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OIC emergency conference

Speaking at the OIC emergency conference in Istanbul, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi complained that there has been a lack of substance in this organization’s for expression of solidarity with the struggling Muslim Countries. He said Pakistan urges the United States to rescind the decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem, fully comply with all applicable United Nation Security Council resolutions and to recommit unequivocally to the two- states resolution. He said, “Together with OIC and Islamic world Pakistan has always demonstrated solidarity with Palestinian people and their legitimate aspirations for a promised homeland.”

The prime Minister reiterated Pakistan’s firm stance for a viable, independent and contiguous state of Palestine on the basis of internationally agreed parameters, the pre 1967 borders and with Alqudus as its capital. He lamented that we have not given concrete shape to our expression of solidarity. This has been true, not only for Palestine but for other common causes as well. Prime Minister’s critique against the docility of OIC is the reflection of thinking and aspirations of Muslims living in 55 countries. This organization has done nothing concrete for strongly supporting the Intifada of Palestinians against Israel and freedom struggle of Kashmiris’ against India. The leadership in Islamic countries remains subservient to the Western Imperial Powers and has sided with their Patron-in- Chief, the United States in the implementation of New World Order, which resulted in the destruction of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and GCC countries toed the United States policy in civil war in Syria. After the abortive coup, Turkey has changed its policy towards Syria. There is a rivalry for supremacy in the gulf region between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The disunity among the Muslim countries is benefiting Israel. The civil war in Yemen has also divided the Islamic countries in rival camps. OIC has all along failed to prevent aggression against its member countries and resolution of disputes between them. It has never become a strong block like the European Union influencing the world affairs despite the vast resources of the Islamic countries. The situation in Syria and Palestine may inflame a big war engulfing a number of countries of the Middle East. Hopefully, the rulers of Islamic countries will demonstrate sagacity, and courage to defeat the nefarious designs of enemies of Muslims before it is too late. The speech of Pakistan’s Prime Minister should be taken as a wake-up call by the Muslim Ummah.

 

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Power policy framework

Prime Minister Shaid Khaqan Abbasi chaired a meeting of the Cabinet Committee for energy in which appropriate amendments were decided in the power policy frame work. Renewable energy policy 2006 also came under discussion in the meeting and progress on the ongoing projects was reviewed and future projects were deliberated upon.

It is not yet clear as to whether the price of electricity will be lowered reasonably or it will be jacked up further in view of massive circular debt and oil shortage with the Pakistan State Oil (PSO) and other companies. The past experience and record high price of the Liquefied Natural Gas(LNG) point to the likely increase in the power tariff which will further stagnate the agriculture and manufacturing sectors and give a death blow to the foreign trade, aggravating the  already alarming current account deficit. The prices of energy inputs in Pakistan are the highest in the world because of shady energy procurement international contracts like the LNG import signed with Qatar, the document of which is not brought for discussion in the parliament.

The All Pakistan Textile Association (APTMA) and Textile Exporters Association (TEA) have demanded for bringing at par the prices of energy inputs with India, Bagldesh, Thiland and China to enhance Pakistan’s comparative advantage in the regional and international markets. The same demand has been put forward by the producers and exporters of rice, rice husking and cotton ginning mills besides manufacturers of engineering, sports and surgical goods. The price of electricity is Rs. 3 per unit in Bangladesh; in India Rs..5, and in Pakistan it is Rs. 25 for consumers whose consumption is above 300 hundred units. How our finished industrial products and primary commodities can compete with fairly cheaper ones of other countries? Not a single cotton plant is grown in Banladesh but it fetches $ 27 billion from export of cloth and ready made garments which is more than the value of Pakistan’s total exports despite the fact that best quality cotton is grown in our country. Likewise, the LNG tariff in China is $ 6 per BTU; in India is $ 7, and in Pakistan is $ 11 per BTU. The countries which import LNG from Qatar intend to revise their contracts for lowering its price whereas the government of Pakistan is not willing to make public the LNG deal with Qatar.

