WASHINGTON: Gen Michael Erik Kurilla, the commander of the US Central Command (Centcom), conducted a video teleconference on Friday with Pakistan’s new army chief Gen Syed Asim Munir, and the two military leaders talked about strengthening security cooperation between Pakistan and the United States.
A brief statement, issued by the Centcom headquarters in Tampa, Florida, said Gen Kurilla spoke with Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Munir, who replaced Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa on Nov 29, via video teleconference.
The statement pointed out that the two generals “have a previously established relationship from Gen Kurilla’s time as Centcom Chief of Staff.”
Gen Kurilla congratulated Gen Munir on his new position and “the two leaders discussed US-Pakistan security cooperation efforts and strengthening the bilateral relationship,” it added.
The US State Department issued a similar brief statement on Nov 29, when Dawn asked one of its spokespersons to comment on the change of command in Pakistan and on its possible impact on bilateral relations.
“For 75 years, the relationship between the United States and Pakistan has been a vital one. The United States looks forward to continuing to work with Pakistan to promote stability and prosperity for the people of Pakistan and the region,” the spokesperson said.
The State Department, however, said “the selection of senior military leaders is an internal Pakistani matter. I refer you to the government of Pakistan for any additional questions.”
Although brief, the statements cover the two main points of the relationship between the two nations — “security cooperation” and the desire to continue this cooperation.
The notes also indicate Washington’s willingness to respect the Pakistani military’s desire to stay away from politics and avoid mentioning issues that could be interpreted as political, such as Afghanistan.
Last week, a former White House staffer Lisa Curtis told a seminar in Washington that the US closely watches the change of command in Pakistan as it knows that the military has a major influence on the decision-making process. “I don’t think the future of US-Pakistan relations hinges on who will be the PM in Pakistan… more important is who will be the chief of army staff,” said Ms Curtis.
THE last couple of days have seen some positive news. The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics reported that the nation’s trade deficit has shrunk by a whopping 30pc to $14.41bn during the first five months of the ongoing fiscal to November from $20.62bn a year ago. Then the State Bank announced that Saudi Arabia had extended the term for $3bn in deposits through the Saudi Fund for Development to support Pakistan’s dwindling foreign exchange reserves, saying the move would help meet external sector challenges and achieve sustainable growth. But while these are welcome developments, they will provide only temporary support to the economy. The reduction in the trade deficit is not due to a boost in exports — which face heavy headwinds due to the decrease in global demand amid inflation and elevated energy prices. It is a result of the central bank’s stringent controls on inbound shipments, which declined by over a fifth from last year. With remittances experiencing a downturn because of the rising cost of living in the US and Europe, we have no choice but to hold down our import bill to somewhat ease the pressure on the current account, even if it means drastically slowing the economy. Likewise, the Saudi money is a loan we must return in a year if not extended again. Indeed, there is no other option to get out of the economic mess we have created in the last few years. The problem is that we are not ready to learn from our blunders. When former finance minister Miftah Ismail reached an accord with the IMF after months of hard work for the resumption of its bailout programme, it was hoped the ruling alliance wouldn’t repeat the previous government’s mistakes. Sadly, at a crucial time, Ishaq Dar, a big proponent of a strong rupee, was brought in to replace Mr Ismail to do the impossible: contain the devaluation of the exchange rate, reduce interest rates and tame inflation. However, Mr Dar’s initial actions have produced the opposite of what was intended. The interbank exchange rate has remained range-bound for some weeks but the dollars have vanished from the market due to the expanding gap between the official and kerb market rates. Inflation continues to rise and the State Bank was forced to raise interest rates under pressure from the IMF with its ninth programme review in limbo. The gap between Islamabad and the lender over fiscal slippages continues to widen as the Fund has strong reservations over the finance ministry’s revenue and expenditure — especially flood-related spending — estimates. Consequently, other multilateral and bilateral donors are reluctant to disburse the promised dollars. We have tried to delude the IMF multiple times in the last three years. Each time it has responded with more painful conditions. Now, unless we implement the required governance and financial reforms, sustainable economic stability will remain a pipe dream.
