Pakistan News

Sources within Shehbaz's personal staff confirm that he would be returning to the country on Saturday. — AFP/File

Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif would be returning to Pakistan on June 8, a member of his personal staff confirmed to DawnNewsTV.

According to Sharif's staff, he would be returning to the country on Saturday. The development was also tweeted by an unverified account, seemingly belonging to the PML-N supremo's son Suleman.

 

It is pertinent to mention here that the budget for 2019-20 is to be presented in the parliament on June 11.

Earlier, lawyers had informed an Accountability Court that Sharif would be returning to Pakistan on June 11. However, it was also earlier said in court that the opposition leader would be returning to Pakistan after Eidul Fitr.

Sharif had announced a "quick visit" to London on April 9 after his name was removed from the no-fly list on Lahore High Court orders. Party sources had said at the time that he intended to return within 10-12 days.

Sharif faces court cases regarding corruption and dishonesty. In the Ashiyana housing scam, Sharif is accused of ordering the cancellation of a contract given to successful bidder Chaudhry Latif and Sons for the low-cost housing scheme, which led to the award of the contract to Lahore Casa Developers, a proxy group of Paragon City Private Limited, resulting in a loss of Rs193 million.

In the Ramzan Sugar Mills corruption case, Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shahbaz are accused of "fraudulently and dishonestly" causing a Rs213 million loss to the national exchequer.

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday congratulated India’s premier Narendra Modi on his victory in the country's national elections.

"I congratulate Prime Minister Modi on the electoral victory of BJP and allies. Look forward to working with him for peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia," the prime minister said on Twitter.

 

Hours later, Modi responded to PM Imran's tweet, thanking him for his congratulatory message and saying that "I have always given primacy to peace and development in our region."

 

Modi claimed victory as results were being counted and vowed an "inclusive" future, with his party headed for a landslide win to crush the Gandhi dynasty's comeback hopes.

 

The BJP's main rivals Congress was far behind in the count, with Rahul Gandhi — the great-grandson, grandson and son of three premiers — suffering a humiliating loss in the Amethi seat held by India's once-mighty political dynasty for generations.

Read Indian election updates here.

Ties with Pakistan

Modi’s election victory was on the plank of national security, a campaign that gained strength in February when he sent warplanes into Pakistan to hit a suspected militant camp after a bomb attack in occupied Kashmir led to death of 40 Indian police officers.

India's move to send warplanes fanned the flames of nationalism and helped the BJP turn voters’ attention away from the flailing economy and onto matters of national security.

The airstrike “gave him the narrative he needed to counter all these allegations of non-performance, unemployment and rural distress. It reenergized him and enabled him to reclaim his image as a strong leader India needs at this juncture”, said political commentator Arti Jerath.

Last month, Prime Minister Imran had said there may be a better chance of peace talks with India if BJP wins the general election.

“Perhaps if the BJP — a right-wing party — wins, some kind of settlement in Kashmir could be reached,” the prime minister had told a small group of foreign journalists in an interview.

PRIME Minister Imran Khan shakes hands with President Xi Jinping before a meeting at the Great Hall of the People.—Reuters

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and China on Sunday embarked on the new phase of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor by signing memoranda of understanding (MoUs) on the first Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and socio-economic development and a new agreement on free trade.

The MoUs and the second stage Free Trade Agreement (FTA) were signed towards the conclusion of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s second trip to China in six months.

The prime minister’s latest visit to Beijing was for attending the second Belt and Road Forum and talks with the Chinese leadership on the expanded CPEC. The earlier visit was more about the future course of the CPEC after the change of government in Pakistan and soliciting Beijing’s help for dealing with the balance of payments crisis.

PM Khan in his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping assured him of Pakistan’s “unflinching commitment” to the CPEC and hailed its next phase, which includes newer areas like agriculture, industrial development and socio-economic uplift with livelihood projects.

The contours of the second phase of the CPEC have been finalised in view of priorities of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government related to socio-economic projects, greater involvement of the private sector and jobs creation.

President Xi appreciated Pakistan government’s agenda for socio-economic development and people-centred progress, the PM Office said.

The new phase of the CPEC would be characterised by industrialisation. The first Special Economic Zone comprising 20 factories is being set up in Rashakai, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The Rashakai SEZ Joint Venture and Licence Agreement was signed between the KP Economic Zones Development and Management Company and the China Road and Bridge Corporation.

Further progress on SEZs would depend on how the Rashakai project progresses. In the next stage, Chinese are planning to cooperate with Pakistan for setting up of a heavy industry SEZ in Dhabeji (Sindh) and a hi-tech SEZ in Islamabad. Chinese investors are, meanwhile, also signing up joint ventures in a local SEZ in Faisalabad.

