Pakistan budget finalized with IMF inputs, ‘good news’ on bailout soon — PM

Pakistan budget finalized with IMF inputs, ‘good news’ on bailout soon — PM
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chairs Federal Cabinet Meeting in Islamabad on June 25, 2024. (PMO)
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Updated 25 June 2024
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Pakistan budget finalized with IMF inputs, ‘good news’ on bailout soon — PM

Pakistan budget finalized with IMF inputs, ‘good news’ on bailout soon — PM
  • Pakistan hopes its plan to raise taxes in budget and boost state revenues will help it win approval from IMF
  • Privatizing loss-making public entities also major IMF conditionality, PM says bidding for PIA in first week of August 

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Tuesday Pakistan’s budget for fiscal year 2024-25 was finalized with inputs from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and he hoped for “good news” from the lender soon on a new bailout deal.
Pakistan’s hopes its plan to raise taxes in the proposed budget and boost state revenues will help it win approval from the IMF for a loan to stave off another economic meltdown,
The South Asian country has set a challenging tax revenue target of 13 trillion rupees ($47 billion) for the year starting July 1, a near-40 percent jump from the current year, and a sharp drop in its fiscal deficit to 5.9 percent of GDP from 7.4 percent for the current year.
Pakistan had to reduce its fiscal deficit as part of negotiations with the IMF, with which it is discussing a loan of $6-8 billion, as it seeks to avert a debt default for an economy growing at the slowest pace in the region.
“It is a fact that we finalized the budget together with the IMF, these are inherited conditions but this was their demand,” Sharif said during a cabinet meeting. 
“I won’t say anything premature. I feel that if IMF gives us an answer today, I will present it to you tomorrow. We should hope that we get good news from them.”
Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb, who presented the budget earlier this month, has said he expected to seal a Staff-Level Agreement with the IMF in July.
The big rise in the tax target is made up of a 48 percent increase in direct taxes and 35 percent hike in indirect taxes. Non-tax revenue, including petroleum levies, is seen increasing by a whopping 64 percent.
Taxes have notably been slapped on previously protected export-oriented sectors such as textiles, which consistently make up over half of Pakistan’s exports, and whose receipts keep a persistently high external account deficit in check.
Sharif’s fragile coalition government does not have the luxury of a parliamentary majority to help it pass the budget smoothly. Sticking to the reform measures will require it to resist pushback from key economic sectors as well as a broader public already angry at the prospect of further price hikes. 
Increasing the tax base in an economy where proper documentation is often lacking will require considerable time and effort. Pakistan’s undocumented parallel economy is huge and 44 percent of its nominal GDP does not contribute significantly toward direct tax revenue, according to the Tola Associates, a tax firm.
Traders and agriculturalists in particular, both politically influential, have resisted the government’s push to register themselves and document their sales.

PRIVATIZATION OF PIA

Another key point in the budget and a major precondition for an IMF loan is the privatization of loss-making state entities. Pakistan is looking to make its first major sale in nearly two decades as it sells a stake in its national airline, the first in a series of sales, particularly in the troubled power sector.
Sharif said on Tuesday Pakistan will hold bidding for PIA during the first week of August.
“Companies showing interest in pre-bidding process are visiting various sites of the PIA,” the PMO said in a statement. “The PIA’s bidding will take place during the first week of August.”
Pakistan’s government has previously said it is putting on the block a stake of between 51 percent and 100 percent in the loss-making airline.
A popular airline during its heydays in the ‘60s and ‘70s, PIA has grappled with financial losses, mismanagement, and operational challenges in recent years. It has also been burdened by a high debt load, inefficiencies, and corruption allegations, resulting in an overall decline in its financial performance.
The disposal of the flag carrier is a step that past elected governments have steered away from as it is expected to be unpopular with the masses. However, progress on privatization is key to helping cash-strapped Pakistan pursue a fresh loan agreement with the IMF.

