Pakistan welcomes Ireland, Spain, and Norway’s recognition of a Palestinian state

Special Pakistan welcomes Ireland, Spain, and Norway’s recognition of a Palestinian state
Supporters of Jamaat e Islami (JI) display placards and Palestine’s flags during a pro-Palestinian march in Karachi on January 14, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 24 May 2024
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Pakistan welcomes Ireland, Spain, and Norway’s recognition of a Palestinian state

Pakistan welcomes Ireland, Spain, and Norway’s recognition of a Palestinian state
  • Ireland, Spain and Norway have said will formally recognize Palestinian state from May 28
  • This followed recognitions by Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday called on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to grant Palestine full membership of the world body and welcomed Ireland, Spain and Norway’s announcement they would recognize a Palestinian state on May 28.
The prime ministers of the three countries made the announcement on Wednesday, following recent recognitions by Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas. The additions have brought the total number of countries recognizing the Palestinian state to nearly 150.
Speaking at a weekly press briefing, Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, a spokesperson for the Pakistani foreign office, said her country welcomed the recent announcements on recognition for Palestine as a state.
“The State of Palestine is now recognized by an overwhelming majority of UN member states,” she told reporters in Islamabad. “Time has therefore come to accord full membership to the State of Palestine at the United Nations and other international organizations as called for by the UN General Assembly in its recent resolution.”
Baloch reiterated Pakistan’s call to the UN Security Council to “move positively in that direction.”
Pakistan does not recognize the state of Israel and calls for an independent Palestinian state based on “internationally agreed parameters” and the pre-1967 borders with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.
In recent months, the South Asian country has repeatedly raised the issue of Israel’s war on Gaza, launched last October, at the United Nations through its permanent representative, Ambassador Munir Akram.
“These recent announcements serve as another milestone in the decades-long quest of the people of Palestine for their right to self-determination,” she said.
“The Gaza genocide and the entire humanitarian situation there have underlined the urgency of moving toward the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.”
The statement came as the top UN court was due to rule on a plea to halt the offensive in Gaza over accusations of a “genocide,” amid continuing Israeli military offensive.
Israel launched its war on Gaza after Hamas’s unprecedented attacks on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians. Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has since killed at least 35,800 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
UAE INVESTMENT

Baloch also spoke about the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Thursday committing $10 billion to invest in promising economic sectors as Pakistan pushes for foreign investment in a bid to shore up its $350 billion economy, which has struggled with high inflation and low growth as it navigates a tough reforms mandated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif paid an official visit to the United Arab of Emirates] yesterday [Thursday] at the invitation of the President of the UAE His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan,” Baloch told reporters.
“The prime minister held a bilateral meeting with the president and held meetings with UAE investors and entrepreneurs.”
She said the two leaders underscored the importance of “galvanizing cooperation and strategic partnership,” particularly in the fields of information and communication technologies, artificial intelligence, renewable energy and tourism. 
“They reaffirmed their commitment to ensure meaningful implementation of investment cooperation agreements in the area of energy, port operation projects, wastewater treatment, food security, logistics, minerals, banking and financial services, signed in November 2023,” Baloch added.
“His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan assured UAE’s support in all circumstances and made commitment of investing $10 billion dollars in multiple sectors in Pakistan.”


Pakistan shares close at record high after budget dispels concern over capital gains tax hike

Pakistan shares close at record high after budget dispels concern over capital gains tax hike
Updated 13 June 2024
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Pakistan shares close at record high after budget dispels concern over capital gains tax hike

Pakistan shares close at record high after budget dispels concern over capital gains tax hike
  • Benchmark share index closed up 4.9 percent at 76,338 points after presentation of budget, which looks to raise tax revenue of $47 billion
  • Budget aims to strengthen case for new IMF bailout deal, as Pakistan seeks estimated loan ranging from $6 billion to $8 billion

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s benchmark share index made its biggest single-day gain in nearly a year to close at a record high, a day after the government unveiled a budget that cheered investors by avoiding an anticipated increase in capital gains tax, despite an ambitious tax revenue target.

The benchmark share index closed up 4.9 percent at 76,338 points after the presentation of the budget, which looks to raise tax revenue of 13 trillion rupees ($47 billion) for the year starting July 1, up nearly 40 percent from the current year.