In his meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, Imran Khan hoped that Chinese investment in the SEZs would expand Pakistan’s industrial base and diversify its export basket.

The second most important MoU, signed by the two sides, was between the China International Development Cooperation Agency and Pakistan’s Ministry of Planning, Development and Reforms for implementation of the projects under Joint Working Group of the CPEC on socio-economic development. The projects in education, health, human resource development, poverty alleviation, agriculture, and water and irrigation sectors are being sponsored by the Chinese government for which Beijing would spend $1 billion. Twenty seven projects have been identified by the two governments. The PTI government had placed a special emphasis on this element of cooperation.

In view of trade being an important element of the CPEC, the two sides concluded the second stage the Free Trade Agreement. The new FTA, which was signed after negotiations spanning over seven years, is aimed at strengthening trade ties. Under the new FTA, China would open up 90 per cent of its market for Pakistani goods whereas Pakistan would share 65pc of its market with Chinese exports. This would also help in redressing, to a certain extent, the yawning trade imbalance between the two countries, which stood at $9.7 billion last year.

Premier Li hoped that the conclusion of the second phase of China-Pakistan FTA would give further boost to trade and economic relations between the two countries.

The two sides also signed an agreement on a technical package for upgradation of Pakistan’s main railway line ML-1.

On completion of ML-1, the Pakistan Railways will benefit in terms of increase in speed from 65km per hour to105km per hour to 120km/h to 160 km/h, increase in line capacity from 34 to 171 trains each way per day, increase in freight volumes from six to 35 million tons per year by 2025, increase in passenger trains from 20 to 40 each way per day and increase in railway share of freight transport volume from the current less than 4pc to 20pc.

Under the next phase of the agreement, the ministry of railways and the National Railway Administration of China will jointly start the construction work on the project. Prior to start of work, the final cost of the project would be worked out and agreement of financing would be finalised after considering the available options for financing, a spokesperson of the ministry of railways explained.

The signing of the ‘Declaration for Preliminary Design’ for completion of the first phase of Pakistan Railways’ existing mainline (ML-1) has laid the foundation of cooperation between Pakistan and China in the railways sector.

Other agreements signed during PM Khan’s visit were on setting up of a dry port at Havelian, economic and technical cooperation and cooperation in the field of marine sciences.

Geo-politics

President Xi, during his meeting with Mr Khan, reiterated China’s unwavering support to Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

He expressed China’s appreciation for Pakistan’s sustained and successful efforts in the fight against terrorism and creating a peaceful neighbourhood.

“Both sides expressed satisfaction over the close cooperation between the two countries at multilateral fora and resolved to further deepen communication and coordination at all levels,” the PMO said.

During the meeting between PM Khan and Prime Minister Li, the two sides agreed to further deepen political, security, economic, education, science and technology, cultural and people-to-people relations.

Amin Ahmed also contributed to the report

Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2019

Zalmay Khalilzad (L) and Alice G Wells (R) arrive in Islamabad for delegation-level talks between Islamabad and Washington.— Photo courtesy of Radio Pakistan

Pakistani and United States (US) officials held delegation-level talks on the Afghan peace process in Islamabad on Monday, Radio Pakistan reported.

US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice Wells arrived in the capital today for a meeting with the government's interagency delegation led by Additional Secretary Americas Aftab Khokhar.

According to the state-run radio service, both sides are discussing bilateral relations and the Afghan reconciliation process today.

Meetings between Pakistani and US officials are believed to be quite significant in the backdrop of recent rounds of peace talks between the Taliban and the US in Qatar.

Earlier, the Foreign Office spokesman had also said that the meeting would be a part of "regular consultation on bilateral relationship and Afghan peace process".

On Sunday, Ambassador Khalilzad had warned that there would be no enduring peace in Afghanistan unless the Taliban adapted to the changes that had swept the country since they were ousted in 2001, added AFP.

Khalilzad is expected to meet with the Taliban in Doha in the coming days, but peace talks have been criticised for failing ─ so far ─ to include members of the Afghan government, which the Taliban view as a puppet regime.

Washington wants "to put an end to their expenses in Afghanistan and the dangers the forces face but also Washington has a responsibility and wants to end this war responsibly and leave a good legacy," Khalilzad had added.

On Friday, Khalilzad had said Prime Minister Imran Khan’s stance on Afghanistan had the potential to positively transform the region and give Pakistan a leading role.

Prime minister Imran on Thursday had underlined Pakistan’s unconditional support for Afghan peace process and urged the Taliban to call off their spring offensive.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will fight its case before the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on May 15 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, besides undertaking diplomatic efforts for performance-based review of its “robust” compliance with global standards against money laundering and terror financing.

