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Congress move for Dr Afridi’s US citizenship not legally binding

rohrabacherCongressman Dana Rohrabacher had moved a bill on Friday with the recommendation to grant US citizenship to Dr. Shakeel Afridi, who has been under custody in Pakistan on charges of covertly running a vaccination campaign in Abbottabad to help CIA reach Osama bin Laden s compound.

The US state department s spokesperson, Victoria Nuland said “we are aware of the Congress resolution forwarded for granting US citizenship to Dr. Shakeel Afridi”.  She, however, stressed that the bill had not been finalized as yet, and neither had it been formally presented in the Congress.

“Such resolutions forwarded by individual members, even if approved, are only recommendations and have no legal binding on the administration”, she stated. The Pentagon spokesman, George Little also declined to publicly comment on the case of Dr. Shakeel Afridi in a separate briefing.

He, however, emphasized that “anybody helping US to reach Osama bin Laden was working against al-Qaeda and not against Pakistan”, hinting that the US was not really happy with the treatment meted out to Dr. Afridi, who was being accused of treason for helping a foreign country s forces covertly.

The spokespersons of Pentagon and State Department also expressed ignorance about a letter written by Pakistan s lobbyist in Washington, DC, Mark Siegel to US officials seeking apology for the NATO airstrike on November 26 that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The incident has led to heightened tensions between both countries.

“We are not aware of Pakistani lobbyist s letter  to US officials asking for apology on NATO attacks”, Victoria Nuland said. She, however, sought to press home a point that “we don t conduct our business with Pakistan through private lobbyists, but through officials channels like Ambassador Munter in Islamabad and Ambassador Rehman in Washington”.

“We are respectful of the time Pakistan wants to complete its parliamentary review and remain open to discussion on every issue”, she said while disagreeing that communication lines with Pakistan were suspended as the US was awaiting the parliamentary recommendations.

“Our civilian programmes in Pakistan are going forward without any change or impediment. It s only a question of where we go on security and counter-terrorism issues with Pakistan”, she pointed out.

George Little, while saying that he was unaware of any such letter, said that “we signaled our willingness after the NATO airstrike to brief Pakistan after the completion of NATO attack inquiry report”.

“We have not had a chance to discuss the report with Pakistani authorities in person, but will welcome the opportunity to do so”, he observed while adding that there was no word from Pakistan yet on re-opening of ground supply routes for NATO forces that were closed down in protest after the incident.

Published at Dunya News on February 7, 2012

‘Pak-US relationship to be based on trust, mutual respect’

Ambassador Sherry Rehman to work for re-alignment of Pak-US relationship

Pakistani ambassador to United States, Sherry Rehman has said Monday that “Pakistan-US engagement has to be reinvented on the basis of parliamentary review regarding the current status of relationship between the two countries”.

She was referring to the Pakistani parliament s strategic review of relations with US following the back-to-back controversies that intensified after the November 26 Nato airstrike on Salala checkpost in Mohmand that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Sherry, a former member of Pakistani parliament before taking-up this assignment, said that the current phase of mistrust would not help either side. She hoped that “both sides would strive to build a future relationship on the basis of mutual trust, interest and respect”.

The special envoy of United States for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Ambassador Marc Grossman, also agreed with the assessment of Ambassador Rehman and her views on the importance of Pak-US relationship. He said that both countries have a lot of shared interest to build upon and move forward.

“The two countries, Pakistan and United States, need to cooperate at this critical time”, he said while assuring of the American administration s intent in this regard. “The US administration looks forward to the parliamentary review recommendations besides working with Ambassador Rehman on taking the bilateral relationship forward”, he suggested.

Sherry Rehman was attending a luncheon meeting at renowned Pakistani-American social worker and ambassador-at-large, Riffat Mahmood s residence that was also attended by Congressman Jim Moran, high-ranking US administration officials, senior diplomats and leaders of Pakistani-American community.

Riffat Mahmood welcomed ambassador Rehman and assured that the Pakistani community would extend its full cooperation to the new ambassador. “We will support Sherry Rehman in the realization of the objective she has been assigned”, he stressed.

It may be mentioned here that Ambassador Rehman, speaking at a get-together with Pakistani media last week, had expressed her desire to work closely with Pakistani-American community and forge a partnership with them to project the case of Pakistan. The event at Riffat Mahmood, one of the most well-connected Pakistanis in Washington, DC, was perhaps the starting point of that agenda.

Pakistan not in support of Syrian regime change

Pakistan decided to support UN Security Council resolution against Syria on principles

Pakistan supported a Security Council resolution with regards to conflict in Syria tabled in the United Nations. The resolution could not be passed eventually when it was vetoed by China and Russia during the voting on Sunday.

Senior diplomatic sources, talking to Dunya News, explained Pakistan s decision to support Security Council resolution on Syria in UN. They said that Pakistan had made three specific demands during the deliberations process in the Security Council, and all of these were met.

