IN THE NEWS: ‘IMF PROGRAM AIMED AT REDUCING PAKISTAN’S PUBLIC DEBT’ (MAY 24, 2019)

Written by admin on Friday, May 24th, 2019

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

‘IMF programme aimed at reducing Pakistan’s public debt’
SOURCE: The Express Tribune
Friday, May 24, 2019

A senior official of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Thursday said that the bailout package given to Islamabad is aimed at improving Pakistan’s public financing and reducing public debt.

“There have been major developments recently, in fact since I was last standing here we have had an agreement at staff level,” said IMF’s Director Communications Gerry Rice while addressing a press briefing.

The IMF official briefed the journalists on the May 12 programme that includes a $6 billion package with a three-year extended fund facility by the IMF “to support Pakistan’s economic reforms efforts”.

“Just prior to the [bailout package] Managing Director Christine Lagarde met with PM Imran Khan,” he said. “Ernesto Ramirez-Rigo is the mission chief and he issued a comprehensive statement I would refer you to that and I won’t get into the details.”

The director communication, however, went on to elaborate on the deal by adding that it was aimed at helping “Pakistan get back on the path to sustainable and more inclusive growth and so on”. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: PAKISTAN PM KHAN SEEKS PEACE TALKS AFTER MODI’S ELECTION WIN (MAY 24, 2019)

Written by admin on Friday, May 24th, 2019

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Pakistan PM Khan seeks peace talks after Modi’s election win
SOURCE: Al Jazeera
Friday, May 24, 2019
By ASAD HASHIM

*Modi’s campaign included promises to ‘punish’ Pakistan for allegedly supporting the armed revolt in Kashmir

Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has congratulated his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on what appears to be a landslide win in his country’s general election, adding that he looked forward to working with him “for peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia”.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won 303 seats out of the 542 that it contested in the elections, election results showed. The result means the right-wing party is set to overtake its current tally of 282 seats in parliament, further strengthening Modi’s hold on power.

Known for his support for Hindu nationalism, Modi’s campaign included strong messaging on national security and promises to “punish” Pakistan for allegedly supporting the armed revolt in the disputed region of Kashmir.

Following Khan’s tweet on Thursday, Modi thanked the Pakistani prime minister for his “good wishes”, saying he had “always given primacy to peace and development in our region”.

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
— Imran Khan

I warmly express my gratitude for your good wishes. I have always given primacy to peace and development in our region.
— Narendra Modi

Tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours remain high after a military standoff earlier this year saw both countries launch air raids on each other’s territory, and an Indian fighter jet shot down in an aerial dogfight. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: THE PRICE OF INDECISION (MAY 23, 2019)

Written by admin on Thursday, May 23rd, 2019

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

The price of indecision
SOURCE: Dawn
Thursday, May 23, 2019

THE numbers tell a harrowing tale that no amount of spin can hide.

Revenues and exports have been flat for the first nine and 10 months of the fiscal year respectively. Even though imports are shrinking and bringing down the overall current account deficit, there are indications that this is happening more as a consequence of the overall slowdown of the economy than any government initiative. Ordinary people do not need any reminding that inflation is rising sharply, and from the looks of it, the situation is even worse in the rural areas where the costs of agricultural inputs are skyrocketing. What the latest round of data released simultaneously by the State Bank and the finance ministry tells
us is that there is more to come.

The data shows that the fiscal deficit has come in at 5pc of GDP in the first nine months of the financial year, the highest it has been in well over a decade. This puts the government in the unenviable position of having to announce huge tax hikes at a time when the economy is reeling from massive devaluation and a sharp interest rate hike. This is the price of indecision. For all these nine months, the PTI leadership spoke of having inherited a crisis, but did little to manage it. The prime minister, perhaps inadvertently, ended up conveying to global audiences that there were challenges to investing in Pakistan because of the culture of corruption that he now intended to change. To draw the attention of foreign investors to Pakistan, a more restrained approach would help. FDI, meanwhile, is down by almost 50pc. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: CORRUPTION AS THE MAIN BARRIER TO PEACE IN AFGHANISTAN (MAY 22, 2019)

Written by admin on Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Corruption As the Main Barrier to Peace in Afghanistan
SOURCE: Daily Outlook Afghanistan
Wednesday, May 22,2019

According to the new report released by UNAMA, though Afghanistan has taken specific reform initiatives in the Justice sector and policy making, corruption has been cited as the main obstacle to peace and prosperity in the country.

Afghanistan as a State emerging from conflict in 2001 had very weak institutions and an influx of outside funds. These two conditions provided incentives for officials to make corrupt deals for personal gain. Outsiders who were brought in to monitor and manage the transition were also at risk of becoming corrupt. The prior conflict was likely to have fostered a culture of secrecy and impunity where self-dealing was easy to conceal.