This was the crux of an in-camera briefing to the Standing Committee of the National Assembly on Finance and Revenue. Finance Secretary Muhammad Younus Dagha, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) chairman, executive officers of the State Bank of Pakistan, Commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and representatives of foreign affairs and National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) updated the committee on FATF compliance.

Pakistan has so far complied with 19 out of 28-29 FATF indicators and made progress on five indicators relating to legislative and administrative actions, the committee was told, according to informed sources. The sources also said the government was hoping to comply with remaining actions by June this year, some of them through the finance bill 2019-20.

Pakistan has complied with 19 out of 28-29 indicators

The committee was also told that the ministry of foreign affairs would engage with influential countries on the FATF including the US as well as the European Union for “performance-based review” rather than being assessed from a geopolitical prism, for which they already had taken the position with FATF President Marshall Billingslea.

Mr Billingslea serves as the Assistant Secretary at the US Treasury Department also, heading the Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes. In this capacity, he is responsible for policy development and international engagement pertaining to anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT). He is reported to have assured Pakistan that its review would be based on performance and risk assessment without any political consideration.

Chairman of the NA standing committee Faizullah told journalists after the meeting they were satisfied with the government’s briefing on the FATF. He said the government was swiftly moving ahead with FATF conditions and hopefully matters would soon be settled. He said administrative and legislative steps were also being taken.

The committee said that nobody should be harassed or seen to be harassed as part of implementation of FATF conditions, Mr Faizullah said.

He said the government assured the committee that any official found harassing or misusing FATF conditions for ulterior motives would be dealt with strictly.

He said the standing committee would soon start discussions on proposed anti-money laundering bill.

Earlier, Mr Dagha told reporters that a government delegation would visit Sri Lanka on May 15 to present its case to the FATF.

Responding to a question, the finance secretary said the IMF staff mission was expected to visit Pakistan between April 27 and 29 for discussions on its bailout package.

He declined to comment on the budget deficit target for next year saying the ministry was currently in the process of budget making and had not yet firmed up fiscal deficit numbers.

Responding to another question, he said the finance ministry was planning to present the federal budget in the last week of May but May 24 was not the target date as was being speculated.

 

While discussing the work plan assigned by the Special Committee on Agricultural Products for uplifting agriculture, the committee was briefed by the chairman of the Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC).

He said that PARC has already proposed three research and development projects in the budget of the next financial year, 2019-20, with a total cost of Rs2bn.

The additional secretary, ministry of national food security and research apprised the special committee that Asian Development Bank (ADB) had conducted a knowledge creation exercise for the purpose of report publication in 2018 for “Punjab basmati rice value chain analysis” and currently, the ADB was working on “Punjab sustained agriculture growth through enhanced agriculture management” by means of a technical assistance, to ensure a $100 million loan soon.

The committee recommended to the food security ministry and the PARC preparation of a comprehensive presentation along with their recommendations for improvement in research and development in the agriculture sector.

The committee expressed its concerns over the crop insurance policy of Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL). Syed Naveed Qamar, chairman of the Standing Committee on Commerce, assured the special committee that he would take up the matter with the commerce committee for further deliberations and a report on the matter would be presented to the special committee.

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2019

Jinnah Hospital It is currently the second-largest hospital in Afghanistan, and was built by the Pakistani government

Jinnah Hospital was opened for the public on 20 April 2019 during an inauguration ceremony.

History and background

The construction of Jinnah Hospital is funded by Pakistan and is named after the founder and first Governor-General of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. It is part of a series of Pakistani aid and development projects in Afghanistan valued up to $1 billion, under the Pakistan Technical Assistance Programme. The flagship project was approved by the Planning Commission initially at a cost of $18 million, and the contract was signed in March 2007. The hospital's foundation stone was laid on 10 October 2007. Jinnah Hospital's design and construction services were undertaken by NESPAK and the National Logistics Cell. Around 25 acres of land for the medical complex were reserved by the Afghan government in District 13 of Kabul

Jinnah Hospital will facilitate the availability of healthcare services to the most vulnerable population of Afghanistan – mothers and children. It will also add to the general healthcare facilities available to the people of Afghanistan.

Mohammad Amin Fatemi, former Health Minister of Afghanistan.

On 20 April 2019, the hospital was inaugurated and opened for services during a ceremony presided over by Afghan Vice President Sarwar Danish as chief guest, with Afghanistan's health minister Ferozuddin Feroz and Pakistan's Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Ali Muhammad Khan, also present. Feroz appreciated the "generous gift" and thanked "Pakistan’s immense assistance in the health sector" of Afghanistan, while Khan described the hospital as part of the Imran Khan administration's vision of providing welfare for the Afghan people and expressed his hopes that the project would make a "substantial contribution" to the country's health services. Pakistan officially handed over the facility to the Afghan government on this occasion.