“Pakistan had demanded that Syria s territorial integrity, unity and sovereignty will not be violated. Pakistan had also opposed the military intervention and regime change in Syria during parles in the Security Council,” sources informed.

“Pakistan also urged both parties in the conflict to bring killings to an end and respect human rights,” sources revealed adding that all three Pakistani demands were accepted by the members in the lead-up to the SC resolution in UN.

When asked about the decision of China and Russia to veto the resolution, diplomatic sources expressed surprise. “Even China and Russia were ready to support this resolution till Thursday after consensus was achieved on the draft. However, they probably had a change in heart on Friday,” they opined.

“Pakistan has good relations with China but has its own position on the Syrian issue, particularly when all its demands had also been met. Therefore, Pakistan went ahead with its principled position,” they pointed in response to another question.

Drawing attention towards the stance adopted by the Arab League on Syria, they said the entire Arab world was speaking in one voice against the Syrian situation and the Arab League had also supported the resolution. “It is difficult to ignore the Arab voice for Pakistan because of the good relations with them, and also because that is consistent with Pakistani position on the issue,” they asserted.

Recalling that the original draft of the resolution had already been changed quite a lot during the last 3-4 days of discussions between member countries of the Security Council, they said “the resolution supported by Pakistan only mentions the political process and human rights situation in Syria.”

“Security Council resolution also makes no mention of military intervention or regime change in Syria,” they said while reiterating the Pakistani position in this regard. “Pakistan is monitoring the situation as it unfolds as it is very hard to ignore killings and human rights injustice,” they observed.

No economic growth without Pak structural changes: IMF

IMF has completed Article-IV consultation 2011 and review of Pakistan's economy

The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has concluded the 2011 Article-IV consultation and proposals for post-programme monitoring regarding Pakistan s overall economic situation.

Giving the current state of Pakistani economy, the IMF says that Pakistan s economic performance has weakened and external pressures are mounting. “In 2010/11, real GDP expanded by 2.4 percent—far below the estimated 7 percent required to absorb the two million new labor market entrants annually—with inflation persistently in double digits”, it pointed out.

“Unemployment is high when underemployment and unpaid employment are taken into account, while poverty incidence and measures of human development are at worrisome levels”, the report reads adding that the efforts to boost revenue mobilization were once again frustrated by a lack of political support, and the fiscal deficit widened to 6.6 percent of GDP in 2010/11.

While the economy is recovering from the floods, the external position, until recently a source of strength on booming exports and workers’ remittances, is deteriorating. “The rupee has come under some pressure, prompting State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) exchange market intervention. The SBP’s foreign exchange reserves have declined by about $2 billion in the last six months”, the report outlines.

Making predictions about Pakistan s economy, based on the on-ground situation, IMF says that “on current policies, Pakistan’s near- and medium-term prospects are challenging. Growth would remain too low to absorb the large number of new entrants into the labor force, inflation would remain high, and the external position would weaken further”.

Notwithstanding the official figures, “IMF estimates that in 2011/12, real GDP growth is projected at 3.4 percent and average Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation at 12 percent”. “Monetary policy has become more accommodative, with the SBP directly or indirectly (through liquidity injections via open market operations) financing fiscal deficits (which is likely to increase inflation)”, it argued.

“A deterioration in the current account balance due to lower cotton/textile prices and a sharp slowdown in remittances growth, continued difficulties in attracting external financing, and the beginning of repayments to the IMF will likely put further pressure on the balance of payments this year, with reserves projected at $12.1 billion by end 2011/12”, the report mentions.

In the absence of corrective measures, the fiscal deficit was likely to reach 7 percent of GDP, much higher than the government’s revised budget target of 4.7 percent. “Moreover, there are considerable downside risks to this already difficult baseline, particularly in the context of an increasingly difficult global environment and concerns about policy weakening ahead of senate elections in 2012 and parliamentary elections in 2013”, it informed.

The report does take into account the background and difficulties faced by the Pakistani economy in the recent past, including external and domestic economic shocks, political uncertainty, and security problems. Despite these challenges, the economic policymakers have taken policy actions and implemented several reforms, including those under the recently expired Stand-By Arrangement with IMF, which helped the economy avoid a full-blown crisis in 2008/09, the report observed.

“These actions and reforms include the establishment of an interest rate corridor, implementation of a more market-based exchange rate regime, and a strengthening of the enforcement powers of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). In addition, the authorities substantially raised electricity tariffs and domestic prices of the main petroleum products, and the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) provided basic income support to the poor during the various shocks that have hit Pakistan”.

Despite the healthy economic outlook and steps taken last year, IMF does forewarn Pakistan about the imminent challenges. “Unresolved structural problems (especially in the energy sector), two major floods, difficulties in implementing key policy reforms, and a more challenging global environment have combined to limit growth and employment creation and made the economy highly vulnerable, with few buffers to absorb shocks”, the Fund suggests. The IMF Executive Board, that takes policy decisions regarding member countries, has assessed that “Pakistan continues to fall short of its economic potential, and called for a reorientation of macroeconomic and structural policies to stem near-term risks to macroeconomic stability, and to lay the foundation for durable and inclusive growth over the medium term”.

