· America Letter: $21m for innocent man after 37 years in prison
This week the city of Simi Valley in California announced it had made a $21 million (€18.4m) settlement with one of its residents, Craig Coley. Now 71, Coley spent 37 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. The grievous miscarriage of justice dates back to 1978 when Coley’s ex-girlfriend, Rhonda Wicht, who was then 24, and her four-year-old son were found dead in their home. Cowley was arrested and tried for their murder. The case resulted in a hung jury, and the judge declared a mistrial.
· US-backed fighters expect ‘fierce battle’ with Islamic State.
US-backed Syrian fighters said on IST March they expect a fierce battle with Islamic State militants still holed up in their last enclave in eastern Syria, after US president Donald Trump said the jihadists had been driven from all the territory they held. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have been poised for several weeks to wipe out the last vestige of Islamic State’s territorial rule at the besieged village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border, but the operation has been held up by efforts to evacuate thousands of civilians.
· US offers $1 million bounty for capture of Osama bin Laden’s son
The US government is offering one million US dollars (€879, 700) for help tracking down the son of the late terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. A state department notice says the reward will be paid for help locating Hamza bin Laden in any country as part its “rewards for justice” program.
· Saudi Arabia appoints its first woman ambassador to US
Reema bint Bandar takes role amid lingering strains over Khashoggi murder in Istanbul. The appointment of Reema bint Bandar as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US makes her the first female envoy in the kingdom’s history. She replaces Prince Khaled bin Salman, who becomes deputy defense minister, and is a crafty choice as his successor. Princess Reema is well-tutored in Washington’s ways. Born in Riyadh in 1975, she grew up and was educated in the US capital, where her fathers, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, served as ambassador from 1983-2005. During that time he developed a close relationship with the Republican Party and the Bush family and was a keen supporter of the US interventions in Iraq in 1991 and 2003.
· Man killed after attempting to ‘hijack’ plane in Bangladesh
A Bangladesh flight bound for Dubai made an emergency landing on 24th Feb in Chittagong after a man attempted to hijack the plane, officials said. The suspect, a Bangladeshi, asked to speak to the country’s prime minister before dying from injuries in an exchange of gunfire with military commandos, they said.
· They fixed the Oscars! Or did they just get harder to predict?
Rami Malek, Olivia Colman, Regina King and Mahershala Ali, have won the four acting Oscars 2019 awards. In 2019, three of the four acting awards had gone to people of color and that a monochrome Mexican film had won best director. They might now feel hopeful for the coming time.
- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 25th Feb on his first visit to the Islamic republic since the start of the Syrian conflict.
During the meeting, Assad expressed his gratitude to Iran for all that it has done for Syria during the conflict, according to the Syrian presidency’s account on the Telegram messaging app. The leaders “reviewed the fraternal and strong relations between their two peoples, which have been the main factor in maintaining Syria and Iran in the face of plots by enemy countries”, the presidency said. Khamenei told Assad that “Iran considers helping the government and nation of Syria to be helping the resistance movement and is proud of it from the bottom of its heart”, his website said. “The creation of the buffer that the Americans are seeking to create in Syria is an example of these dangerous conspiracies which must be strongly denounced and resisted,” Khamenei added.
- What is happening behind Taliban lines as the US prepares to pull its troops after 17 years of war in Afghanistan.
On the outskirts of a dusty villages in northern Afghanistan, a mass of Taliban fighters are seen gathered along the side of the dirt roads. They are carrying AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades and waving the militant group’s flag. They stand in stoic silence, staring at us intently. There is no trace of emotion in their eyes. Between 60% and 70% of Afghanistan is now contested or under the control of the Taliban.
The Taliban runs the day-to-day operations at the clinics; the government pays the salaries and provides medicine. This sort of ad hoc cooperation between the government and the Taliban is becoming more and more common in hospitals and schools in contested areas. Under the Taliban in the late 1990s, women were not able to get medical care from a male doctor, work most jobs or even leave the house without a male guardian. So one is surprised to see several female employees at the clinic. Madrasas have a reputation for teaching a harsh, fundamentalist Islam. Under Taliban rule in the late 1990s, girls were excluded from education. But here we see dozens of children — boys and girls — poring over their Qurans, reciting verses as they rock back and forth.
