Saudi Arabia, Pakistan sign agreement to establish Saudi-Pakistani Supreme Coordination Council

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (L) with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia May 8, 2021. (Photo courtesy: SPA)
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Updated 09 May 2021
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Saudi Arabia, Pakistan sign agreement to establish Saudi-Pakistani Supreme Coordination Council

  • According to a joint statement, the two countries decided to intensify contacts and cooperation between their government officials and private sector
  • Prime Minister Imran Khan also extended an invitation to the crown prince to visit Pakistan at his earliest

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman signed the agreement on the establishment of the Saudi-Pakistan Supreme Coordination Council in Jeddah, the foreign office said on Saturday. 

Ahead of the visit, Pakistan’s Cabinet on Tuesday approved the establishment of the council — a body created for streamlining bilateral cooperation between the two countries — to ‘remove hurdles’ to investment deals signed during the crown prince’s visit to Pakistan in February 2019. 

Khan arrived in the Kingdom on Friday evening for a three-day visit on the invitation of the crown prince, who was present at Jeddah airport to receive him and the first lady. He is accompanied by a high-level delegation, including the foreign minister and other members of the Cabinet. 

Khan and the crown prince held wide-ranging talks on bilateral, regional and international issues in Jeddah, the FO statement said. 

“The two leaders reaffirmed the strong and historic bonds between the two countries rooted firmly in shared beliefs, common values, mutual trust and longstanding tradition of mutual support,” the statement said, and added that the two parties agreed to “further strengthen, deepen and diversify the existing bilateral political, economic, trade, defense and security ties.” 

“Special emphasis was laid on increasing Saudi investments in Pakistan, collaboration in the field of energy, and increased job opportunities for Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia,” the statement said. 




Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan (L) and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) during the signing of the agreement on the establishment of the Saudi-Pakistan Supreme Coordination Council in Jeddah on May 8, 2021. (Courtesy: SPA)

Saudi Arabia is home to more than two million Pakistanis who remit billions of dollars back home every year. 

On regional issues, Khan outlined his vision of a ‘peaceful neighborhood.’ He lauded the crown prince for efforts and initiatives aimed at reinforcing and promoting regional peace. 

Khan highlighted the situation in Indian-administered Kashmir and stressed the importance of a peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. He also said Pakistan had made consistent efforts to support peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, the statement reported. 

The Afghan question is important in the region against the backdrop of foreign troops pulling out of Pakistan’s neighboring country after a war that has lasted two decades, and that ends with the Taliban controlling huge swathes of the country. 

During talks, issues related to the environment and climate change were discussed and the PM appreciated the crown prince’s ‘Green Saudi Arabia’ initiative. 

Khan has also invited the crown prince to visit Pakistan at his earliest convenience, the foreign office said. 

A host of bilateral agreements were signed during delegation level talks, ranging from crime to narcotics and from transport to energy generation. 

According to a joint statement circulated by the PM House in Islamabad on Saturday evening, the two countries agreed to intensify contacts and cooperation between their government officials and private sector to further strengthen bilateral relations. 

They discussed ways to enhance economic and trade relations by exploring areas of investment and opportunities available in light of the Kingdom's 2030 vision and Pakistan’s development priorities emanating from a shift from geo-politics to geo-economics. 

“Both sides expressed satisfaction at existing cooperation in bilateral military and security relations and agreed to further augment collaboration and cooperation to achieve mutually agreed goals,” the joint statement continued. 

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia also reaffirmed their full support for all the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, and condemned the attacks of terrorist groups and militias, including the Houthis in Yemen, by ballistic missiles and drones on the Saudi territory. 

“They expressed serious concern at the threats posed to the security of oil exports and the stability of energy supplies, which was vital for the progress and development of the region and its peoples,” the statement added. 

Other than that, the two countries also agreed to continue supporting each other at multilateral fora. 

