By Agreement (SBA) had provided Pakistan with much-needed macro-economic stability. 

He said Pakistan was prioritizing investment in key areas of agriculture, IT, mining and energy to enhance productivity and ensure sustainable growth and invited international stakeholders to become partners in Pakistan’s journey toward economic prosperity and development.

– With inputs from AFP


President of ex-PM Khan party released from prison after nearly a year in custody

President of ex-PM Khan party released from prison after nearly a year in custody
Updated 21 May 2024
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President of ex-PM Khan party released from prison after nearly a year in custody

President of ex-PM Khan party released from prison after nearly a year in custody
  • Pervaiz Elahi was arrested on June 1 in a case relating to alleged illegal appointments in Punjab Assembly
  • His party says the anti-corruption watchdog failed to prove Elahi had accepted any money against recruitment

ISLAMABAD: Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, president of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, was released from prison on Tuesday after the Lahore High Court granted him bail in a case relating to alleged illegal appointments, the PTI said.
Elahi was arrested on June 1, 2023 after being accused of getting results of the testing service changed to have the candidates of his choice appointed in the Punjab provincial assembly.
Justice Sultan Tanvir of the Lahore High Court accepted his bail petition while presiding over a hearing of the case on Tuesday and ordered his release.
“The anti-corruption body filed the case after a delay of two years,” the PTI said in a statement. “Anti-corruption body failed to prove that Mr. Elahi had accepted any money against recruitment or his involvement in the recruitment procedure.”
Elahi has twice served as the chief minister of Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province and dissolved the provincial assembly in January 2023 on Khan’s instructions, in a bid to force early nationwide elections.
His arrest on June 1 came amid a crackdown on Khan’s PTI party after violent clashes and attacks on government and military installations over Khan’s brief arrest in May 9.
Khan, who was ousted in a parliamentary no-trust vote in April, has been in jail since last August and convicted in multiple cases. Arguably Pakistan’s most popular politician, Khan says all cases against him are politically motivated to keep him out of politics.


Over 1,000 relief camps set up as Pakistan braces for heatwave

Over 1,000 relief camps set up as Pakistan braces for heatwave
Updated 21 May 2024
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Over 1,000 relief camps set up as Pakistan braces for heatwave

Over 1,000 relief camps set up as Pakistan braces for heatwave
  • The Pakistan Meteorological Department said temperatures are expected to hit as high as 50°Celsius in parts of rural Sindh
  • Extreme heat in Pakistan is often coupled by deficit in power supply, with some areas experiencing 15-hour daily loadshedding

KARACHI: Over 1,000 camps have been set up across Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh in anticipation of a severe heatwave, disaster management officials said Tuesday.
The Pakistan Meteorological Department said temperatures are expected to hit as high as 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts of rural Sindh.
“These camps have been set up to provide relief to affected people, and to help reduce instances of heatstroke and other heat-related diseases,” Ajay Kumar assistant director of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) told AFP.
“They are also equipped with places of rest, water and glucose to give to people as and when these are needed,” he added.
The heatwave will affect much of the country, building over the next week.
Extreme heat in Pakistan is often coupled by deficit in power supply, with some areas experiencing up to 15 hours a day of loadshedding, according to local media.
Pakistan increasingly vulnerable to extreme weather events, which scientists have linked to climate change.
Schools in the province have already postponed annual examinations scheduled for this week, including in the mega port city of Karachi, home to more than 20 million people.
PDMA Chief Meteorologist Sardar Sarfaraz said that “women who spend most of their time in the kitchen and in the fields in rural areas are the hardest hit.”
The heatwave also raises concern about the survival of livestock, Kumar added.


