Remembering Siddiq Baloch

Siddiq Baloch had a personality that made a distinct impression on people who met him. He was a moving force, fiercely proud in the Baloch tradition. His inquiring mind led him to explore independently, never willing to take other people’s account of reality. It also made him a fine journalist in Pakistan’s English language newspaper, Dawn where he sought answers to the nation’s intractable problems.

I met Siddiq upon joining the Dawn Reporters Room in 1984. His rugged, warrior like appearance belied the sensitivity that lay underneath. Foremost in his personae was a commitment to seeing justice, prominently for the people of Baluchistan. Moreover, his energy and bustling humor brought life to the city desk where we reported to encapsulate the politics of an ever-burgeoning Karachi.

It was a period when Gen. Zia ul Haq had ushered in military rule and when journalists and management alike walked a tight rope of censorship. As an activist in the National Awami Party and a follower of Ghaus Baksh Bijenzo, Siddiq was imprisoned for five years by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto under the Hyderabad conspiracy case and freed only after Gen. Zia overthrew Bhutto’s government.

Notwithstanding the twists and turns in Pakistan’s politics, Siddiq kept up his unrelenting opposition to military rule. He was elected president of the Karachi Union of Journalists in 1981, at a critical juncture in history. Thereafter, he energetically worked around Gen. Zia’s draconian laws against the print media, which was then the primary source of news and information.

The MQM led by Altaf Hussain was just then consolidating its grip on Karachi. The city was divided on ethnic lines even as it burned during violence, strikes and curfew.

Driving into the Dawn newspaper compound, I would see Siddiq Baloch energetically revving up his motor bike, with our mild-mannered Sindhi colleague Ghulam Ali clutching the rear. The two would zoom off to expeditions to Liaquatabad, Nazimabad, Orangi Town and far flung areas of Karachi, where MQM was testing out its new-found strength.

By late evening the two returned triumphantly from the frontlines, with eye-witness accounts of a city that had turned into a battlefield.

Both these colleagues lived in Lyari, where the lines between Baloch and Sindhis have blurred, and which added to the sense of fraternity one saw between them.

Ghulam Ali, who sat next to me, popped a joke every few minutes. The jokes were often about martial law, and what the average person… the barber or the rickshaw driver had said about the khakis. It complemented Siddiq’s remarks, who kept up his cynical commentary on military rule.

Lighter moments with Ghulam Ali and Siddiq Baloch stand out in memory. It was a hot, muggy summer evening in the Dawn Reporters Room, when fans circulated the stale air. Sweat dribbled down my colleagues and the grumbling grew louder that we had been condemned to work in a non-ventilated cubby hole.

Suddenly, the door opened and Siddiq and Ghulam Ali entered shirtless – wearing only vests over trousers. I laughed with delight at the sight of the two of them. They looked so comic in their zeal to show the bosses our plight. Siddiq sent for a photographer, where he dutifully took pictures of the burly, sweaty men typing away without their shirts.

Word got out to the management that two planned to keep up their shirtless protest. But one day of high drama served the cause of propaganda. In due course, an air conditioner was installed in the cubby hole and we were eventually able to type away in peace.

Siddiq had a sense of camaraderie that made him engage with every colleague. In the evenings, our short statured bulky colleague, Sabihuddin Ghausi would enter the Reporters Room with aplomb – newspapers rolled in one hand and a cigar in the other. Invariably, Siddiq looked up from his typewriter and in his inimical style teased Ghausi with an affectionate slight:

“Here comes the drug mafia!”

Ghausi was unfazed. While Siddiq was getting into economic reporting, Ghausi was the soul of Dawn’s Economic and Business Review (EBR) section – ferreting news with his penetrating intellect and sense of integrity. Siddiq shared Ghausi’s serious economic bent, even as he focused on Balochistan’s political economy – of which he became a notable authority.

I would see Siddiq’s mischievous smile around our colleague, Hameed – known by his by-line H.A. Hamied. Our colleague distinguished himself from the `riff raff’ by his starched white shirts, suspenders and supercilious remarks.

Whenever I heard Hamied say, `Har Shakh pey Uloo Baitha Hai’ (there’s an owl on every branch) I knew he was heaping contempt on some character being discussed in the room. Straightforward to the core, Siddiq would join the banter. He jokingly called Hamied by his by-line, Humaiy-eed to make him sound refined.

Siddiq’s other friends from Lyari were Latif Baloch and Aleem Pathan – both of whom worked with him in the sub-editor’s room. In time, Latif Baloch also joined reporting, bringing the flair of the locality to which he and Siddiq belonged.

Fair skinned Aleem was a Pathan from Lyari, who walked slowly and smoked in deliberate fashion. He told me that foreign journalists mistook him for Italian. When Siddiq was not around, Aleem would transport Ghulam Ali on his motor bike to riot-stricken areas like Orangi town.

Even when the 1985 Mohajir Pathan riots had peaked in Orangi town, Ghulam Ali would return from the affected area with a new joke. Returning from a dangerous expedition with Aleem, Ghulam Ali narrated with his flair for drama:

“When I turned around and said Aleem… he put his finger to his lips and said, Shhh go no further.” Aleem could have been concerned that Ghulam Ali would blow his cover, that he was no foreigner!

As was his habit, Siddiq liked to chuckle at his buddy’s jokes – which changed according to the seasons.

It was this sense of camaraderie that kept us going under the toughest circumstances. Once, Siddiq walked into the Reporters Room and picked on me – the only young woman among middle aged male colleagues. He began to sound the alarm that the Taliban were coming…. they would drive me off my job and make me stay at home.

As was Siddiq’s nature, he joked so energetically that for a while I thought he was serious. But I stood my ground and returned his verbal fire, telling him that even Mohammed Bin Qasim soldiers could not put my family in purdah. Knowing that I took his banter as “friendly fire,” Siddiq withdrew his joking offensive.

