Government to use Covid-19 fund for interest payment

Pakistan’s economy was in doldrums even before Covid-19 hit. Just recently Moodys issued an alert and placed Pakistan on a watch list of countries that may default on private foreign debt.

On Wednesday, according to a report in The Express Tribune, the federal government. “allowed diverting Rs10 billion from the coronavirus relief funds to pay interest on loans taken to retire circular debt and approved terms of negotiations for debt restructuring to reduce electricity tariffs.”

Further the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet “allowed allocation of Rs10 billion from the PM’s Covid-19 relief package as a stop-gap arrangement for the payment of interest on the Pakistan Energy Sukuk II for a period of six months or amendment to the Nepra Act whichever is earlier, according to a finance ministry handout.”

The ECC also “approved the terms of reference for negotiations with power generation companies” in order to “reduce the capacity charges of power generation companies through synthetic financing.” However, as the Tribune story pointed out “the government is unlikely to secure any major relief. Currently, the front-loaded tariffs of all the power generating units, whether in the private sector or in the public sector, have resulted in consistently higher tariffs at the consumer end, according to the finance ministry.”

Yet, as per the government’s own estimates, “debt refinancing might face several issues. Depending on the size, each generation project could have a consortium of 5-6 long-term lenders, on average, including banks, local and international DFIs, export credit agencies, bilateral and multilateral as well as private lenders. Refinancing each project, one by one, may not be feasible. Most lenders may not agree to extend their maturities given the credit profiles. Secondly, building consensus in each consortium will take a longer time. Also, the government will have to replace the existing guarantee on the debt portion of the projects with the individual government of Pakistan/sovereign guarantees instruments. According to the terms that the ECC approved, the projects, having three years or more left in their debt, will be eligible for the scheme. The scheme will be applied across-the-board, however, projects having material reasons will be exempted from the scheme. The debt payment to be spread over 10 years after the current repayment period power tariff will be lower than the prevailing tariff during the initial years, however, in the remaining period of 10 years, additional tariffs will be charged to the consumers.”

‘Pakistanis Confront Arrogance of Military Elite’

A Colonel’s wife arrogantly refused to stop at a road barrier erected by police, abused policemen on duty, tried to forcibly remove the barrier, and threatened to run over the policemen. She asserted the privilege of being an army officer’s wife as being enough to disregard the law.

The entire episode was captured on a video that went viral and resulted in a twitter hashtag in Urdu that translates as #theColonelswife #کرنل_کی_بیوی

The episode shows how military dominance and control has bred a culture of superiority among even the family members of military officers.

As a Baloch tweeter wondered aloud, “If the wives of army officers can be so arrogant, you can imagine the arrogance of army officers who have been given free rein to kill and dump in Balochistan.”

This is not the first time something like this happened.

In 2016 two army officers used uniformed soldiers to beat traffic police officials who gave them tickets for speeding and reckless driving. The Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), Pakistani military’s media wing, had insisted they would investigate the incident and that “law will take its course in disposing of the case and justice will be done.” However, four years later nothing has happened on this front.

Pakistani dissidents hold virtual conference titled ‘Enforced Disappearances, State-sanctioned killings, & Diminishing Democracy in Pakistan.’

Participants from Pakistan, U.S., U.K., France, Netherlands and Canada joined the two-hour long deliberations held online.

Washington D.C : Several Pakistani freethinkers, human rights defenders, peace activists and dissenting voices from around the world gathered virtually on Sunday and took strong exceptions to the state policies post-COVID-19 especially the tactics used by the security establishment to undermine democracy and fundamental freedoms.

The virtual conference was attended by prominent Pakistani human rights defenders, public intellectuals, journalists, scholars living in Pakistan as well as those living in exile in different countries. The prominent participants included politicians Senator Afrasiab Khattak, Farah Ispahani, Mohsin Dawar; activists Gul Bukhari, Gulalai Ismail, Saba Ismail, Waqas Goraya, Annie Zaman; journalists Taha Siddiqui, Marvi Sirmed; and intellectuals like Kamran Shafi, Dr. Saghir Shaikh, and Rasool Mohammad.

In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, this is the first virtual event organized by South Asians Against Terrorism and for Human Rights (SAATH), a grouping of pro-democracy Pakistanis co-hosted annually by author and former Pakistan ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani and US-based columnist Dr. Mohammad Taqi. SAATH Forum has an established tradition of holding widely attended Annual Conferences since 2016. Earlier this year, 4th SAATH conference was held in Washington DC.

Several participants including left leaning social and liberal democrats; Baloch, Sindhi, Pashtun, and Seraiki nationalists; and intersectional feminists noted with concern that the situation in Pakistan has escalated several notches from being a hybrid democracy to a hybrid martial law. Mohammad Taqi said in his opening address that the purpose of this conference was to do advocacy. “We need to raise our voice since the situation in Pakistan is quite bleak. There is a lot of intellectual suffocation,” Mr. Taqi said.