The total cost of the project at completion was $24 million, and construction was undertaken over 12 years since the date of inception. The deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, as well as institutional and bureaucratic inefficiencies were cited as reasons for the delay in completion. At the time of inauguration, Pakistan was also building the Nishtar Kidney Centre in Jalalabad, and the 100-bed Naeb Aminullah Khan Hospital in Logar at a cost of $19 million, both of which were nearing completion.

Medical facilities

The hospital comprises a two-story structure spread out over an area of 16,700 m2. The building has ten towers. It includes a casualty block, blood bank, outpatient department, dialysis centre, administration block, intensive care unit, constant care centre, thalassemia centre, wards for gynaecology, medicine and surgeries, as well as pediatrics, emergency and food services.

Also included are a pharmacy, laundry and sterilising department. The blocks are accessible and connected to each other via covered corridors, stairs and lifts. The hospital's infrastructure includes overhead water tanks, two tube wells, five 1,000 kVa diesel-powered generators, a pump house and septic tanks, an electrical transformer, and fire alarm and nurse calling systems

According to the Pakistani embassy in Kabul, Jinnah Hospital's furnishing and equipment cos

WASHINGTON: Pakistan and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have — more or less — reached an understanding on a package for bailing out the country’s ailing economy, says Finance Minister Asad Umar.

“During the last two days, we have, more or less, reached an understanding. In the next day or two, we hope to reach a full agreement and then we will share the details with you,” the finance minister said at a Thursday night news briefing at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington.

“In the next step, the IMF will send its mission to Pakistan in the next few weeks to work out technical details. But in principle, we have reached an agreement,” he said.

• Finance minister says FATF judging Pakistan with a rigged jury • Fund officials air concerns over CPEC

The finance minister, who reached Washington on Tuesday evening, left for New York on Friday after two days of talks with the IMF and World Bank officials on the sidelines of the group’s spring meetings. The team of experts that came with him, however, remains in Washington to finalise the details of a multi-billion dollar, three-year bailout package.

Although Mr Umar did not explain the irritants that still need to be worked out, Dawn has learned the IMF is insisting on a market-oriented exchange rate while Pakistan wants to retain its current approach of a managed float.

During the talks, IMF officials shared their concerns on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and its possible impact on the IMF programme “but Pakistan assured them that there’s no overlapping between the two programmes,” an official source said.

“Some fine-tuning will be done in Islamabad and then the package will be signed,” the minister said.

Before the news briefing, the finance minister addressed the Pakistani-American community at the embassy, explaining why the country needs a bailout package.

“The more things change, the more they remain the same. This is what Pakistan is experiencing,” he said. “We’ve been going through a recurring cycle of a balance of payments crisis.”

Mr Umar said he could not recall the last time a government in Pakistan had not inherited a balance of payments crisis and sought IMF help. “The pattern has remained the same, in 1988, 1999, 2008, 2013 and 2018,” he said, acknowledging that “there is something, obviously, structurally wrong” with the economic policies followed by successive governments.

“While there may be specific decisions that contribute to this, or people who may be responsible, but there is clearly something structural at play which goes beyond personalities and decisions,” he said.

For some in the audience, it was a pleasant departure from the PTI’s usual practice of blaming everything on the PML-N government.

In a lighter vein, the finance minister told the Pakistani-American community that their country was close to setting a world record, as it was about to enter its 13th IMF programme in 30 years. ‘That’s quite an achievement.”

Mr Umar refuted rumours that he was resigning or being fired. “I am not going anywhere,” he said.

The finance minister said Pakistan was facing three main problems on the economic front — the fiscal deficit, current account deficit and savings and investment gap.

“The situation right now is that we are not taking loans to pay off past loans, but to pay off interest.”

Responding to a question about what actions the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) might take in Pakistan’s case, the minister said the next review would take place in the middle of May and the deadline for Pakistan to send a report for the review is April 15. He said Pakistan would send the report on time and then the review team would visit Pakistan in May but the actual deadline for the final decision is September.

He said Pakistan had made significant improvements since the last review, recognised by “virtually everybody we talked to. The question mark we have is: are we going to be judged by a rigged jury?”

He said he recently wrote a letter to the FATF president asking him to appoint any other member country besides India as co-chair of the Asia-Pacific Joint Group. “The finance minister of India is on record saying that they will use every means at their disposal to economically isolate Pakistan. What better way to isolate Pakistan economically than to get Pakistan on a FATF blacklist?”

The minister said with India co-chairing the proceedings, Pakistan did not expect a fair and unbiased decision from the FATF.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2019

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