“The market was expecting an increase in capital gains tax and so investors had reduced exposure significantly,” said Adnan Sheikh, assistant vice president of Pak Kuwait Investment Co.

A record day was expected following the budget and Monday’s cut of 150 bps in the central bank’s policy rate, as “equities are the best option for the medium term,” said Sheikh.

Pakistan’s international sovereign bonds also rallied with longer-dated maturities seeing the largest gains. The 2036 bond added 1.4 cents — its biggest gain in more than two months — to be bid at just over 77 cents in the dollar, Tradeweb data showed. .

Following a post budget press conference on Thursday, Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb told Reuters that Islamabad plans to raise up to $1 billion through international bonds in the 2025/26 fiscal year, adding that up to $300 million will be raised through Chinese markets.

Apart from the capital gains tax, analysts say the budget and other revenue measures were in line with expectations.

The budget aims to strengthen the case for a new bailout deal from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as Pakistan seeks an estimated loan ranging from $6 billion to $8 billion, to avert default in an economy growing at the region’s slowest pace.

“We believe this budget will serve as prior action for a new IMF program,” Topline Securities said in a note.

Topline said that if parliament passes the budget in compliance with IMF measures, it expected a forward price to earnings ratio of 6.93 in three years time, for a historic high, from 3.4 now.

Defending the decision to boost tax revenue, Aurangzeb said the present tax-to-GDP ratio of a little under 10 percent was not sustainable.

Key objectives for the upcoming fiscal year include efforts to increase the ratio gradually to 13 percent in the next three years, Aurangzeb told a press conference after presenting the budget in parliament.


Pakistan’s top investigation agency moves court against acquittal of ex-PM Khan in state secrets case

Pakistan’s top investigation agency moves court against acquittal of ex-PM Khan in state secrets case
Updated 13 June 2024
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Pakistan’s top investigation agency moves court against acquittal of ex-PM Khan in state secrets case

Pakistan’s top investigation agency moves court against acquittal of ex-PM Khan in state secrets case
  • A high court in Pakistan earlier this month overturned jailed former PM’s conviction on charges of leaking state secrets
  • Despite acquittal order by Islamabad High Court, Khan will remain in prison for now due to a conviction in another case

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has challenged in the Supreme Court a decision by a high court to overturn jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s conviction on charges of leaking state secrets, the ex-premier’s party said on Thursday.

Khan, 71, had been sentenced to 10 years in prison by a lower court on charges of making public a classified cable sent to Islamabad by Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington in 2022. He has been in jail since August last year.

On June 3, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) overturned the state secrets case conviction, saying an “instant appeal is allowed” and Khan was acquitted of the charges. Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Khan’s foreign minister during his tenure from 2018-2022, was also acquitted of the charges. Both however remain in jail due to other legal cases against them. 

“FIA has challenged IHC decision, acquitting former Prime Minister Imran Khan & Former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in the Supreme Court of Pakistan,” Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) said in a text message sent to journalists. 

“Interestingly appeal filed by FIA is based on short order of IHC whereas detailed verdict is yet to be announced.”

Khan has said the classified cable was proof of a conspiracy by the Pakistan military and the US government to topple his government in 2022 after he visited Moscow just before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Washington and Pakistan’s military deny that accusation.

The state secrets case was one of four in which Khan was convicted just ahead of Pakistan’s national election in February. In two other cases the sentences have since been suspended.

But despite the June 3 acquittal, Khan, a former cricket star, will remain in prison serving a seven-year sentence over another case relating to his marriage to his third wife, Bushra Khan, also known as Bushra Bibi, which a court said contravened Islamic law. 

A ruling on the couple’s appeal against the sentence was postponed last month and the proceedings transferred to another court after a judge recused himself following an accusation of bias made by Bibi’s former husband, according to Khan’s lawyers.

