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Kashmir Solidarity Day Observed in New York

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“We applaud the widespread and enthusiastic support in the United States and around the world for the Kashmiri self‑determination cause on this Solidarity Day, a commemoration called by Syed Ali Geelani, Chairman,  All Parties Hurriyet Conference. The participation of Pakistani American community in highlighting the issue of Kashmir at the international level couldn’t be forgotten by the people of Kashmir. And they deserve the gratitude and appreciation of the people of Kashmir, who are literally under siege since August 5, 2019.

The unflinching resistance by the people of Kashmir is a living proof that they are not going to compromise, far less abandon, their demand for Aazadi (freedom) which is their birthright and for which they have paid a price in blood and suffering which has not been exacted from any other people of the South Asian subcontinent,” said Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai, Secretary General, World Kashmir Awareness Forum. Dr. Fai was speaking at a Solidarity day event, organized by All Pakistani American Council, (APAC).

Fai added, “Kashmir continues to bleed. We see the horrendous brutality, unstopped and unpunished barbarities unleashed against the defenseless population. A deliberate, systematic and officially sanctioned massive campaign of brutal oppression launched against the people of Kashmir is still on the increase. There is a deliberate targeting of youth in flimsy hopes to crush a legitimate and popular uprising against occupation. The irony is that the impunity that is being granted to the violator of human rights is not in the context of a new dispute. It is being allowed to arise and to persist in a territory which, under international law, is not part of any member state of the United Nations and whose status is yet to be determined through a free and impartial plebiscite under supervision and control of the United Nations.”

Fai quoted Srinagar based NGO, The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), “ Post abrogation of Article 370 by the Indian Parliament, the State of Jammu and Kashmir has been in a state of siege and lockdown; the lockdown has egregiously affected the daily lives of the people living in the valley. Fai also quoted Human Rights Watch, which issued a report on January 14, 2020, “The Indian government’s actions in Kashmir have led to loss of livelihood and access to education. The repression resulted in international criticism including in the United States’ Congress, the European Parliament, and the United Nations Human Rights Council.”

He said Kashmiris want peace but peace with dignity and honor. No country whatsoever has the right to decide the fate of Kashmir saying that it were the people of Kashmir who were granted the right to determine the political future. 

 The United Nations has the opportunity to affect a positive resolution to the conflict and resulting humanitarian situation by promoting the conditions of the original mandate. It is only through international recognition and inclusive representations that a genuine and lasting peace can ensue. The risks of maintaining the status quo – for Kashmir, South Asia and the world – are too great to ignore, Fai added.

Dr. Fai urged the Trump administration to place Kashmir on its radar screen, because of the American and international consensus that Kashmir pinched between nuclear-capable India and Pakistan is the most dangerous place on the planet.  Now is no time for complacency or temporizing.  The nuclear clock is moving forward, not backward. And the chilling suffering and misery of the Kashmiri people continues every day a peaceful resolution is deferred.

Senator Captain Khalid Shaheen said that Pakistan has always stood by the side of Kashmir’s demand for a plebiscite, because they felt cheated when India invaded Kashmir.  According to agreements then in place in 1947,  majority Muslim provinces within British India would have joined the new state of Pakistan while those primarily Hindu would have stayed in what remained of India.  Kashmir was very solidly Muslim with only a small minority of Hindu and other communal groupings, and a plebiscite would have determined whether or not Kashmir would choose to join Pakistan instead of India. For various reasons, that never happened, and Pakistan has been upset ever since.

He said the killings of innocent civilians in Indian occupied Kashmir must shake the conscience of all peace loving people. He condemned the efforts to muzzle the press and further expressed need to restore the right to  assemble and freedom of expression in Indian occupied Kashmir

We stand in solidarity with the people of the occupied Kashmiris. We condemn in the strongest terms the ban on Internet, social media and restrictions on freedom of opinion and freedom of assembly, said Senator Shaheen.

Sardar Sawar Kahn, former advisor to the prime minister of Azad Kashmir said that it was our duty to support the people of Kashmir who are struggling for their right to self-determination. Our objective is to draw the attention of the world powers to the situation in Kashmir and to exert pressure on the government of India and to resolve dispute over Kashmir  and help stop human right violations in Indian occupied Kashmir.

Sardar Sawar said that the way the Kashmiri youth is confronting the Indian forces and turning the entire Kashmiri movement into a peaceful resistance not only impresses the people of Jammu and Kashmiri but also international community. He added that today the mantle of the freedom struggle of Kashmir has been successfully passed on to the younger generation and they are resolute and determined to take it to its logical conclusion.

Nothing better can be said about human rights there.  Every human rights group that has examined the convulsed scene in Kashmir has reported harrowing human rights violations, including tens of thousands of extrajudicial killings, rape, torture, plunder, arbitrary arrests, and ruthless suppression of free speech and press, Sardar Sawar added.