In particular, merit in further broadening the tax base, restructuring public enterprises, eliminating poorly targeted subsidies, phasing out commodity procurement operations, strengthening the framework for fiscal devolution and the incentives for provincial governments to raise revenue were recommended.

“Monetary and exchange rate policies need to better focus on containing inflation and external risks. Monetary policy is now too accommodative, and should be tightened if inflation or external pressures increase”, the IMF stated.

Regarding SBP policies, the report says that “central bank financing of the budget needs to be curtailed, and greater operational independence of the central bank needs to be secured. More exchange rate flexibility needed to facilitate external adjustment and safeguard foreign reserves”.

“Rising non-performing loan ratios and other weaknesses in banks’ balance sheets present risks to financial stability. Stronger supervisory oversight, improved mechanisms needed for resolving problem banks, and the prompt establishment of a bank-financed deposit insurance scheme”, the Fund says about the banking sector.

The IMF Directors also urged the authorities to address long-standing deficiencies in the regulatory regimes against money laundering and terrorism financing. They said high priority should be attached to improving the business environment, boosting external competitiveness, and upgrading the power sector to remove its burden on the public finances and provide a reliable electricity supply to support growth.

Later, addressing a press conference, IMF mission chief for Pakistan, Adnan Mazarei, conceded that “Pakistan s security problems and general economic health are a problem. External sector deterioration and remittances are going down because of developments in international economy”, he argued.

He pointed out that “cotton prices have come down drastically, and oil prices increasing which will put pressure on Pakistani economy. Demands for Pakistani prices are decreasing. He said that “energy sector will remain struggling unless drastic structural changes are taken and only price increase will not be able to solve the problem”.

Commenting of the State Bank policies, he said the central bank had pumped a large amount of liquidity in markets, which will increase prices and will also have an impact on bank profits. “It is quite correct to say that Pakistan economy is facing huge vulnerabilities and risks”, he said when asked to remark on the country s financial health.

On a question about Pakistan s expected revenues from granting 3G licenses, he said “Pakistani authorities expect a maximum of 700-800 million dollars from 3G licenses, which will only bring budget deficit down to 6.6 percent”.

With current kind of growth rate, job creation was very difficult, he said adding that “investment climate in Pakistan is not very good, and steps need to be taken to attract it”. “Improving relations with India and WTO tariff exemptions for 75 items recently should help Pakistan in this regard”, he emphasized.

The re-payment of previous IMF loan will start this month (February), he said while adding, in response to another question, that Pakistani authorities had not requested any new loan. “In the foreseeable future, pressure on rupee could continue, balance of payments are also affected by political situation in Pakistan”, he concluded.

  • Published at Dunya News on February 6, 2012

US closely monitoring contempt case against PM Gilani

The US is closely monitoring the contempt case against Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani

The United States administration is keeping a close eye on the contempt of court proceedings against the Pakistani Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, in which he faces the threat of conviction on the next hearing before the Supreme Court on February 13.

The US State Department s deputy spokesperson, Mark Toner Friday said “although this is clearly Pakistan s internal political matter, but we are following as the situation unfolds.” He, however, did not answer whether the US was concerned at the internal situation of Pakistan.

“This case (NRO case) in the Supreme Court is not new and we expect the situation in Pakistan to be resolved as per the Pakistani law and constitution, in a democratic manner.”

He did not reply to another question whether the US government agreed with the assessment that the existing Pakistani government was on its way out in this case.

When asked to comment if the current impasse in Pakistan was limiting the ability of US administration to engage with the Pakistani leadership at a crucial juncture, he disagreed and said “we are in constant touch with Pakistan and Ambassador Munter in Islamabad is engaged with Pakistani leadership regularly on a variety of levels.”

“On a broader bilateral relationship level, we understand that Pakistan is still working on a parliamentary review,” Toner said while assuring of the US administration s intent “to sit down and talk to Pakistan about all the issues as and when they are ready.”

“We have said many times after the tragic attacks of November 26 that we are ready to discuss all issues,” he stressed. A NATO airstrike on Salala check-post in Pakistani tribal area of Mohmand had killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on November 26, sparking an escalation of bilateral tension.

When the spokesman s attention was drawn to President Obama s first on-the-record admission of drone strikes in Pakistan and foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar s statement during Afghan visit about trying to bring Haqqani network to peace, he said “both countries are trying to bring greater focus on threats that we both face.”

“Terrorists operating in those areas are an existential threat for Pakistan, Afghanistan and the whole region”, he warned and stated that cooperation in terrorism-related issues was in national security interest of both Pakistan and the United States.

“As long as we can come together to discuss these issues, that s a good thing.” he pointed out while expressing the hope that discussion on parliamentary review recommendations will provide a way forward for both countries, who have been more like estranged allies of late.