Afghan peace talks couldn’t have happened without Pakistan’s ‘unconditional’ support — Zalmay Khalilzad

United States special envoy for peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in a meeting with Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on September 14, 2020. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan army)
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Updated 14 September 2020

Afghan peace talks couldn’t have happened without Pakistan’s ‘unconditional’ support — Zalmay Khalilzad

  • US special envoy arrived in Pakistan on Monday and met Pakistani army chief General Bajwa
  • US embassy in Islamabad says Khalilzad thanked Pakistan for ‘important’ role in advancing peace 

ISLAMABAD: US Special Envoy for Afghan Reconciliation, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, on Monday appreciated Pakistan’s “sincere and unconditional support” in facilitating ongoing intra-Afghan peace talks, the Pakistan army said in a statement. 
Khalilzad arrived in Pakistan on Monday and met Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, two days after the Taliban insurgent group and the Afghan government started key negotiations to end a 19-year-old war in Afghanistan. 
“The visiting dignitary greatly appreciated Pakistan’s role in the ongoing peace process and said that it could not have succeeded without Pakistan’s sincere and unconditional support,” the army’s media wing said, adding: 
“COAS [chief of army staff] said that Prime Minister Imran Khan has given clear vision regarding peace and connectivity in the region and all elements of national power are united toward making that vision a reality to ensure long awaited peace, progress and prosperity in the region.”
The American embassy in Islamabad said Khalilzad had thanked Pakistan for its role in advancing the Afghanistan peace process. 
“Ambassador Khalilzad expressed appreciation on behalf of the United States, especially the important role that Prime Minister Imran Khan and General Bajwa played in facilitating the start of the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations in Doha on September 12, and stressed the need for ongoing regional and international support for this historic opportunity for peace,” the embassy’s statement said. 
Historic peace talks kicked off in Qatar’s capital, Doha, on Saturday after months of delays in US-led efforts to end a conflict that the United Nations estimates has killed and wounded more than 100,000 civilians.
Achieving a significant reduction in violence and getting to a permanent cease-fire are among the top issues the sides are discussing. 
Just hours after peace talks started, Taliban and Afghan government forces clashed across Afghanistan, officials told Reuters, underscoring the uphill challenge of ending the long civil war. The most intense of those clashes on Saturday were in Kunduz, where Taliban again jostled with security forces for control of key highways, and the Afghan military deployed air and artillery strikes.
The Taliban’s muscular action comes just as the United States rapidly draws down its troops in Afghanistan, in line with President Donald Trump’s promises to end America’s longest war. A February pact between Washington and the Taliban set May 2021 as the date for the final pullout, subject to certain security guarantees.
US troop numbers are expected to fall to 4,500 by November from over 100,000 in 2011.


Water salute welcomes first in 22 years PIA flight to Damascus

Updated 18 September 2021

Water salute welcomes first in 22 years PIA flight to Damascus

  • Flight from Karachi touched down at Damascus airport on Friday, with 300 people on board
  • Syrian government welcomes the flight as 'important step' to develop economic relations

ISLAMABAD: The first Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight to reach the Syrian capital in 22 years has received a water salute at Damascus airport, the airline's chief executive confirmed in a video post on Saturday.

The flight from Karachi, carrying some 300 passengers, touched down at Damascus International Airport on Friday.

"After 22 years, #PIA landed in #Damascus with #pilgrims with an aim to promote religious tourism & restore relations with Syria," PIA chief Air Marshal Arshad Malik said in a tweet.

 

 

Syrian state-controlled news agency SANA reported the flight was welcomed by Syria's Transport Minister Zouheir Khzeim who said it was "an important step to develop the economic relations between the two countries."


NZ tour cancellation 'unfortunate scenario' but Pakistan will pull through — PCB chief

Updated 18 September 2021

NZ tour cancellation 'unfortunate scenario' but Pakistan will pull through — PCB chief

  • New Zealand said it was abandoning Pakistan series following ‘security alert’
  • PCB chairman urges cricket fans to support Pakistan in the upcoming World Cup

ISLAMABAD: New Zealand's sudden pullout from its first Pakistan series in 18 years was an "unfortunate scenario" but the hosts will come out of it, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman said on Saturday.

New Zealand on Friday said it was abandoning the tour over security fears. The announcement came just as the visitors were to face Pakistan at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium in the first of three one-day internationals (ODIs). The Black Caps were in Pakistan for the first time since 2003.

"It's an unfortunate scenario," PCB chairman Ramiz Raja said in a video message.