The country has a tremendous potential of renewable energy sources like hydro, wind and solar power generation. But the skewed preference for the costly and health hazardous thermal power generation is the main obstacle in the way of deriving the desired benefits from  hydro, wind and solar energy to achieve an optimal mix and substantially bring down the electricity tariff for the domestic, commercial and industrial consumers. The present proportion of costly thermal power is 70 percent in the total power generation which is the major cause of power theft, high production cost in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors. As the construction of big dams does not seem possible in the near future hence priority should be given to small dams and hydropower stations thereon. The previous provincial government of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa forwarded a number of projects of 100 plus mega watts, with total capacity of 2100 megawatts of power generation, to the federal government in 2012. But the present federal government approved only one project of 117 megawatts in Chittral. These feasible power projects of KP have a comparatively shorter period of completion which will help restore the balance between hydro and thermal power generation enabling the government for downward revision of power tariff.

The share of wind power is hardly 1.2 percent in the power whereas great potential for cheap its generation is available in the provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan which need prioritizing in the decision making of the federal government. The pertinent question is as to why the previous and present federal governments did not opt for exploiting the renewable energy resources and could not prepare a long term energy policy for inexpensive power generation? The way out lies in a comprehensive energy policy by giving more wastage to renewable energy resource exploitation.

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Delay in FATA reforms

The PML- N government has made mockery of the much needed FATA reforms and has indulged in dally dallying to implement the approved reforms package for the tribal areas. A few days ago SAFRON Minister Abdul Qadir Baloch announced that a bill for repealing the Frontier Crime Regulations and extension of jurisdiction of superior judiciary to the tribal belt will be tabled in the National Assembly on December 11. But it was not on the agenda when session of the lower house started. Prior to the exclusion of this bill from the agenda, feelers were released to a certain section of  English print media for making the people believe that economic and cultural impediment and opposition from some political parties may delay the  implementation of FATA reforms, which have already been approved by the federal cabinet

The exclusion of FATA reforms bill, which was meant to appease the leadership of JUI (F) and PkMAP, infuriated the Lawmakers from opposition and FATA. They encircled the Speaker’s dais and tore copies of the agenda, while walking out of the House in protest. The political parties including Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf, Jamat-i-Islam, Awami National Party and Qaumi Wattan Party are on the same page for the early implementation of these reforms, the delay in which amount to violation of basic rights of the tribesmen. PML-N is also not apparently opposed to the reforms as is evident from the Cabinet’s approval. It is sheer injustice to make FATA reforms hostage to the whims of JUI (F) as PkMAP does not have any vote bank in FATA.

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Lopsided energy policy

The successive government from 1973 starting from Bhutto era till date has deliberately ignored to chalk out a compressive and affordable energy policy. Construction of big and small dams along with hydro power stations was not built merely for such political reasons that ran counter to the national interest. The country was pushed to grave water and power crisis. Adhoc energy strategies base on thermal generation driven by personal monetary interest were implemented which made the energy input very expensive which badly hit the productivity in agriculture and manufacturing sectors of the economy. But the government is still to build the thermal power plants ignoring generation cost and health hazards these plants will create for the poor people which are considered scrums in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Addressing the ground breaking ceremony of coal based 1263 MW thermal power plan in Haveli Bhadarshah area of Jhang district, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, claimed that the government had successfully accomplished the mission of load-shedding free Pakistan rather it had launched the projects to suffice the country’s power needs till 2030. He said currently there was no load-shedding in the country except in the areas where the cases of power theft are being reported. The claim of load-shedding free Pakistan is debatable. There was no load-shedding in cities last year during winter because the demand for power dropped by 7000 mega watts. Same is the case during the current winter. They can claims of load-shedding free Pakistan only if there is no load-shedding during summers because in winters the power consumption goes down drastically.

The pertinent question is as to why the government is not interested to construct small and big hydropower stations and opt for the ones which will use the imported coal rather than coal reserves in KP, Baluchistan and Sindh. This is because of the shady deals in the award of international contracts for thermal power generation. These plants of obsolete Chinese technology will pollute the air in the provinces of Punjab and Sindh causing fatal diseases like Asthma, Emphysema and Cancer due to toxic levels of smog. Moreover, like furnace oil and diesel, the price of coal may also go up and add to the chronic problem of circular debt in the long run. After the Paris agreement of Climate Change, most of the countries are now gradually closing the diesel and coal fired power plants. Even Germany, whose thermal power plants use sophisticated technology, with built-in antipollution devices like Carbon dioxide Scrubble, is closing coal based power plants. But the government is frantically helping China to dump its health hazardous thermal power plants, having no Carbon dioxide Scrubble, on our soil to bring down the number of death as result of pollution caused by the coal fired power plants.