Khan and his party were banned from contesting the February election, but candidates backed by the jailed leader still won the most seats. They did not have the numbers to form a government, which was instead led by an alliance of his rivals led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

With inputs from Reuters


Pakistan says will collaborate with Arab states for implementation of UNSC-backed ceasefire plan in Gaza

Pakistan says will collaborate with Arab states for implementation of UNSC-backed ceasefire plan in Gaza
Updated 52 min 15 sec ago
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Pakistan says will collaborate with Arab states for implementation of UNSC-backed ceasefire plan in Gaza

Pakistan says will collaborate with Arab states for implementation of UNSC-backed ceasefire plan in Gaza
  • Pakistan will start its new term as non-permanent member of the UN Security Council on January 1, 2025
  • Ambassador Akram says Pakistan seeks dialogue with India to address outstanding issues, including Kashmir

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will work with Arab states and other Muslim countries to seek the implementation of two United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions for a ceasefire in Gaza, Islamabad’s top diplomat at the United Nations said on Wednesday, a week after Pakistan was elected as a non-permanent member of the Council.

Pakistan will replace Japan, which currently occupies the Asian seat, on January 1, 2025, to begin a two-year term after being elected to the top UN body for the eighth time with 182 votes in the 193-member General Assembly. 

“We are trying to do together with our Arab and Muslim brothers, to get an implementation of the Security Council’s decisions on a ceasefire, on providing humanitarian access for the besieged people, the Palestinians, and Gaza, and to promote reconstruction and finally of course to promote the vision of a two-state solution which everybody agrees is the only course through which a durable peace can be established in the holy land,” Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Munir Akram, told Arab News in a Zoom interview from New York.

On Monday, the UNSC backed a proposal outlined by US President Joe Biden for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza strip and urged the Palestinian group to accept the deal aimed at ending the eight-month-long war.

Akram said the United States proposal called for the implementation of a ceasefire plan, which was negotiated by Egypt, Qatar, and the US.

“Now the question is whether this resolution will be implemented and again, the question of implementing resolutions when it comes there, the United Nations has limited capability for enforcement,” he said, adding that the UN had no military means to implement its decisions and sanctions required passage by the UNSC, which was difficult due to the power of veto. 

The world had witnessed many instances where actions had been blocked in the Security Council because of the use of the veto, Akram said. 

“This is where we have to explore what is possible and what is doable to get to the objectives that we all want, which is ceasefire in Gaza, humanitarian help, reconstruction, and a two-state solution.”

As a non-permanent member of the UNSC, the ambassador said Pakistan would promote an international order based on the UN Charter, emphasizing self-determination, sovereignty, territorial integrity, non-interference, and prohibiting the use or threat of force.

“We will seek for the implementation of the UN resolutions on Kashmir and other conflicts and will also be seeking to strengthen UN peacekeeping capabilities to make UN peacekeeping more effective,” Akram said. 

When asked about his country’s expectations from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has been sworn in for a third term, Akram said Pakistan “looked forward” to the possibility of dialogue to address all outstanding issues, including the principal issue of Kashmir.

The Muslim-majority Himalayan region of Kashmir has been a flashpoint between Pakistan and India since their independence from British rule in 1947. Both countries rule part of the Himalayan territory but claim it in full and have fought two wars over the disputed region.

“Pakistani government is open to a constructive dialogue with India,” Akram said. “We hope this will be a dialogue without preconditions and that we would be able to promote more normal relations and a relationship based on the principle of sovereignty and equality of states.”


National Press Club lauds Pakistan’s announcement of health insurance scheme for journalists

National Press Club lauds Pakistan’s announcement of health insurance scheme for journalists
Updated 13 June 2024
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National Press Club lauds Pakistan’s announcement of health insurance scheme for journalists

National Press Club lauds Pakistan’s announcement of health insurance scheme for journalists
  • Finance minister announced reviving stalled health insurance scheme for 15,000 journalists during budget speech
  • National Press Club president urges government to also add benevolent fund and pension scheme to new budget

ISLAMABAD: The National Press Club on Thursday lauded the Pakistan government for including a Rs1 billion ($3.6 million) health insurance scheme for journalists in the budget for fiscal year 2024-25, urging the administration to also consider adding a benevolent fund and pension program.

Pakistani finance minister Muhammad Aurangzeb on Wednesday announced a health insurance scheme for journalists and media workers while presenting the federal budget 2024-25 in the National Assembly. In the first phase of the scheme, some 5,000 journalists and media worker will be provided with health insurance, which would be extended to another 10,000 journalists in the second phase. 

“Shehbaz Sharif, when he took the oath of the prime minister for the second time, he ordered to revive health insurance for journalists and media workers,” the finance minister said in his budget speech.