The conference kicked of with an intervention by Mohsin Dawar, Pakistani parliamentarian and PTM (Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement) leader, who spoke about the current political climate in the country. “Unfortunately, Pakistan’s political parties are compromised. The military is everywhere. They are micromanaging Pakistan. There is a vacuum for a real democratic force in the country,” he told the participants.

Senator Afrasiab Khattak raised the issue of clandestine efforts by the establishment to roll back the provincial autonomy provided by the 18th constitutional amendment. “We must resist the onslaught against democracy and especially the 18th Amendment. Since 2014, there has been a creeping coup and going after the amendment is part of that agenda,” Mr. Khattak said.

Activist Gulalai Ismail raised the issue of thousands of displaced Pashtuns who continue to live without their homes because of militarization of the tribal belt. “This has given rise to Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM). Arif Wazir is just one example of many target killings in tribal areas,” Ms. Ismail said, pointing to the recent high-profile killing of a PTM leader in Waziristan.

Journalist Taha Siddiqui highlighted the recent case of exiled Baloch journalist Sajid Husain, who was found dead in Sweden. “His mysterious death is a concern to all dissidents like us abroad. I hope Swedish authorities can catch the perpetrators, but if its the work of Pakistani agencies, its unlikely that they left a footprint,” Mr. Siddiqui said.

Former Parliamentarian and author Farahnaz Ispahani raised the issue of the violence against and perpetual oppression of minorities in Pakistan. “The minorities in Pakistan are struggling even more due to Covid-19. We must focus our efforts in providing them relief. They are the most vulnerable group in the country in this pandemic,” Ms. Ispahani said.

In his conlcuding remarks, Husain Haqqani also spoke about the pandemic and its impact on Pakistan. “The post Covid-19 environment will only aggravate Pakistan’s crisis. Instead of persisting with old, failed policies, a new approach must be adopted. It should be based on tolerance, democracy, genuine federalism,’ Mr. Haqqani said. He further added that Pakistan has a better chance moving forward as a democracy and a federation. “Unfortunately anti-democracy elements paint democrats and pro-federation voices as anti-Pakistan,’ he added.

Over 30 participants joined the conference that used the #SAATHVirtualConf2020. The hashtag trended in Pakistan. We also received reports that Pakistani users experienced Twitter and other social media websites outages, which we suspect was done to disrupt the Pakistani public from following the conference’s deliberations.

For further details on the deliberations, official posters and screenshots of the conference, please visit the official Twitter account (www.twitter.com/ForumSaath).

Pashtun mothers in pain over escalating, heinous Taliban Attacks’

On May 12, 2020, the Afghan Taliban launched a heinous attack on a maternity ward in the Afghan capital, Kabul. The number of people killed in the militant attack has risen to 24 with mothers, newborn babies and nurses among the victims. At least 16 people were injured.

As Lyce Ducet of BBC News wrote “Even in a country which has seen the worst of the worst, this savage attack on newborn babies and their mothers has shocked, and shaken fragile hope this would be the year Afghanistan would finally start to turn towards peace. Images of special forces in bulky body armour, carrying infants to safety, will remain long in the memory of those who have repeatedly called for a ceasefire – especially when Afghans are battling another deadly enemy in Covid-19. Despite Taliban denials that this ghastly attack was their work, President Ghani’s denunciation reflects the anger and frustration of many. Some worry that groups like Islamic State, trying to drive an even greater wedge between Taliban and the government, have also killed for now what were slow uncertain steps toward peace talks.”

On May 13, the Pashtun Council of America, released an open letter from Afghan mothers to the United States, the UN and other international organizations calling for support for lasting peace in Afghanistan and asking the international community to help end the killing spree and deaths.

The letter is below.

Where is Idris Khattak?

In November 2019, Idris Khattak, a Pakistani human rights activist and independent researcher, was kidnapped on the Swabi Motorway Interchange. He has not been seen since. Khattak’s family and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) believe he has been “forcibly disappeared” by Pakistan’s deep state.

Amnesty International, human rights watchdog posted an appeal on its website: “No one has seen him since the evening of 13 November when he was taken by men in plain clothes on a motorway between Islamabad and Peshawar. His whereabouts and fate remain unknown to his family. Amnesty International fears that Khattak could be at risk of torture, ill-treatment or worse – as suffered by other victims of enforced disappearance in Pakistan. Khattak is also a patient of diabetes and needs daily medication.”

On May 14, 2020, Khattak’s daughter Talia wrote an oped titled “You may have abducted my father but you can’t take away his bravery.” Talia stated, “My father, Idris Khattak, a devoted human rights defender and the most selfless man I know, was forcibly disappeared on 13 November 2019. I have not heard from him. No one has any idea where he could be. We don’t even know who took him. In Pakistan, enforced disappearances have been used as a tool to muzzle dissent and criticism of the state. People are abducted by the very institutions that are supposed to protect them and placed outside the law. There is no arrest warrant, no record, no investigation – as if the person never existed.”