Sardar Amerjit Singh Ji, leader of Khalistan Affairs Center in the United States voiced deep regret over betrayal of Indian Government  of her high-minded ideals in Kashmir that marked its entry into the family of nations after long years under the British raj: shocking human rights violations and contempt for international law and binding self-determination resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. He urged the community of nations to seize this opportunity to promote an initiative towards bringing about conditions necessary for settlement of the Kashmir dispute. 

Sardar Amerjit Singh Ji  urged the United States to resist the temptation to jettison its traditional foreign policy championing democracy and human rights in the case of Kashmir and Punjab for in the name of big power politics or economic opportunities in India.  Down that road lies a troublesome blow to international law and amity.

Dr. Singh informed the audience that Sikhs all over the world are waiting for November 2020 when they will participate in the referendum to decide the future of Khalistan.

Sheikh Touqeer Haq of APAC said that the resolution of Kashmir issue could have enabled both Pakistan and India to spend their finite resources more on the development of their people rather than on defense expenditure. He expressed his admiration to the Pakistani and Kashmiri American community for being the advocates of peace in the United States for the cause of Kashmir. He said that it is indubitable that the Indian army has committed thousands of human rights violations in Kashmir.

He expressed his unconditional moral, political and diplomatic support to the people of Kashmir for a just and peaceful solution to the long-standing dispute. He said that we stand shoulder to shoulder with our Kashmiri brethren. He said that defying all odds, the brave desire and aspirations of the Kashmiris for liberty and justice remain strong forever.

Mr. Muhammad Hussain, Co-Chairman of APAC said, “An iron-fisted military rule has prevailed in Kashmir, featuring a staggering 900,000 soldiers and paramilitary personnel.  Human rights atrocities against non-combatants are commonplace.  He discounted the United Nations hopes that the dispute could be settled through bilateral peaceful talks between India and Pakistan. Bilateral talks and negotiations over Kashmir between parties have proven sterile for 72 years, and nothing in that dismal equation has changed.”

He said that It is a purely peoples movement inspired from within which aims at regaining the freedom and economic justice that the foreign occupation has usurped. The community of nations must seize this opportunity to promote an initiative towards bringing about conditions necessary for settlement of the Kashmir dispute. 

Sardar Taj Khan said the people of Kashmir have suffered long and needlessly because of this brutal conflict. They demand and they deserve peace. Peace in the region of South Asia remains elusive because of the Kashmir dispute. The inalienable right to self-determination enshrined in the United Nations Charter and promised to the people of Kashmir by the international community, continues to be denied. He said that the whole world knows the magnitude of carnages committed by Indian army in Kashmir but they have yet to utter a word of condemnation.

Mr. Roed Dar of PMLN said that it is gravely sinful for any nation to remain silent or passive over frightful human rights violations anywhere in the world, including Kashmir. He underlined that the way to a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir issue lies in tripartite negotiations between India, Pakistan and the All Parties Hurriyet Conference. He said that it was absolutely necessary to have third party mediation because history shows that bilateral arrangements have never worked out, as India is always insincere.

Mr. Khalid Awan of PPP said that India’s war crimes in Kashmir are notorious.  Soldiers kill civilians with impunity. Indeed, Indian law grants virtual legal immunity to any type of war crime or crime against humanity perpetrated in Kashmir.


Col. Maqbool Malik said that Kashmir’s painful situation is a rebuke to the world powers for their passivity. The world powers need to know that unless India accepts the realities known to the entire world outside the dispute will fester; and that any solution must satisfy democratic principles, the rule of law, and security for every inhabitant of Kashmir. He  emphasized that the brutalities of Indian government cannot and should not go unnoticed. It is the responsibility of the Kashmiri diaspora to be the voice of voiceless people in the corridors of powers all over the world.

Mr. James Cyprian, the Secretary General of Pakistan Christian Association of North America said that we fail to understand why world powers do not want the Kashmiri participation in the talks when the right to choose the destiny of 23 million people was given by the UN Security Council to the inhabitants of the territory and not to the leadership in New Delhi or Islamabad. Any attempt to strike a deal between any two parties without associating the third, will always lead us to a barren land. So, the future negotiations must be tripartite between all parties concerned.”

Mr. Vakil Ansari said Kashmir being a nuclear flash point should be a major interest of the world powers to prevent this dispute from exploding into a conflict which can be catastrophic for a large proportion of the human race. Yet, ever since the start of the popular uprising in 1990 against alien military occupation, United States has remained unmoved by the killings of tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Kashmir.

Mr. Arshad Khan said that we are not asking military intervention. Neither are we asking for rugged economic sanctions. We are asking only that the United States exercise its high international bully pulpit to reproach or condemn India for its chilling human rights record in Kashmir as part of a campaign of moral suasion and transparency in the disputed territory.