On another occasion, Siddiq had just returned from Saddar where he had an altercation with a police man who tried to ticket him on the ground that his motor bike was “illegally parked.” Knowing this was a prelude to taking a bribe, he narrated to me… eyes flashing as they did when he was animated… what he had said to the policeman:

I told him, “The whole government is illegally parked, and you talk about my motorbike!”

Each week the editor of Dawn, Ahmed Ali Khan would summon our weekly meeting. The meetings were more akin to showing presence in an imperial court rather than to elicit debate. While other reporters generally spoke to please the editor, Siddiq spoke with the conviction that showed he was his own boss.

Once in a while Dawn’s editor asked Siddiq for an update on his signature pieces – among them the Saindak copper and gold mine project in Balochistan. Siddiq gave updates on how Saindak had fallen victim to bureaucratic wrangling with the Punjab. Listening to him over the years, to me the Saindak project began to sound as intractable as the problem of Kashmir.

With his fierce Baloch nationalism, Siddiq was not one to give up. As late as 2017, he returned to the issue of Saindak mines, then being run by the Chinese. In an article written in the newspaper, he owned, The Daily Balochistan Express, Siddiq expressed his life-long desire that the people of Balochistan should benefit from their own resources.

“The Federal Government should surrender all the revenue in favor of the Government of Balochistan for the simple reason that the Government had failed to develop the basic infrastructure for future development during the past 70 long years.”

While Siddiq did not live to see the Saindak mines benefit the Baloch people, he saw China help construct the road network around Gwadar Port in Balochistan. Having traveled on the roads that were built under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, he told me with a touch of sarcasm aimed at the Pakistan government.

“More roads have been constructed in these parts in the last few years than in 70 years of Pakistan’s existence.”

Being firmly grounded among his people, it was but natural that Siddiq would leave Dawn in 1989 and move to Balochistan to start his own newspaper. It was a risky decision, given the financial capital needed to survive in a province with a low literacy rate.

Indeed, Siddiq’s first newspaper publication `Sindh Express,’ did not survive. Undeterred, he pursued his passion and a few years later began publishing `The Balochistan Express.’

I glimpsed his sense of independence at the time he left Dawn. His parting words have stayed with me:

“I’ll eat grass but I won’t eat from the `seth’ (boss).”

Seated next to me, Ghulam Ali wistfully remembered Siddiq long after he had left. With his incorrigible sense of humor, he kept joking about how all the newspapers Siddiq had been publishing… `Sindh Express,’ `Balochistan Express,’ `English Weekly Express,’… sounded like “railway timetables.”

Being an office bearer of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and the Karachi Union of Journalists, Siddiq kept returning to Karachi to speak at events that promoted freedom of expression and a living wage for media workers.

After the events of September 11, 2001, I was living in the US when an international media organization, Internews sponsored me to visit the border areas of Afghanistan to report on the state of the media. My research into Balochistan’s media found numerous “dummy publications” out to get advertising revenue, and newspapers that “paid” reporters by merely giving them the organization’s visiting cards.

Despite the poverty levels and the terrorism that engulfed Balochistan because of the war in Afghanistan, Siddiq Baloch kept the flame of journalism alive. Apart from the English language newspaper, The Balochistan Express, he also became chief editor of the Urdu language Azadi newspaper.

In recent years while visiting Karachi from the US, I drove through Saddar when the light turned red. With my car stopped at the signal, lo and behold I saw Siddiq Baloch approaching on foot – with an entourage of young men behind him. Instinctively, I put out my hand and shook hands with him. His smile was just as energetic and encompassing, even though our paths had long since diverged.

In July 2016, Siddiq Baloch spoke at the launch of the expanded edition of my book `Aboard the Democracy Train,’ at the Quetta Press Club. The book had arrived late, and my ex colleague had not had the opportunity to read it. Still, he spoke generously about our years in Dawn – leaving me touched by his observations.

That was the last time I saw Siddiq Baloch. Despite being diagnosed with cancer in 2014, he had kept up a brave face. Indeed, when I expressed my concern to him about not being well, he brushed off any suggestion that his health was in decline.

Meanwhile, creeping commercialization of the electronic media also took a toll on Siddiq’s attempt to promote journalism. After 2001, investors with little experience of media had obtained TV licenses – hiring non-journalists and young women for infotainment rather than news. Their golden rule was to stay in the good books of the government.

With declining advertising revenues and a tighter military grip on news, the space shrank further for a print era journalist like Siddiq Baloch.

Indeed, Baloch nationalists who protested against the theft of their resources were still being `disappeared’ and their bodies found in wastelands. The military painted as `anti-state’ the voices that expressed concern at Baloch marginalization by China’s investment in their province.

Six months before he passed away, Siddiq sounded dejected about the government’s clampdown on the media.

It concerned me to hear Siddiq say that his right of expression was being muffled not only in print but in speech. Still, knowing him to be an adept political worker, I figured he was laying low until the wind blew over.

Despite his ailment, Siddiq was preparing his family members to run his newspapers. They would be equipped with the baton of the press that advocates the genuine rights of the people of Balochistan

In February 2018, Siddiq Baloch joined the list of my colleagues in the Dawn Reporters Room – Huzoor Ahmed Shah, Saghir Ahmed, H.A. Hamied, Aleem Pathan, Ghulam Ali, G.D. Ghauri, Ali Kabir, Shamim ur Rehman and Sabihuddin Ghausi – who departed the earth.

Among them, Siddiq Baloch stands out as a moving force who inspired a generation of journalists to write passionately about Pakistan… and his beloved province of Balochistan… at a time when the business of building the nation is still unfinished.

Finance Minister Asad Umar presents third finance bill for fiscal 2019 amidst loud protests

Finance Minister Asad Umar presented the third finance bill for the current fiscal year during the National Assembly session being held on Wednesday evening.

Earlier, Umar, without revealing any specifics, had said the ‘mini-budget’ — technically the Finance Supplementary (Second Amendment) Bill of 2019 — would help generate more revenue for the government.