 

 

"We'll come out of it," he said. "We have experienced similar situations before, but we've always moved forward."

Pakistan has been trying to revive tours by foreign squads after home internationals were suspended in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan side in 2009. It has ever since managed to attract many foreign players, especially with the Pakistan Super League (PSL).

"I can feel your pain," Raja said, addressing Pakistan team supporters. "I urge the fans to back the Pakistan cricket team ... support them in the World Cup."

The World Cup is scheduled to take place in the United Arab Emirates and Oman from October 17 to November 14.

As many of the national team players have expressed their frustration at New Zealand's decision, he urged them to vent it through their performance on the field.

"My message to the cricket team is to let out your frustration, anger through performance," Raja said. "When you become the best team, everyone will want to play with you in Pakistan."


Pakistan PM says in dialogue with Taliban for inclusive Afghan government

Updated 18 September 2021

Pakistan PM says in dialogue with Taliban for inclusive Afghan government

  • Taliban interim government announced earlier this month includes no women or members of minority groups
  • Khan's initiative follows meetings with leaders of Afghanistan's neighbors during Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Tajikistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Saturday he had “initiated a dialogue" with the Taliban for an inclusive Afghan government to include representatives of the country's ethnic and religious minorities.

Khan said he took the initiative after his meetings with leaders of Afghanistan's neighbors and detailed discussions with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s (SCO) meeting in Dushanbe this week, where Afghanistan has been at the top of the agenda.

“After meetings in Dushanbe with leaders of Afghanistan’s neighbors and especially a lengthy discussion with Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon, I have initiated a dialogue with the Taliban for an inclusive Afghan govt to include Tajiks, Hazaras & Uzbeks” Khan said in the tweet.

 

 

“After 40 years of conflict, this inclusivity will ensure peace and a stable Afghanistan, which is in the interest not only of Afghanistan but the region as well,” he said in another post.

 

 

World powers have told the Taliban the key to peace and development is an inclusive government acceptable to all people of Afghanistan, including women and minorities. But an all-male interim cabinet announced earlier this month, saw no members of minority groups as key positions went to veteran players of the Taliban movement, which captured Kabul on August 15.

In his address at the SCO summit on Friday, Khan said the Taliban must fulfill their promises to the international community.  

“For their part, the Taliban must fulfill the pledges made above all for inclusive political structure where all ethnic groups are represented,” Khan said. “This is vital for Afghanistan’s stability. Also, it is important to ensure respect for the rights of all Afghans, and ensure that Afghanistan is never again a safe haven for terrorists.”


'NZ killed the cricket': Dismay, frustration as Black Caps pull out of Pakistan tour

Updated 18 September 2021

'NZ killed the cricket': Dismay, frustration as Black Caps pull out of Pakistan tour

  • New Zealand said it was abandoning Pakistan following ‘security alert’
  • Black Cap squad was in Pakistan for the first time since 2003

RAWALPINDI: A wave of frustration and disappointment has swept through social media with the hashtag #PAKvNZ becoming the top trend, as New Zealand on Friday abandoned its first Pakistan series in 18 years, citing security fears.

The announcement that the series had been called off came just as the visitors were to face Pakistan at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium in the first of three one-day internationals (ODIs). The Black Cap squad, which last week returned to Pakistan for the first time since 2003, was staying at an Islamabad hotel guarded by a heavy contingent of police.

The cancellation, which followed an unspecified New Zealand government security alert, left cricket fans and officials in dismay, with Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed saying that "hidden hands conspired for the cancellation of the tour" to undermine Pakistan’s efforts for peace in the region.

Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ramiz Raja vowed action against the decision in the International Cricket Council (ICC).

"Walking out of the tour by taking a unilateral approach on a security threat is very frustrating," he said on Twitter. "Which world is NZ living in??NZ will hear us at ICC."

 

 

Many of Pakistan’s national team players also vented their upset.

"I've full trust in the capabilities and credibility of our security agencies," Pakistan captain Babar Azam said. "Extremely disappointed on the abrupt postponement of the series, which could have brought the smiles back for millions of Pakistan Cricket Fans."

 

 

Veteran cricket legends, too, felt dejected, with Shoaib Akthar saying New Zealand "just killed Pakistan cricket.”

 

 

Wasim Akram suggested "we are not hearing the whole story."

“Pakistan has proven that our security measures for international games is of the highest order, making Pakistan one of the safest places in the world to play cricket today.”

