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.

Daily wagers say government’s virus relief package won’t cover minimum needs

Updated 30 March 2020

Daily wagers say government’s virus relief package won’t cover minimum needs

  • Assistance to reach 3 million workers — less than a half of the affected, according workers’ association
  • The support package is part of the government’s Rs1.2 trillion scheme to minimize the impacts of the pandemic

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government on Monday approved Rs17,500 ($106) monthly cash assistance for around 3 million daily wage workers who lost their jobs amid cutbacks and shutdowns over the coronavirus crisis. The amount may be insufficient for them to survive.

“Something is better than nothing in this critical time, but this amount (17,500 rupees) isn’t enough even for a small family of five members to get by, ” Zahoor Awan, secretary general of the Pakistan Workers’ Federation (PWF), told Arab News.

“A small family needs at least 50,000 rupees per month to fulfill all its expenses including house rent, food and utilities,” he said.

The Rs200 billion financial support package is part of the government’s Rs1.2 trillion fiscal stimulus scheme to minimize the adverse impacts of the disease outbreak on the country’s fragile economy.

“It was estimated that around 3 million workers will fall in this category and they will have to be paid a minimum wage of Rs17,500 ($106) per month,” the government’s Economic Coordination Committee said in a statement on Monday.
The government will disburse the money to workers through provincial labor departments.

“This is a substantial and major commitment from the government at this difficult time,” Khurram Husain, business analyst and editor at Dawn daily, told Arab News, adding that the labor departments will have to generate “authentic data” on the workers for the funds to be fairly distributed.

However, the very data on which ECC based its relief may be unreflective of the reality. 

While the ECC estimates that 3 million daily wage workers have been affected by the shutdown of commercial activity across the country, according to PWF’s Awan the number is at least 7 million.

He said the government’s package covers only the formal industrial sector. “What about those thousands working in small hotels, shops, self-employed, and others who aren’t registered with labor departments?” he said, adding that it is necessary for the government to broaden its definition of daily wage earners.

Ghulam Mustafa, a daily wager at a textile mill in Chakwal, said that prior to the business shutdown his monthly income was Rs26,000.

“It’s impossible to meet all the expenses with Rs17,500,” he told Arab News. “The government should waive off our utility bills along with this allowance.”