The water crisis is also looming large because of the animosity of the political elite towards the construction of big dams on Rivers Indus. The construction of multi-dimensional Kalabagh dam has been abandoned forever.  Diyamir Basha dam project has hit a snag because of the irrational financing conditionality of China and its construction may not be started in the near future. Construction work of Monda Dam on River Swat and Kurram Tangi may also not be started according to laid down schedule. Former minister of water and power Khwaja Asif cautioned about likely water crisis and turning of fertile lands of Punjab and Sindh into desert but he could not persuade his emperor Nawaz Sharif to temporally forgo the motorway  projects and give priority to the construction of big and small dams. Almost all countries of the world have given priority to the environment friendly and renewable energy generation projects like hydropower stations and wind mills. Power generation from these sources is inexpensive and fairly affordable for domestic, industrial and commercial consumers. The construction of small and big dams will also bring green revolution because agriculture is the main stay of economy as we very proudly claim. Let us hope that our rulers will get vision and foresight to work out a useful water and power policy and national interest will reign supreme in their decision making.

 

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Political Pyrexia

Patience calm and forbearance used to be the dominant attributes of the temperament of the Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. When he was federal minister in Nawaz Sharif cabinet, he always remained calm and cools to the opposition sharp critique against the government and preferred to avoid firebrand response like Khwaja Saad Rafiq, Talal Chaudhri and Danial Aziz. But now it seems that he has lost his cool.

Speaking at the ground breaking ceremony of 1263 mega watts thermal power plant in Haveli Bahadar Shah Area of Jhang district, the Prime Minister ridiculed the possibility of an alliance of opposition parties. In a sarcastic tone he said, “When you add zero to a zero you get zero as the answer.” This was a direct reference to the ongoing political activities at the Model Town Residence of Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) Chief Dr Tahirul Qadari. A string of politicians including PPP Asif Zardari have turned up at Allama Qadari residence since the Justice Baqir Najfi Report on the tragic Model Town police action has been made public. The flamboyant Railway Minister Khwaja Saad Rafiq and sober Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal are also contributing their shares to vitiate the political atmosphere. Talking to reporters, the railway minister said that the proponents of quick march are not politicians. Directing a lampoon against the leadership of PAT and PTI, he said that our opponents can go to the extent of forging alliance with “Satan.”   This is not the language used in political jargon. The Interior Minister claimed that Qadari, Rizvi, and Zardari can not bring down the government. There is no need to bracket the former president with the diehard opponents of the government as he all along pleads for reconciliation in politics. The leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Syed Khursheed Shah has categorically stated that PPP will not be a part of any alliance that wants to bring down the government and derail the democratic system.

A famous saying goes, “Do not invite a trouble to trouble.”  But the PML-N leadership not only does that it is also fond of hitting a live bomb for no apparent reason. Before the arrival PAT Chief Allama Tahirul Qadri from abroad in June 2014, the railway Minister Saad Rafiq said in function that we will give such hospitality to the Maulana that he will not forget it for whole life. Punjab government ordered police action against Minhajul Quran Secretariat in the garb of removing the barriers in Model Town. The scene of inhuman brutality was shown live by electronic news channels for hours and the Chief Minister Punjab Shabaz Sharif remained a silent spectator to the ongoing human tragedy. In view of mounting political pressure, a judicial commission of a single Judge of Lahore High Court was formed by the Punjab government with a narrow term of reference, but report of Justice Baqir Najfi Commission was not made public. It has now been released after the verdict of Lahore High Court.  Instead of accepting the findings of report, the Punjab law minister Rana Sana Ullah described it inconclusive.  The Chairman Pakistan Awami Tehrik Dr Tahirul Qadri has demand for the formation of Joint Investigation Team like Panama leaks to investigate the carnage of innocents in Model Town. He has already hinted a sit-in on this matter. Chairman Pakistan Tehrik-i- Insaf, Imran Khan has publicly announced his party’s support for PAT on this issue.