The new government could not encourage the development of a transparent and accountable government, especially considering those who gained financially from the conflict were in power and sought both to preserve past gains and to benefit from the rebuilding effort. As a result, the incidence and scale of corruption is especially high and destructive in Afghanistan. Political leaders have bought off powerful private actors with patronage, including criminal groups and wealthy business interests. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: NO ENDGAME IN AFGHANISTAN? (MAY 20, 2019)

Written by admin on Monday, May 20th, 2019

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

No endgame in Afghanistan?
SOURCE: The Express Tribune
Monday, May 20, 2019
By KAMRAN YOUSAF

The United States and the Afghan Taliban recently held another round of talks in Qatar as part of efforts to seek a peaceful end to the prolonged war in Afghanistan. After the weeklong huddle in Doha with Taliban negotiators, US special representative for Afghan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad reported “steady but slow progress on aspects of the framework for ending the Afghan war”.

He conceded that the current pace of talks isn’t sufficient “when so much conflict rages and innocent people die”. He noted: “We need more and faster progress. Our proposal for all sides to reduce violence also remains on the table.”

The current talks focused on two main issues — time frame for the withdrawal of US forces and firm guarantees by the Taliban that the Afghan soil will never be used again by any terrorist outfits such as al Qaeda.

The sticking point, however, is the Taliban’s refusal to agree on a ceasefire and hold direct talks with the Kabul administration. While the US insists no deal is possible without cessation of violence and intra-Afghan dialogue, insurgents are adamant that these issues would be dealt with once the foreign forces leave the country. Hence, the stalemate continues.

What has further undermined the prospects of any peace deal is a statement by Taliban Chief negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai in which he asserted that the US is on the verge of defeat.

According to Voice of America (VoA), he made this claim in an April 28 speech to an “internal gathering” in Doha, Qatar, just two days before he led his team of insurgent negotiators into fresh talks with US interlocutors. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: TAX AMNESTY NO SOLUTION FOR PAKISTAN’S WOES (MAY 19, 2019)

Written by admin on Sunday, May 19th, 2019

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Tax amnesty no solution for Pakistan’s woes
SOURCE: Asia Times
Sunday, May 19, 2019
By IMAD ZAFAR

In what can be seen as another U-turn by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government, it has introduced a tax amnesty and new tax-declaration scheme to bring black money into the legal economy. Prime Minister Imran Khan, who while sitting in opposition was always critical of tax amnesties, had opined that they were the root cause of economic disparity. Khan maintained that amnesty schemes were meant to benefit the elite, people who earned money through corruption and used these programs to turn black money into white.

What is more notable is that Khan did not bother to get this new tax program through via parliament, but instead through the cabinet, and President Arif Alvi passed the ordinance in a hurry to avoid opposition in the National Assembly.

This is not the first time a Pakistani government has passed this kind of tax-amnesty program; governments led by the Pakistan People Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz also introduced similar programs. However, since Khan was a vocal critic of such schemes, it was expected that he would not take this route himself.

Khan’s adviser on finance, Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, was asked how this tax program is different from similar schemes introduced in the past, and all he could reply was that this time the government was not blackmailing anyone and making it mandatory for the people benefiting from this program to start filing tax returns. If Sheikh has any knowledge of the history of the Pakistani economy, and one guesses that he probably does, he could have avoided giving such a lame answer, as all the tax amnesties introduced in the past had the same motive but did not prove beneficial for the economy, nor was the proportion of tax filers increased. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: HERE WE GO AGAIN (MAY 18, 2019)

Written by admin on Saturday, May 18th, 2019

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Here we go again
SOURCE: Dawn
Saturday, May 18, 2019
By IRFAN HUSAIN

THE sanctions, the threats, the arms build-up, the shrill accusations and the allegations against Iran are all from a B-movie we have seen before.
They are all part of the march to war that preceded the invasion of Iraq 16 years ago. Thousands of lives and six trillion dollars later, the region and the world are in a far worse place.

But empires never learn from their mistakes. Before Iraq, there was the Vietnam quagmire that cost nearly 60,000 American and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives.

What is in its DNA that has put the US on such a violent path?

In fact, in its 239 years as an independent country, the US has seen only 17 years of peace. The rest of the time has been spent on fighting major and minor wars around the world. From its string of wars against a defenceless indigenous population to heroic actions like the invasion of Panama, the US has used its overwhelming military muscle to impose its will on those too weak to defend themselves.

But every now and then, it has encountered foes that had the tenacity and the courage to give it a bloody nose. The North Vietnamese taught the Americans that there were limits to their power, a lesson reinforced by Iraqi militias.

And now, the hopelessly outgunned Afghan Taliban are forcing the Americans to eat humble pie in the grinding war of attrition that has been going on for 18 years in Afghanistan. The current negotiations between the Taliban and the Americans are an indication of the latter’s desperation to exit the arena.