Pakistan religion minister applauds Saudi Arabia for innovation in facilitation of Hajj pilgrims

Pakistan religion minister applauds Saudi Arabia for innovation in facilitation of Hajj pilgrims
Updated 21 May 2024
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Pakistan religion minister applauds Saudi Arabia for innovation in facilitation of Hajj pilgrims

Pakistan religion minister applauds Saudi Arabia for innovation in facilitation of Hajj pilgrims
  • Hajj is one of five pillars of Islam and requires every Muslim to undertake the journey at least once
  • Around 26,711 Pakistani pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia ahead of the next month’s pilgrimage

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister Chaudhry Salik Hussain on Tuesday met with Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al-Rabiah and commended the innovative reforms implemented by the Saudi authorities to facilitate Hajj pilgrims, the Pakistani religious affair ministry said.
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and requires every adult Muslim to undertake the journey to the holy Islamic sites in Makkah at least once in their lifetime if they are financially and physically able.
According to Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry, 26,711 Pakistani pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia ahead of next month’s Hajj, less than two weeks after Pakistan kicked off its pre-Hajj flight operation.
Hussain arrived in Saudi Arabia last week to review Pakistan’s arrangements for Hajj pilgrims and has since toured various departments as well as met with Saudi authorities.
“Hussain appreciated the innovative and exemplary reforms of the Saudi authorities for the facilitation of Hajj pilgrims arriving in the Kingdom from across the globe,” Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry said in a statement.
The two figures had a detailed discussion regarding bilateral relations and arrangements for Hajj 2024, according to the statement. Hussain lauded the Kingdom for extending the best facilities and excellent support to the pilgrims.
He described the progress on new Pakistan Houses, which house the country’s Hajj missions, in Makkah and Madinah as “positive.”
“Saudi companies responsible for providing services under the leadership of the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah are doing a good job,” Hussain was quoted as saying in the statement.
Hussain also discussed the matter of pending transport contracts for 40,000 Pakistani Hajj pilgrims facilitated by private tour operators, to which the Saudi minister assured him the matter would be resolved within the next few days.
“Pakistan’s Hajj group operators should reform and follow Saudi directives,” Hussain urged, saying his ministry would take action if pilgrims faced inconvenience due to private operators.
Pakistan has a Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims this year, of which 63,805 people will perform the pilgrimage under the government scheme, while the rest will use private tour operators. This year’s pilgrimage is expected to run from June 14 till June 19.


Buttler keen for England to show their mettle at T20 World Cup

Buttler keen for England to show their mettle at T20 World Cup
Updated 21 May 2024
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Buttler keen for England to show their mettle at T20 World Cup

Buttler keen for England to show their mettle at T20 World Cup
  • Buttler’s men went to the one-day international World Cup in India in October as double world champions but lost six of their nine matches
  • A four-match T20 series against Pakistan, whom they defeated in T20 World Cup final in Melbourne in 2022, starts at Headingley on Wednesday

LONDON: Jos Buttler wants his England team to show they are still a force to be reckoned with at the T20 World Cup after last year’s shambolic 50-over title defense left them with “dented” pride.
Buttler’s men went to the one-day international World Cup in India in October as double world champions but lost six of their nine matches to exit with a whimper.
A four-match Twenty20 series against Pakistan, the team they defeated in the T20 World Cup final in Melbourne in 2022, starts at Headingley on Wednesday.
Both teams will then travel to the tournament in the West Indies and United States.
Reflecting Tuesday on the impact of their poor showing in India, England captain Buttler said: “The pride was obviously dented and it was a really disappointing competition.
“But life moves on, it’s a chapter in the book and there’s lessons you learn but we’re presented with a new opportunity now, in a different format.
“We go to the West Indies and want to give a better account of ourselves. It’s a real honor to go to another World Cup as defending champions again but it also feels like a new time.”
Buttler was a key voice in England’s decision to pull all of their squad members back from the Indian Premier League to prepare as a collective.
The hard-hitting batsman said the IPL should not clash with international cricket.
“As England captain, my main priority is to be playing for England,” he said. “It’s really important for us to spend this time together.
“Leading into a World Cup, your number one is performing for England and it feels like this is the best preparation.
“But it’s my personal opinion there shouldn’t be any international cricket that clashes with the IPL — these games have been in the calendar a long time.”
Two of England’s 15-man squad are unavailable for the opening fixture in Leeds, with Liam Livingstone and Mark Wood both working through knee problems.
Paceman Jofra Archer will make his first England appearance for 14 months but Buttler said it was important not to expect too much from a bowler who has been plagued by injuries.
“We all know what a superstar he has been, but let’s manage those expectations,” he said. “Don’t expect too much, too soon.
“A great success would be him coming through this series with a big smile on his face and his body holding up.”
There are questions over Buttler’s own availability in the coming days, with his wife Louise expecting the couple’s third child.
The vastly experienced Moeen Ali stands by to take the reins if required.
“My family comes first. I’ll be at the birth,” Buttler said. “I don’t think they quite tell you when they’re going to come, but we’ve got a plan in place and fingers crossed everything will go well.”
England launch the defense of their T20 World Cup crown on June 4 against Scotland in Barbados.