In an effort to show they can provide basic services, the Taliban has started appointing “shadow” governors who compete with the Afghan government for influence and support. In Chimtal district, Mawlavi Khaksar is one such governor. With his heavy black cloak and startling green eyes staring out from beneath a black turban, he cuts an intimidating figure. Khaksar sits across, flanked by four bodyguards, his AK-47 resting on his lap. One of the guards is hunched over a two-way radio, listening for security updates. “We implement the sharia, we follow sharia instruction, and the sharia allows stoning to death,” Khaksar says.
To, many Afghans, however, the Taliban is better known for civilian casualties than civilian governance. The group’s vicious tactics and indiscriminate attacks have left many thousands dead. Last year was a record for civilian casualties, with 3,804 innocent lives lost — including 927 children — according to a United Nations report published this week. The Taliban was responsible for roughly 35% of those deaths, the report said. After almost two decades of war, 2,372 American troops lost and more than a trillion dollars of US taxpayer money spent, the Taliban is stronger and controls more territory than at any point since the conflict began. This fact has the Afghan government on edge as the Trump administration prepares to withdraw thousands of troops. To large parts of the country, the prospect of Taliban resurgence is a terrifying thought. But the reality is that for many Afghans, it doesn’t really make a difference who is in charge. Their quality of life has not improved. And after decades of war and hardship, they’ll turn to anyone who promises peace.
· World’s smallest baby boy goes home from Japan hospital.
A baby boy weighing just 268 grams (9.45 oz) at birth was sent home after months in a Tokyo hospital, the smallest surviving male baby in the world, Keio University hospital said. The boy was born through Caesarean-section last August after he failed to gain weight during the pregnancy and doctors feared his life was in danger. The boy was in intensive care until his weight reached 3.2 kilograms and he was discharged on February 20th, said Dr. Takeshi Arimitsu of the university’s school of medicine, department of pediatrics. “I am grateful that he has grown this big because, honestly, I wasn’t sure he could survive,” the boy’s mother said.
· Nigerian opposition leader rejects Buhari’s election victory
Nigeria’s opposition leader has rejected incumbent Muhammadu Buhari’s claim that he won the presidential election, denouncing the poll as a “sham” and vowing to mount a legal challenge. Hours after the president was announced the winner of 24th Feb delayed election, Atiku Abubakar said that the reason he had not called Mr. Buhari to congratulate him was because he had “never seen our democracy so debased”. Atiku – the former vice president and wealthy businessman is known countrywide by his first name – said there had been “manifest and premeditated malpractices in many states”. He compared the election unfavorably with that of 2007, widely considered the worst in Nigeria’s history, in which Mr. Buhari was runner-up and Mr. Abubakar came a distant third.
· At least 20 killed, 43 injured in crash and fire at Cairo train station.
At least 20 people were killed and dozens injured when a locomotive smashed through the buffers and burst into flames at Cairo’s main train station on 27th Feb. Egypt’s public prosecutor said a preliminary investigation indicated the driver stepped off the train to talk to another driver without pulling the hand brake, causing the unattended locomotive to speed off and hit a concrete platform. Security camera footage from inside the capital’s Ramses station showed the train failing to stop as it arrived at platform six, smashing through the buffers and a metal end railing and exploding into a huge ball of fire. Passengers carrying luggage ran for their lives as the fire spread, and several people were running covered in flames, witnesses said.
· Two days after resigning, Iran’s Zarif returns to work
Just two days after announcing his resignation on Instagram, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has returned to work, according to the country’s state news agency Press TV. The nation’s top diplomat resumed his duties after Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani rejected Zarif’s resignation on Tuesday, saying it would be “against the country’s national interests,” the semi-official Mehr news agency reported. Zarif thanked the Iranian nation and government officials on 27th Feb for their support in the wake of his announcement. “As a modest servant, I have had no concern other than elevating [our] foreign policy and the credibility of the Foreign Ministry as the person in charge of advancing foreign policy and protecting national interests and people’s rights in the international arena,” Zarif wrote, according to Press TV.
· Trump says he walked from North Korea deal over sanction demands.
