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
Pakistan’s Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb addresses a press conference a day after releasing the country’s annual federal budget for the fiscal year 2024-25 in Islamabad on June 13, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 14 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.


Pakistan’s election body to enforce top court’s reserved seats verdict, may seek further legal guidance

Pakistan’s election body to enforce top court’s reserved seats verdict, may seek further legal guidance
Updated 19 July 2024
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Pakistan’s election body to enforce top court’s reserved seats verdict, may seek further legal guidance

Pakistan’s election body to enforce top court’s reserved seats verdict, may seek further legal guidance
  • The court said earlier this month ex-PM Khan’s PTI was eligible for reserved seats for women and minorities
  • ECP dismissed PTI’s criticism asking its top official to step down while accusing him of bias against the party

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s election regulatory body said on Friday it would enforce the Supreme Court’s verdict in a case involving the reserved seats for women and minorities in national and provincial legislatures, adding it had asked its lawyers to determine if there were areas where it needed the court’s further guidance.
The country’s top court delivered a major decision in favor of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, saying it was eligible for reserved seats in national and provincial assemblies, even as it put pressure on the fragile coalition currently ruling the federation.
PTI candidates were forced to contest the February 8 general polls as independents after the party was stripped of its election symbol of the cricket bat by the top court for not holding proper intra-party elections. While these candidates won the most general seats, the ECP ruled they were not entitled to the reserved seats since they were meant for political parties.
Subsequently, these seats were allocated to other political factions, mostly from those in Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s ruling coalition. But the Supreme Court reversed the decision while criticizing the ECP for misconstruing its decision related to the election symbol by depriving PTI of its reserved seats.
“The election commission has decided to implement the Supreme Court’s decision,” the ECP said after holding a meeting to discuss the verdict. “However, the election commission has instructed its legal team to immediately identify any points of the Supreme Court decision that pose implementation challenges so that further guidance can be sought from the court.”
It also responded to PTI’s criticism, which called for the top ECP official to step down following the Supreme Court’s verdict, accusing him of harboring a bias against the party.
“The election commission did not validate PTI’s intra-party elections, which PTI contested on various forums, and the election commission’s decision was upheld,” it said.
It pointed out that PTI lost its election symbol for the same reason.
“Therefore, any accusations against the election commission are highly inappropriate,” it added.
Pakistan’s ruling coalition criticized the Supreme Court’s decision, with some of its members pointing out the court gave relief to PTI, though it had not originally filed the case.
However, the Supreme Court said in its decision that “PTI was and is a party,” despite its earlier verdict depriving it of election emblem right ahead of the general polls.


Pakistan deploys advanced warship for regional maritime security, port protection

Pakistan deploys advanced warship for regional maritime security, port protection
Updated 19 July 2024
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Pakistan deploys advanced warship for regional maritime security, port protection

Pakistan deploys advanced warship for regional maritime security, port protection
  • PNS Yarmook is equipped with latest weapons and equipment, capable of dealing with multifaceted threats
  • It will also be used for ‘naval diplomacy’ during its deployment period and visit various ports around the region

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has deployed a warship for regional maritime security and to protect commercial vessels arriving at its ports, according to a statement released by the military’s media wing, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), on Friday.
The development comes as the country plans to upgrade its southern port facilities to strengthen its economy by bolstering trade with countries worldwide.
Pakistan has also offered the landlocked Central Asian states access to its harbor in Karachi while aiming to increase its capacity for handling incoming and outgoing cargo.
“The Pakistan Navy has deployed the warship PNS Yarmook on a regional maritime security patrol in the Indian Ocean,” the ISPR said in a statement. “Equipped with modern helicopters, PNS Yarmook will ensure the safety of commercial vessels arriving at and departing from Pakistani ports.”
The statement said the warship would participate in joint operations and exercises with friendly countries in addition to its own operations.
PNS Yarmook will also be part of “naval diplomacy” and visit various regional ports during its deployment.
“This ship is equipped with the latest weapons and equipment, capable of dealing with multifaceted threats and conducting extensive maritime operations,” the ISPR continued.
“Pakistan Navy warships regularly perform duties on regional maritime security patrols,” it added.


Pakistan announces $250 million investment by Abu Dhabi Ports over 10 years in Karachi

Pakistan announces $250 million investment by Abu Dhabi Ports over 10 years in Karachi
Updated 19 July 2024
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Pakistan announces $250 million investment by Abu Dhabi Ports over 10 years in Karachi

Pakistan announces $250 million investment by Abu Dhabi Ports over 10 years in Karachi
  • Senior company delegation briefs PM Sharif on plans to upgrade the container terminal facility
  • The improved infrastructure will help the docking of ships carrying up to 120,000 tons of cargo