Khan and his Cabinet members visited the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah on Saturday evening. They are also expected to visit Makkah and perform their umrah.

On Friday, Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, whose official visit preluded Khan’s, held talks with the Saudi crown prince and reviewed bilateral ties. 

He also discussed defense cooperation with the Saudi military chief of staff.


Google partners with Pakistan to create smart classrooms, digitally transform education system

Updated 46 min 46 sec ago
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Google partners with Pakistan to create smart classrooms, digitally transform education system

  • Search engine giant partners with Pakistan to set up local assembly of over 500,000 Chromebooks by 2026
  • Pakistan has a staggering population of over 26.2 million out-of-school children, second-highest in the world 

ISLAMABAD: Google and Pakistan’s education ministry on Thursday announced they were partnering up to provide access to education for millions of students across the country, digitally transform Pakistan’s education system and build smart schools, state-run media reported. 

Pakistan has a staggering population of 26.2 million out-of-school children, the second highest in the world, according to Unicef Pakistan. 

Last month, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif declared an education emergency in the country, hoping to ensure access to education for these out-of-school children and improve educational opportunities for them. 

On Thursday, PM Sharif met a high-level delegation of Google for Education headed by its Managing Director Kevin Kells in Islamabad. 

“Ultimately, Google’s collaboration with the Ministry of Federal Education aims to drive a large-scale digital transformation of Pakistan’s education system, creating smart classrooms and fostering a healthy learning ecosystem,” the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report. 

The state media said Google, through its Google for Education’s country partner Tech Valley, will work with the Pakistani government to establish a local assembly of over 500,000 Chromebooks by 2026. It would also provide access to digital tools and resources for students and teachers in Pakistan.

Chromebooks are a type of laptop or tablet that runs on Google’s Chrome OS operating system and are more cost-effective than regular laptops. 

“As part of the collaboration, Allied, an Australian manufacturer of Google Chromebooks, will establish an assembly line in Pakistan to locally assemble Google Chromebooks, making them more affordable for educational purposes,” APP said.

It said the goal of such an agreement is to ensure that every student in the country has access to “cutting-edge classroom technology” to enhance their learning experience.

“Under the agreement, the teachers would be trained how to use technology effectively in the classroom, develop and implement innovative learning programs that leverage technology,” it said. 

Pakistan’s Education Minister Dr. Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui praised the development, saying it was an important step in ensuring educational access to children. 

“We believe that technology can play a vital role in improving learning outcomes and preparing our students for the future,” he said. 

Farhan S. Qureshi, Google Pakistan’s country director, said access to digital tools will ensure Pakistani children get acclimatized to the digital economy. 
“Also, creating a local assembly of over 500,000 Chromebooks will help Pakistan’s manufacturing industry grow and attract more investments in technology,” Qureshi said.
 


Crowd in Pakistan’s northwest kills man accused of burning Qur’an – police

Updated 6 sec ago
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Crowd in Pakistan’s northwest kills man accused of burning Qur’an – police

  • The mob took the man away from a police station in Swat where he had been detained for his protection
  • The police say they fired warning shots into the air to disperse the crowd, but it further angered the people

PESHAWAR: A Pakistani man accused of desecrating the Holy Qur’an was slain and burned Thursday by a crowd that removed him from a police station where he had been detained for his protection, authorities said.

“On the evening of the 20th, locals in the Madian area detained a man, alleging he had burned the Qur’an. The police intervened, rescued him, and took him to the local police station,” a police source in Swat told AFP, noting the man was not from the area.

But the crowd, urged on by local mosques, converged on the police station and pelted it with stones.

“To disperse the angry mob, police fired warning shots into the air, which further incited the crowd. The mob overpowered the police, dragged the man out, and beat him to death with sticks,” the source said.

Later, some people poured oil on his body and set it ablaze, the source added.

A local official confirmed the incident, saying: “After killing the man, the enraged protesters started stoning the police, forcing them to abandon the station.”