ISLAMABAD: The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) collected Rs2.688 trillion in the first five months of the current fiscal year, exceeding the target set for the period by just Rs8 billion, showed provisional data released on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the last date for the filing of income tax returns was extended until Dec 15.
The revenue collection posted a growth of 15.3 per cent in 5MFY23 against Rs2.330tr collected in the same period last year.
The FBR raised Rs538.2bn in November exceeding the projected target of Rs537bn. Compared with Rs480bn in the same month last year, the revenue collection posted a year-on-year growth of 11.5pc.
Govt extends deadline for filing of tax returns to Dec 15
In October the revenue collection fell short of the target by 17pc.
This growth in July-November is much below what the government had committed to the International Monetary Fund to achieve the annual collection target.
The FBR refunded Rs135bn during 5MFY23 compared to Rs124bn paid last year, reflecting an increase of 8.87pc. This is reflective of FBR’s resolve to fast-track refunds to prevent liquidity shortages in the industry.
Provisional gross revenue collection is recorded as Rs2.823tr for the first five months as against Rs2.454tr collected during the corresponding period of the last fiscal year.
An official announcement said that the FBR appreciated all field formations and officers for their untiring efforts and commitment to optimising revenue collection in difficult times where sales tax collection on imports is showing negative growth.
Achievement of targets was made possible due to extraordinary steps taken in the areas of recovery, monitoring and day-to-day vigilance.
Only in the area of income tax arrears, FBR collected Rs24.17bn during the five months as against Rs11.69bn collected last year. During November Rs8.98bn was collected against Rs6.65bn in the same month last year.
The collection of direct tax registered an increase of 43pc, while the customs collection remained short of the target due to a depression in imports.
A major dip was noticed in the collection of duty and taxes at the import stage mainly due to a fall in imports of non-essential items. The State Bank of Pakistan is approving letters of credit with a delay of four to six weeks. The customs duty collection remained short of the target by at least Rs10bn in November.
A major drop was witnessed in a few major revenue spinners like automobiles—CBU and CKD and other machinery due to the import compression policy of the government. The collection at the import stage contribute almost 50pc in the total revenue collection of FBR.
Third deadline extension
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar on Wednesday announced that the deadline for filing tax returns had been extended by 15 days until December 15 to accommodate those taxpayers who did not file their returns by Nov 30.
He urged the nation to take advantage of this opportunity and file their tax returns at the earliest.
The PTI government had done away with the extension of the last date to improve compliance with tax laws and restricted the last date close to the statutory period of 90 days to file their tax returns by Sept 30. Last year, the date was only extended to Oct 15, 2021.
ISLAMABAD: A day before the change in command at the army’s General Headquarters (GHQ), Bahawalpur corps commander and former director-general of the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) Lieutenant-General Faiz Hamid opted to seek early retirement and sent his resignation to the high command, DawnNewsTV reported on Monday while quoting unnamed sources.
The channel also reported that the authorities had already accepted his resignation ahead of the new postings, expected to take place after taking over the charge of Chief of Army Staff Gen Asim Munir today (Tuesday).
There was no official confirmation from Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) regarding the development, but the reports seem be credible as neither the ISPR nor Gen Hamid himself has came out with a denial.
One of the media outlets reported the development while quoting “family sources”.
Gen Faiz was among the six senior-most generals whose name was included by GHQ in the list of potential candidates for the two top military offices, sent to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif for approval last week.
Before assuming charge as Bahawalpur corps commander, Gen Hameed had worked on the same position in Peshawar. He had been the target of criticism from PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz for allegedly having a role in their convictions and for backing the previous set-up under PTI.
There were also reports that Chief of General Staff Lt-Gen Azhar Abbas, whose name was also on the list, had also decided to resign from the office.
Both officers were set to retire in April 2023.
ISLAMABAD: In the wake of PTI’s decision to dissolve the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies, PM Shehbaz Sharif and PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday met for a second time in eight days to discuss ways to prevent a possible political crisis.
