Russia to supply military gear, 150,000 more vaccine jabs to Pakistan

This handout picture taken and released on April 7, 2021 by the Russian Foreign Ministry shows Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) speaking with Pakistan's army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa during their meeting in Rawalpindi. (AFP PHOTO / Russian Foreign Ministry)
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Updated 07 April 2021

Russia to supply military gear, 150,000 more vaccine jabs to Pakistan

  • Russian foreign minister Lavrov in Pakistan, says wants to strengthen “anti-terrorist potential of Pakistan“
  • Pakistan wants to buy five million doses of Sputnik V from Russia, discuss local production, Pakistani FM says

ISLAMABAD: Russia will provide 150,000 more doses of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine to Pakistan, Russia’s foreign minister said on Wednesday, adding that Moscow and Islamabad would boost counterterrorism relations, with Russia providing unspecified military equipment to Islamabad and the two nations holding joint exercises at sea and in the mountains.

Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Pakistan is the first by a Russian foreign minister in nine years and comes as Moscow has cultivated ties with Afghan Taliban militants who are fighting US troops and have historic links to Islamabad. Moscow says it is encouraging peace negotiations in Afghanistan to end decades of war.

“Fifty thousand doses have already been delivered to Pakistan, and soon another 150,000 will be delivered,” the Russian foreign minister said at a joint press conference with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

“Pakistan’s needs are immeasurably greater, but so far everything rests on the ability to produce this vaccine not only in the Russian Federation, but also in the countries that are our foreign partners. Such production has already been established in India, Belarus, and will soon begin in the Republic of Korea and a number of other countries.”

Lavrov added: “We will be ready to try to help our Pakistani colleagues meet their needs using the available opportunities. But we have obligations to those countries that have previously addressed us with this request.”

Russia’s Sputnik news agency reported that Qureshi said at a press conference after talks with Lavrov that Pakistan wanted to buy five million doses of Sputnik V and discuss potential local production.

“The Sputnik vaccine was registered [for emergency use] in Pakistan and is being administered in Pakistan, it is giving good results, and we are interested in the commercial purchase of five million doses from Russia ... and I think there are opportunities of local production and joint ventures; there are interested parties,” Qureshi said. 

During the talks, the two ministers also discussed bilateral cooperation in various areas, in particular the energy sector and railroad modernization.

“We have a new area of cooperation related to energy between Rosatom and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. We are now discussing, in practical terms, specific cooperation on non-electric peaceful applications for nuclear energy, particularly in medicine and industry,” Lavrov was quoted by Sputnik as saying. 

Qureshi said Pakistani receiving Russian expertise to modernize its energy and railways sectors was also discussed. 

“We stand ready to strengthen the anti-terrorist potential of Pakistan, including by supplying Pakistan with special military equipment,” Lavrov was quoted by AP as saying, without going into detail about the equipment.

“During our talks we considered ideas to further promote #EconomicDiplomacy and discussed progress in the area of energy cooperation including the Pakistan-Stream Gas Pipeline project,” Qureshi said on Twitter, referring to a gas pipeline due to be built by Russia and stretching 1,100 km (680 miles) from Lahore to the port city of Karachi. “We reviewed our cooperation in the field of security including counter-terrorism and defense.”

Qureshi said the two leaders had “agreed on the need to promote greater people-to-people contact through greater collaboration across a diversity of fields, including education.”

Qureshi said Pakistan and Russia shared views on peace and stability in Afghanistan and the larger South Asia region, as well as human rights abuses in disputed Kashmir. 

“We are confident that this visit will give further momentum to our deepening friendship and we remain committed to expanding our relations in diverse areas through further high-level contacts,” Qureshi added. 

Hours before Lavrov’s arrival in the Pakistani capital on Tuesday, Qureshi said in a video message: “Russia is the most important country in this region, no one can deny its strategic significance and value. The visit clearly indicates that Pakistan’s ties with Russia are taking a new turn.”

Indeed, in recent years, Pakistan’s former adversary Russia has been attempting to build military, diplomatic and economic ties with the South Asia nation, particularly to help open up a fast-growing gas market for Moscow’s energy companies.

Though the Moscow-Islamabad rapprochement is in its infancy, a slew of energy deals and growing military cooperation promise to spark life into the Russia-Pakistan relationship that was dead for many decades.

Pakistan developed diplomatic relations with the former Soviet Union in 1948, though these ties witnessed ups and downs during the Cold War period. Relations between the two countries particularly deteriorated after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, followed by Pakistan’s decision to provide assistance to Afghan militias resisting the Russian Red Army.