Speaking amidst loud jeering by opposition lawmakers, the finance minister described the bill as a measure to address the people of Pakistan’s needs.

“This is not a budget, this is a corrective package aimed at addressing various sectors of the economy,” the finance minister clarified at the start of his speech.

Salient features of Finance Supplementary (Second Amendment) Bill of 2019
• Tax on income generated from loans to small businesses, agriculture sector and low-income housing to be reduced from 39pc at present to 20pc.
• Introduction of interest-free revolving credit of Rs5 billion (qarz-i-husna)
• Withholding tax on bank transactions waived off for tax filers.
• Ban on purchase of vehicles for non-filers lifted for new locally manufactured cars up till 1300CC capacity, but higher taxes will apply.
• Small businesses exempted from submitting withholding tax returns every month; will do so only twice every year.
• Rs20,000 fixed tax on marriage halls reduced to Rs5,000.
• Pilot scheme to be introduced in Islamabad to facilitate traders in filing and paying taxes.
• Duty on newsprint abolished completely.
• Investment in solar panels and wind turbines to be exempt from duties and taxation for five years.
• Reduction and abolishment (in some cases) of duties on raw materials to support export industries.
• Super tax on non-banking companies to be abolished from July 1, 2019.
• Continuation of 1pc per annum reduction in corporate income tax.
• Capital loss carry-over to be allowed for 3 years (stock trading).
• 0.02 per cent withholding tax on trading to be abolished.
• Import duties on cars with engine capacity of 1800CC and above to be increased.
• Taxes and duties on mobile phones rationalised: taxes on budget sets to be reduced, high-end sets to become more expensive.
• Machinery for greenfield projects (including renewables) to be exempt of customs duty, sales tax and income tax (for five years)
• Tax refunds to be worked out; promissory notes to be issued by mid-February.
• Gas Infrastructure Development Cess to be removed from fertiliser production.
• Duty on diesel engines for agricultural applications to be reduced to 5pc from current 17pc.

Starting his speech with an assessment of Pakistan’s economic condition, the finance minister said his aim had been to eliminate all factors that necessitate a return to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package by successive regimes.

“The Constitution ensures the rights of the underprivileged segment of society and it is the Pakistani government and parliament’s responsibility to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. Unfortunately, this responsibility was never fulfilled,” the finance minister continued. “I wish to recommend measures for the prosperity of this country,” he added.

“The people sitting on my right [the opposition] had left nothing when they were leaving the government. Instead of reforming themselves, the last ruling regime tried to buy an election. The budget deficit, as presented by them [in their budget], should have been 4.1 but the actual deficit at the end of the year clocked in [much higher],” he said, speaking above opposition shouts of “Liar, liar!”

“They destroyed the electricity [generation and distribution] system and left us a Rs450bn deficit. The gas [distribution] system which had never witnessed a deficit has now recorded Rs150bn deficit,” he complained. “Similarly, the deficit was around Rs30bn in Railways.”

“They left the country indebted with Rs2,500bn to Rs3,000bn in loans that were not shown in the books,” he further alleged.

“I wish those shouting ‘Liar, Liar!’ right now had called out their own ministers when they were in power,” he said after recounting the challenges he said he had inherited.

“We took several difficult decisions, and I appreciate that the people realised that these difficult decisions were necessary,” the finance minister said.

“I want to give them the good news that these difficult decisions are yielding dividends: the deficit is reducing, exports are increasing and imports are declining. We need to bring a balance in revenue and expenditure as it is vital for growth. Our imports are touching a dangerous point. We have to increase exports and bring reforms in the agriculture and other sectors,” he said.

“The camera is recording [when I say this]: At the time of the next election, the PTI govt will not have to purchase an election [like our opponents attempted to]. The years 2022 and ’23 will witness the highest growth as compared to the period from 2008 to 2023,” he claimed.

Umar said the opposition will guide the government in its efforts to bring reforms in the economy. He said the PTI has given preference to the livelihood of youngsters.

Considering that small and medium-sized businesses hold an important position for the growth of the economy, he announced a reduction in the tax on small and medium enterprises. A cut in interest rate was also announced on agricultural loans, along with a reduction in the low-incoming housing tax.

Announcing that the withholding tax on banking deposits and transactions is being waved off for filers, the minister said the previous government “were proud of their influence in the business community but they hit them hard”.

“Pakistan was 76th in the international ranking of ease of doing business but during the last decade, it fell to 136th rank. We are taking steps for ease of doing business. Instead of submitting their withholding tax statement every month, businessmen will have to submit it only twice a year,” he said.

He announced that the government will launch a pilot project of a scheme in Islamabad under which a simple regime for taxation will be introduced on traders’ request.

Umar revealed a second revision in PTI government’s policy on disallowing non-filers from purchasing vehicles. “We decided to lift the ban on the purchase of small [locally manufactured] vehicles up to 1300CC, but the tax ratio for non-filers is being increased so they are encouraged to become filers,” Umar said.

“Most of the news and editorials are not being published in the PTI government’s favour but we do believe that a free press is vital for true democracy … so we are completely waiving the duty on import of newsprint,” he announced.

Speaking about the need to strengthen the industrial sector, the minister said the government would reduce, and in some cases waive off, the duties on raw materials in order to make industries profitable. “Special attention has been paid to small and medium industries, including vendors of the auto industry,” he added.

Umar termed the previous government’s alleged move to tax investments as “cruelty”. Promising to bring investments to the Special Economic Zones being set up as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, he announced that all equipment brought to the SEZs will now be duty-free.

He said: “Our trade deficit’s larger chunk consists of energy imports. We want to shift our dependence to renewable electricity … we want solar panels and wind turbines to be produced locally. And so investment in this sector for local production will enjoy a five-year relaxation in duties and taxes.”

Umar said the previous government, instead of encouraging savings, had imposed a tax on savings of companies that they could use for reinvestment. “We are eliminating this foolish tax by July 1,” he announced.