Mr. Khurram Khan, the Co-Chairman of APAC enumerated the prevailing draconian laws, like Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which has given the total impunity to the Indian army in Kashmir. An Indian soldier can shoot to kill at will and he will not be accountable to any body or any agency for any prosecution. He added that the Hurriyat leaders have always impressed upon the people of Kashmir to express their dissent in a peaceful manner. The presence of millions of people on the streets of Kashmir cannot be termed as extremists or terrorist. The massive peaceful demonstration has been reflection of the indigenous nature of the Kashmiri resistance movement.

Young human rights activist, Ms. Fatima Zulqurnain Khan said that the world powers need to intervene in setting a stage for the resolution of Kashmir. She said that the world powers do not need to take side of either India or Pakistan. However, as the members of humanity, we need to take side of justice and freedom. We as humans need to be the voice of voiceless.

Mr. Zameer Khan said that vandalism is used to terrorize Kashmiris.  Mobs of soldiers routinely go through neighborhoods breaking windows with large stones, upending autos and motorcycles, setting fire to trucks, and anything else left vulnerable to their attack.  Occasionally they will shoot at the people inside, and many have been killed or injured with buckshot right in their own homes.  Children and housewives have frequently been victims.

Ms. Shabana said that the truth is that the people of Kashmir themselves have always been hostile to the presence of India’s troops on their soil and have resisted to such oppression, and over hundred thousand Kashmiris have died within the past 30 years alone. Long-standing agreements at the United Nations in place have in fact afforded the Kashmiri people the right to determine their own destiny.

Others who spoke included: Ms. Amna Habib, Sardar Hikmat Singh, Sardar Mehmood, Sher Khan, Haji Shari Khan and others.

Development

The Development of microfinance industry depends upon the resilience and risk management: SECP Chairman Amir Khan

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Islamabad : SECP Chairman, Aamir Khan emphasized that in these challenging times the development of microfinance industry depends upon the resilience and risk management, achieved through quintessential pillars of liquidity-tapped through private capital and technology embracement. Khan was addressing the Non-Bank Microfinance Companies Stakeholders Forum organized by SECP to devise a way forward and collaborate strategic response to cope the challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns.

The SECP Chairman Amir Khan, along with Commissioner Specialized Companies Division, Farrukh Sabzwari chaired the session. Representatives of Pakistan Microfinance Network (PMN), State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), National Bank of Pakistan (NBP), Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF), Pakistan Microfinance Investment Company Limited (PMIC), Karandaaz Pakistan and multilateral donor agencies including the World Bank, International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Department for International Development (DFID) attended the session.

 The Chairman SECP advised NBMFCs to go far product diversification to insurance solutions and saving products and build capacity of their workforce to attain business development and operational efficiency. He endorsed formation of a working group consisting of nominees from SECP, PMN, PMIC and NBMFCs to further analyze the situation. The working group will also take up the matters with relevant forums including ministry of finance, SBP and multilateral donor agencies for possible solutions.

Khan expressed SECP’s firm commitment to providing all possible support to industry not only during the current pandemic times but also in developing the industry on a strong footing. SECP Commissioner, Sabzwari highlighted the measures taken by SECP to provide relief and flexibility to the NBMFCs and their wholesale lender in managing funding requirements. He also talked about SECP’s advice to NBMFCs to defer and reschedule borrower loans.

Participants acknowledged SECP’s timely intervention to provide regulatory relief to NBMFCs in managing their credit lines and funding requirements. However, industry representatives expressed their concerns on potential defaults by borrower and liquidity crunch that may lead to capital crisis in the industry.

They raised the need of new money injection into the industry through collaborative efforts of microfinance regulators and the government. Representatives of international donor agencies attending the Forum expressed their resolve to extend fullest possible support to Pakistan’s microfinance sector.    

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Development

Gov’t releases Rs 533.33 billion for various development projects so far

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Islamabad: The federal government has so far authorized release of Rs 533.33 billion for various ongoing and new social sector uplift projects under its Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) 2019-20, as against the total allocation of Rs 701 billion.

Under its development programme, the government has released an amount of Rs 230.3 billion for federal ministries, Rs 175.65 billion for corporations and Rs 43.46 billion for special areas, according to a latest data released by Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform.

Out of these allocations, the government released Rs 38.5 billion for security enhancement in the country for which the government had allocated Rs 53 billion during the year 2019-20.

An amount of Rs 81.37 billion has also been released for the blocks managed by finance division under the government’s 10 years development programme.

Similarly, for Higher Education Commission, the government released an amount of Rs 27.07 billion out of its total allocation of Rs 29 billion while Rs 301.47 million were released for Pakistan Nuclear Energy Authority for which the government had allocated Rs 301.48 million in the development budget.