With inputs from Reuters


Pakistan PM mourns Sheila Jackson Lee’s death, praises her for strengthening bilateral ties

Pakistan PM mourns Sheila Jackson Lee’s death, praises her for strengthening bilateral ties
Updated 20 July 2024
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Pakistan PM mourns Sheila Jackson Lee’s death, praises her for strengthening bilateral ties

Pakistan PM mourns Sheila Jackson Lee’s death, praises her for strengthening bilateral ties
  • The US Congresswoman was suffering from pancreatic cancer and died on Friday at the age of 74
  • She was the founder of the Pakistan Caucus that was launched in 2004 to foster strong relations

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Saturday expressed grief over the death of American Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, saying she played a significant role to strengthen her country’s bilateral ties with Pakistan.
The US Congresswoman was suffering from pancreatic cancer and died in Houston on Friday night at the age of 74. She was the founder and co-chair of the Pakistan Caucus launched in 2004 within the United States House of Representatives.
The forum was established with the goal of fostering stronger US-Pakistan relations and addressing issues of mutual concern between the two countries.
“Deeply saddened to learn about the sad demise of @JacksonLeeTX18 Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee,” Sharif said in a social media post. “As Co-chair of the Pakistan Caucus in the US House of Representatives, she was a champion for stronger ties between Pakistan and the United States.”
“Her contributions will be remembered and missed for years to come,” he continued. “May her soul rest in peace. My heartfelt condolences to her family and her supporters.”
 


The Pakistan Caucus has been instrumental in facilitating high-level meetings and discussions between officials of the two countries, helping to address mutual concerns such as regional security and trade opportunities.


Ex-PM Khan’s party alleges ‘abduction’ of senior media manager amid government crackdown

Ex-PM Khan’s party alleges ‘abduction’ of senior media manager amid government crackdown
Updated 20 July 2024
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Ex-PM Khan’s party alleges ‘abduction’ of senior media manager amid government crackdown

Ex-PM Khan’s party alleges ‘abduction’ of senior media manager amid government crackdown
  • PTI’s international media coordinator was taken away from his residence by people in plain clothes at 4 AM
  • Ahmed Janjua’s wife filed an application in a local court for his recovery, requesting an immediate hearing

ISLAMABAD: Former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party announced on Saturday its senior media manager had been “abducted,” adding the development was part of an ongoing crackdown against the party which had deteriorated the human rights situation in the country.
PTI has been facing a crackdown for over a year after people carrying its flag indulged in violent protests and vandalized government buildings and military properties following Khan’s brief detention on corruption charges.
Since then, several of its top leaders, including the ex-premier himself, have been incarcerated in different parts of the country and tried in a number of legal cases against them.
The recent development took place when the party’s international media coordinator was taken away from his residence, making his wife file an application in a court for his recovery.
“My International Media Coordinator Ahmed Janjua and 3 other SM [social media] activists have been abducted early morning,” said Zulfi Bukhari, a senior PTI leader and close aide to the former prime minister, in a social media post. “In the past 2 weeks there has been a serious crackdown on PTI social media [team].”
Bukhari attributed it to the team’s international reporting of “all the atrocities” taking place in Pakistan.
“This continuous deterioration of basic human rights won’t be allowed to continue for long,” he added.

 Janjua’s wife, Farhana Barlas, filed an application in the Islamabad High Court, requesting an immediate hearing. However, the court is likely to take up the case on Monday since the incident took place over the weekend.
According to her application, 20 people in plain clothes forcibly entered the house at 4 AM on Saturday after breaking the door.
They took away Janjua’s laptop and cellphones before dragging him away.
The family tried to file a First Information Report (FIR) with the police, but it was not registered by the relevant officials.
Janjua’s wife said her husband had been taken away due to his affiliation with Khan’s political party.
She nominated the federal secretaries of the defense and interior ministries as the respondents, along with the inspector general of police and the station house officer of the local police precinct.

 


Key coalition ally of Pakistan government opposes ban on ex-PM Khan’s political party

Key coalition ally of Pakistan government opposes ban on ex-PM Khan’s political party
Updated 20 July 2024
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Key coalition ally of Pakistan government opposes ban on ex-PM Khan’s political party

Key coalition ally of Pakistan government opposes ban on ex-PM Khan’s political party
  • PPP says it will not become part of any ‘undemocratic move,’ though the matter will be decided by top leaders
  • The government announced its plan to impose a ban on PTI for alleged involvement in anti-state activities