In recent years, however, Pakistan and Russia have strived to improve relations in response to the strengthening of diplomatic relations between India and the United States.


Billions in losses as Pakistani traders on strike in solidarity with protesting religious party

Updated 12 min 42 sec ago

Billions in losses as Pakistani traders on strike in solidarity with protesting religious party

  • Cleric Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman announced countrywide strike to show solidarity with Tehreek-e-Labbaik religious political party
  • Around Rs80-90 billion worth of business generated across Pakistan daily, Rs4 billion worth of business activity suspended in Karachi alone

KARACHI: Major business centers and retail markets across Pakistan remained shut on Monday following a strike call by the leaders of various religious and political parties to show solidarity with a recently banned rightwing party, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), that has been engaged in clashes with police since last Monday.
Demonstrations erupted in major Pakistani cities and quickly turned violent after TLP chief Saad Rizvi was arrested last Monday after he threatened to launch a major campaign against the government if it did not expel France’s envoy to Islamabad over blasphemous caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) printed in a French publication.
On Sunday, cleric Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman announced a countrywide strike to show solidarity with the supporters of TLP whom he called victims of police brutality.
Following the strike call, business activity and public transportation remained suspended in Pakistan’s commercial hub of Karachi.
Kashif Chaudhry, the president of the Markazi Tanzeem-e-Tajran Pakistan, a federal association of traders, said the body had taken the decision to shutdown businesses at 2am and had received “overwhelming response” from across the country.
“All major urban and rural business centers across Pakistan are closed,” Chaudhry told Arab News. “Around eighty to ninety billion rupees worth of business activity is generated across the country daily,” he added, commenting on possible losses from the closures.
Around Rs4 billion worth of business activity was suspended in Karachi alone, said Atiq Mir, the chairman of the All Karachi Tajir Ittehad, an umbrella organization that represents major business centers in the city. “Every day these markets generate Rs4 billion worth of businesses activities in the port city of Karachi”.
Traders in the capital city, Islamabad, also kept their businesses shut and staged protest demonstrations. Similarly, trading in Lahore, Multan, Rawalpindi, Hyderabad and Peshawar remained suspended, according to industry leaders.
The Pakistan Stock Exchange opened the day on a bearish note, with the benchmark KSE 100 index posting an intra-day low of -694 points or 1.53%.
However, ongoing negotiations between the government and protesting parties buoyed sentiment and helped the market recover from its low to close at 44,966 with a 392 points or 0.87% decline, according to a Topline Securities market review.
“Stocks closed bearish amid pressure on security unrest in the country,” Ahsan Mehanti, the chief executive of Arif Habib Corporation, told Arab News. “Mid-session support witnessed in earning season on higher global crude oil prices and strong financial results in fertilizer and oil sectors.”


Pakistan will talk to India if Kashmir autonomy reverses, foreign minister says in UAE

Updated 19 April 2021

Pakistan will talk to India if Kashmir autonomy reverses, foreign minister says in UAE

  • Says Islamabad never evaded talks but India would have to revert disputed Kashmir region’s special autonomy
  • Tells reporters about his three-day visit: “My agenda is UAE-Pakistan and not India-Pakistan”

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Monday Pakistan had never evaded peace talks and wanted to live in peace with all its neighbors, including India, but New Delhi would have to reverse an August 5, 2019 move to strip the disputed Kashmir region of its special autonomy.
Kashmir has been divided but claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan since almost immediately after the two countries’ creation in 1947. They have fought three wars against each other, two directly dealing with the disputed region.
India in 2019 stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomy and took direct control over it, sparking unrest. Pakistan has since maintained it is open to talks if New Delhi reverses the August 2019 decision.
The FM’s remarks, reported by Pakistani media, came as he spoke at a news conference in the United Arab Emirates where Qureshi is on three-day official visit.
“Both India and Pakistan will have to think about their bilateral ties,” the foreign minister said. “Pakistan is ready to talk with India if it takes back its steps of August 5. Pakistan cannot ignore the Kashmir issue.”
Qureshi added that Pakistan desired peace in the region because peace would create more economic opportunities.
On Sunday Qureshi ruled out any ‘secret meetings’ between Pakistan and India during his UAE visit.
The announcement that Qureshi’s Indian counterpart S. Jaishankar would also be in the UAE at the same time as the Pakistani foreign minister triggered speculation about a possible meeting. Both leaders’ arrival in the UAE comes just days after the Emirati envoy to Washington confirmed the Gulf state had been mediating between the nuclear-armed rivals to help them reach a “healthy and functional” relationship. 
“There have been a number of speculations about secret meetings between me and the external affairs minister of India, S. Jaishankar but neither was our meeting planned and nor are we meeting,” Qureshi told reporters.
“I am here for a bilateral visit and not an India-specific agenda. My agenda is UAE-Pakistan and not India-Pakistan.”
“I don’t think a meeting is set out with the Indian foreign minister,” Qureshi added.


