Pakistan’s role in Middle East deescalation hailed, says Qureshi

In this file photo, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi leaves after addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council on Sept. 10, 2019 in Geneva. (AFP)
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Updated 25 January 2020

Pakistan’s role in Middle East deescalation hailed, says Qureshi

  • Says the country’s diplomatic efforts have produced positive results in the region
  • Informs that US President Donald Trump is planning an exclusive visit to Pakistan this year

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told Arab News in an exclusive interview on Thursday that Pakistan’s mediation gesture during the Middle East crisis in the beginning of the year was applauded by Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“Both Saudi Arabia and Iran have appreciated Pakistan’s positive intentions behind the mediation effort,” Qureshi said, adding that the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, told him during a meeting in Riyadh that Pakistan was “on the right track and all the regional countries should immediately join hands to deescalate the situation in the Middle East.”
On the directives of Prime Minister Imran Khan, Qureshi visited Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States earlier this month to urge all stakeholders to practice “maximum restraint” in the wake of the killing of a top Iranian commander, Qassem Soleimani, in a US drone strike in Baghdad.
“With the help of other countries, Pakistan succeeded in its efforts to deescalate the Middle East situation. The country assured everyone it was willing to be partner in peace but could not become part of any other conflict,” Qureshi said.
“I also contacted foreign ministers of other regional states. Everyone understood the importance of convincing the countries concerned to exercise maximum restraint,” he continued.
“I met with the Iranian foreign minister and president. My meeting with President Hassan Rouhani lasted for an hour wherein we discussed how to defuse the situation and minimize tensions in the region,” the foreign minister said, adding: “I shared all the findings of my discussions in Tehran with my counterpart in Riyadh, saying it was Pakistan’s utmost desire to reduce tensions in the region.”
The minister continued that Pakistan wanted to minimize misunderstandings among Muslim states.
“Saudi Arabia is our very close friend while Iran is our neighbor. We don’t want tensions to mount among Muslim countries since that can be harmful for the whole Muslim Ummah.”
Asked about the expected visit of United States President Donald Trump to Pakistan, he said the American leader would visit Pakistan this year.
“President Trump has expressed his desire to pay an exclusive and independent visit to Pakistan which would not be linked to his visit to India. Pakistan is an independent and important country in the eyes of President Trump, therefore he desires to pay an exclusive visit to Pakistan,” Qureshi said.
The foreign minister said it now depended on President Trump’s “schedule where the visit will fit in.”
“It may come before or after the next US presidential election, but it will take place this year,” he said.

Pakistan decides to suspend Iran flight operation due to coronavirus cases

Updated 26 min ago

Pakistan decides to suspend Iran flight operation due to coronavirus cases

  • Two people, who recently traveled from Iran, tested positive for the virus
  • Officials say the flight operation has been stopped until further notice

KARACHI: The government of Pakistan has decided to suspend flights to and from Iran after the emergence of coronavirus cases in the country, said a senior official of the aviation division on Thursday.

“The Aviation Division has decided to stop all direct flights between Pakistan and Iran with effect from 12am tonight until further notice,” said the department’s spokesperson, Abdul Sattar Khokhar, while talking to Arab News.

Earlier in the day, Chief Minister Sindh Syed Murad Ali Shah urged the federal government to immediately suspend Iran flights after two people, who recently returned from that country, were found suffering from the coronavirus infection.

“The flight operations to Iran is yet to be stopped,” he said while briefing the media about the measures taken by his administration to deal with the situation. “I request the federal minister of aviation to immediately halt flights from Iran.”

Two coronavirus cases were reported in Pakistan on Wednesday, and one of the people was confirmed to be a resident of Karachi in Sindh province.

“One case has been reported in Sindh, whereas the second person tested positive in federal areas,” State Minister for Health Zafar Mirza said during a press conference in Quetta and answered “maybe” when asked if he was referring to Islamabad.

Both the persons traveled to Iran in the past 14 days, Mirza said, adding that they were in stable condition.

The coronavirus patient in Sindh has been identified as a 22-year-old resident of Karachi who is already quarantined.

The man “and other members of his family have been quarantined at a private hospital,” Meeran Yousuf, spokesperson of the Sindh health department, told Arab News, adding that the patient arrived in Karachi on a flight from Mashhad on Feb. 20.

The development followed the establishment of isolation wards in hospitals and closure of education institutes for two days in Sindh.

In Balochistan, which borders Iran, all education institutes have been temporarily closed until March 15 “as a precaution to protect children from the coronavirus,” the province’s education directorate announced in a circular on Wednesday.

The Sindh chief minister said in his press briefing that a separate health center with isolation facilities would soon be established in the province.

Shah said the data acquired from the aviation department confirmed that around 8,000 passengers had traveled from Iran, adding that 1,500 of them had arrived in Karachi and all of them would be contacted for screening.

“A group of 28 people who had traveled along the coronavirus patient has also been identified and will be approached for screening,” Shah said, informing that the person suffering from the virus had been shifted to an isolated place from the Aga Khan Hospital.

Meanwhile, speaking to Arab News, Assistant Commissioner of Taftan Najibullah Qambrani said that a tent-hospital had been set up in the border area. “The border remains closed for the fifth consecutive day and no one is allowed to enter Pakistan,” he said.

Iran has the highest coronavirus toll outside of China. The country’s health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said on Wednesday that 19 people had died from the illness, with 139 confirmed cases in the country.

The World Health Organization says the virus had infected more than 80,000 people around the world, causing over 2,700 deaths, mainly in China.

Experts are concerned that Iran may be under-reporting coronavirus cases and deaths.