The prime minister is also expected to meet with other allies in the ruling coalition in the coming days to discuss the possible dissolution of both assemblies and chalk out a future course of action.
According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the meeting took place at the PM House, where both leaders took stock of the current political situation in the country.
They also reviewed the process of rehabilitation following this year’s catastrophic monsoon floods, and the condition of displaced flood victims amid the onset of winter. “Both leaders agreed to expedite the process of rehabilitation of flood-hit people,” an official press release said.
Sources in the PPP told Dawn that the PM has tasked Mr Zardari with re-establishing Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM) government in Punjab.
The former president, who is famous for his ability to eke out political solutions where none seem to exist, will soon travel to Lahore.
Before this meeting, Mr Zardari has also met Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who is believed to be the voice of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) self-exiled supremo Nawaz Sharif, as well as Mutahidda Qaumi Movement Convener Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui and Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Saturday made a pitch to Turkish entrepreneurs to invest in a 10,000-megawatt solar power project for Pakistan, saying “my investor is my master”.
The premier sought the investment while addressing a meeting of the Pakistan-Turkiye Business Council in Istanbul, where he reached later for a two-day visit.
He told the investors that his government was resolved to cut down “very expensive” imports of oil and petroleum products, on which $27 billion was spent last year. “We simply can’t afford this.”
So, he explained, his government had invited foreign investment at a conference in Islamabad around a month and a half ago for a 10,000MW solar power project.
PM had given approval for the execution of the solar project in September as part of measures to reduce the import bill.
“It’s not just a paper, or a talk, or a feasibility,” he said about the project today. “I, along with my colleagues, […] am committed to this philosophy that we shall implement this scheme with in letter and spirit with our own resources, with investment from Turkiye, from China, from Saudia Arabia, from Qatar, from the UAE (United Arab Emirates), from the United States of America, from wherever.”
He assured the investors that the Pakistan government would create a conducive, enabling and friendly environment for them to invest in the project.
“Please try to understand that past is past, and we are walking into the future with a sense of great understanding, learn our lesson from the past.
We will move forward with this commitment that my investor is my master. And that’s what I believe — not from today but from ages — and that’s what we are going to implement in times to come,“ he convinced his audience.
“Please be ready with your coffers open,” he urged them, announcing that his government would be organising a special conference for “my Turkish brothers and sisters” where a presentation would be given on the plan for the project.
He also assured the investors that speedy payments to them would be ensured.
“It will be a complete departure from the past. Within 60 days, Turkish, and of course all international investors, will be paid without recourse to any third party,” he said, adding that the payments would be speedy and transparent.
The premier said believed it would be a “gateway for a new order in Pakistan” and allow the country to save billions of dollars by cutting down on fuel imports.
“Please trust me, trust my words. Come to Pakistan and, I will show you that, God willing, we will be great partners in this great investment portfolio, which will be a win-win situation,” he urged the investors. “You will get very nice profits and we will benefit, getting energy from the sun.”
PM Shehbaz assured them that the bidding process would be transparent and fair and bureaucratic delays.
He also asked the Pakistan ambassador in Istanbul to facilitate the Turkish investors in coming to Pakistan.
“Please come to Pakistan. Brother Naveed Qamar will receive you at the airport, roll out the red carpet […] and I will be breaking bread with you and have a complete discussion over there. And we will only open the doors of the rooms once we have come to a firm and concrete understanding of everything,” he told the investors.
Pact for enhancing trade volume PM Shehbaz also urged the need to enhance trade between Pakistan and Turkiye.
He regretted that while had a long history of fraternal relations, this was not properly reflected in the volume of trade and investment between the two countries.
The premier said he was aware the entrepreneurs in Turkey were keen to invest in Pakistan and called for resolving problems impeding trade and investment between the two countries.
“Let’s learn from our experience from the past and move with speed so that we can compensate for the losses of the past … There is infinite potential and capacity on both sides. Let us synergise them. Let us put them together.”