Referring to the opposition’s frequent criticism of the prevailing situation at the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX), the minister said, “When the stock market lost 15,000 points in just seven months during their [opposition’s] tenure, there was no problem; when the market plunged by just 5,000 points during our government a hue and cry was raised that the economy had crashed.”

He added that the PSX had seen an increase of 3,000 points during the last three weeks.

In what he said was the “only item” in the supplementary budget where the tax is being increased, Umar announced that the duty on import of vehicles with engine capacity of 1800CC and above would be raised.

He said the administrative issues of exporters were being resolved and would be “revealed later”. For farmers, the minister said, the price of urea will be reduced by Rs200 per bag after legislation is passed by the parliament in this regard. In addition, production units are being increased by 50pc to facilitate the issuance of loans to farmers and the regulatory duty on components of diesel engine is being reduced from 17pc to 5pc.

“I hope that the country’s new journey of self-dependence will continue. We are ready to take difficult decisions. We may ask for assistance from the IMF but we will not let the burden pass on to poor people,” he concluded.

Earlier today, the federal cabinet headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan was given a briefing on the bill, after which it was taken to the parliament for debate.

The supplementary budget was expected to offer major incentives to boost the stock market, housing, agriculture and industrial sectors, besides imposing punitive duties on luxury imports.

According to the finance ministry’s adviser and spokesman Dr Khaqan Najeeb Khan, the mini-budget would support ease of business processes, simplify procedures and facilitate business by reducing bureaucratic red-tape.

Informed sources, however, said the government was planning to reverse documentation reforms introduced for the equity markets in a bid to turn around the declining stock index which fell from its high at 53,000 points in 2016 to around 38,000 points at present. The package was also likely to include the reduction and removal of some tax rates, commissions and capital gains tax.

Third bill for fiscal 2019
The ‘mini-budget’ would constitute the third finance bill for fiscal 2018-2019.

The National Assembly had in May 2018 passed the Finance Bill 2018-19 during the tenure of the PML-N government, the basic structure of which remained the same as announced by then Finance Minister Miftah Ismail on Apr 27, 2018.

Then, in September 2018, Umar had presented the incumbent Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government’s amendments to the budget announced by the PML-N.

The highlights of the amendment included a cut in federal development programmes and measures to bring the budget deficit down to 5.1 per cent.

Tax rates were lower than the previous year and the tax relief that had been granted by the PML-N was revoked from salaried persons earning more than Rs200,000 per month. The tax rate in the highest income tax slab was raised from 15 pc to 30 pc. The rate of withholding tax on banking transactions for non-tax filers was increased to 0.6pc

Other developments included an increase in federal excise duty on imports of luxury vehicles and duties on ‘expensive’ cell phones. Customs duty was also increased on more than 5,000 ‘luxury’ items. Regulatory duty was increased on the import of more than 900 items.

The Insaf Sehat Card facility was expanded to Fata and Islamabad Capital Territory.

Opposition opposes govt decision to announce mini-budget
On Jan 16, the government had sought the opposition’s support for the mini-budget announced today. National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser had facilitated two meetings between the government and opposition in which the issues of the mini-budget and formation of committees of the NA were discussed.

However, leaders of various political parties had opposed the government’s plans, saying the mini-budget “will add to the miseries of public” and “badly affect the commerce and industrial sectors in the country”.

Parliamentary leader of the PPP in the Senate, Sherry Rehman, had in a statement expressed her reservations over ever-increasing prices of various commodities.

Similarly, several PML-N leaders, including former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, had also criticised the government’s move to present another finance bill.

Speaking at a news conference on Jan 12, the PML-N leaders had lashed out at the PTI government for what they termed “directionless and failed” economic policies, which they claimed had drastically brought down the country’s growth rate in just five months.

Opposition parties close ranks against govt

ISLAMABAD: Opposition parties in the National Assembly on Tuesday agreed to close ranks against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government on crucial matters and formed a special committee to evolve joint strategies on important national issues.

The decision was taken in a meeting convened by Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif in his chamber at the Parliament House. It was attended by top leadership of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and other parties.

Speaking to reporters after the nearly two-hour-long meeting, PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif said the opposition leaders had decided to form a committee to formulate proposals for adopting a joint course of action to help resolve national issues.

The joint committee – with representation from all opposition parties – would be responsible for holding negotiations with the government on the issue of an extension in the tenure of military courts, Shahbaz told reporters.

“A coalition agreement has been reached between the opposition parties,” said former president Zardari after the meeting. “The opposition has today adopted a very good strategy to form a committee and have a joint opposition in and outside parliament,” added Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

Structural reforms to continue despite ‘anti-govt propaganda’: PM

The joint committee comprised Syed Khursheed Shah and Sherry Rehman of the PPP; Ahsan Iqbal, Rana Sanaullah and Marriyum Aurangzeb of the PML-N, Amir Haider Hoti of the Awami National Party (ANP), Maulana Abdul Wasay of the MMA and Akhtar Mengal of the BNP.

At the media talk, both Shahbaz and Bilawal slammed the PTI government’s economic policies. They expressed concerns over hike in the prices of gas, power, medicines and items of daily use. “The economic conditions have worsened,” Shehbaz said, adding that inflation had risen as well.

Shahbaz called for a fresh bidding for the Mohmand dam contract to ensure transparency in this mega project. On the second extension in the tenure of military courts, Shehbaz said “the combined opposition” would take the decision in the national interest.

The meeting took place after the opposition staged a walkout from the National Assembly after raising questions over the bidding process of Mohmand dam. It had become a controversial issue after the contract was awarded to a close aide of the prime minister.

At the meeting, former president Asif Zardari, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Syed Khursheed Shah, Syed Naveed Qamar, Sherry Rahman, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Khwaja Asif, Ahsan Iqbal, Rana Tanveer Hussain, Khawaja Saad Rafique, Rana Sanaullah, Senator Pervez Rashid, Senator Asif Kirmani and Marriyum Auranzeb were present.

