Pakistan News

ISLAMABAD: After the first round of technical talks between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) team and the government concluded on Friday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif observed that the lender was imposing conditions that were ‘beyond our wildest dreams’.
The delegation, headed by Nathan Porter, began make-or-break discussions with the government on the completion of the ninth review on Jan 31.
The four-day talks were held in Islamabad with representatives from more than seven departments present, to identify major fiscal gaps and discuss ways to plug them.
The discussions covered details of expenditures and revenue performance to identify the policy measures — both revenue and non-revenue — that would have to be taken over the next four months of the current fiscal year.
At a meeting of the apex committee over terrorism in Peshawar, PM Shehbaz took the various provincial heads into confidence on the possible impact of these harsh measures on the people of the country.
He said the IMF delegation was giving Finance Minister Ishaq Dar — who was also present on the occasion — a very tough time.
“Our economic challenges at this moment are unimaginable. The conditions we have to fulfil are beyond our imagination,” he further commented.
However, he acknowledged that the country had no choice but to implement the conditions.
Power subsidies in peril
Sources privy to the meetings between the government team and the IMF told Dawn that the Fund’s most unpopular dem­and entailed the discontinuation of an exemption for lifeline electricity consumers, i.e. those consuming under 300 units. Statistics show that 88 per cent of power consumers in Pakistan fall within this definition.
The increase in power tariffs for this bracket will hit the poorer segments the hardest, but sources said the Fund was not even willing to accept reducing the threshold from 300 to 200 units. This, it is said, will be another widely unpopular decision.
In the Fund’s eyes, the major threat to the economy comes from the poor performance of the power sector, whose circular debt has reached Rs2.9 trillion. Any upward increase in this figure is cause for concern for the Fund and it is expected that in order to address this issue, several measures will have to be taken, which can include the discontinuation of the power subsidy currently being given to export-oriented industries.
Industrialists have already conveyed their concerns over the possible discontinuation of the power subsidy, but sources say that the IMF not only wants the bulk of circular debt eliminated, it is also seeking a way to stop it from piling up again.
Sources said the talks also covered the swift privatisation of loss-making state-owned enterprises, but the finer points are expected to be hammered out in the second round of technical talks.
“All these measures are to show a positive primary balance,” a source said, adding that a cut in the salaries of federal employees was also on the table.
Another of the Fund’s major demands raising the petroleum development levy on diesel to Rs50 from the current Rs40 per litre. This means an increase of Rs10, along with the impact of the depreciation of the rupee, will be reflected in the next review of POL prices, expected on Feb 15.
Negotiations on the quantum of additional tax and non-tax measures are also expected to start from Monday.
“The Fund has not shared the exact quantum of the fiscal gap,” the source said, adding that it was too early to determine the exact amount that will be bridged through new tax and non-tax measures.
At the movement, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) is determined to reach the Rs7.70 trillion revenue target, mainly because of record inflation and currency devaluation.
Meanwhile, the FBR is said to have put on hold two ordinances to impose Rs200 billion in new taxes –increasing withholding tax and flood levy on imports, among other measures. The quantum of the revenue requirements now seems much higher than earlier projections, sources said.
The revenue measures to be adopted are also expected to be more than Rs100bn, depending on the size of the fiscal gap. While sources said it was too early to give an exact number, these fresh taxes will bridge the fiscal gap along with non-tax measures like an increase in PDL or any other levy.
The Fund has already identified a shortfall of over Rs300 billion in PDL collection.
Finally, one of the Fund’s most vociferous demands is the restoration of unrestricted imports. Currently, more than 9,000 containers are stranded at the country’s ports as letters of credit are not being opened.
But on the flip side, as of Friday, Pakistan was left with only around $3.10bn in foreign exchange reserves, which can only cover 18 days’ worth of imports, and observers believe the country desperately needs the next IMF tranche to head off a potential default.
This is leading to a Catch-22; the approval of the 9th review of the IMF programme would be a lifeline for Pakistan because it would give the green signal to friendly countries to release loans, but that cannot be done without first taking measures that may, at least initially, make things worse.