ISLAMABAD: Abu Dhabi Ports Pakistan will invest $250 million in the country over a period of ten years, an official statement announced Friday, as it plans to build an advanced port facility in the country’s seaside metropolis of Karachi.
Last year in May, the leading maritime and logistics provider based in the United Arab Emirates, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Karachi Port Trust to construct a premier transshipment hub in the city.
The Pakistani officials expressed hope at the time that the UAE company would help transform Karachi Port into a world-class maritime facility.
“Abu Dhabi Ports Pakistan will invest $250 million in Karachi Port over the next ten years,” said an official statement released after a high-level delegation of the company called upon Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
“A state-of-the-art, fully-equipped multipurpose terminal, being constructed with an investment of $130 million, will be completed in the next two years,” it added while quoting from a briefing given by the delegation members.
The statement said the company wanted to improve container terminal facilities at the Karachi Port by installing automated gates, an additional 200 meters of berth extension and crane rail tracks.
“The construction of new infrastructure at the terminal will allow the docking of ships carrying up to 120,000 tons of cargo, thereby increasing economic activities at the port,” it continued.
The prime minister hoped digital technology and modern machinery would improve the management of goods and containers at the port.
He also directed the authorities to improve the container system to minimize the clearance time.
“The agreement with Abu Dhabi Ports aims at transparency, increased efficiency, and improved port operations,” he was quoted as saying.
He assured the UAE company of his government’s full support regarding the implementation of Pakistan’s agreement with it to maximize its benefits.
The prime minister also instructed railway officials to provide freight wagons and necessary rolling stock to make the project operational and enhance cargo transportation from the terminal.


US calls for media safety following journalist’s killing in Pakistan’s northwest

US calls for media safety following journalist’s killing in Pakistan’s northwest
Updated 19 July 2024
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US calls for media safety following journalist’s killing in Pakistan’s northwest

US calls for media safety following journalist’s killing in Pakistan’s northwest
  • Malik Hassan Zaib was fatally shot by unknown gunmen on motorbike in KP’s Nowshera city
  • State Department says journalists should be allowed to carry out their duties worldwide

ISLAMABAD: The US State Department on Thursday emphasized the importance of journalist safety worldwide while commenting on the killing of a Pakistani reporter in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province by unidentified gunmen last week.
Malik Hassan Zaib, who was fatally shot by unknown people on a motorbike in KP’s Nowshera city, was the eighth journalist to be killed in Pakistan in the ongoing year.
His assassination was condemned by press freedom organizations that maintained it highlighted the increasing dangers faced by journalists in the South Asian state.
Asked about the development during the State Department media briefing, the principal deputy spokesperson, Vedant Patel, said it was vital for journalists to be able to carry out their responsibilities anywhere in the world.
“Journalists need to be protected and they need to be allowed to do their jobs, whether that be the United States, whether that be Pakistan, whether that be in the Gaza Strip,” he said. “That is something that we feel strongly, and it’s something that is deeply personal to the Secretary [Antony Blinken].”
“It’s obviously personal to us and this team having – spending most of our days engaging with you all,” he continued. “But simply put, journalists need to be protected and need to be able to do their jobs.”
The Pakistani correspondent’s death also prompted New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists to urge the Pakistani authorities to deal with the “horrifying wave of violence” against the media.
It also asked the government to bring the perpetrators of the crime to justice.
“The continued impunity for those who attack journalists is creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in Pakistan, which prevents the practice of free and independent journalism,” it added.


Pakistan forms committee to identify businesses supporting Israel as religious party calls off sit-in

Pakistan forms committee to identify businesses supporting Israel as religious party calls off sit-in
Updated 19 July 2024
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Pakistan forms committee to identify businesses supporting Israel as religious party calls off sit-in

Pakistan forms committee to identify businesses supporting Israel as religious party calls off sit-in
  • TLP supporters staged a pro-Palestine sit-in at Faizabad Interchange connecting Rawalpindi and Islamabad last Saturday
  • They asked the government to declare Israeli PM ‘a terrorist’ and send more food and medical supplies to Gaza Strip

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government has announced the formation of a committee to identify companies financially supporting Israel’s war in Gaza and recommend banning their products, according to a close aide to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday.
Rana Sanaullah, the PM’s political adviser, shared the decision after negotiating an end to a sit-in by the religious group Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which was demanding an official ban on such products and increased food and medical assistance to Palestinians.
The TLP, which also asked the government to declare Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “a terrorist,” called off its week-long sit-in after reaching an agreement with the government, as shared by the information ministry.
“Israel has emerged as a terrorist state and Netanyahu has committed war crimes,” Sanaullah said in a news conference in Islamabad after the TLP agreement. “Pakistan’s prime minister has condemned this in strong words during the Shanghai conference and Pakistan government will continue to condemn this on every forum, using all the possible steps to help Palestinian Muslims.”
“We have also agreed on and will follow it with details that not just Israel, but all the products related to them or those companies who, in any way, directly or indirectly, are involved in this cruelty or assisting that country [Israel] and its forces in any form, will be boycotted and use of their products will be banned,” he continued. “We have formed a committee in this regard, and we will go in detail to find out the companies that might be linked to Israel and if we may be using their products and because of that these forces who are involved in this cruelty are being helped financially.”
Many people in Pakistan have called for a boycott of foreign companies suspected of supporting Israel since the beginning of the war in Gaza.
Social media campaigns and public figures have also voiced support for such a boycott, urging consumers to choose alternative products.
Israel’s has so far claimed at least 39,000 lives, many of them women and children. The casualties have sparked anger and protests worldwide, including in Pakistan, where the country’s civil society and political factions have consistently led pro-Palestine rallies.
The TLP set up its protest camp last Saturday at a busy traffic juncture, the Faizabad Interchange, connecting Rawalpindi and Islamabad.
Known for its hard-line stance on blasphemy laws, the party also staged similar sit-ins at the same spot in the past, significantly disrupting the flow of traffic between the two cities.