Pressure tactic to seek NRO, says PM Imran after opposition’s NA walkout

MMA was represented by it parliamentary leader Maulana Asad Mahmood and Maulana Abdul Wasay while ANP was represented by Amir Haider Khan Hoti. Balochistan National Party’s Agha Hassan Baloch and Haji Hashim Potezai also participated in the meeting at special invitation by the opposition parties.

Their talks focused on the current political and economic situation in the country, the Mohmand dam issue, extension in tenure of military courts and the strategy of the opposition. Bilawal later said that the Charter of Democracy would be revisited, keeping in view the ground realities and political situation.

Bilawal said the opposition’s human and democratic rights were under attack from all sides by the government, but the opposition leaders were “not ready to compromise” on these two rights. He also said his party did not want to strike any deals with the government to seek an NRO-type amnesty.

The PML-N president slammed the “worst incompetence” of the PTI government and accused it of “cronyism” in awarding the Mohmand dam contract to a consortium, allegedly owned by a sitting adviser to the prime minister.

When the former president Zardari was asked whether the opposition parties would come together in the shape of an alliance, he replied: “The union has taken place.”

Later, the opposition issued a joint communiqué, alleging that the PTI government’s disastrous economic policies and utter disregard for provincial autonomy posed a grave threat to the existence and federation of Pakistan.

It stated that the dangerously falling economic growth rate and the resulting unemployment had spun out of control and the government’s economic policies had become “a clear and present danger for the country”.

“The leaders of the opposition parties in the meeting rejected the government’s mini-budget and said that the third budget by the ‘insanely incompetent’ government will be vociferously opposed in parliament because it would crush the already burdened masses of Pakistan,” it said.

The joint statement expressed grave concern over “the rapidly shrinking room for freedom of speech, freedom of the press and broadcast” and the “economic snuffing of media outlets, leading to their closure”.

The joint statement pointed out that a steep decline of 35% in the value of rupee had on the one hand added billions more to the foreign debt of Pakistan while on the other crucial sectors of national development and everyday life were severely hit by this devaluation.

“All these disastrous economic policies of the government created uncertainty in the investors that cost Pakistan more than $40 billion at the stock market and brought financial activity to a grinding halt,” the joint statement said.

PTI operating 18 undeclared bank accounts: SBP report

ISLAMABAD: A report submitted by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has revealed that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) is operating at least 18 undeclared bank accounts across the country.

According to the information gathered from scheduled banks and submitted to the ECP by the SBP, the PTI is operating 26 bank accounts in different cities of the country, but only eight of them have been declared before the commission. The remaining 18 bank accounts fall in the category of fake or illegal bank accounts as these have not been declared in PTI’s annual audit reports submitted to the ECP as required under the law.

The annual audit reports submitted to the ECP include a certification of authenticity and accuracy by PTI chairman Imran Khan — a legal requirement for all party heads.

It is feared that details of these illegal accounts and their money trails could put Mr Khan, Imran Ismail and others — some of whom are in senior government positions — in legal jeopardy as they are principal and co-principal signatories of these accounts.

Party claims it has submitted all central accounts to ECP

Sources said the details of these undeclared bank accounts, including two in Karachi and one each in Peshawar and Quetta, had been shared at a meeting of the ECP’s scrutiny committee headed by the commission’s director general (law) in October last year.

In July 2018, after exhausting all attempts to requisition PTI bank statements and record, the ECP wrote to the SBP to requisition the party’s bank statements. Consequently, the SBP wrote letters to the presidents of all scheduled banks, seeking PTI bank statements for the period 2009-13 to be submitted to the ECP by July 16, which was finally done.

Since the revelation of fake or illegal PTI accounts in the presence of the party’s representatives at a meeting of the scrutiny committee last year, the PTI has stopped cooperating with the ECP — a reflection of which was the absence of any PTI representative in the scheduled scrutiny committee meeting on Wednesday.

The meeting was adjourned after petitioner and PTI’s founding member Akbar S. Babar, his legal team headed by Badar Iqbal Chaudhry, the ECP director general (law) and two senior auditors from the defence establishment waited for over an hour for any PTI representative to show up.

The result of PTI’s non-cooperation is that the ECP scrutiny committee has yet to finalise the audit of PTI’s foreign funding and submit its findings to the commission since its inception in March despite holding over two dozen meetings.

Initially mandated to complete the scrutiny process in one month, but due to lack of PTI cooperation to submit its accounts and bank statements requisitioned by the committee, its time frame was extended by two months and subsequently for an indefinite period.

When contacted, Mr Babar termed the whole episode the biggest funding fraud and said that it probably required a detailed forensic audit to know the exact extent and depth. He, however, refused to divulge any information on the undeclared bank accounts of the PTI.

The PTI has been pushing for keeping the scrutiny committee’s proceedings as secret and had also filed an application to this effect in the ECP and a writ petition in the Islamabad High Court.

PTI reaction

PTI’s central finance secretary Azhar Tariq, when contacted, said: “We have submitted all the central accounts being handled by us.” He said the PTI had asked the State Bank to share the details of the accounts it had submitted to the ECP, but the SBP governor asked the party to seek information directly from the banks. He said these might include some accounts being run by the party’s provincial offices and some of them might not be operational.

He said the ECP scrutiny committee was exceeding its jurisdiction as under the Supreme Court orders it was supposed to authenticate the details submitted by petitioner Babar, which had not yet been done.

Former Senate Chairman’s Lawn Demolished in Anti Encroachment Drive (Express Tribune) Jan 6, 2019

The Capital Development Authority (CDA) on Saturday demolished the lawn of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) senior leader and former chairman senate Nayyar Bukhari’s house, claiming that it was built on encroached land of Quaid-e-Azam university in Islamabad.

PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari condemned the move and called it an act of victimisation to suppress the political opinion.

Bilawal, in a statement, said that the operation against Nayyar Bukhari’s house was a shameful act.
Anti-encroachment campaign: Traders warn of protests if alternative spaces not provided
However, Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi maintained that the incumbent government did not believe in politics of victimisation.