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Monday expressed the hope that the United States would not interfere in growing bilateral relations between Pakistan and Russia.
FM Bhutto-Zardari was in Russia on a two-day official visit during which both sides, according to APP, agreed to pursue initiatives to deepen bilateral cooperation in various fields, including education, economy, energy and connectivity.
“As far as interference by other countries are concerned, I expect that they will not interfere in bilateral relations between Pakistan and Russia,” the foreign minister said during a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow. He was replying to a question whether Pakistan has managed to receive guarantees from the US that it will not block the [energy] deal or impose sanctions.
“We absolutely will do whatever is necessary to provide our people they require. The people of Sindh, Balochistan, South Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been devastated by a natural catastrophe and recent flooding have thrown up severe economic challenges and we will do whatever we can to reduce difficulties of poor people of Pakistan,” he added.
Bilawal, Lavrov agree to pursue education, economic and energy cooperation
However, the foreign minister evaded a question in what currency Pakistan would pay for Russian oil.
He said Pakistan could act as a bridge between super powers. “Pakistan sees itself as a bridge builder between super powers as we equally value our relation with the US and Russia.”
According to a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad, the situation in Afghanistan and cooperation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) were also discussed during the meeting before the joint presser.
Ukraine conflict
In reply to a question about the Ukraine conflict, Mr Bhutto-Zardari called for resolution of the issue through diplomatic means, saying that developing countries like Pakistan were facing consequences in terms of its economic impact, according to APP.
“We have a firm belief that all conflicts can be resolved peacefully and there are no obstacles which diplomacy cannot surmount. Ukraine conflict is no exception. Developing countries like Pakistan are facing negative consequences of the conflict in terms of economic impact,” Mr Bhutto-Zardari said.
He expressed the hope that the strong tradition of diplomacy of Russia would help achieve the peaceful resolution of the conflict.
The foreign minister said that Pakistan considered Russia an important player in the West, South and Central Asia, and it would keep up high-level contacts with it.
He said their friendly and detailed discussion encompassed all aspects of bilateral relations and regional matters. He said both countries were celebrating the 75th anniversary of their bilateral diplomatic relations and that Pakistan desired to strengthen its cooperation with Russia in the fields of trade, security, defence, counter-terrorism, education, and people-to-people contacts.
He also recalled the summit-level meeting between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Samarkand as well as the 8th Inter-Government Commission meeting held in Islamabad focusing on trade, economy, and energy cooperation.
Afghanistan situation
The foreign minister said that Pakistan and Russia had good cooperation on Afghanistan, and wanted to achieve common goals of peace and stability in the war-torn country.
In reply to a question about Russia-Pakistan military cooperation, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia was satisfied over its military cooperation with Pakistan. He said the two countries were holding regular military contacts, including joint exercises and military training.
He said the elimination of terrorism from the region was directly linked with Afghanistan, and they had agreed to use the capacities of SCO, particularly its Contact Group on Afghanistan, for the purpose.
Mr Lavrov said that during their meeting they discussed building humanitarian, cultural, and educational links.

Former Punjab chief minister Parvez Elahi has claimed that his residence in Gujrat was raided by police in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
“Police raided our house in Gujrat, the Zahoor Elahi Palace, at 4:30am today. Women were at the residence too […] they harassed them and kept screaming,” he said on Geo News programme ‘Geo Pakistan’.
In response to a question on those responsible for the raid, Elahi asserted that it “is the doing of the Punjab caretaker setup and the federal government”.
Separately, in a tweet, ex-federal minister Moonis Elahi said that the police raided their residence without any warrant or case.
“Twenty-five police vehicles are understandable, but what were two black Vigos doing with them? Were you looking for Indian spies,” he asked.