 

 

As Pakistan has been trying to revive tours by foreign sides after home internationals were suspended in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan side in 2009, it has already managed to attract many foreign players since, especially with the Pakistan Super League (PSL).

"PSL & other teams visiting Pakistan is evidence of our hospitality & security arrangements. We will continue our efforts," bowler Shadab Khan wrote. "Pakistanis love cricket so much, we have worked really hard to bring cricket back here."

 

 

Former West Indies' skipper Daren Sammy, head coach of PSL's Peshawar Zalmi franchise, said he's been playing in Pakistan for the past six years: "I’ve always felt safe. this is a massive blow to Pakistan."

 

 

Officials, too, questioned New Zealand's move.

Maritime Affairs Minister Ali Haider Zaidi tweeted at New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardem saying he is “appalled” by her support of the team’s decision to leave. “Sadly, global politics has won over the great game of cricket!" he wrote. "There were no security threats!”

The chief minister of Punjab, Usman Buzdar, the province that has the Rawalpindi stadium in its jurisdiction, said security was "foolproof."

"Extremely disappointed & gutted by New Zealand Cricket Board's unilateral decision to call off the series."
 

 

"The brief period of international cricket seems to be over before it really began,” sports journalist and culture critic Ahmer Naqvi tweeted.  

But some others, like Islamabad United general manager Rehan Ulhaq, are more hopeful.

"Pakistan cricket will rise from the ashes just like it always has."
 

 


‘Thank god’: British-Pakistanis excited to return to families after UK lifts travel restrictions

Updated 18 September 2021

‘Thank god’: British-Pakistanis excited to return to families after UK lifts travel restrictions

  • One-way fare from Islamabad to London can currently cost up to £2,165, though the flights are still overbooked
  • A stranded IT professional from London says UK authorities should have ‘thought of us as British, not just Pakistanis’ to avoid playing politics on the issue

ISLAMABAD: A British-Pakistani, who arrived in Islamabad in July to see his ailing mother but could not return to London due to the UK government’s travel restriction on Pakistan, said on Saturday he anxiously wanted to hold his daughter once again.
Imran Niazi had to leave his wife and daughter behind in Britain while traveling to Islamabad but found himself stranded here due to the UK government’s “red list” requirements which expected him to undergo a costly 10-day hotel quarantine amid rising coronavirus concerns.
UK officials decided to place Pakistan on its red list in April due to a surge in COVID-19 delta variant cases in the country and added the South Asian state to its safe list on Friday.
“I am anxiously waiting to hug my 12-year-old daughter,” Niazi told Arab News. “This was a stressful time, and thank God, the UK has eased its travel restrictions.”
He said that much of his time in Islamabad was spent making video calls to his family.
“Hopefully, I will be joining them in about two weeks,” he continued.
Almost all airlines including British Airways, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic have resumed their operations from Pakistan, but they are either fully booked or their fares have gone extremely high due to the growing travel demand to the UK.
The one-way fare from Islamabad to London can currently cost between £1,800 to £2,165, though it used to be around £300 before the UK travel restrictions.
“I’ll obviously wait for at least two weeks to book my flight as this fare is too high for me to afford,” Niazi said, adding his real estate and security services business in London had already been “badly affected” due to the pandemic.
All those traveling to the UK from Pakistan need to be fully vaccinated with Pfizer, AstraZeneca or Moderna, otherwise they will require a booster shot of any of these vaccines before taking a flight.
Mirza Khalil Ullah, who runs a property business in Mill Hill, London, came to see his relatives in Karachi in February but got stuck in the country.
“We British-Pakistanis have got this relief after a very hard time,” he said. “I would request all Pakistanis that they should not do anything that can put us in trouble again or tarnish Pakistan’s image.”
He said he had taken the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine and was planning to get a Pfizer shot before booking his flight.
Another IT professional from London, Amir Faisal Awan, was also stranded in Pakistan for the last five months due to the travel restrictions.
“It has been a horrible experience,” he said while adding that his father was suffering from dementia and could not stay in confined places.
“The British government should have thought [of] us as British and not just Pakistanis,” he complained. “They should have facilitated us instead of involving us in their political issues. I am really excited now and just want to be back with my family. It was a very bad feeling that I had my passport and ticket but could not fly back to them.”
Rafiq Saya, a businessman based in Ireland, came to Karachi to negotiate a deal but got stuck here for months.
“It has affected my business in Ireland and kept me away from my family,” he said, while welcoming the UK government’s decision to remove Pakistan from the travel red list.
“It is a great thing for everybody since we can now go back to work and be with our families again,” Saya added.