Downside risks for Pakistan remain exceptionally high — IMF

Downside risks for Pakistan remain exceptionally high — IMF
The seal of the International Monetary Fund is at the headquarters building in Washington, DC, April 12, 2024, in Washington, DC. (AFP/File)
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Updated 10 May 2024
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Downside risks for Pakistan remain exceptionally high — IMF

Downside risks for Pakistan remain exceptionally high — IMF
  • Lender says while government has indicated intention to continue reforms, political uncertainty remains significant
  • Policy slippages and lower external financing could undermine path to debt sustainability, put pressure on exchange rate

KARACHI: Downside risks for the Pakistani economy remain exceptionally high, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Friday in its staff report on the country, ahead of talks with the fund on a longer term program.

An International Monetary Fund mission is expected to visit Pakistan this month to discuss a new program, ahead of Islamabad beginning its annual budget-making process for the next financial year.

“Downside risks remain exceptionally high. While the new government has indicated its intention to continue the SBA’s policies, political uncertainty remains significant,” said the fund in its staff report following the second and final review under the standby arrangement (SBA).

The fund added that political complexities and high cost of living could weigh on policy, adding that policy slippages, together with lower external financing, could undermine the narrow path to debt sustainability and place pressure on the exchange rate.

The IMF also said higher commodity prices and disruptions to shipping, or tighter global financial conditions, would also adversely affect external stability for the cash-strapped nation.

The fund stressed the need for timely post-program external financing disbursements.

Pakistan last month completed a short-term $3 billion program, which helped stave off sovereign default, but the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has stressed the need for a fresh, longer term program.

Pakistan narrowly averted default last summer, and its $350 billion economy has stabilized after the completion of the last IMF program, with inflation coming down to around 17 percent in April from a record high 38 percent last May.

It is still dealing with a high fiscal shortfall and while it has controlled its external account deficit through import control mechanisms, it has come at the expense of stagnating growth, which is expected to be around 2 percent this year compared to negative growth last year.

Pakistan is expected to seek at least $6 billion and request additional financing from the Fund under the Resilience and Sustainability Trust. 


Pakistan PM declares day of mourning as Iran confirms Raisi’s death 

Pakistan PM declares day of mourning as Iran confirms Raisi’s death 
Updated 20 sec ago
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Pakistan PM declares day of mourning as Iran confirms Raisi’s death 

Pakistan PM declares day of mourning as Iran confirms Raisi’s death 
  • Iranian state media confirms President Ebrahim Raisi, foreign minister and other officials had died in a helicopter crash
  • Raisi, 63, was traveling through Iran’s East Azerbaijan province when his helicopter crashed in northwestern part of country

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif declared a day of mourning today, Monday, after Iranian state media confirmed President Ebrahim Raisi and other senior officials of the country had been killed in a helicopter crash in the country’s northwest. 

Iranian state media IRNA said Raisi, the country’s foreign minister and others had been found dead at the site of a helicopter crash after an hours-long search through a foggy, mountainous region of the country’s northwest. 

The Iranian president, 63, was traveling in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province. State TV said what it called a “hard landing” happened near Jolfa, a city on the border with Azerbaijan, some 600 kilometers (375 miles) northwest of the Iranian capital, Tehran. Later, state TV put it farther east near the village of Uzi, but details remained contradictory.

With Raisi were Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province and other officials and bodyguards, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. One local government official used the word “crash,” but others referred to either a “hard landing” or an “incident.”

In a post on social media platform X, Sharif extended his “deepest condolences” and sypathies to the people of Iran, hoping they would recover from the tragedy with courage. 

“Pakistan will observe a day of mourning and the flag will fly at half mast as a mark of respect for President Raisi and his companions and in solidarity with Brotherly Iran,” Sharif wrote on X. 

The crash comes as the Middle East remains unsettled by Israel’s war on Gaza, during which Raisi under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei launched an unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel last month. Under Raisi, Iran enriched uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels, further escalating tensions with the West as Tehran also supplied bomb-carrying drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine and armed militia groups across the region.

Raisi was elected president at the second attempt in 2021, and since taking office ordered a tightening of morality laws, overseen a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers.

In Iran’s dual political system, split between the clerical establishment and the government, it is the supreme leader rather than the president who has the final say on all major policies.

In April, Raisi arrived in Islamabad on a three-day official visit to Pakistan as the two Muslim neighbors sought to mend ties after unprecedented tit-for-tat military strikes earlier this year.

The Iranian president had held delegation-level meetings in the Pakistani capital as well as one-on-one discussions with Pakistan’s prime minister, president, army chief, Senate chairman and National Assembly speaker.

During the visit, Raisi had also overseen the signing of eight agreements between the two countries that covered different fields, including trade, science technology, agriculture, health, culture, and judicial matters.