He stressed the need to cut the red tape and simplify business regulations to promote investment, announcing that Pakistan and Turkey had signed a memorandum of understanding to increase the trade volume between the two countries to $5bn from the existing $1-1.5bn in the next three years.
He assured the Turkish businessmen that any problems they were or would be facing would be addressed and resolved.
Later, he said in a tweet that in addition to reviewing the whole spectrum of bilateral relations, “President Erdogan and I discussed ways and means to achieve the target of increasing trade volume to $5 billion in three years.
We vowed to ensure effective implementation of the Trade in Goods Agreement in this regard.“
On defence cooperation, the premier said at today’s meeting that Pakistan and Turkiye had already started the process of joint cooperation on this front and assured that the cooperation would be enhanced in times to come.
“We will have wonderful opportunities to defend our countries through our mutual cooperation,” he said.
The premier said Turkiye and Pakistan were two brotherly counties that believed in peace, in “peaceful means to exist and co-exist in this world which, unfortunately, believes might is right. And with their military progress and financial muscle, some have the habit of dictating terms.
“But we believe in peaceful means and peaceful instruments, and that has to be the world order.”
Earlier, the PM termed the launch of a Milgem Corvette ship as one of the “finest moments” in ties between Turkiye and Pakistan which will strengthen and enhance the two countries’ defence production and joint cooperation.
PM Shehbaz witnessed the inauguration of the third of four Milgem Corvette ships for the Pakistan Navy at the Istanbul Shipyard on Friday.
The Milgem project — based on a joint collaboration between Turkiye and Pakistan — was signed with ASFAT inc, a Turkish state-owned Defence contractor firm in 2018, according to which the Pakistan navy would acquire four Milgem-class ships from Turkey.
Speaking about the project today, PM Shehbaz said Milgem Corvette was a “great step forward” in terms of defence cooperation between the two countries.
ISLAMABAD: Members of two bar associations on Friday called for “effective accountability” of judiciary and registration of FIRs on journalist Arshad Sharif’s murder, Senator Azam Swati’s video clip and assassination attempt on Pakistan Thereek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan.
It may be mentioned that an FIR has been registered in the PTI chief’s case but he has rejected it, saying it lacks names of people he suspects of being behind the gun attack on his Wazirabad rally earlier this month.
The demands were made through a joint resolution issued by the Islamabad High Court Bar Association (IHCBA) and Islamabad Bar Association (IBA) after a seminar the two bodies had organised on ‘Rule of Law’.
The resolution demanded that the Supreme Judicial Council be made active and operational so that accountability of all privileged institutions could be done in a transparent manner.
IHCBA, IBA oppose ‘abuse of power’ by any institution, say FIRs should be registered as per complainants’ wishes
The two organisations emphasised that there should be “no abuse of power” by any privileged institution, lawmakers, leaders, judges, bureaucracy (both civil and military)”. They called for action against “the persons responsible for the abuse of power” and those who had violated the civil rights.
They said that all citizens, institutions and privileged persons should be held accountable without any discrimination. At the same time, they added, state institutions must be independent, impartial and custodian of the rights and liabilities enunciated under the Constitution and law.
The resolution demanded registration of FIRs in the cases of Arshad Sharif, Mr Swati and the Wazirabad incident as per the demands of the complainants.
The lawyers’ bodies said that the “Judicial Commission of Pakistan should adhere to the principle of seniority in the elevation of Supreme Court judges until and unless the rules are framed for this purpose. Moreover, the elevation of judges in the High Courts may also be made on merit”.
They supported the creation of new benches of Lahore High Court at the divisional level in Punjab to ensure dispensation of inexpensive and expeditious justice in accordance with principles laid down in Article 37(d) of the Constitution.
They sought freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed under the Constitution.
The resolution said that the elite’s capture of the system must be ended and every citizen must be treated alike and equal with the obvious principle of equal protection of law. Civilian supremacy is the key for political stability while political stability continuing with good governance is the basic factor for achieving the economic stability.
According to the resolution, “all the democratic forces must work for civilian supremacy, [and] political and economic stability.”