Another instance of inviting a trouble was the decision to amend the Khatm-i- Nabuwwat Oath Declaration. The protest rally of Tehrik-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA) was not engaged in negotiations by the Punjab government in Lahore and under a tacit understanding it was allowed to move forward to Islamabad and lay siege to the Capital. After three weeks in the wake of court decision, the federal government opted for using force to end the Faizabad sit-in instead of holding a much needed meaningful negotiations. The move backfired, however the military leadership played a sagacious role in ending the sit-in amicable manner.  Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid has resigned but the issue of Khatam -i- Nabuwwat is still there. Number of PML- N law makers has handed over their resignations to Pir Hameed-ud-Din Sialvi.  A declaration of 100 Mashiakh has signed a declaration demanding the resignation of Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah.

The situation in the Middle East has become explosive after President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem the capital of Israel. The instability in Afghanistan has a direct bearing on the law and order in Pakistan. It is time the ruling political leadership gives a chance to reasons and demonstrates statesmanship rather than instigating the opposition parties to launch a protest against the government.

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Currency depreciation

The first round of talks between the visiting team of International Monetary Fund (IMF) and high official of the government concluded in which the advice of this international donor agency for depreciation of currency was conceded. Pakistani Rupee was constantly losing value in exchange with US dollar and other hard trading currencies. The State Bank would now let the currency exchange rate to adjust to market conditions.

The advice for the currency depreciation was resisted almost for two years. But at the same necessary fiscal and monetary measures were not taken for exports facilitations and imports substitution.  Expanding the tax base with direct taxes was made a prohibited tree to appease the affluent people and the poor majority was overburdened with a barrage of regressive indirect taxes. The repeated requests of rice, and textile exporters for lowering the tariff of energy inputs to reduce production cost and incentives for exports were not considered, rather contemptuously rejected. The three years stock of rice is accumulated in warehouses and could not be exported. On the contrary, irrational regulatory duty was slapped on a large number of essential and nonessential consumer goods in violation of World Trade Organization regime for free trade. The tough regulatory duties invite retaliatory countervailing duties from trading partners.

The timing of currency depreciation was planned to ensure the materialization of $2.5 worth receipts from Euro and Sukuk bonds floated in the European and American markets. The depreciation in the value of rupee will certainly increase the debt burden. This move allowed the currency exchange to touch Rs. 11o to a US dollar before setting around Rs.108. Devaluation or depreciation of currency is not the plausible answer for deteriorating exchange rate unless deep seated structural weaknesses of the economy are addressed. The 60 percent deliberate devaluation of Rupee by Z.A Bhutto government did not boost exports rather it shook the foundation of the hitherto stable economy.

Though reflecting a positive trend in the external sector, the overall volume of exports and workers remittance would not close the trade gaps and current accounts deficits without effective imports substitution policy. It is a matter of shame for the feudal and mercantile class dominated government and parliament that Pakistan has to import those fruits and vegetables the production of which used to be surplus in the decade of 1960s. Exports can be increased with selected subsidies and enhanced productivity. But the productive capacity of the economy can not be boosted unless the prices of energy inputs like electricity and gas are reasonably lowered; surcharges on POL reduced, and sale tax rate brought down. But the government is not willing to improve the economic environment by slashing down the cost of doing business. Although Ishaq Dar is no more the finance Minister yet the “Darnomics” legacy is all pervading in the economic decision making. The debt burden will remain unmanageable without moving to self-reliance in strategic areas, because dependence on foreign loans can not be reduced and there will be no escape from periodical recourse to IMF bail outs with more tough conditions.

