Pakistan News

 

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia loaned $1.5 billion to Pakistan last month to help Islamabad shore up its foreign exchange reserves, meet debt-service obligations and undertake large energy and infrastructure projects, Pakistani officials have told Reuters.

The Saudi assistance has contributed to a sharp recovery of the Pakistani rupee, which rose to a nine-month high of 97.40 from 105.40 against the dollar between March 4 and 12, its strongest rally in 30 years.

“On a personal guarantee of the prime minister, Saudi Arabia has given $1.5 billion, which has helped bail out the rupee,” one senior Pakistani government official close to the deal told Reuters, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to disclose the source and purpose of the funding.

The governor of the Saudi central bank declined to comment, and officials gave no details of the loan terms.


 


Another top official who is based in Lahore said the money went into an account known as the Pakistan Development Fund set up to channel money from “friendly countries” like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“We have a promise of a total $3 billion, of which $1.5 billion has been received so far,” the second official said. “Most recently, we got $750 million from the Saudis.”

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has long enjoyed close relations with the Saudi royal family. After his second term as prime minister was ended by a military coup in 1999, he was sent into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the Saudi financier and member of the House of Saud, has described Sharif as “Saudi Arabia''s man in Pakistan”.

Pakistani Finance Minister Ishaq Dar confirmed on Wednesday that $1.5 billion was received under the development fund but declined to comment on the source.

“Why do you want to expose our friends?” he told reporters. “The countries who have helped us don''t want us to disclose the source.”


NEW FUND


Dar announced the creation of the new fund on Feb 18, the same day Saudi crown prince and deputy prime minister Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud concluded a three-day-visit to Pakistan.

Pakistan's new army chief, General Raheel Sharif, also met King Abdullah and top Saudi military commanders during a trip to the kingdom two weeks before the new account was set up.

Other high-profile Saudi visitors to Pakistan this year have included Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal and Prince Salman bin Sultan, the country''s deputy defence minister.

According to the finance ministry, gross official reserves - including the latest injection of $1.5 billion - stood at $9.52 billion on March 11. A third loan tranche of $550 million from the International Monetary Fund, expected before the end of March, will push reserves close to $10 billion.


 

Pakistan is expected to receive $150 million from the Islamic Development Bank in March, as well as $150-200 million under the Coalition Support Fund, reimbursements for assistance in the U.S.-led coalition''s Afghanistan war effort.

Pakistan will also launch eurobonds of $500 million in May and plans to raise billions of dollars in privatisation revenue by June.

An increase in foreign investment and remittances by overseas Pakistanis have also helped lift the rupee. Remittances increased by 11 percent to $10.2 billion during the first eight months of this fiscal year.

The finance ministry has also attributed the currency's recovery to punitive action against exporters withholding export receipts abroad and warnings to foreign exchange speculators.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Internet campaigners said Thursday there was no excuse for the government to maintain its ban on YouTube, after a US court ordered the removal of an anti-Islam film.

The video-sharing website has been blocked in Pakistan since September 2012 over its failure to take down the “Innocence of Muslims” movie that sparked furious protests around the world.

A US appeals court on Wednesday ordered Google, which owns YouTube, to remove the film after a lawsuit brought by an actress who says she was tricked into appearing in it.

Pakistani technology think-tank Bytes for All said that with the removal of the crude movie, regarded as highly blasphemous by many Muslims, the government had no reason to maintain the ban.

“We think that now the government of Pakistan has been left with no excuse to continue blocking access to YouTube,” Shahzad Ahmed from Bytes for All told AFP.

“But the ban on YouTube has got more to do with the government's desires and efforts to impose censorship, content filtering and moral policing and we are fighting against them in court through a constitutional petition.”

There was no immediate response from the government.

Religion in Pakistan, where 97 per cent of the population are Muslims, is a very sensitive topic and perceived insults to the faith can spark violent reactions.

The American-made “Innocence of Muslims”, triggered protests across Pakistan that left more than 20 people dead.

Free-speech campaigners in Pakistan have complained of creeping censorship in the name of protecting religion or preventing obscenity.

In November 2011 the telecommunications authority tried to ban nearly 1,700 “obscene” words from text messages, which included innocuous terms such as “lotion”, “athlete's foot” and “idiot”.

In 2010 Pakistan shut down Facebook for nearly two weeks over alleged blasphemy.