Pakistan’s white-ball coach Gary Kirsten joins team in Leeds ahead of England series

Pakistan’s white-ball coach Gary Kirsten joins team in Leeds ahead of England series
Updated 47 min 26 sec ago
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Pakistan’s white-ball coach Gary Kirsten joins team in Leeds ahead of England series

Pakistan’s white-ball coach Gary Kirsten joins team in Leeds ahead of England series
  • Former South African batter Gary Kirsten will oversee Pakistan’s training session on Monday, confirms Pakistan Cricket Board
  • Four-match series against 2022 world champions England will serve as preparation for Pakistan ahead of T20 World Cup in June

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan men’s white-ball Head Coach Gary Kirsten formally kicked off his assignment on Sunday after joining the squad in Leeds, as the green shirts prepare for a challenging England T20I series with the World Cup weeks away. 

Kirsten and former Australian fast bowler Jason Gillespie were announced as Pakistan’s new white-ball and red-ball head coaches respectively last month. Gillespie will arrive in Pakistan in July, the PCB said, in time for the World Test Championship series at home against Bangladesh.

The former South African top-order batter, 56, played 101 Test matches and 185 ODIs during his career from 1993-2004 in which he scored a total of 14,087 runs and 34 centuries.

Kirsten, who was batting coach of the Indian Premier League (IPL) team Gujarat Titans, was welcomed by the team management and skipper Babar Azam in Leeds on Sunday. Senior Team Manager Wahab Riaz presented Pakistan’s official training jersey to Kirsten, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said. 

“Gary Kirsten will oversee the team’s practice sessions from Monday,” the PCB said. 

 

 

Kirsten will get to spend a few days with Azam’s squad before Pakistan faces England in the first T20I of the four-match series at Headingley on May 22. The series will be Pakistan’s last one before the T20 World Cup in the Caribbean and the USA in June, where they begin their campaign with a game against USA in Dallas on June 6. 

Squads:

Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Abrar Ahmed, Azam Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Abbas Afridi, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Rizwan, Muhammad Irfan Khan, Naseem Shah, Saim Ayub, Salman Ali Agha, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Usman Khan.

England: Jos Buttler (captain), Moeen Ali, Jofra Archer, Jonathan Bairstow, Harry Brook, Sam Curran, Ben Duckett, Tom Hartley, Will Jacks, Chris Jordan, Liam Livingstone, Adil Rashid, Phil Salt, Reece Topley, Mark Wood

Schedule for England series:

22 May – v England, 1st T20I, Leeds

25 May – v England, 2nd T20I, Birmingham

28 May – v England 3rd T20I, Cardiff

30 May – v England, 4th T20I, The Oval
 


Pakistan’s deputy PM to attend SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Kazakhstan today

Pakistan’s deputy PM to attend SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Kazakhstan today
Updated 20 May 2024
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Pakistan’s deputy PM to attend SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Kazakhstan today

Pakistan’s deputy PM to attend SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Kazakhstan today
  • Deputy PM Ishaq Dar will hold bilateral meetings with counterparts on sidelines of SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting
  • Meeting to focus on “comprehensive preparations” for upcoming SCO Heads of States Council meeting in July 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar will attend a two-day Foreign Ministers Council meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on Monday in Kazakhstan’s Astana city, state media reported, where he is expected to hold bilateral meetings with counterparts. 

Founded in 2001, the SCO is a major trans-regional organization spanning South and Central Asia, with China, Russia, Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan as its permanent members. The SCO member states collectively represent nearly half of the world’s population and a quarter of global economic output. 

The event will be attended by foreign ministers of the SCO member states, the SCO secretary-general and director of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) Executive Committee, the organization said. 

“Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Muhammad Ishaq Dar will represent Pakistan at two-day meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of Shanghai Cooperation Organization, beginning at Astana in Kazakhstan tomorrow,” the state-run Radio Pakistan said on Sunday. 

It said Dar would also hold bilateral meetings with his counterparts on the sidelines of the meeting. 

The SCO said one of the main items on the agenda will be the “comprehensive preparations” for the July meeting of the SCO Heads of States Council. During the foreign ministers’ meeting, the heads of the delegations will exchange views on international and regional agendas, security issues and the development of political, trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation within the SCO, the organization said. 

“Participants will also sign several resolutions regarding the final documents of the upcoming SCO summit and adopt a communique,” the SCO said. 

The SCO’s agenda of promoting peace and stability, and seeking enhanced linkages in infrastructure, economic, trade and cultural spheres, is aligned with Pakistan’s own vision of enhancing economic connectivity as well as peace and stability in the region. 

Since becoming a full member of the SCO in 2017, Pakistan has been actively contributing toward advancing the organization’s core objectives through its participation in various SCO mechanisms.

During his visit to China last week, Dar also met SCO Secretary-General Ambassador Zhang Ming and reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to the organization’s charter and its ideals, the Pakistani foreign ministry said in a statement.