Given this track record, why do people like John Bolton, the national security adviser to Trump, and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, think they’ll do better against Iran? Granted that they are ideological hawks, and are itching to attack Iran at Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s behest, but an armed conflict will be no walk in the park. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: HOW TOXIC IS THE ENVIRONMENT WE LIVE IN (MAY 17, 2019)

Written by admin on Friday, May 17th, 2019

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

How toxic is the environment we live in
SOURCE: Herald magazine (Dawn)
Friday, May 17, 2019 (Posted)
By NARMEEN HAMID and ALEESHA HAMID

We have all experienced heartache at some point in our lives. It is usually the romantic, melancholic variety that writers and poets wax lyrical about, but this has nothing in common with that sharp pain in the chest which can take one’s breath away and require a headlong dash to the nearest emergency. The doctor there does not see the cute emoji we attach to lovelorn texts but rather clogged blood vessels and dysfunctional muscular tissue. This reality check usually comes as a rude shock to us.

In much the same way, we may romanticise the air that surrounds us all we want – the cool breeze in the summer that carries the sweet scent of jasmine or the dreamy fog in the winters that makes one want to snuggle in bed with a hot cup of tea – but in reality few of us realise how pernicious that breeze or fog is or what havoc it is wreaking on our bodies.

The truth is that we are breathing in poison with every breath we take and it is taking a terrible toll on our health. Here is how: in the short-term, exposures of a few hours or a few days can contribute to ear, nose and throat irritation. The irritation usually disappears with the removal of the pollutants. Those living in Lahore are familiar with these symptoms when these appear along with our annual smog season.

The misperception is that when the smog clears the air quality improves.

Not really. The pollution level comes down and becomes invisible after the smog leaves but it still remains above danger levels. Such short-term exposure may also cause and aggravate lower-respiratory and chronic conditions such as allergies, asthma and bronchitis. In people with heart disease, it can lead to heart attacks, arrhythmias and even death. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: PEACE TALKS SHOULD BE GIVE-AND-TAKE PROCESS (MAY 17, 2019)

Written by admin on Friday, May 17th, 2019

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Peace Talks Should be Give-and-Take Process
SOURCE: Daily Outlook Afghanistan
Friday, May 17, 2019 (Posted)
Editorial

Afghan peace process has been highly controversial and unproductive. The first official talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government were held in July 2015, in Pakistan, in the presence of observers from the US and China but the second round was stalled following the confirmation of Mullah Mohammad Omar’s death.

In the hope of resuming talks with the Taliban leadership, a Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), comprises Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States, and China, was formed, but the death of Omar’s successor Mullah Akhtar Mansour in the US drone attack in Baluchistan triggered mistrust between Washington and Islamabad leading to QCG’s disintegration.

Although the Taliban and the Afghan government held second round of talks in late October 2016, it was also proved abortive.

However, the Taliban offered peace talks with the United States after the election of Donald Trump as the president. Before US response, diplomats from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iran and China attended a peace conference in Moscow to facilitate talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban. On 23 October 2017, the then US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Washington was willing to negotiate with the Taliban. A meeting between a senior US state department official and the Taliban representatives was reported in July 2018, but it could not be confirmed.

On 12 October 2018, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad held talks with the Taliban representatives in Doha, which continued up to now as the sixth round of talks was held recently. But the Taliban still refuse to negotiate with the Afghan government. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: ISLAMIC STATE ANNOUNCES ‘PAKISTAN PROVINCE’ (MAY 16, 2019)

Written by admin on Thursday, May 16th, 2019

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Islamic State Announces ‘Pakistan Province’
SOURCE: Gandhara
Thursday, May 16, 2019

*IS claimed credit for last month’s suicide blast in a marketplace in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan that killed 20 people and left nearly 50 injured

The Islamic State (IS) group says it has established a “province” in Pakistan, days after the terrorist organization used the name “Hind Province” for an attack it claimed in the India-ruled portion of the disputed Kashmir region.

Both of the divisions formerly fell under the “Khorasan Province” or ISKP — the name the Middle East-based terrorist group uses for its regional operations launched in early 2015 from bases in the border region of Afghanistan — according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist threats.

The “Islamic State Pakistan Province,” in communiques issued via its global propaganda mouthpiece Amaq News Agency, took credit for killing a Pakistani police officer this week in Mastung, and it reported shooting at a gathering of militants linked to the outlawed Pakistani Taliban militant group in Quetta.

Both the districts are located in violence-hit province of Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan and Iran. Several separatist Baluch groups and sectarian organizations also are active in the province.

There was no immediate reaction available from the Pakistani government.

Islamabad maintains there is no “organized” presence of IS in the country. Pakistani military officials say an ongoing nationwide military-led “intelligence-based operation” is primarily aimed at denying space in Pakistan to extremists linked to any terrorist groups. (more…)