LAHORE: A day after a deadly suicide bombing in Peshawar claimed over 100 lives, a police station in Mianwali came under a gun attack by a group of heavily armed militants be­longing to banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakis­tan (TTP) on Tuesday night.
However, police clai­med late at night the attack had been repulsed. The attack is significant in that terrorists — who had so far targeted police stations and check posts in Khyber Pakhtun­khwa and areas bordering Afghanistan — have set their sights on a police station in Punjab for the first time since the resurgence of terrorism in the country.
Punjab Inspector Gen­eral of Police Dr Usman Anwar confirmed to Dawn in the early hours of Wed­n­e­sday that armed attackers belonging to the ban­ned militant organisation, TTP, claimed the attack on the police station.
He said police teams from three regions — Mianwali, Dera Ghazi Khan and Sargodha — besides Lahore police and Punjab CTD had reached Mianwali for a ‘grand operation’ against the TTP.
According to social media reports, the attack started at around 9pm as militants unleashed heavy fire at Makkarwal police station using automatic weapons. This resulted in a heavy exchange of fire as police retaliated leading to a gun battle that lasted two hours.
However, there were no reports of any injuries to police personnel during the attack, the Punjab IG confirmed, as a senior Mianwali police official said personnel posted at the police station reacted swiftly, averting the attack.
Makarwal in the Isakhel tehsil, is a mostly hilly area known for coal mines, the official added.
The senior official said smugglers bringing contraband, arms and narcotics on foot from Darra Adam Khel in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa frequently use the area and the terrain also allows militants and terrorists to operate freely.
The Punjab IG said that highly-trained personnel of the police’s Counter Terrorism Department and Elite Force also joined the operation. He said a high alert has been issued in the entire Mianwali region in the wake of the attack.
He said a search operation has been launched after police teams chased the attackers who apparently disappeared taking advantage of the complex and inaccessible terrain.
“We are also discussing the options to launch a massive search [operation] in Mianwali district to trace the terrorists’ hideouts,” Dr Anwar said.
He said a committee of senior police officers, including Additional IG (training) Zulfiqar Hameed, Additional IG Special Branch Punjab Sultan Chaudhry, Operations DIG Waqas Nazeer and Information Technology DIG Ahsan Younis.
Dr Anwar said the team would remain in contact with Mianwali RPO Shariq Kamal to prepare a new strategy to launch the search operation in hilly areas of the district. The IG said that a grand search operation and crackdown would be launched soon.
“I am also reaching there in the morning today,” he said while teams with senior officers were well prepared for the crackdown.

RAWALPINDI: Commissioner Liaquat Ali Chatha on Sunday asked the district administration of Murree to ensure safety arrangements for tourists and locals during expected rain and snowfall in Murree.
According to the forecast of the Meteorological Department, heavy snowfall is expected in Murree with strong winds and thundershowers on Monday.
It also warned that snowfall may disrupt and cause closure of roads in Murree, Galiyat, Naran, Kaghan, Dir, Swat, Kohistan, Mansehra, Abbottabad, Shangla, Astore, Hunza, Skardu, Neelum valley, Bagh, Poonch and Haveli.
Tourists are advised to remain extra cautious during the spell. Temperatures are likely to fall (2-4)°C after the spell.
A Met Department official said that a westerly wave is affecting western and upper parts of the country and likely to intensify during the next 24 hours. He said that on Monday, rain-wind/thunderstorm is expected in Islamabad, Potohar region, Kashmir and GB.
The commissioner inspected check posts of the local police and traffic police on Express Highway and inquired about the number of vehicles entering Murree and the traffic advisory given to passengers.
He asked all police personnel to be on alert and remain in constant touch with the control room, adding that the district administration should implement an emergency plan and every department should perform its responsibility. He said that all snow removal machinery should be kept on a standby and attendance of staff should also be ensured.
Last year, more than 22 people died in Murree because their vehicles were trapped on snow-covered roads and they remained stranded in their cars. This year, the provincial government has already chalked out a plan in December to tackle heavy snowfall in the hill station.
The assignments had been divided in different provincial departments and local administration. The deputy commissioner will monitor the situation along with district police officer and executive engineer of Highways.
According to the plan, the clearance of roads will be the responsibility of the highway department and National Highway Authority (NHA) will clear the Expressway. Forest department will ensure the trimming and clearance of fallen trees and Rawalpindi Waste Management Company (RWMC) will clean city streets.
Motorway police will perform duties of traffic management on the Expressway while traffic management and parking on all other roads will be the responsibility of the traffic police.
A central control room and 13 facilitation centres have been set up for the convenience of tourists, besides 30 CCTV cameras have been installed for continuous monitoring of roads and traffic.