Journalists, activists decry ‘draconian’ Punjab defamation law aimed at regulating social media

Journalists, activists decry ‘draconian’ Punjab defamation law aimed at regulating social media
Updated 21 May 2024
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Journalists, activists decry ‘draconian’ Punjab defamation law aimed at regulating social media

Journalists, activists decry ‘draconian’ Punjab defamation law aimed at regulating social media
  • Punjab passed law on Monday, while federal government has constituted a body to propose similar amendments to existing laws
  • Journalists and digital rights activists have said the legislations are part of a “greater design” to curb dissent on social media

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani journalists and digital rights activists on Tuesday decried a “draconian” legislation aimed at regulating social media content in the country’s most populous Punjab province, calling it an attempt to “stifle the press” and demanding a thorough consultation with civil society to protect fundamental rights.
Amid opposition protests, the Punjab Assembly on Monday passed the Defamation Bill, 2024, which proposes a special tribunal to try those involved in drafting, publishing and/or airing “fake news.” The tribunal shall decide a case within six months and may impose a fine of up to Rs3 million ($10,776).
The development came as the federal government constituted a committee to discuss establishment of a Digital Rights Protection Authority by amending existing laws to promote “responsible” use of the Internet, which activists fear would be another attempt to regulate social media content and stifle the press.
Zohra Yusuf, a former chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), said the Punjab government was establishing a parallel judicial system through the defamation law to prosecute people, adding that it would be a violation of the fundamental rights of people.
“The federal and Punjab government are trying to pass the legislations to regulate content on the social media, stifle press freedom and restrict the dissenting voices,” she told Arab News.
“A slew of defamation laws and regulations already exist on violation of privacy, propaganda against the state institutions like army or judiciary. Therefore, there is no need to enact new laws.”
Punjab Information Minister Azma Bukhari and Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar did not respond to Arab News’ request for a comment.
Successive governments in Pakistan have enacted different laws and introduced amendments in the existing laws to enhance their control over the social media content and discourage the dissent by filing cases against journalists and activists for violating the laws.
Usama Khilji, a digital rights activist, said the authorities had controlled the mainstream media, but social media was becoming a “problematic platform for them being an unrestricted media.”
“The government wants to intimidate people through the legislation that if you criticize them, you’ll be fined or sent to jail,” Khilji told Arab News, adding the legislation would have a “chilling effect” on the constitutional rights like the freedoms of expression and press.
In the past, he said, courts had intervened after such legislations were made by parliament and struck them down for being in violation of the constitution. “The whole world is decriminalizing defamation laws, but we are enacting new laws to crack down on the democratic rights,” he said.
Separately, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) on Tuesday staged nationwide protests against the Punjab defamation law, urging authorities to refrain from implementing the legislation that was bound to curtail press freedom and control social media content.
“We want to cooperate with the government in promotion of responsible use of the Internet, but we cannot allow them to enact censorship laws,” PFUJ President Afzal Butt told Arab News.
“The federal government has promised to engage in meaningful consultation with journalist bodies on the proposed digital rights protection authority, but this has yet to begin.”
He said the proposed legislations were “part of a greater design” to curb dissent on social media.
Farieha Aziz, a digital rights activist, said the federal government’s committee had not shared any draft law with relevant stakeholders for discussion and it would be a disaster if they passed the law by bulldozing public opinion.
“The government is obviously making Pakistan a pariah state through these legislations as they would end up withdrawing digital rights and facilities to entrepreneurs and start-ups, besides intimidating journalists and social media activists,” she told Arab News.