ISLAMABAD: A key coalition ally of the Pakistan government on Saturday distanced itself from the decision to ban jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party for its alleged involvement in anti-state activities, saying it would not become part of such an “undemocratic move.”
Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Attaullah Tarar announced the government’s plan earlier this week to ban Khan’s party, just days after the Supreme Court handed PTI a major legal victory by declaring it eligible for reserved seats for women and minorities in the national and provincial assemblies.
Tarar justified the decision on the basis of “available evidence,” saying the ex-PM’s party was guilty of inciting violent protests last year, which made its followers set government buildings on fire, along with publicizing state secrets.
Shortly after his announcement, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s coalition partners, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), said they had not been taken into confidence.
Subsequently, government representatives, including Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar, held a meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari, the PPP co-chairman, on Friday and told him about the decision to file treason charges against Khan and two senior PTI leaders, former President Arif Alvi and ex-Deputy National Assembly Speaker Qasim Suri.
“We have clearly told Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s representatives our party would not become part of any undemocratic move like banning the PTI,” Sehar Kamran, a PPP lawmaker, told Arab News. “We are the government’s key coalition partners but we were not consulted on its decision to slap a ban on Imran Khan’s party.”
Kamran said the PPP would take the matter to its Central Executive Committee (CEC) meeting for a final decision, though “one thing is for sure that we are not going to be part of any undemocratic, unconstitutional and illegal action of the government.”
She said it was not clear yet as to when her party’s CEC meeting would be called as the party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari was out of the country.
“The government should try to find out democratic and constitutional solutions to its problems,” she added.
Sharif’s another key coalition partner, MQM-P, also said they were not taken on board before the announcement of the government’s decision to ban PTI and file treason charges against Khan and other leaders.
“Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s party has not contacted us yet for consultation on their decision to ban PTI and file treason charges against the party’s leadership,” an MQM-P media cell official told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
“We will discuss the matter in our party before making the final decision whether we should stand by the government or not,” he continued. “It is too early to say anything about it. Let’s wait for the government to share its plans with us first.”
Arab News reached out to the information minister for comment but did not receive a response.


PM Sharif meets Pakistan’s leading female mountaineer, commends women’s contributions in all fields

PM Sharif meets Pakistan’s leading female mountaineer, commends women’s contributions in all fields
Updated 20 July 2024
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PM Sharif meets Pakistan’s leading female mountaineer, commends women’s contributions in all fields

PM Sharif meets Pakistan’s leading female mountaineer, commends women’s contributions in all fields
  • Naila Kiani highlights lack of training facilities for high-altitude climbers, calling for a mountaineering school
  • Kiani says foreign mountaineers prefer to bring Sherpas from Nepal instead of taking local porters with them

KHAPLU, Gilgit-Baltistan: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Saturday appreciated Pakistani women for providing valuable services in every field while holding a meeting with the globally acclaimed high-altitude climber Naila Kiani, who highlighted a lack of training facilities for mountaineers in the country.
Kiani, who garnered attention for being one of the few Pakistani women to scale some of the world’s highest peaks, met the prime minister at his official residence in Islamabad.
Among her notable accomplishments, she has successfully summited Mount Everest and K2, the world’s highest and second-highest mountains, respectively. Her accomplishments have made her a significant figure in the mountaineering community, inspiring many with her determination and resilience.
“The prime minister said providing facilities to the women in various sectors including information technology, education, professional training, sports and other sectors was part of the government’s top priorities,” said an official statement released by the PM Office after the meeting.
“The prime minister congratulated Naila on becoming the first Pakistani woman to conquer 11 peaks, above 8,000 meters, calling it a proud moment for Pakistan,” it added.
Speaking to Arab News after the meeting, Kiani said she had presented proposals for specialized training and vocational education in the mountaineering sector.
“I spoke to the PM about lack of any training facilities for mountaineers,” she said. “Pakistan doesn’t have a single internationally qualified mountaineer due to a lack of state-of-the-art mountaineering training institute.”
“The PM instructed his team to set up a committee immediately and start working on the establishment of a mountaineering school,” she continued. “I am also chairing a sub-committee, and the team will visit Skardu next week for official meetings and to visit the potential site for the school.”
Kiani said the proposed training facility would also help facilitate high-altitude climbers from abroad.
“The lack of training leads to so many issues for western climbers who take Pakistani high porters,” she informed. “They prefer Sherpas [from Nepal] instead. Establishing this school will not only enhance skills of all high-altitude workers and climbers but also help flourish the region economically. We can attract a lot more foreign adventure tourists if we are more skilled.”
Home to some of the tallest peaks and stunning landscapes, Pakistan attracts foreign climbers and tourists from around the world in every mountaineering season, making it a premier destination for adventure enthusiasts.