US President Donald Trump said on 28th Feb he had walked away from a nuclear deal at a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong UN because of unacceptable North Korean demands to lift punishing US-led sanctions. Earlier, both Trump and Kim had expressed hope for progress on improving relations and on the key issue of denuclearization, in their talks in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, their second summit in eight months.
· Wildfires break out across the UK after hottest winter day on record
A wildfire burns on Tuesday, February 26, 2019, on Saddle worth Moor, near Marsden, England. Firefighters have contained a blaze that erupted on moorland in West Yorkshire in northern England, one of the three wildfires that broke out across the United Kingdom as temperatures hit record seasonal highs. The fire, on Saddle worth Moor, burned throughout Tuesday night across about 1.5 square kilometers (370 acres) near the village of Marsden. Orange fire-line streaks and haze illuminated the dark sky. “The fire now looks to be out,” the fire service’s official Twitter account tweeted 27th Feb morning, adding that “5 pumps and 2 wildfire units are still at the scene and will remain there for much of the day to tackle any further hot spots.”
· Rare drone footage captures life amid the rubble in war-torn city.
Striking new drone images from the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, sheds light on the rarely accessible, rebel-held city, under siege for years and bombarded by airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition.
The images were filmed in June by Brazilian photojournalist Gabriel Chaim, who was given limited access by the Houthi rebels who control the city, from where they unseated the Yemeni government in 2015. The footage shows the damage wrought to some of the buildings, but also its enduring beauty and how life goes on amid the rubble and carnage. Striking new drone images from the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, sheds light on the rarely accessible, rebel-held city, under siege for years and bombarded by airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition. The images were filmed in June by Brazilian photojournalist Gabriel Chaim, who was given limited access by the Houthi rebels who control the city, from where they unseated the Yemeni government in 2015. The footage shows the damage wrought to some of the buildings, but also it’s enduring beauty and how life goes on amid the rubble and carnage.
- Boeing Australia on 27th Feb announced plans to make a jet drone with artificial intelligence that can act as a “loyal wingman” for manned jet fighters.
The drone’s software will enable it to fly independently or in support of manned aircraft while maintaining safe distance between other aircraft, Boeing said in a statement on what it calls the “Airpower Teaming System.” The 38-foot-long, single-engine drone with a range of more than 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) will be able to engage in electronic warfare as well as intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance missions and swap quickly between those roles, according to Boeing.
- The United States and the Taliban have paused negotiations in Doha, with the diplomatic push aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan set to restart over the weekend following “solid” talks between the adversaries.
The latest meetings follow marathon talks last month that saw the US and the Taliban walk away with a “draft framework” focused on a potential US troop withdrawal and a pact to prevent Afghanistan from harboring terrorists. Meetings were productive,” tweeted US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is leading the American side during the negotiations. “We continue to take slow, steady steps toward understanding and eventually peace,” he said. “Both sides will take the next two days for internal deliberations, with plans to regroup on2nd March,” Khalilzad added.
· UN says Israel should face justice for Gaza protest killings.
Palestinian paramedics and journalists carry a journalist wounded by Israeli fire during a protest by Palestinians along the Gaza-Israel border in the Gaza Strip on October 5th, 2018. United Nations investigators said on 28th Feb that Israeli security forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in killing 189 Palestinians and wounding more than 6,100 at weekly protests in Gaza last year. The independent panel said it had confidential information about those it believes to be responsible for the killings, including Israeli army snipers and commanders, and called on Israel to prosecute them.
· Many women among bodies found in mass grave in Syria.
Civilians evacuated from the Islamic State terror group’s holdout of Baghouz wait at a screening area held by the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in the eastern Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, on 27th Feb. A mass grave containing the bodies of dozens of people killed by the Islamic State terror group, including many women has been found in territory recently seized by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, an SDF official said on 28th Feb. The SDF is poised to wipe out the last vestige of Islamic State’s territorial rule at the besieged village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border. But the operation has been held up as the SDF seeks to evacuate thousands of civilians.
· Ukraine’s president under scrutiny as court quashes key anti-graft law.
There are claims that Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has failed to tackle graft and governs through backroom deals with cronies. Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko’s reform record is under fresh scrutiny a month before he seeks re-election, after his country’s top court quashed a key anti-corruption law and embezzlement claims swirled around a close ally. The constitutional court in Kiev annulled a law on illicit enrichment this week, forcing Ukraine’s anti-corruption agency (Nabu) to scrap some 65 cases against deputies, judges, prosecutors and state officials whose wealth has aroused suspicion.