The situation in the area remained tense, with protesters blocking the main road, according to the official.

Blasphemy is a highly sensitive subject in majority Muslim Pakistan, where even accusations without evidence can stir up anger among crowds and spark outbreaks of violence.

In late May, a Christian accused of burning pages of the Holy Qur’an was also lynched by a mob in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab region, before succumbing to his injuries in early June, according to police.

Also in Punjab, in February 2023, a crowd beat to death a Muslim accused of having desecrated the holy book.


Pakistan’s ruling party, key ally to hold further talks to bridge budget differences

Updated 20 June 2024
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Pakistan’s ruling party, key ally to hold further talks to bridge budget differences

  • Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz agree to form committees to resolve differences 
  • Bhutto-Zardari led PPP has accused government of ignoring its recommendations in federal budget

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s ruling party and one of its major coalition allies, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) on Thursday agreed to form committees to bridge their differences over the fiscal budget and other matters related to the allocation of development funds, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said in a statement. 

Differences between the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the PPP parties arose last week when the government unveiled its much-awaited Rs18.877 trillion ($67.76 billion) federal budget for the fiscal year 2024-25 on Wednesday. 

The tax-heavy budget is expected to play a pivotal role in Pakistan’s negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a fresh financial assistance program with the global lender. The PPP alleged that the government did not take it into confidence regarding key aspects of the budget.

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari called on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif with a delegation of senior party leaders on Thursday to discuss the main points of contention between them, ahead of the key vote on the budget slated for next week. PPP lawmakers’ votes will be crucial for the government, without which it would not be able to pass the document. 

“All political parties have to work together for the country’s progress, prosperity and public welfare,” Sharif was quoted as saying in a handout issued by the PMO after the meeting concluded. 

The prime minister said the government has taken measures in the budget to provide relief to the common man.

“Further consultation will continue through the committees,” the statement said. 

It pointed out how Pakistan’s benchmark index rose to a historic high on Thursday, saying that it was proof that the budget had been validated by traders and investors. 

Pakistan’s benchmark share index rose 2.8 percent to a new record high on Thursday, as investors welcomed the budget since it avoided an anticipated increase in capital gains tax, despite an ambitious tax revenue target.

Pakistan’s parliament held a debate session on the budget after a hiatus of a week on Thursday. Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Omar Ayub described it as “economic terrorism.”

“This budget in actuality is economic terrorism against the people and the future of the country,” Ayub said. 

'RUBBER STAMP IN PARLIAMENT'

PPP lawmaker Sehar Kamran told Arab News earlier this week that the government had ignored her party in pre-budget consultations and wanted to use them as a “rubber stamp” in parliament to have the budget passed.

“Shehbaz Sharif’s government wants to use us as a rubber stamp in parliament to pass the budget, but we won’t do it if our reservations are not addressed,” Kamran said.

Kamran said the two parties also disagreed over the distribution of development funds and various projects related to Pakistan’s provinces.

The PPP, which voted Sharif into power after the contentious national election in February, is not part of the federal government but has its government in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province. 

“If the government needs our votes in parliament to pass the budget, then it will have to listen to us first to address our grievances,” she had said.


Baloch separatist outfit kidnaps 10 tourists in southwestern Pakistan

Updated 20 June 2024
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Baloch separatist outfit kidnaps 10 tourists in southwestern Pakistan

  • All 10 persons, including Pakistan Customs official, hail from eastern Punjab province, says Levies official 
  • Banned outfit Balochistan Liberation Army, which has targeted Punjab-based laborers in past, claims responsibility

QUETTA: Separatist militant outfit Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) this week kidnapped 10 tourists in southwestern Pakistan who hailed from Punjab, an official of a local law enforcement force confirmed on Thursday.

The incident took place on Wednesday night at a famous tourist point named Shaban, 35 kilometers from the provincial capital of Quetta in southwestern Balochistan province, Levies official Ajmal Khan confirmed. 