Speaking to the media in Islamabad on Sunday, the minister said the anti-encroachment operations were being carried out in accordance with the law.

The government had retrieved 80 Kanal out of 240 Kanal encroached land of Quaid-e-Azam University and efforts were underway to acquire the remaining land, he informed.

Demolition squad: 150 shops at Karachi Zoo razed, 250 to go

Armed contingents of rangers and police rolled into the university to take back the encroached land of the varsity from encroachers.

CDA and Islamabad Capital Territory Administration officials were present during the joint operation of Bhara Kahu police and rangers.

Government had carried out the operation on repeated requests of QAU administration.

Will not allow removal of govt on JIT report: CJP Nisar

ISLAMABAD, Dec 31: The Supreme Court on Monday directed the federal government to review its decision of placing 172 suspects named in the JIT report on the Exit Control List (ECL).

When the hearing resumed Monday, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar expressed anger on the government over putting CM Sindh and other politicians on the ECL list and remarked that we will not allow to dislodge the government on the basis of JIT report.

A two-member bench of the top court comprising CJP Nisar and Justice Ijazul Ahsen was hearing the case regarding an investigation into the fake transactions worth billions conducted through several mainstream banks via ‘benami’ accounts.

The court had asked the persons named in the JIT report to submit their replies but the government put their name son the no-fly list, the CJP observed. Who did this? He asked the Attorney General.

“How can you bar the Chief Executive of the country’s second largest province from traveling abroad?” he wondered.

Since Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah was named in the JIT report, the PTI is demanding his resignation and is making hectic efforts in dislodging Pakistan Peoples’ Party government in Sindh.

Senior PTI leaders claimed that they are in contact with PPP lawmakers and will move a no-confidence motion against the chief minister.

During hearing, the bench ordered the Interior Minister to appear before the court and explain the government’s position in this regard.

The CJP wondered how the JIT report was leaked to the media.

When asked, head of Joint Investigation Team, Ehsan Sadiq, stated that the contents were not leaked from the JIT Secretariat.

The court also approved a request by the counsels of PPP supremo Asif Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur for extension in deadline to submit their reply in the case.

Pakistan ex-president Zardari faces travel ban over corruption

Asif Ali Zardari is among 172 people linked to cases of money laundering, Pakistan’s information minister says.
Pakistan’s former president Asif Ali Zardari will be banned from travelling abroad following allegations of money laundering, according to the country’s information minister.

Fawad Chaudhry told reporters in Islamabad that Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur were among 172 people involved in cases of money laundering and use of fake bank accounts.

“All the 172 names … will be added to the ECL [Exit Control List],” he said.

Zardari, co-chairman of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party and president from 2008 to 2013, has long been the subject of corruption allegations and is widely known in Pakistan as “Mr Ten Percent”.

The announcement coincided with the 11th anniversary of the death of his spouse and two-time former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in a gun and suicide bomb attack during an election rally in the garrison town of Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007.

Earlier this week, Chaudhry said a joint investigation team (JIT) had found evidence of how Zardari allegedly laundered money through fake bank accounts and companies. “I hope Zardari will now take the JIT seriously,” he said on Thursday, adding that his government would not spare anyone involved in plundering national wealth.

But Zardari dismissed the allegations, branding the government an instrument of the powerful military and calling Prime Minister Imran Khan the army’s “blue-eyed boy” at a rally marking his wife’s death in the Bhutto family’s ancestral town of Larkana, in southern Sindh province.

“They know nothing but how to appear on TV channels and make absurd comments and speeches.

They lack even basic intelligence,” he said of Khan’s government in unusually fiery comments.

Khan, who came to power in July, has vowed to end rampant corruption and recover billions syphoned from the country as his government scrambles to shore up Pakistan’s deteriorating finances and fast-depleting foreign exchange reserves.

Sharif’s sentence
Zardari’s travel ban comes days after former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to seven years in prison for corruption on Monday, the latest in a long string of court cases against him.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court disqualified Sharif from politics for life over corruption allegations in 2017, ousting him from power. His Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz was defeated by Khan in the July polls.

A Pakistani court established a commission in September to investigate corruption, finding that at least $400m had passed through “thousands of false accounts”, using the names of impoverished people.

The commission said about 600 companies and individuals “are associated with the scandal”.

Pakistan rupee hits record low against US dollar

Islamabad, Nov 30 – Pakistan’s rupee has plunged almost five percent to a record low after what appeared to be a sixth devaluation by the central bank in the past year as the country struggles with an acute balance of payment crisis.

The unit sank to 143 rupees against the dollar on Friday, just a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government celebrated 100 days in office with a televised conference boasting of its achievements.

The State Bank of Pakistan has indirectly devalued the state-managed unit several times already as it tries to narrow a huge balance of payments deficit.

But traders are concerned that neither Khan nor his Finance Minister Asad Umar laid out a comprehensive plan to address the country’s economic woes more than a week after negotiations with the International Monetary Fund ended without a much-needed bailout agreement.

The former cricketer has launched a highly publicised austerity drive since being sworn in, including auctioning off government-owned luxury vehicles and buffaloes, in addition to seeking loans from “friendly countries” and making overtures to the IMF.

“The market was disappointed to see that there was no clear-cut direction of the government regarding raising loans from IMF or taxation policies for the rest of its term,” said Hamad Iqbal, director of research at Elixir Securities.

IMF talks ongoing
The rupee has lost about a third of its value since the start of the year as Pakistan struggles with chronic inflation as it burns through its dwindling foreign currency reserves, which are down around 40 percent this year.

Pakistan secured $6bn in funding from Saudi Arabia and struck a 12-month deal for a cash lifeline during Khan’s visit to the kingdom in October.

Despite the pledges, the ministry of finance said Pakistan would still seek broader IMF support for the government’s long-term economic planning.