· Binyamin Netanyahu indictment: What are the allegations?
Benjamin Netanyahu is the dominant Israeli politician of his generation. No rival comes close in political skill to the Likud Party leader, known widely as “Bibi”. But on 27th Feb, attorney-general Avichai Mandelblit said he intends to indict Netanyahu in three corruption cases on charges of bribery and fraud and breach of trust, pending a pre-trial hearing. The announcement comes just 40 days before Netanyahu seeks re-election at the April 9th national ballot.
· Pressure eases on Canadian PM Trudeau in wake of political scandal
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on 28th Feb won the public support of a top political ally, indicating there is no immediate pressure inside his Liberal Party to oust him over a political scandal. Mr. Trudeau, rejecting an opposition call for his resignation, disputed allegations on Wednesday by his former justice minister that government officials inappropriately pressured her to help the a construction firm avoid a corruption trial.
· Protests continue against Algeria’s phantom president.
Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s grotesque presidency is stranger than political fiction. Bouteflika, aged 81, cannot walk, talk, shake hands or receive visiting dignitaries. He has not spoken in public since 2014, and was debilitated by a stroke in 2013. Yet the phantom president is standing for a fifth term in presidential elections slated for April 18th.Against his standing demonstrations were held across country as Abdul-Aziz Bouteflika seeks fifth term after 20 years in power. Students in Algeria are expected to lead fresh demonstrations against Abdul-Aziz Bouteflika seeking a fifth term as president. Demonstrations began on 22nd Feb when tens of thousands of people took to the streets in towns and villages across the country.
· Eurosceptic minister resigns over May’s decision to give MPs vote on Brexit delay.
Agriculture minister George Eustice has resigned from Theresa May’s government in protest against her decision to give MPs a vote on delaying Brexit on March 14th if they reject her deal.
A veteran eurosceptic who has remained loyal to the prime minister, Mr Eustice said he would continue to support her withdrawal agreement.
· Key Isis media communicator killed in drone strike on Syria
French national Fabien Clain: jihadist has reportedly been killed in a drone attack in Syria. The US-led Operation Inherent Resolve announced the death of France’s most wanted man in a tweet on 28th Feb evening. “A Coalition strike killed an active Daesh media official named Abu Anas al-Faransi, also known as Fabien Clain, in Baghouz,” the tweet said. Daesh is the Arab acronym for Islamic State, also known as Isis. The terrorist group has been hemmed into a small wasteland of wrecked cars and houses, tents and underbrush at Baghouz, on the Euphrates river in southeastern Syria
· Afghan women speak out: don’t trade away our rights
Laila Haidar can be seen enjoying tea and live music with her regular customers and friends at her restaurant, Taj Begum, in Kabul. Haidari runs a popular cafe that allows men and women to dine together, whether married or not, with or without a head scarf, and uses the profits to fund a rehabilitation clinic for drug addicts. It was a rare sight, even after 18 years of progress in Afghanistan: more than 700 women from across the country, gathered to send an unequivocal message to the men now negotiating with the Taliban. We want peace, the women said, but not at the cost of our rights. The conference in Kabul, six months in the making, represented a watershed moment at a time when Afghans are struggling to comprehend what peace with the Taliban would bring, even as the war with the militant group is as deadly as ever. US diplomats are holding talks with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, but the Afghan government is not involved.
· At least 29 civilians dead as Somali militant siege ends
Somali government troops shot dead three Islamist militants holed up in a building in central Mogadishu on ist March , police said, ending a day-long bomb and gun attack that killed at least 29 civilians. Islamist al Shabaab fighters launched the assault with a suicide car bomb outside the Maka Al-Mukarama hotel on 28th Feb evening, destroying other structures, igniting a huge fire and leaving people wounded in the rubble.
- Taliban insurgents targeted an Afghan army corps at their camp in southern Helmand province, killing at least 23, officials said on 2nd March.