One month on, family awaits recovery of sons abducted by Baloch separatists in southwestern Pakistan

One month on, family awaits recovery of sons abducted by Baloch separatists in southwestern Pakistan
Updated 20 July 2024
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One month on, family awaits recovery of sons abducted by Baloch separatists in southwestern Pakistan

One month on, family awaits recovery of sons abducted by Baloch separatists in southwestern Pakistan
  • Baloch Liberation Army kidnapped seven ethnic Punjabi tourists from a picnic spot in Balochistan on June 19
  • BLA offered to release the abductees in exchange for its fighters, but the government refused the proposal

QUETTA: Shan Raza, 58, was devastated last month upon learning that a separatist group had abducted his three sons, Rehan, Farhan and Hassan, along with two other relatives, in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province.
Since then, Raza has been trying hard to bring a smile on the faces of his grandchildren, whom he finds wearing a dismal look since their fathers were taken away from Shaban, a tourist spot some 35 kilometers away from the provincial capital of Quetta.
Pakistan’s most impoverished Balochistan province shares its border with Iran and Afghanistan and has been the scene of a low-level insurgency for the last two decades. The separatists demand independence from Pakistan and seek control over provincial resources like gold and copper.
These groups have often targeted Pakistani forces and people from the Punjab province, the heartland of Pakistani military and political elite, in the restive southwestern region over what they say are enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings of Baloch men. Pakistan denies it.
Raza’s sons, his nephew and a relative had gone to Shaban for picnic on June 19. They were among seven people abducted from the spot by the outlawed Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA).
“My entire house is empty now, my family keeps asking me about the release of my abducted sons, but now we are in very gloomy conditions for the last thirty days,” Raza told Arab News this week.
“The tears in the eyes of my wife and daughters-in-law are dried, they want nothing from me but the safe return of my sons.”

This combination of handout photos shows abducted family members, including three sons, of Shan Raza. All five members were abducted by Baloch separatist group from a picnic spot in Balochistan on June 19, 2024. (AN Photo/Supplied)

Recalling the day when his sons left home for Shaban, the 58-year-old said they had initially planned to go to Peer Ghaib, another picnic spot in Balochistan’s mountainous Bolan district, but he didn’t allow them due to security concerns.
“Then they told me that they were going to Shaban, but I didn’t know this place was not safe either,” Raza added.
Shortly after their abduction, the BLA offered the government to negotiate their release in exchange for BLA fighters incarcerated in Pakistani jails.
The group this month announced it would “implement punishments of the arrested suspects” after the government refused to negotiate their release, but there has since been no news of the hostages. The separatists accuse ethnic Punjabi settlers in Balochistan of spying for state agencies, though they have rarely offered any evidence to support their claim.
But Raza was hopeful that the government might be making efforts to secure the release of his sons and others. “I want nothing from them [Pakistani officials], but a safe recovery of my sons,” he said.
Shahid Rind, a spokesman for the Balochistan government, said the government and Pakistani security forces were making joint efforts to recover the abductees.
“The chief minister met with the despondent families and apprised them of government efforts,” Rind told Arab News. “[But] the demand to release detained terrorists for a swap of Shaban abductees is unacceptable for the government of Balochistan.”

Shan Raza, 58, gestures with his grandchildren during an interview with Arab News in Quetta on July 19, 2024. Raza's five family members, including three sons, were abducted by a Baloch separatist group on June 19 from a tourist spot in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province. (AN Photo)

Rihan, the son of Raza’s abducted nephew Muhammad Raza, said his family was praying day and night for the release of his father. “My mother, sister and grandmother are very much depressed since my father was kidnapped,” the 13-year-old said.
Raza said the wait for his sons and other abductees has been “excruciating.”
“We run toward the door on every single knock and get alerted on every single call on our cell phones with hopes that my sons will return home,” the dejected father said, with teary eyes.