For National Highway Authority, the government released Rs154.94 billion. Under annual development agenda, the government also released Rs 10.7 billion for Railways Division out of total allocation of Rs16 billion, Rs 7.7 billion for Interior Division, and Rs 8.38 billion for National Health Services, Regulations, and Coordination Division.

Revenue Division received Rs 4.3 billion whereas the Cabinet Division also received Rs 30.18 billion for which an amount of Rs 39.986 billion has been allocated for the year 2019-20.

The government also released Rs 26.9 billion for Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) block and other projects out of its allocations of Rs 27.26 billion and Rs 16.54 billion for Gilgit Baltistan (Block and other projects).

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Covid-19

Pakistan’s small businesses hit hard by COVID-19

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Small businesses in Pakistan have been adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The low demand at home, disruptions in supply chains, constraints in international trading, and expected prolonged lockdowns are now leading to severe cash flow problems, the inability to pay back debts and cancellation of orders from clients. 

This rising uncertainty is gradually leading them to lay off employees which will have welfare implications. In some sectors where recovery is difficult to predict, small businesses have started planning for the worst: complete shutdown. This crisis could also imply a much bleaker outcome for the startup ecosystem in Pakistan.  

The government has announced a SME relief package. The central bank has also come forward to relieve some of the funding and finance related concerns of private enterprises. Yet, many micro and small businesses do not understand how to apply or if they are eligible, to receive such assistance. There are others who argue that this one off relief may not be enough given that businesses are going to face depressed demand for a longer term. Pakistan’s past record of small businesses trying to access such fiscal packages is also not encouraging, partly because many such firms do not access formal banking channels for their needs or banks impose steep collateral requirements. Also, large segments of micro enterprises have the entire or some components of their businesses in the informal sector.

Federal and provincial governments have two issues to address now: how to ensure that small businesses are able to access and utilize existing government-provided assistance, and secondly, what more can be done to support private enterprise in these times.

A progressive fiscal policy and commitment to redistributive taxation is in line with the spirit of Riasat-e-Madinah to which Prime Minister Imran Khan often refers to. A sincere effort is required to reduce the burden of compliance costs faced by small firms- often filing returns several times during a year and to multiple tax bodies across the country. 

Dr. Vaqar Ahmed

On the former, it would be best to start by addressing information and outreach gaps. As the problems for businesses are evolving in real-time, hence there remains a need for structured and more frequent public-private dialogue which should be inclusive enough to also give representation to women, youth-led firms and social enterprises. Such a dialogue will also give a sense to the government about how these businesses will get affected in the forthcoming rounds of Covid-19.

On the latter, I believe the forthcoming budget for the fiscal year 2020-21 should be seen as an opportunity not only to provide support to collapsing businesses but also to put in place economic incentives that encourage enterprises to consider resilient business models. A large part of this has to do with reimagining a better taxation regime.

A progressive fiscal policy and commitment to redistributive taxation is in line with the spirit of Riasat-e-Madinah to which Prime Minister Imran Khan often refers to. A sincere effort is required to reduce the burden of compliance costs faced by small firms – often filing returns several times during a year and to multiple tax bodies across the country. It is an opportunity now to automate, rationalize or eliminate several filing and payment layers in taxation to ultimately help reduce the cost of doing business.

After a lot of persuasion from local think tanks and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), federal and provincial governments agreed to establish a National Tax Council (NTC) to harmonize the general sales tax (GST). 

Currently all provinces have a different structure of GST on services. There are also issues regarding definition of certain activities which the federal government may assume to be under its jurisdiction. Perhaps smaller firms have been the hardest hit due to the fragmented tax structure across the federation and it is time now to expedite NTC’s establishment and work in this direction. Even when the system is finally harmonized, the GST should not be collected by multiple windows at federal and provincial levels. A unified tax return and collection should be made possible through online mechanisms.

It will also be timely to think about which sectors should be motivated to scale up production and services in the face of this health-related emergency. Hospitals and private clinics operating at micro, small, and medium scale are primary candidates for cut in GST on services and even rationalization in direct tax rates. Firms producing personal protective equipment should also see a relief in taxes. The trade taxes faced by such producers or even hospitals importing from abroad need to be revisited. The agro-based and food processing enterprises will need similar help as their input supplies face price and supply volatilities.

Covid-19 also increased demand on several other sectors providing essential services. Our policy circles have rarely seen these sectors as important for the social and mental wellbeing of society until the pandemic struck. It will now be timely to recognize the services of firms (including schools) providing online services. The economic policy managers must think out of the box how best to leverage e-commerce in the battle against Covid-19. 

– Dr. Vaqar Ahmed is an economist and former civil servant. He is author of ‘Pakistan’s Agenda for Economic Reforms’ published by the Oxford University Press. Twitter: @vaqarahmed

Courtesy : ArabNews

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