Omar Zwak, the spokesman for the provincial governor, said 16 other troops were wounded in the 17-hour battle that ended on IST March night in Washer district. Qari Yusouf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, in a statement, said the insurgent group was responsible for the attack, which came even as Taliban negotiators met for talks with a US peace envoy in the Middle Eastern state of Qatar. He said Taliban fighters engaged both Afghan and foreign forces inside the camp and killed “scores”. Zwak said US advisers were present in the base, but in a separate area. “The foreign forces present at the base were all safe as the Taliban could not reach that part of the compound,” he said.
- Efforts are going on to reach dozens of trapped miners in a gold mine in Indonesia on 2nd
Rescuers are currently not entering the mine in North Sulawesi’s Bolaang Mongondow district while an excavator and other heavy equipment are working on it. No one has been saved from remote mine located in steep terrain since IST March when the death toll stood at eight with 20 people rescued. Authorities believe about three dozen miners remain trapped. “Since yesterday we have heard no more voices from inside. On this fourth day the signs of life faded away,” said Paputungan.”But we still try to save them even though at the moment it seems like a miracle if they can survive.”
· Apple’s problems sound alarm bells about China’s future.
Apple has a China problem. CEO Tim Cook took to the airwaves on 27th Feb to announce earnings miss for the fourth quarter of 2018, which he attributed to a decline in sales in the China market. The slump reflects a broader slowdown of the Chinese economy as the consequences of the ongoing trade dispute between China and the United States begin to manifest. For careful observers, this should not come as a surprise. China’s fourth quarter 2018 purchasing managers’ index data was at 49.4, a clear signal that China’s economy is slowing — anything below 50 signals a slowing economy and dampened prospects for future growth. China’s economic vulnerability is based on its very unbalanced growth model. In other advanced economies such as the United States, spending by consumers contributes as much as two-thirds or more of overall GDP. In China, consumption has risen from 35% 10 years ago, but it is still not near 60% of GDP, indicating an unbalanced economy that places emphasis on exports and investment, both of which, in the long run, are not sustainable. China’s success as an export powerhouse is well understood, as many of the things that American consumers own bear the “made in China” label. Its emphasis on investment-driven growth has come by way of investment in infrastructure, construction, property development, high-speed rail and transit facilities. Investment in infrastructure and heavy construction turbo-boosted China’s economy in 2008 and for the next five years, but it issued a tremendous amount of debt to support such growth. Currently, the debt-to-GDP ratio for China stands at an alarming 250% of GDP, an unsustainable number and one that presents formidable challenge to China’s economic policymakers.
- Global indices as of Ist March 2019 as compared to 22nd February 2019
|Global indices as of ist March 2019|
|Name||Current Value||Prev. Close|
|NASDAQ (Mar 01)||7,595.35||7532.53|
|FTSE (Mar 01)||7,106.73||7074.73|
|CAC (Mar 01)||5,265.19||5240.53|
|DAX (Mar 01)||11,601.68||11515.64|
|NIKKEI 225 (Mar 01)||21,602.69||21385.16|
|STRAITS TIMES (Mar 01)||3,220.40||3212.69|
|HANG SENG (Mar 01)||28,812.17||28633.18|
|TAIWAN WEIGHTED (Feb 27)||10,389.17||10391.55|
|KOSPI (Feb 28)||2,195.44||2234.79|
|SET COMPOSITE (Mar 01)||1,641.44||1653.48|
|JAKARTA COMPOSITE (Mar 01)||6,499.88||6443.35|
|SHANGHAI COMPOSITE (Mar 01)||2,994.00||2940.95|
|SGX NIFTY (Mar 02)||10,885.00||10929.50|
|Global indices as of 22nd February 2019|
|Name||Current Value||Prev. Close|
|NASDAQ (Feb 22)||7,527.54||7459.71|
|FTSE (Feb 22)||7,178.60||7167.39|
|CAC (Feb 22)||5,215.85||5196.11|
|DAX (Feb 22)||11,457.70||11423.28|
|NIKKEI 225 (Feb 22)||21,425.51||21464.23|
|STRAITS TIMES (Feb 22)||3,269.90||3277.91|
|HANG SENG (Feb 22)||28,816.30||28629.92|
|TAIWAN WEIGHTED (Feb 22)||10,322.92||10319.53|
|KOSPI (Feb 22)||2,230.50||2228.66|
|SET COMPOSITE (Feb 22)||1,659.20||1647.32|
|JAKARTA COMPOSITE (Feb 22)||6,501.38||6537.77|
|SHANGHAI COMPOSITE (Feb 22)||2,804.23||2751.80|
|SGX NIFTY (Feb 23)||10,809.50||10807.00|
- A string of violent escalations have pushed India and Pakistan to the brink of conflict, sparking global alarm and calls for restraint between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
What triggered the crisis? – On February 14, 40 paramilitaries were killed in a suicide bomb attack in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir, igniting outrage. It was the deadliest militant attack there in three decades, and was claimed by Pakistan-based group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). Kashmir has been a major flashpoint since the end of British rule in the subcontinent in 1947. A ceasefire line divides it between India and Pakistan, but both claim the Himalayan region in its entirety. Kashmir has seen hostilities during three India-Pakistan wars, as well as a limited conflict in 1999. India has 500,000 troops stationed in the region to counter an armed insurgency by separatists seeking either independence or a merger with Pakistan.