Hospitals filling up, oxygen supplies ‘under stress’ as coronavirus third wave sweeps Pakistan

Updated 19 April 2021

Hospitals filling up, oxygen supplies ‘under stress’ as coronavirus third wave sweeps Pakistan

  • Over 4,500 patients are now in critical care, 30% higher than June last year
  • Planning minister says citizens making a “huge mistake” by not following coronavirus health guidelines

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s planning minister Asad Umar, who also heads a federal body overseeing the country’s pandemic response, said Pakistani hospitals were filing up fast as coronavirus cases rose and oxygen supplies were “under stress.”
Pakistan on Monday recorded 5,152 new infections and 73 coronavirus-related deaths, government data showed, as a third wave of the coronavirus sweeps the country. The South Asian nation of 220 million has recorded 761,437 infections and 16,316 deaths since the beginning of the outbreak in February last year.
According to official data, 4,515 coronavirus patients are currently in critical condition.
“Hospital fill up continuing to grow. Critical care patients now above 4500, which is 30% higher than peak in June last year. Oxygen supply capacity in the country is now under stress,” Umar said on Twitter, adding that compliance of coronavirus standard operating procedures (SOPs) remained low. “We are making a huge mistake by not following sops.”


On Sunday, Hong Kong announced it would suspend flights from India, Pakistan and the Philippines from April 20 for two weeks after the N501Y mutant COVID-19 strain was detected in the Asian financial hub for the first time. The three countries would be classified as “extremely high risk” after there had been multiple imported cases carrying the strain into Hong Kong in the past 14 days, the government said.
The British government has also banned international arrivals from Pakistan amid concerns over new virus variants.


Pakistan condoles with Egypt after deadly train crash 

Updated 19 April 2021

Pakistan condoles with Egypt after deadly train crash 

  • Eleven people died and 98 were injured after four carriages of the train derailed in a province north of Cairo 
  • Sunday’s incident follows three weeks after two passenger trains collided in the Sohag province 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Monday extended its condolences to Egypt, a day after 11 people were killed and 98 injured in a train accident in the Qalioubia province, 40km north of the capital, Cairo.
“We convey our deepest sympathies on the tragic train accident in Egypt,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a Tweet on Monday.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the government, the brotherly people of Egypt and the families of those who have lost their lives. We wish quick recovery to the injured,” it added.

The accident took place after four carriages of the train, which was heading from Cairo to the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, derailed in Toukh on Sunday. 
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has ordered the military’s engineering authority to investigate the crash, with the driver and rail officials detained for questioning.
Sunday’s incident follows three weeks after two passenger trains collided in the Sohag province of the country, killing at least 18 people and injuring 200, including children.
Pakistan enjoys cordial ties with Egypt, with both countries working toward strengthening their relationship in recent months.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi held talks with President El-Sisi during a two-day visit to Egypt in February this year, where he acknowledged that Egypt was an “important member” of the Muslim world, before describing it as the “gateway to Africa.”


Hong Kong bans flights from India, Pakistan, Philippines for 2 weeks

Updated 19 April 2021

Hong Kong bans flights from India, Pakistan, Philippines for 2 weeks

  • Three countries classified as "extremely high risk" after multiple imported cases of coronavirus into Hong Kong
  • Hong Kong has recorded over 11,600 cases in total and 209 deaths

HONG KONG: Hong Kong will suspend flights from India, Pakistan and the Philippines from April 20 for two weeks after the N501Y mutant COVID-19 strain was detected in the Asian financial hub for the first time, authorities said in a statement late on Sunday.
The three countries would be classified as “extremely high risk” after there had been multiple imported cases carrying the strain into Hong Kong in the past 14 days, the government said.
The city reported 30 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, 29 of which were imported, marking the highest daily toll since March 15. Hong Kong has recorded over 11,600 cases in total and 209 deaths.
Hong Kong authorities have been urging residents to get vaccinated for coronavirus with only around 9% of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million residents vaccinated so far.
The government last week widened the city’s vaccine scheme to include those aged between 16 to 29 years old for the first time, as they aim to boost lacklustre demand for inoculations among residents.
Airlines impacted by Hong Kong’s ban on travelers from India, Pakistan and the Philippines include carriers such as Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Airlines, Vistara and Cebu Pacific.