It continues to restrict hundreds of online links.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will hold long-awaited auctions for 3G and 4G telecoms licences this April, the finance minister said on Friday, a step that could help boost the cash-strapped country’s foreign reserves.

A 3G licence will cost $295 million and a 4G licence will cost $210 million, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said.

He said the government would be looking for full payment, or a 50 per cent payment with the rest to be paid in five equal installments over five years, with an interest rate of three per cent.

There are about 132 million mobile phones in use in Pakistan, a country of 180 million people, according to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority.

The telecommunications market was deregulated in 2004 and foreign firms such as Etisalat have invested heavily in recent years.

HANGU: At least nine suspected militants were killed on Saturday when gunship helicopters pounded insurgent hideouts in Thall village in Hangu district, security officials said.

“Gunship helicopters engaged the hideouts after confirmed reports of the terrorists' presence,” said one of the unnamed security officials.

Officials said the military launched the attack after confirming reports about the presence of militants in Thall.

They spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

According to sources, gunship helicopters pounded suspected militants’ positions in Tora Wari and Dar Samand areas of Thall, following which nine militants were killed whereas several hideouts were destroyed.

Sources added that gunships continued to hover after the shelling whereas panic spread in the area.

Hangu borders the northwestern tribal region of Orakzai, one of Pakistan's seven lawless districts on the Afghan border considered to be the hub of Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked militants.

These were the second air attacks against Pakistani Taliban militants this month in retaliation at strikes by insurgents, which have derailed peace talks.

Earlier this week, at least 35 militants were killed as fighter jets targeted suspected insurgent hideouts in three different tehsils of the North Waziristan tribal region.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had authorised the strikes, according to a source in his office.

The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella grouping of numerous militant factions, has been waging a bloody campaign against the Pakistani state since 2007, carrying out a number of bomb and gun attacks, often on military targets.

Peace talks between the Taliban and the government, announced on January 29, stalled this week due to a recent surge in insurgent attacks and a claim by a Taliban faction on Sunday that it had killed 23 kidnapped soldiers.

Government mediators have set a ceasefire as a precondition for another round of talks but Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the TTP, on Friday blamed Islamabad for the deadlock and asked the state to declare a ceasefire first.

اسلام آباد: سعودی عرب کے ولی عہد سلمان بن عبدالعزیز اعلیٰ سطح کے وفد کے ہمراہ پاکستان کے تین روزہ سرکاری دورے پر اسلام آباد پہنچ گئے ہیں۔

ڈان نیوز کے مطابق سعودی ولی عہد کی راولپنڈی چکلالہ ایئربیس آمد پر وزیراعظم نوازشریف نے خود ان کا استقبال کیا۔ اس موقع پر انہیں انیس توپوں کی سلامی بھی دی گئی۔

ولی عہد سلمان بن عبدالعزیز کے وفد میں خزانہ و منصوبہ بندی کے وزیر محمد بن سلمان، وزیر تجارت طوافک بن تفضان اور وزیرمملکت برائے امور خارجہ نذار بن عبید بھی شامل ہیں۔

سلمان بن عبدالعزیز تین روزہ دورے کے دوران وزیر اعظم نواز شریف اور صدر ممنون حسین سے بھی ملاقاتیں کریں گے جبکہ دونوں ممالک کے درمیان دفاع اور تجارت کے شعبے میں اہم معاہدوں کا امکان ہے۔

پاکستانی قیادت سعودی شہزادے سے پاکستانی افرادی قوت کو سعودی عرب میں مواقع فراہم کرنے کی بھی بات کرے گی۔

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will get the associate membership of CERN by June this year which will be beneficial for industrial sector, human resource development and technology transfer in key areas of radiofrequency technology.

Head of CERN delegation Dr Sergio Bertolucci said this while addressing a press conference here today along with Chairman Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) Dr Ansar Parvez.

Dr Parvez said it will raise the collaboration level between Pakistan and CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research laboratory Geneva.

He said that Pakistan fulfills all the criteria for becoming a CERN associate member, adding that the industrial base and experience of high precision manufacturing enables Pakistan to make significant contributions to the CERN program.

Replying to a question, the PAEC chairman said that collaboration with CERN is not limited to scientific organisations such as PAEC and National Center for Physics (NCP).