– How did India react? – Prime Minister Narendra Modi threatened a “jaw-breaking” response after the bombing. New Delhi demanded action from Islamabad, which it accuses of using militant groups as proxies to fuel unrest in Kashmir and carry out terror attacks in India. On February 26, Indian warplanes crossed the Kashmir ceasefire line into Pakistani airspace, dropping bombs on what New Delhi described as a large JeM camp where militants were preparing to stage more attacks in India. Islamabad confirmed the incursion and the dropping of payloads in undisputed Pakistani territory, a few kilometers outside the part of Kashmir it controls. But it said New Delhi’s claim of killing scores of militants was “self-serving, reckless and fictitious”.
– What was Pakistan’s response? – An infuriated Islamabad vowed retaliation after the raid, India’s first use of air power on Pakistani soil since the two fought a war in 1971 — when neither had nuclear weapons. On February 27, Pakistani jets flew across the Kashmir ceasefire line in what Islamabad described as a show of strength, hitting open spaces after locking on to military targets. But there was a dramatic escalation when the Pakistani planes were chased by Indian fighters. In the ensuing fight, both sides claimed to have shot down each other’s warplanes. Pakistan said it downed two Indian jets, and detained one of their pilots.
- The Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s Council of Foreign Ministers on 2nd March reaffirmed its “unwavering support for the Kashmiri people in their just cause” and condemned in the strongest terms the recent wave of Indian terrorism in occupied Jammu and Kashmir, according to a press release issued by the Foreign Office (FO).
In a resolution adopted by the 46th session of Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM), the OIC member states reiterated that Jammu and Kashmir remains the core dispute between Pakistan and India and its resolution is indispensable for the dream for peace in South Asia, the FO said. The OIC resolution expressed deep concern over the atrocities and human rights violations in Indian-occupied Kashmir. The resolution, as per the FO, also reminded the international community of its obligation to ensure implementation of UN Security Council resolutions on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. In the context of the current volatile situation in the region, the OIC member states adopted a new resolution sponsored by Pakistan, which expressed grave concern over the Indian violation of Pakistani airspace; affirmed Pakistan’s right to self-defense; and urged India to refrain from the threat or use of force.
- Pakistan has released captured Indian pilot on 1st March as a peace gesture.
Pakistan released a downed Indian pilot back to India on Friday (March 1) amid a tense standoff between the nuclear-armed neighbors. Indian fighter pilot was captured by Pakistan earlier this week after his aircraft was shot down in an aerial dogfight over disputed Kashmir state, returned home on ist March. Wing Commander Abhinandan was captured soon after he descended by parachute after bailing out from his disintegrating aircraft. The PAF shot down two IAF aircraft, and the wreckage of the second aircraft fell in Indian-occupied Kashmir.
· In the line of fire: Kashmir suffers even as tensions ease
Refugees’ camps can be seen on both side of the Line of Control of India and Pakistan showing miseries of Kashmiris. Hundreds in the area are fleeing their homes when barrages of shells fall across the Kashmir frontier. On IST and 2nd March “Two Pakistan Army soldiers embraced martyrdom at Nakiyal Sector in exchange of fire while targeting Indian posts undertaking firing on civilian population,” the ISPR statement read. Earlier, ISPR had reported Indian firing across the LoC, as a result of which two citizens were martyred while two others, including a woman, were injured. A 19-year-old youth, identified as Abdul Ghaffar, was injured in Darra Sher Khan when he was shot at by an Indian sniper from across the LoC.