ISLAMABAD: Before his departure to Lahore for forensic tests, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader Fawad Chaudhry on Sunday complained of “custodial torture”, and filed a plea seeking his medical examination. The former minister filed an application before Kohsar police station’s magistrate. The PTI mouthpiece, who was arrested on Wednesday under sedition charges for allegedly threatening members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) during a media talk, was taken to Lahore by the Islamabad police and was likely to be shifted back to the federal capital on Monday (today) after his tests were conducted. Before leaving for Lahore, Mr Chaudhry told reporters that police were not conducting his medical tests and thus committing a violation of his constitutional rights. He recalled that police had mentally and physically tortured PTI leaders Senator Azam Khan Swati and Shahbaz Gill also. In his photogrammetry test to be conducted in Lahore, his voice would be matched in a forensic laboratory. Reportedly, photogrammetry is the science and technology of obtaining reliable information about physical objects and the environment through the process of recording, measuring and interpreting photographic images and patterns of electromagnetic radiant imagery and other phenomena. Mr Chaudhry has already been interrogated and questioned during his initial physical remand. He was asked why he gave such a statement regarding the ECP and its members/staff, including Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja. Judicial Magistrate Waqas Ahmed Raja in his order issued on Saturday had directed the Islamabad police to produce the former minister before his court on Monday (today) upon the expiry of his remand. On the other hand, a senior official of Islamabad police claimed that Fawad Chaudhry was not facing the strict interrogations as faced by his colleagues Azam Swati and Shahbaz Gill earlier.

ISLAMABAD: PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry was remanded into physical custody by the same judge who, a day ago, had sent him on judicial remand to Adiala Jail.
Saturday’s development came after a busy day at the sessions court where the PTI leader, counsel, prosecution and media scurried between courts where matters related to the case were pending.
On Friday, Judicial Magistrate Waqas Ahmed Raja sent the PTI leader on a 14-day judicial remand. He had passed the order after rejecting the police plea to extend his physical remand.
Mr Chaudhry — whose face was covered with a cloth — was prese­nted before District and Sessions Judge Tahir Mehmood under tight security, where the prosecution had filed an appeal against Friday’s decision to grant his judicial remand.
Prosecutor Tahir Kazim argued the investigation team had conducted a voice-matching test of the suspect and his custody was required for a photogrammetric test. The counsel for Mr Chaudhry, Dr Babar Awan, contended the case was based on mala fide intentions and the allegations levelled in the FIR were false, frivolous and baseless.
PTI leader detained at CIA centre; Imran writes to CJP to intervene
After hearing the arguments, Judge Mehmood set aside the judicial magistrate’s order and sent the matter back to him for a fresh hearing.
In his order, Judge Mehmood referred to the verdicts of Lahore and Islamabad high courts over the law related to granting physical remand.
The judge was of the view that the police should be given a fair chance of investigation and the earlier order of the judicial magistrate was erroneous.
Following the order, Magistrate Raja took up the matter again.
After the magistrate struck down the police’s request to extend Mr Chaudhry’s physical remand on Friday, the PTI leader had filed an application before Additional District and Sessions Judge Faizan Haider Gillani for post-arrest bail.
After his remand was granted, Mr Chaudhry was taken to the Criminal Intelligence Agency (CIA) building where he was detained, Dawn has learnt.
The matter, which was adjour­ned till Jan 31, has now technically become infructuous since the court had granted Mr Chaudhry’s custody to the police.
Imran writes to CJP
PTI Chairman Imran Khan on Saturday wrote a letter to the chief justice to “rescue” Mr Chaudhry and save him from “inhuman treatment” meted out to party leaders Senator Azam Swati and Shahbaz Gill.
The letter appealed to Chief Justice Umer Ata Bandial to safeguard Mr Chaudhry’s constitutional rights during custody so that his dignity and honour would be protected.
The former prime minister has said custodial torture was a violation of Articles 9, 10(A) and 14 of the Constitution.
“Two of our senior party office bearers Azam Swati (senator) and Shahbaz Gill were subjected to custodial torture. My worry is that Fawad Chaudhry will be subjected to similar inhuman treatment…,” the letter stated.
“As the custodian of the Constitution… I request you to ensure that the honour and dignity of Mr Fawad Chaudhry is not violated while in police custody.”
Contempt petition
Separately, a petition has been filed in the Lahore High Court (LHC) for contempt proceedings against the Punjab and Islamabad police chief for not producing Mr Chaudhry before court’s directions.
Nabeel Shahzad, a cousin of Mr Chaudhry, filed the petition pleading the LHC on Jan 25 ordered the police to produce the PTI leader after he was arrested by the FIA in Lahore.
The petitioner said the two police chiefs deliberately defied the court’s repeated directions and took Mr Chaudhry to Islamabad instead of producing him.
Wajih Ahmad Sheikh in Lahore, Ikram Junaidi and Munawer Azeem also contributed to this report

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