The Rs1 billion allocation was made in the finance bill for FY23 but the scheme could not be started after the dissolution of the Prime Minister Sharif-led coalition government ahead of February 8 national elections.

Azhar Jatoi, the president of the National Press Club in Islamabad, lauded the government for reviving the stalled health insurance project, which he described as a “long standing demand” of journalists and media workers. 

“It is unfortunate that the majority of our news organizations don’t provide sufficient health coverage to their employees, so this government initiative will help cover this gap,” Jatoi told Arab News.

A delegation of journalists had called on Information Minister Attaullah Tarar on Thursday and demanded that the government also include a benevolent fund and pension scheme in the budget. 

“The minister has promised to review our proposals for the benevolent fund and pension,” Jatoi said. “The provinces are already providing the benevolent fund facility to journalists, so we want the government to start it in the center as well where over 3,400 journalists and media workers are registered with the press club.”


Pakistan aims for July IMF agreement after presenting $67.76 billion federal budget

Pakistan aims for July IMF agreement after presenting $67.76 billion federal budget
Updated 13 June 2024
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Pakistan aims for July IMF agreement after presenting $67.76 billion federal budget

Pakistan aims for July IMF agreement after presenting $67.76 billion federal budget
  • Muhammad Aurangzeb remains optimistic about a positive outcome in the IMF talks, eyes 40% revenue increase
  • The finance minister declares current tax-to-GDP ratio unsustainable, says he wants 13% increase in three years

KARACHI: Pakistan hopes to sign a staff-level agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) by next month after presenting an Rs18.877 trillion ($67.76 billion) federal budget and setting a revenue collection target of more than 40 percent for the next fiscal year.
Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb on Wednesday unveiled the first budget of the newly elected administration of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, which is expected to play a pivotal role in Pakistan’s negotiations with the IMF to unlock yet another loan program.
“The talks with the IMF are going on in a positive direction and we are hopeful that in July we would move toward a staff-level agreement,” the minister told journalists during a post-budget media briefing in Islamabad.
The South Asian nation has set an ambitious revenue collection target of about Rs13 trillion ($46.55 billion) for the next fiscal year. This target is over 40 percent compared to the current fiscal year ending on June 30.
The government has projected the budget deficit to be 6.9 percent of the GDP while the primary surplus is expected to be at 1 percent of GDP. To achieve the tax collection target, the minister said the government’s basic principle was to expand the tax base.
“The current tax-to-GDP ratio is simply unsustainable,” Aurangzeb said, adding he wanted to increase it to 13 percent in the next three years.
The government measures are estimated to generate about Rs1.761 trillion through new revenue measures while income tax rates and slabs changes will unlock additional revenues of Rs70 billion from the salaried segment.
However, Aurangzeb insisted the salaried class would not be burdened.
“If you look on an individual level, the burden is not that heavy,” he said.
The government will collect about Rs350 billion from exporters and about Rs200 billion are estimated to be collected from retailers and wholesalers by increasing the advance sales tax.
The finance minister said the increase in petroleum development levy (PDL) would be gradually increased to Rs80 per liter and linked with international oil prices.
He said the government’s aim was to remove the concept of non-filers from the country by making them pay a higher rate of tax on transactions.
“I want to remove this concept of non-filers. I think Pakistan is the only country that has the non-filer category,” he added.
The finance minister said the government was in process of digitizing the country’s tax collection system operated by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to end the undocumented economy.
“The process of digitization of FBR is underway and it will help in the documentation of the economy and digitizing finances,” he said, adding the digitization would reduce human intervention and corruption.
Asked about tax collection from retail outlets, he said the government would relaunch points of sales (POS) to minimize the cash flow that is about Rs9 trillion in circulation.
Defending the massive allocation of Rs1.5 trillion for the Public Sector Development Program (PSDP), the finance minister argued that the government wanted to ensure that ongoing projects were completed as 81 percent of funds were allocated for schemes that were being implemented.
Responding to a question about the privatization program of the incumbent government, he said the government was working with all stakeholders.
“PIA [Pakistan International Airlines] and Islamabad Airport are already up for privatization and transactions are expected to be completed by August,” he informed, adding the Lahore and Karachi airports would be privatized next on the prime minister’s direction.