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Hinting foreign policy shift

Addressing a seminar hosted by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Foreign Minister Khwaja Asif hinted at shift from the United States towards China and Russia. He said Pakistan policy for long had remained US centric; however, the time has come to review our foreign policy and shift its focus towards Russia and China. He emphasized that revisiting foreign policy is the need of the hour.
The foreign minister, apparently give an indication of inclination towards the left block of the world, saying “China lives next to us and we have a common wall. Russia can also be our good friend” But in the same breath give the antithesis of likely shift in foreign policy referring to the present ground realities. “We can not have an independent foreign policy until we are economically strong, the Minister mentioned. Khwaja Asif admitted this fact that United States has been Pakistan biggest trade partner. “We have to convert our diplomatic outpost to trade outpost,” adding that Islamabad might improve and correct its relationship.
Unlike the vague gesture of Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Russia is very clear about closer cooperation with Pakistan. The Indian media asked the Russian Deputy Foreign Sergei Ryabkov during his recent visit to India, about Russia relations with Pakistan and its stance on Indian application for membership of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). He categorically admitted that Russia is looking forward to build its ties with Pakistan, which he described a country taking interest in multilateral forums. However, he clarified that Moscow has no “hidden agenda” in its dealing with Islamabad. “I can assure you that Russia ties with no country in the world will come at the expense of its relationship with India,” said Ryabkov. About the Indian application for NSG membership, Russia Deputy Foreign Minister said that India’s application can not be interlinked with that of Pakistan and Moscow is discussing the issue with Beijing at different levels. China has favored a criteria based approach for expansion of 48 member group which controls the international nuclear commerce.
Pakistan civilian leadership is confused how to respond to the diplomatic initiatives of Russia in the region. On the other hand, Indian leadership is closely watching the Russian moves on the foreign policy front. They are convinced that Russia is searching a new ground in Pakistan and closer cooperation between the two countries can be a game changer for both Pakistan and South Asia. They are of the view that Moscow is now busy in resetting the balance of power in South Asia. It refused to call off its first ever bilateral military exercises with Pakistan on India’s request following the militants attack on the military base in Uri in September 2016. In another instance of this change at the Heart of Asia Conference in Amritsar, on 3rd and 4th December, the Russian envoy disapproved the branding of Pakistan as a terrorism exporting country.
CPEC has offered Pakistan a strong economic and political fall-back in the event of deteriorating relations with the United States. Russia is interested to link the Eurasian Economic Union with CPEC. Hence, Indian leadership visualize Moscow move as a sign of proscribing the growing rapprochement between Washington and New Delhi in the form of strategic partnership. They also know that Russia will throw its weight behind Pakistan for the stability in Afghanistan. Kabul stability is an add-on to peace in Central Asia. Moreover, peace in Afghanistan will open a gateway to a sprawling market for Russian goods.
The Foreign Minister has rightly emphasized the linkage between independent foreign policy and strong economy. But who is to blame for ruining the economy with massive corruption, extravagance, macroeconomic imbalances and entangling the economy in a debt trap? Certainly, the previous PPP and present PML-N governments are responsible for this economic mess. The only option for breathing on economic ventilator is another IMF bail-out package much bigger than earlier loan program of $ 6.2 billions. The United States enjoys 70 percent of voting rights in the World Bank and IMF. Does the present weak political leadership can show spine to decide a shift in foreign policy? Beggars are no choosers. That is why PML-N government could not take a tough and clear stance on President Trump’s decision of recognizing Jerusalem the Capital of Israel whereas Turkey, Iran and other Muslim counties gave a sharp response.

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Contaminated drinking water

It is very pathetic that PPP government, which ruled over Sindh province for the past ten years could not even provided clean drinking water to the people. But on the contrary spends billions of rupees on cultural shows and party public meetings. The Islamabad political power show is one such example of extravagance and lavish spending.

PPP leadership right from Z.A Bhutto down to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari used to claim day in and day out to have rendered sacrifices for ameliorating of the condition of poor people. But, while in power, they deliberately neglect the very basic problems confronting the people, in which provision of clean drinking water is most essential as it directly affect the human health. It should have been a matter of shame for the Sindh government and PPP central leadership that drinking water supplied to the home town of party founder, Larkana is contaminated with human waste. This is what the most oppressive feudal leadership of the party will deliver to the people who vote for them in the name of democracy.