- The interior ministry has removed the names of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur’s name from the Exit Control List (ECL).
However, names of 1,082 people including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz, son-in-law Captain (retd) Mohammad Safdar and former chairperson Benazir Income Support Program Farzana Raja are still on the ECL.
- The Sind cabinet on 25t Feb approved two allowances for government doctors at par with their counterparts in Punjab, which would cost Rs5.6 billion annually.
Health Minister Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho and the health secretary briefed the cabinet about the demands of doctors from BPS-17 to BPS-20. They said that monthly special health allowance of Rs10,000 to be given to the doctors of BPS-17 and BPS-18; Rs5,000 to those of BPS-19 and BPS-20 while health professional allowance had been enhanced from Rs23,851 to Rs28,472 for BPS-17; from Rs15,956 to Rs19,175 for BPS-18; from Rs15,935 to Rs19,100 for BPS-19 and from Rs15,961 to Rs19,192 for BPS-20 doctors. Every doctor would get two allowances, one professional and the other special healthcare.
- The Supreme Court ordered on 26th Feb to continue the anti-encroachment operation and restore the city in its original form, besides directing the chief secretary to personally supervise the operation.
The hearing related to the anti-encroachment drive was held before the three-member-bench, headed by Justice Mushir Alam and comprising Justice Faisal Arab and Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan at the Supreme Court’s Karachi registry. The Sind Advocate-General, Karachi Mayor Waseem Akhtar and Sind Building Control Authority Director-General Iftikhar Kaimkhani appeared before the court. As the hearing was ongoing, Justice Alam remarked that business organizations and restaurants had been established on small plots. “We also wish that Karachi be restored to its original form and the liveliness of the city return,” he remarked. “There is no place left to walk in the streets,” he said, adding that the SBCA had failed at its job.
- Two unidentified gunmen opened fire on Peshawar High Court (PHC) judge Justice Ayub Khan’s car on 28th Feb morning while he was on his way to the high court, police said.
The judge and his driver, both of whom suffered injuries were shifted to a private hospital, Superintendent of Police (SP) Wasim Riaz said, adding that the victims were out of danger. The incident took place in a residential area in Hayatabad’s Phase V, SP Riaz said. Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Zahoor Afridi said that a 9mm Kalashnikov had been used by the gunmen, who fled the scene after the attack. The police have launched a probe and recorded the statements of two eyewitnesses so far, SSP Afridi told the media. He said that the police were also investigating why a security guard had not been accompanying the injured judge.
- A group of Islami Jamiat Tulaba (IJT) activists on IST March beat a student for accompanying a girl (his class fellow) to cafeteria at the Punjab University.
A mobile footage showed that Nauman, a student of the College of Earth and Environmental Sciences, was sitting with his class fellow at a cafeteria outside Faisal Auditorium when eight to 10 IJT activists came there and thrashed and abused him. The IJT members dragged Nauman to nearby hostel and again gave him a sound beating. Officials of the university administration rescued the boy after some time. A senior official of the university, on the condition of anonymity, said the current administration had given a free hand to the IJT activists whose influence was increasing even in administrative matters with every passing day.
- The body of a Pakistani inmate, who was killed by fellow inmates in a jail in India, was handed over to Pakistani authorities
Shakir Ullah was stoned to death in Jaipur jail following the rise of anti-Pakistan sentiment in India in the wake of the suicide attack in occupied Kashmir’s Pulwama district. The Pakistani inmate hailed from Sialkot. The body was kept in a morgue of a hospital in Rajasthan after the completion of medical formalities.
- In an attempt to resolve Pakistan’s circular debt, the Ministry of Energy on IST March issued a Rs200 billion ‘Pakistan Energy Sukuk’, which, according to a statement shared by Meezan Bank Limited (MBL.