With talks with the IMF still ongoing, Khan’s new government has been searching for ways to rally its struggling economy. Pakistan has been a regular borrower from the IMF since the 1980s.

Islamabad has received billions of dollars in Chinese loans to finance ambitious infrastructure projects, but the United States – one of the IMF’s biggest donors – has raised fears that Pakistan could use any bailout money to repay its debts to China.

The IMF and the World Bank forecasts suggest the Pakistani economy is likely to grow by 4-4.5 percent for the fiscal year ending June 2019 compared to the last year growth of 5.8 percent

Why Balochs Are Targeting China (Akbar Notezai – The Diplomat)

Over the years, China-Pakistan relations have evolved positively. The mainstream media of the two countries always features the mantra of friendship and brotherly ties. Despite that, however, from day one China has been concerned about one thing in Pakistan: security. Both religious extremists and Baloch separatists have reportedly killed Chinese citizens inside Pakistan in the past.

The most recent incident came on November 23, 2018, when three heavily armed militants from the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) targeted the Chinese consulate in Karachi. Two police officers and two visa applicants were killed. The Chinese officials inside the consulate remained safe, and the Baloch militants were killed in retaliatory firing.

Back in August, a suicide bomber attacked a bus carrying Chinese engineers in Balochistan’s Chaghi district. Aside from the attacker, there were no fatalities, but three of the Chinese engineers were injured along with three security personnel. The BLA was behind that attack as well.

It is no secret that Baloch separatists are opposed to Chinese working across the province. But last week marked the first time that Baloch separatists carried out attacks against Chinese officials in Karachi, which is located outside of Balochistan, in neighboring Sindh province. Many analysts argue that the Baloch separatists wanted to create panic among Chinese officials, and they have succeeded to some extent. Analysts also fear that these kinds of attacks will continue in the future. That is why the attack also raised questions about the security situation for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in Pakistan in general and in Balochistan in particular.

Religious extremists in Pakistan have also reportedly killed Chinese citizens. Their anger dates back more than a decade, to the crackdown on Lal Masjid (mosque) in Islamabad in 2007, which many believe was the result of Chinese pressure on the Pakistani government. More recently, heavy-handed repression China’s Muslim majority region of Xinjiang is also stirring up anti-China sentiments in Pakistan. These factors, among others, have driven religious extremists to act against Chinese citizens in Pakistan. In the past, when Pakistan has taken robust actions against religious and sectarian militant groups across the country, Chinese nationals have been kidnapped and killed in response.

The attacks targeting the Chinese consulate in Karachi and Chinese engineers in Balochistan suggest that Baloch separatists have changed their modus operandi, becoming more radicalized. For instance, they have followed in the footsteps of religious extremists by using suicide bombings in their latest attacks.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa unequivocally condemned the attack on the Chinese consulate and praised the security forces for preventing more serious causalities. After that, Pakistan’s mainstream media, especially TV channels, accused India of being behind the attack on the consulate. Reuters reported that India issued a swift condemnation of the attack on the Chinese consulate, but analysts in Pakistan assert that India has been supporting Baloch separatists in Balochistan, which shares borders with Afghanistan and Iran.

The Chinese Embassy in Pakistan also strongly condemned the attack, stating: “We believe that the Pakistan side is able to ensure the safety of Chinese institutions and personnel in Pakistan. Any attempt to undermine the China-Pakistan relationship is doomed to fail.”

CPEC’s Security Concerns
Baloch nationalists have long been opposed to the Chinese presence and investments projects in Balochistan. They are apprehensive about CPEC developments in their province as many Balochs fear the wave of investment will bring about demographic changes, turning them into a minority group in their own province.

The multibillion dollar project originates from Balochistan’s Gwadar port. That means China cannot simply pull up stakes and move to safer ground; instead, Beijing has to find a way to safeguard its CPEC investments in Balochistan. Chinese engineers have been killed while working in the province in the past, and Baloch separatists have repeatedly taken to social media to threaten assaults on CPEC projects.

It is crystal clear China has its own geostrategic and geoeconomic interests in Pakistan. China thus wants CPEC to succeed at all costs. On the other hand, China is extremely concerned about the Baloch militant groups opposing the CPEC project. Chinese analysts have recommended that the Chinese government take care to build up local support for the project to ensure its success. As Shi Zhiqin and Lu Yang put it in a paper for the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center, “China should abandon its traditional way of dealing only with the Pakistani government and instead get in contact with local communities to better accommodate local interests so that more Pakistani people can benefit from the CPEC.”

The Financial Times also reported that China has been secretly holding talks with Baloch separatists in order to protect CPEC. But soon after the report all the parties involved – China, Pakistan, and the Balochs – denied it.
Balochistan’s former Chief Minister Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch (2013-2015) had been pushing for talks with Baloch separatist leaders. He reportedly held a series of secret meetings with Brahumdagh Bugti, one of influential separatist Baloch leaders. According to some accounts, he was also accompanied by ex-federal minister Lt. General (Retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch. But unfortunately, these talks failed to produce any results.

The Baloch Perspective
CPEC has been dubbed a game changer by Pakistani officials. But have the Balochs been able to voice their perspective? Even though CPEC originates from Gwadar and Balochistan, the Balochs have hardly been discussed in official rhetoric about the project. There is no evidence that the Baloch will reap the benefits of having CPEC in the province.

As a result, many Balochs are apprehensive because their consent was not sought at the time of the announcement of CPEC — despite the fact that their land makes the backbone of the corridor. Also, Balochs themselves foresee a wave of Pakistanis from outside their province arriving and investing in Gwadar following CPEC.

It is a common fear among Balochs – not only Baloch nationalists — that these CPEC-related projects will bring about a demographic change in the near future. Already, many people in Gwadar have sold their lands at cut-rate prices to investors from outside of Balochistan. Baloch nationalists see this trend as a “take over” that it will be demographically a disaster for Balochs, because it will change the ethnicity of the area.