The Judicial Commission constituted by the Supreme Court, to investigate the authorities’ failure to provide clean drinking water, found that up to 90 percent water supplied to Karachi is unfit for human consumption due to the presence of bacterial contamination. The report is based on laboratory analysis of water samples collected from surface and underground water sources from different parts of metropolis. A constitutional petition was moved by a concerned citizen and lawyer against the provincial government failure to provide potable water and better sanitation to the people. The Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, while presiding over a three Judge Bench at the Supreme Court Karaci Registry try, during hearing of the petition expressed dissatisfaction over the prevalent conditions of availability of water.  “The situation in Sindh is very painful for me, he said. “Human waste is being used in drinking water,” the Chief Justice of Pakistan remarked. Chiding the Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah for incompetence of Sindh government, the Chief Justice asked him if he was ready to drink that water. He said, “I wish Pakistan People’s Party Chairman Bilwal Bhutto was present here to see and become aware of the situation in Larkana.”He told the Sindh Chief Minister, “You are an elected leader; only those nations succeed that believe in knowledge, leadership and law” The Chief Justice Supreme Court  proposed a six month deadline to solve the problem of unsafe drinking water and also hinted at extension if needed.

A lot of publicity was given to the setting up of Reverse Osmosis plants in Sindh to provide clean drinking water to the people of the province who the present PPP leadership claims to be under the spell of Bhuttoism. One may ask, “Is this the reward of their love for Z.A Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, and Bilawal Zardari Bhutto?”How long the feudal class of Sindh will mislead and cheat the most oppressed people of the province by using the name of Z.A Bhutto?  Is this the democracy, the tune of which the ruling feudal-mercantile political elite frequently harp when their musical chair is in danger? The civilian government dominated and controlled by this oppressive class purposely slash down substantially the education budget to deprive the people from acquiring knowledge by virtue of which they will become aware of their rights and duties. The Chief Justice Supreme Court has very aptly summed up the mind set of the ruling class in these remarks, while reprimanding the Sindh Chief Minister, “You are an elected leader, and only those nations succeed that believe in knowledge, leadership and law.” It is a moment of soul searching for the political leadership.

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CPEC financing

China has stopped funding of some projects particularly those related to the road network under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) on the pretext of new guidelines to be issued from Beijing, a senior government official revealed to the media. The decision seems to have come in the backdrop of 7th Joint Coordination Committee (JCC) meeting held in Islamabad 20-21 November. In this meeting China may have pressed once again the demand for making its currency Rinminbi (Rmb) a legal tender for trade purpose in Gawadar.  The State Bank has already objected to granting the legal tender status to Chinese currency.

This currency has yet to establish its International status for global trade because Rmb payments collapsed in 2016. International payments using Chinese Renminbi fell by 29.5 percent in that year. The Rmb has now fallen out of world’s top five payment currencies like US dollar, European Union Euro, UK Pound Sterling, Japanese Yen and Canadian dollar.

The decision of stopping funds could affect over Rs. 1 trillion road projects of the National Highway Authority. It is not yet fully clear how wide the impact of delay will be, but initial reports confirm that at least work on three road projects will be delayed. The projects to be affected include the 210 kilometer Dera Ismail Khan Zhob road, to be built at an estimated cost of Rs. 81 billion and the Rs 19.76 billion 110 kilometer Khyzdar  Basim road. The Rs. 8.5 billion 136 kilometer remaining Karakoram Highway from Rackot to Thakot is also impacted. Funds for these three road projects were approved in the 6th JCC meeting held last year. But during the Joint Working Group (JWG) meeting on the eve of 7th JCC moot, Pakistan was informed that new guidelines will be issued under which new modus operandi for release of funds will be described.

Delay in the release of funds results in escalation of project cost. The CPEC cost has already gone up from $ 46 billion to $ 56 billion.  Pakistan is paying demurrage charges to Chinese contractors because of delay in construction work on Dasu Dam. The tough conditionality for the construction Diya Mir-Bash dam has compelled the federal government to withdraw this project from the financing frame work of CPEC.The Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal, who beats the drum of CPEC to be the game changer, is not revealing the details of long term plan of this Corridor and its related projects. There is a consensus among the independent economists about the debt servicing aspect of CPEC. They are of the view that Pakistan will pay back $ 3.5 billion annually for the FY 18 and FY 19. And from 2020 to 2030 the pay back debt liability will be $ 5 billion during each financial year. The cumulative debt obligation will be $ 90 billion. Against this debt liability the income to Pakistan from road tax will be $ 500 million per year. It is not clear as to whether the cost of roads maintenance will be born by China or Pakistan. The ministry of planning must bring out the cost-benefit analysis of CPEC and should not keep it secret from the people of the country.