As per the statement, the sukuk was issued through Power Holding Private Limited, a company entirely owned by the government, and is a Shariah-compliant instrument. A meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) on January 29 had formally allowed the power division of the energy ministry to proceed with raising Rs200bn Syndicated Islamic Term Finance Facility from Islamic banks against already approved term sheets for cash settlement of the circular debt, including Rs47bn to provincial governments on account of net hydel profit.
The funds to be raised through Islamic banks would be used to ease out the liquidity crunch engulfing the entire energy sector, including oil and gas suppliers, distribution companies, the Water and Power Development Authority and power producers. According to the Meezan Bank statement, a consortium of Islamic banks led by MBL helped structure the sukuk. Additionally, MBL is acting as the investment agent and trustee of the bond.
- The government on 28th Feb increased the prices of petroleum products by up to Rs4.75 per liter for the month of March to pass on the impact of higher international prices to consumers.
In a decision announced by the Ministry of Finance, the price of petrol was increased by 2.76 per cent and that of high speed diesel (HSD) by 4.45pc. The price of kerosene oil was increased by 4.85pc and that of light diesel oil (LDO) by 3.33pc.
- Fiscal Deficit has now emerged as main threat to the economy.
More recently, growth in the manufacturing sector tumbled to a negative 1.5 per cent for the first six months this year against a positive 7pc last year. The notable challenge is already upon us on the fiscal front — revenues declining for the first time in recent history and expenditures going north — resulting in the half-year fiscal deficit of 2.7pc of GDP, highest after 2.9pc in 2010-11. This is despite a crucifying contraction in development spending having a direct bearing on the lives of people.
That means unless foreign direct investment (FDI) increases from other avenues, its flows from Saudi Arabia will be insufficient to make a dent in the current account deficit and may be able to partially offset outflows on account of $46bn China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) over the short to medium term. In the meanwhile, the good sign is that the current account deficit has declined $1.7bn in seven months and fell almost 54pc to just $809 million in January. It was expanding by $1.5-2bn a month last year.
The bad sign, however, is that the decline was not supported by the trade account or FDI. While the exports grew by about 1.6pc, imports also went up by 1pc, thus creating less than 0.6pc savings on the trade account. FDI was in fact down almost 18pc to $1.45bn in the first seven months of the year. The major contribution of about $1.4bn came from remittances by overseas Pakistanis that is in itself a positive development. More worrying is the almost non-existent correction on the fiscal front despite the government’s claims of austerity and greater fiscal discipline as all major indicators of expenditure and revenue depicted weakness. The fiscal deficit in the first half of the year rose almost 30pc to Rs1.029 trillion in absolute terms — a record.
Defense and mark-up payments surged 22pc and 32pc, respectively, while development spending plummeted 36pc. Half-year defense expenditure increased to 1.2pc of GDP from 1.1pc last year while the mark-up payments reached 2.3pc of GDP from 2.1pc. Total interest payments amounted to Rs877bn, up 32pc, in the first six months of the current fiscal year. Defense spending was up 22pc to Rs480bn. Unfortunately, this led to a cutback on the Public Sector Development Program (PSDP). Spending under the PSDP in the first half of this year plummeted to Rs328bn compared with Rs520bn last year, showing a reduction of 37pc or Rs192bn. This is also evident from the fact that overall development spending and net lending dropped to a paltry 1pc of GDP compared with 1.6pc last year.
As a result, the current expenditure went out of hand and amounted to Rs2.98tr in the first six months, up 18pc. The current expenditure stood at 7.8pc of GDP, significantly higher than 7.1pc of GDP last year. More alarmingly, the total revenue collection dropped to just 6.1pc of GDP against 6.6pc a year ago. Tax revenue was also down to 5.4pc of GDP against 5.6pc last year. Non-tax revenue went down 32pc in absolute terms. The revenue performance in absolute terms was no better either. Total revenue stood at Rs2.33tr in the first half compared with Rs2.38tr last year, showing a reduction of Rs58bn or 2.43pc. This is perhaps a rare phenomenon that revenue collection has been lower than previous year’s and could not keep pace with inflation and the economic growth rate.
|F.C Exchange Rates of PKR as of Ist March 2019 as compared to 23rd February 2019|
|Countries||PKR rate as of 23rd February 2019||PKR rate as of Ist March 2019|
Pakistan Stock Exchange Indices as of IST March 2019 As Compared To 22nd February 2019