“As soon as Pakistan becomes associate member of CERN, it will provide new and innovative avenues of research and development for our scientists and researchers,” he said.

Briefing the media, Dr Bertolucci said Pakistan has incredible potential for advancement in science and technology, adding that Pakistani scientists are talented and there is hope for more sustainable future.

Replying to a question, he said that Pakistan meets the criterion for becoming associate member of CERN, which includes ability of scientists and engineers, capacity and thirdly clear understanding of stakeholders.

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced Wednesday that his government would pursue peace talks with Taliban militants despite a recent spate of attacks, naming a four-member committee to facilitate the talks.

Addressing a session of the National Assembly after a span of six months, Sharif said the government wanted to give peace another chance.

The premier announced the constitution of a four-member team – comprising his Advisor on National Affairs Irfan Siddique, veteran journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai, former ambassador and expert on Afghanistan affairs Rustam Shah Mohmand and former ISI official Major (Retd) Amir Shah – to holds talks with the militants.

He said that Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan would assist the committee.

Sharif also called on the militants to observe a ceasefire in the televised speech. He said that he would personally supervise the performance of the committee, adding that he was sincerely trying to restore peace in the country and expressed his hope that the other side would reciprocate in a similar manner.

The announcement came the same day Taliban militants targeted paramilitary soldiers, killing at least three Rangers personnel in separate bomb attacks in Karachi.

Speaking to Dawn.com from an undisclosed location via telephone, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Shahidullah Shahid claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Shahid said the Taliban have convened a meeting of the Shura (council) to “assess the committee formed by the federal government for peace talks.”

“Taliban are united under Fazlullah and rumours about rifts are baseless,” he said.

Sharif long has supported talks as the best way to end the years of fighting with the Pakistani Taliban. But after a spate of attacks in January, he has been under pressure to take steps to bring the country’s violence under control.

His speech came amid speculation that the government would soon authorise a large-scale military operation against militants.

Speaking to parliamentarians on Wednesday, Sharif said the entire nation – including all state institutions – stand united if the government decides to react to terrorism with full force.

“Since the other side has shown intent to negotiate, we also wish to give peace yet another chance,” he said, adding that bitter experiences of the past propelled the government to hold peace talks to bear fruit.

“The acts of terror must stop. Terrorism and talks cannot continue simultaneously,” he told parliamentarians.

He said peace was not a choice but the ultimate destination at which the government wanted to arrive and it would achieve it at all costs.

The prime minster said that all state agencies were also united on the stance that the war against terrorism must end.

In an apparent allusion to former military ruler General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, Sharif alleged that a dictator and his unconstitutional government had put the country in a despicable state.

The premier said his government was doing all it could to stop US drone strikes on its soil. However, he said that at the same time there was no justification for continuing the acts of terror in reaction to the drone strikes.

“Are the innocent children who fall prey to acts of terrorism, or the innocent civilians who die in such attacks, responsible for conducting the drone strikes?” he remarked. “Murder of innocent people cannot be tolerated anymore.”

Dialogue to be ‘open, transparent’

Sharif further said that he agreed with the proposals of opposition leaders to set a time-frame for dialogue and make it open and transparent.

“I desire that dialogue should be open and transparent. I appreciate the proposals of opposition leaders,” he said in response to points raised by leaders of two major opposition parties, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI).

He said that to ensure transparency and take along all stakeholders, the federal government had included a nominee of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government in the four-member committee. “I hope Rustam Shah Mohmand will continuously be briefing Imran Khan and KP government on the progress of dialogue.”

“Moreover, I also invite the opposition leaders to sit with me and give their proposals. I am also ready to sit with you. Invite me to your residence and I shall come to listen to you. Your proposals will be supportive,” said the prime minister.

He, however, said he did not deem it suitable to give a time-frame to the dialogue process at this moment. “If the process proceeds, a time frame can also be set,” he said.

Rahimullah Yusufzai told news agency AFP: “Our role will be of facilitators and we will pave the way for negotiations between the government and the Taliban.” But he cautioned: “I am not attaching any expectations with the process right now because we are not aware of our mandate and other details, including the timeframe that will be given to the committee.”

Another member of the committee, Rustam Shah, said: “It is difficult to have an optimistic view about any success because of deep mistrust on both sides.”

”The success of the negotiations will depend on how much support the government gives to the committee and how wide its mandate is.”

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