 

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Think before you leap

The International Financial Institutions (IFCs) and independent economist have warned that the federal government should initiate immediate corrective measures if they want to save the country from falling in debt trap which will become a reality if business as usual continues. They blame the former finance minister Ishaq Dar for the current finical difficulties particularly his ill conceived policy of acquiring high interest bearing short term commercial loans and barrage of regressive indirect taxes wiping out comparative advantage of Pakistan’s exportable primary commodities, finished goods and value added items.

It is worrying that current account deficit is feared to go beyond $ 17 billion by June next year and $ 23 billion in 2019-20. Two teams, each headed by the central bank governor and finance secretary, recently visited Europe and United States to hold road shows for floating Euro and Sukuk Bonds with a view to arrest the deteriorating foreign exchange reserves. Though Pakistan raised $ 2.5 billion, the amount is far less what the country requires to avert a potential balance of payments crisis. History, it appears is repeating itself. In 1999, Ishaq Dar used to say that engineered default is not acceptable, whereas in fact he had pushed the economy to the verge of default. The foreign exchange reserves had plummeted to the dangerous level of $ 300 million when PML-N government ended in October 1999.

Two difficulties are emerging with a vengeance, making mockery of the rulers and bringing to the fore their sheer incompetence to deal with pressing financial and economic challenges. It is pertinent to mention that Pakistan has been placed among four out of 10 countries that would default soon on repayment of external debt. The oil producing Venezuela has already defaulted. The international rating agencies have added Pakistan, Egypt and Ecuador to the list of potential defaulters. “Time is running out and it is high time to act before nothing is left to fall back upon, “warned renowned economist Dr.Hafeez Pasha.Thre is no rocket science, he said, to understand that this time around business as usual will not help overcome serious emerging challenges.”I can very well anticipate that our foreign exchange  reserves could slide to $ 7.8 billion by the end of June 2018,as such, it would be insufficient for just six weeks of import”, he cautioned.”Under these precarious circumstances, floating $1to 2 billion Euro/Sukuk Bonds would not be enough, therefore I suggest taking remedial measures including increasing exports to avoid a major financial disaster,” he added.

The independent economists believe that repayment obligations will swiftly grow on commercial debt besides the maturity of $ 2 billion Sukuk Bonds. In their opinion, if Pakistan does not mobilize $ 10 billion within the current financial year, it could face a default as is being anticipated by some international agencies including Bloomberg. Pakistan has to pay $ 6.5 billion over the next six months. So far the government has succeeded in obtaining both, short term and long term loans from all internal and external sources to avoid default.. Now when Bloomberg extensively talk about defaulting countries, International Financial Institutions (IFIs), foreign commercial banks and other private lending organizations would not be that generous to oblige Pakistan.The problem has compounded as the United States, which enjoy 70 percent voting rights in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, does not seem inclined to be favoring Pakistan to much at the moment to bail it out.

Former accountant finance minister Ishaq Dar had a myopic vision of the economy as compared with the highly capable technocrats like Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, Shaukat Tareen and Dr Salman Shah who intelligently managed the economy in the previous governments. He mismanaged the economy by taking easy recourse to massive borrowing at very high interest rates from all sides which eventually resulted in the accumulation of unprecedented debt. This is in that backdrop that independent economists believe Pakistan is facing an imminent debt trap and that bad time is ahead due to inaction of the present government. Who could imagine that current account deficit would increase over by $ 1 billion every month. It reached an unprecedented level of $ 12 billion last year despite reduction of $ 5 billion in annual imports. The solution lies in facilitation of exports. The government is already giving subsidy on the export of sugar and wheat. The same facility must be extended to the export of rice, sports goods, surgical items and light engineering products besides immediate refund of Rs.200 billion of sales tax to overcome the liquidity problem of exporters.