‘For sake of humanity’: Thousands rally in northwest Pakistan against Israel’s war on Gaza

‘For sake of humanity’: Thousands rally in northwest Pakistan against Israel’s war on Gaza
Updated 20 May 2024
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‘For sake of humanity’: Thousands rally in northwest Pakistan against Israel’s war on Gaza

‘For sake of humanity’: Thousands rally in northwest Pakistan against Israel’s war on Gaza
  • The rally was organized by the Jamat-e-Islami (JI) religious party, which has held several similar protests in recent months
  • It came as another Israeli strike killed 31 people in Gaza on Sunday amid US national security adviser’s visit to Israel for talks

PESHAWAR: Thousands of Pakistanis, including students, activists and politicians, gathered on Sunday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar to demand an end to Israel’s war on Gaza.

The rally, called ‘Gaza Million March,’ was organized by the Jamat-e-Islami (JI) religious party, which has held several protests and marches in recent months to condemn Israeli military actions in Palestine.

The war broke out after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,100 people. Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 35,456 Palestinians, mostly civilians, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Speaking to participants of the rally, JI chief Hafiz Naeem-ur-Rehman lamented that men, women, children, journalists and human rights activists had been killed in Palestine, but world leaders and rights groups remained silent.

“They want no one to raise their voice for Palestine or against [Israeli] oppression,” he said, adding, “For the freedom of Palestine, we will march in every street.”

Pakistan's Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party activists wave the Palestinian national flag alongside their party flag during an anti-Israel protest in Peshawar on May 19, 2024. (AFP)

Participants of Sunday’s rally said they had gathered to express solidarity with Palestinians and raise their voice against Israel’s actions.

“The reason for our assembly here is to show solidarity with Gaza,” said Amir Hamza, 24.

Mian Hafiz Naeem, another participant who came from the Balakot town, criticized Pakistani politicians “for not doing enough” on the Gaza situation.

“They are not realizing that not only Muslims, but humanity is being killed over there,” he said, adding that he came to attend the rally “for the sake of humanity.”

Pakistan does not recognize the state of Israel and maintains its support for an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, based on pre-1967 borders.

In recent months, the South Asian country has repeatedly raised the issue of Israel’s war on Gaza at the United Nations through its permanent representative, Ambassador Munir Akram.

Dr. Noreena Arshad, a resident of Peshawar who came to the rally along with her daughters, said she did not belong to any political group and came to the rally with the sole purpose of expressing solidarity with the Palestinians.

“I don’t belong to any political party or organization, but I am here to stand in solidarity with Gaza and Palestine,” she told Arab News. “This is the least of faith that we should believe at least in our hearts that they [Palestinians] are being oppressed.”


Over 300 Pakistani students evacuated from Kyrgyzstan following mob violence against foreigners

 Over 300 Pakistani students evacuated from Kyrgyzstan following mob violence against foreigners
Updated 20 May 2024
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Over 300 Pakistani students evacuated from Kyrgyzstan following mob violence against foreigners

 Over 300 Pakistani students evacuated from Kyrgyzstan following mob violence against foreigners
  • Separate flights carrying 140, 175 Pakistani students arrived in Islamabad, Lahore respectively on Sunday night
  • Pakistan has started evacuating students from Bishkek after violent attacks last week against foreigners 

ISLAMABAD: Two separate flights carrying over 300 Pakistani students from Kyrgyzstan arrived in Lahore and Islamabad on Sunday night, days after violent clashes in the central Asian country forced Islamabad to evacuate its nationals and arrange for their safe return. 

Videos of a brawl between Kyrgyz and Egyptian students went viral on social media last week, prompting frenzied mobs to target hostels of medical universities and private lodgings of international students, including Pakistanis, in the city. 

Pakistan has since then ramped efforts to repatriate its students from the city, dispatching commercial and special flights to the country. According to official statistics, around 10,000 Pakistani students are enrolled in various educational institutions in Kyrgyzstan, with nearly 6,000 residing and studying in Bishkek. Foreign Minister Dar on Sunday confirmed no Pakistani had died in the clashes. 

The first batch of around 130 Pakistani students from Kyrgyzstan arrived in the eastern city of Lahore late Saturday night. On Sunday, another flight carrying 140 Pakistani students from Kyrgyzstan arrived in Islamabad and was received by Federal Minister of Petroleum Musadik Malik. 

“I have no words to describe your situation but I feel the pain and suffering that you and your parents have gone through,” Malik told the students upon their arrival in the country. He said some students did not want to return to Pakistan on account of their exams. 

“Any student who wants to come, we will bring them,” he vowed. 

Separately, another flight arrived at the Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore on Sunday night with 175 Pakistani students from Bishkek. Information Minister Ataullah Tarar welcomed the students, saying that Islamabad was in touch with Bishkek over the current situation. 

“Our ambassador in Kyrgyzstan is in contact with students,” Tarar was quoted as saying by the information ministry. “On Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s instructions, special arrangements have made to shift the Pakistani students from the airports [to their homes.]”

Pakistan’s ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Hasan Zaigham said on Saturday that five Pakistani medical students had been injured in the mob attack. One student was admitted to a local hospital with a jaw injury, while the other four were released after receiving first aid.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry said on Saturday it had summoned and handed a note of protest to Kyrgyzstan’s top diplomat in the country in response to violence against Pakistani students in Bishkek.