CPEC projects are likely to escalate the conflict between the Balochs and the state, as these two forces did not trust each other from the very beginning. Pakistan has already announced that it will provide a 10,000-strong security force to protect CPEC, while Baloch separatists have carried out attacks on workers along the route.

Pakistan has a history of trying to achieve objectives in a rush, without taking the time to develop a grounded understanding of the issue involved. That history is playing out again in Balochistan with CPEC. The question is: can Pakistan (even with China’s help) bring about development in a province hit by insurgency after insurgency?

Make no mistake: Balochs want development. After all, 75 percent of Balochs live in rural areas. They also want to be part of that development, but before that Pakistan has to resolve the Baloch political issue. Only then can development take place in a safe environment.

Balochs have always been dealt an iron hand. But today, unlike the past, Balochs are educated, literate, and aware of their political rights.

Besides Balochistan, a great number of Baloch youths are studying in different universities of Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. But after completion of their education, they mostly remain jobless. There is a golden opportunity for the state of Pakistan to involve the Baloch youths in CPEC-related projects, both to create jobs for them and create buy-in from the Baloch population. Balochs need to see evidence that the development coming with CPEC is for them, not for outsiders.

If Pakistan fails to convince young Balochs of that, they may join the Baloch separatists in fighting against the state.

Muhammad Akbar Notezai works with Dawn newspaper.

Rupee Tumbles After Pakistan Requests IMF Bailout Islamabad needs some $12 billion to ward off economic meltdown from mushrooming trade deficit and dwindling foreign-exchange reserves

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—The Pakistani rupee dropped steeply against the dollar Tuesday after the government said it was seeking a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, which will likely lead to tough economic policies and slow the nation’s economic growth.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s new administration was forced to turn to the lender of last resort after its planned alternatives to the IMF didn’t work out, officials said, especially aid from Gulf nations.

Economists say the government needs to raise some $12 billion to head off a financial meltdown from its inherited crisis of a mushrooming trade deficit and dwindling foreign-exchange reserves.

The new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan will likely have to rein in spending and increase taxes.

To the alarm of the markets, Mr. Khan’s nationalist government had suggested it could make do without the IMF by raising enough cash through grants and loans from other countries, bond sales and money from overseas Pakistanis. Officials say the government hoped in that way to either avoid the IMF or make any loan much smaller and therefore have less onerous strictures attached.

In particular, Pakistan was looking for cash injections from China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Mr. Khan visited Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. last month to ask for financial assistance. But so far, the requested cash hasn’t materialized from the Gulf. China has provided loans in recent weeks in addition to several billion dollars of short-term lending over the last two years, officials say.

Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, Pakistan’s information minister, said Tuesday that Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. put unacceptable conditions on providing any money. He didn’t spell out what strings were attached, but in the past those Gulf states have pressured Pakistan to join their war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen and pushed for Islamabad to enlist in their campaign to isolate their regional rival Iran
Pakistan is close to Saudi Arabia but at the same time has sought not to antagonize Iran, with which it shares a long border.

“There are no free lunches,” said Mr. Hussain, speaking on a local television station. “Nations look after their own interests.”

There was no immediate reaction from Saudi Arabia or the U.A.E.

Pakistan’s new government, in power for less than two months, had promised millions of new jobs and the creation of what it called an “Islamic welfare state.” Instead it now looks more likely to have to rein in spending and increase taxes under an IMF program.

“Decisive policy action and significant external financing will be needed to stabilize the economy,” the IMF said last week after a visit by the organization’s officials to Pakistan.

An IMF loan would have to cover most of Pakistan’s financial shortfall and would likely come with strict terms for fiscal reform—posing a difficult situation for Pakistanis as the weak rupee leads to higher inflation.

A rescue from the IMF will also be embarrassing for China, Islamabad’s closest ally, which had made Pakistan the showcase for its global infrastructure-building program. Cutbacks in that program can be expected along with IMF scrutiny of Pakistan’s financial obligations to China, Pakistani officials said.

China is building roads, power plants and a port in a $62 billion program in Pakistan.

The IMF move will also push Pakistan into the crossfire of the continuing economic confrontation between China and the U.S. Washington, which has accused Beijing of “debt-trap diplomacy,” said in July that any IMF bailout for Pakistan shouldn’t go toward paying off China.

Imports from China are the biggest nonfuel contributor to the country’s trade deficit. Pakistani officials privately say they would like to renegotiate a free- trade deal with Beijing to make it better for Pakistani businesses, which complain it allows unfair competition from China.

The Pakistani rupee fell as much as 10.2% to 137 rupees to the dollar on Tuesday before regaining some ground. That isn’t far from the biggest-ever, one-day fall of 11% after Pakistan tested its nuclear weapon in October 1998.

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Investors are betting the IMF will want to see the rupee weaken to around 145 to the dollar, said Tahir Abbas, vice president for investment research at brokerage Arif Habib.

“The IMF will want to see the economy cool off, to reduce demand in order to manage the current-account deficit,” he said.

A weakening currency helps a country’s trade balance by making exports cheaper and imports more expensive.

Many economists believed the previous government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif supported the Pakistani currency at too strong a level. Only in its last few months did it allow the rupee to depreciate. The rupee is now around 30% lower than it was late last year.

Pakistan is already scaling back China’s infrastructure-building initiative in the country under the new government, but because of Pakistan’s reliance on China, the retrenchment is being done discreetly.

Around a third of the planned Chinese projects are already under way or completed—financed by Chinese loans or an obligation to buy electricity from new Chinese power plants. The new government still has to decide—now likely with IMF input—on the fate of the rest.

With less government spending, economic growth will likely slow to less than 5% this year after hitting a 13-year high of nearly 6% last year, analysts say.

An IMF spokesman said it hadn’t yet received a formal request for a program from Pakistan’s authorities.
“However, we understand that Pakistan intends to approach the IMF for support. Once we receive a formal request, the IMF will consider it as it does for other members of the IMF,” the spokesman said.

—Josh Zumbrun contributed to this article.