Khan said around 50-60 armed men kidnapped 14 people from a rest house in Shaban. After checking their identification cards, four were released while 10 were detained, he revealed. 

“Ten people, including one Pakistan Customs personnel, belonging to Punjab were taken to an unknown place,” Khan, who is the head muharrar or person responsible for documentation at the Levies station in Harnai district where the incident took place, told Arab News. 

Khan said the BLA was responsible for the kidnapping, adding that the militant group had hoisted its flag atop the rest house. He said it is difficult for authorities to carry out a search operation as the area where the incident took place was a far-flung one. 

“Here BLA has camps and we have warned tourists to not come to this place,” the Levies official said. 

In a separate statement, BLA claimed responsibility for kidnapping the tourists. 

“In an intelligence-based operation in Quetta’s Shaban area, Balochistan Liberation Army’s Fatah Squad took into custody 10 suspicious persons,” the group stated. 

It said the detained persons were being questioned, adding that a detailed statement would be issued to the media “soon.” 

Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province, which shares porous borders with Afghanistan and Iran, has been wracked by an insurgency launched by ethnic Baloch militants since decades. 

These Baloch nationalists have long accused the Pakistani government and Punjab province of monopolizing profits from Balochistan’s abundant natural resources, saying it has led to political marginalization and economic exploitation.

However, Pakistani administrations have denied these allegations, citing several development initiatives launched in the province to improve local living conditions.

In April and May, three separate attacks in Balochistan targeted laborers from Pakistan’s Punjab province. A group of unidentified gunmen attacked and killed seven laborers in a residential quarter in Gwadar, a coastal town in Pakistan, on May 9. 

In April, the BLA claimed responsibility for the killings of nine Punjab residents traveling to Iran from Quetta. In another incident that took place in April, two workers from Punjab were targeted in Balochistan.


PM Sharif expresses condolences over Pakistani Hajj pilgrims’ deaths due to extreme heat

Updated 20 June 2024
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PM Sharif expresses condolences over Pakistani Hajj pilgrims’ deaths due to extreme heat

  • Pakistani official this week confirmed nine pilgrims had died due to extreme heat in Saudi Arabia
  • Sharif directs authorities to make arrangements for pilgrims’ bodies to be brought to Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday expressed condolences over the deaths of multiple Pakistani Hajj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia due to the heat wave, his office said days after 1.5 million people performed the annual Islamic pilgrimage in the Kingdom.

A senior official of the Pakistan Hajj Mission (PHM) confirmed on Wednesday that nine Pakistani pilgrims had died in Saudi Arabia due to extreme heat as of June 18. 

“Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif expressed condolences over the martyrdom of Hajj pilgrims in Makkah,” the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said in a statement.

“The prime minister prayed for patience for the relatives of the Hajj pilgrims.”

The PMO said Sharif spoke to Pakistan’s Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar, Religious Affairs Minister Chaudhry Salik Hussain and Pakistan’s ambassador to the kingdom about the situation of the country’s Hajj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia.

“Arrangements should be made to send the bodies of the martyred pilgrims to Pakistan,” the prime minister told authorities, according to the PMO. It added that Sharif directed Pakistan’s religion ministry and consulate to provide all necessary facilities to the pilgrims.

He also directed Pakistani officials to ensure pilgrims admitted to hospitals in Saudi Arabia are provided access to every medical treatment, the PMO said.

Pakistan established two hospitals and 11 dispensaries in Makkah and Madinah to provide health care to the country’s pilgrims during the Islamic pilgrimage.

Hussain on Wednesday thanked Saudi authorities for ensuring “exemplary” arrangements for Hajj despite the sizzling heat in Saudi Arabia.

The Pakistani minister pointed out the Saudi authorities had taken several measures to mitigate the heat by setting up water sprinklers and a distribution system for cold water and beverages.

He also noted that mobile health units and dispensaries had been established in all the major areas to ensure the health of the pilgrims.