Pakistan urges UK, Western allies to deliver aid to Afghanistan with ‘no strings attached’

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi addresses UN virtually from Islamabad on September 13, 2021. (Photo courtesy: @appcsocialmedia/Twitter)
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Updated 15 September 2021

Pakistan urges UK, Western allies to deliver aid to Afghanistan with ‘no strings attached’

  • Pakistani foreign minister rejects idea of building refugee camps, resettlement processing facilities for Afghans on Pakistani soil
  • Says “no rush” on Pakistan’s borders, no need for people to flee Afghanistan as the country was “peaceful and stable”

ISLAMABAD: The UK and its Western allies are not doing enough to engage with the Taliban administration or to avert a burgeoning humanitarian crisis, the Pakistani foreign minister said in comments published on Wednesday, urging them to provide aid to a Taliban-run Afghanistan with “no political conditions attached”.
Last week, foreign secretary Dominic Raab said the UK would not recognize the new militant cabinet but that he did recognize the need for “direct engagement.”
Afghanistan is almost entirely reliant on international donations, which have abruptly halted since the Taliban takeover. The situation is so grave the United Nations warned this week the country was on the verge of collapse, and food supplies could run out by the end of this month. The World Food Programme has said 14 million people were on the brink of starvation.
“My message [to the UK] is that there is a new reality in Afghanistan. Accept the new reality and let us work to achieve our objectives,” Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who has twice been Pakistan’s foreign minister, told The Independent in an interview in Islamabad.
“Isolation will not help. It will lead to a humanitarian crisis, it will lead to an economic collapse, and it will create space for elements who have not been helpful for you, me or anyone.
“Anarchy, chaos will facilitate their presence there. Don’t do that. Engagement, we feel, is a better option. If [the Taliban] are saying positive things, nudge them in that direction. Do not push them into a corner.”
One of the first steps, Qureshi said, was delivering immediate aid: “There should be no strings attached, there should be no political conditions attached to humanitarian assistance.”
The Taliban ruled Afghanistan with an iron fist from the mid-1990s to 2001, and according to a strict interpretation of Islamic law, which saw minority groups persecuted and women barred from education and work. They were toppled in an invasion led by the United States, which accused them of sheltering the militants who had planned and carried out the 9/11 terror attacks.
Twenty years on, the group stormed back to power in a lightning advance amid the chaotic withdrawal of US-led allied forces last month. After promising an inclusive government, they formed a new interim cabinet made up exclusively of Taliban figures, including those who are on UN blacklists or wanted by the FBI.
Meanwhile Pakistan, which shares a 2,500km-long border as well as cultural, ethnic and religious ties with Afghanistan, is positioning itself as a potentially powerful regional mediator.
It is also fighting a major domestic security threat in the form of local Taliban offshoot the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or the TTP, as well as Al-Qaeda and factions of Daesh, complicating its relationship with the new administration next door.
Qureshi told The Independent that Pakistan had received verbal assurances from the Afghan Taliban that they would not allow any group to stage terror attacks on Pakistan from Afghanistan, but added that Islamabad was waiting to see “if they act on what they’ve said”.
Pakistan has not formally recognized the new Taliban cabinet, but senior Pakistani officials, including the country’s spy chief, have visited Kabul, where Pakistan’s embassy remains open, providing a potential gateway into and out of the country.
In the days before the full withdrawal, western forces scrambled to evacuate their citizens, along with at-risk Afghans who had worked with them, via Kabul airport. Hundreds of British nationals and thousands of eligible Afghans were left behind in the chaos.
Qureshi said Pakistan would continue to facilitate the departure of those with valid documents who wished to exit Afghanistan via Pakistan, but drew the line at allowing an influx of refugees. He also rejected the notion of building refugee camps or resettlement processing facilities on Pakistani soil, in light of reports that the UN was exploring the idea.
Qureshi claimed there had been “no rush” on Pakistan’s borders ,and said there was no need for people to flee Afghanistan as he said the country was “peaceful and stable”.
He cited Taliban statements on a general amnesty, as well as the group’s promises not to prohibit women from going to school, university or work, as reasons why people should stay put.
“We have our limitations. [Pakistan has] been hosting now over 3 million, almost close to 4 million refugees for so many decades without any international help or assistance. We do not have the capacity to absorb more, honestly,” he told The Independent.
“Our preference is that [Afghans] stay within Afghanistan and they are provided security and safety within Afghanistan. As things stand at the moment, I see no reason why they can’t stay in Afghanistan.”
He added that any processing facility where Afghan citizens can apply for asylum should be in Afghanistan. “It has to be over there – that is where they belong, that is their country,” he added.
He did say that the Pakistani authorities would consider “on merit” formal requests from the UK for British representation in their embassy in Kabul to help with applications – an idea senior Tory MP Tobias Ellwood told The Independent the government should pursue with its allies, such as Qatar and Turkey.
But Qureshi maintained that the behavior of the new Taliban leadership was “quite distinct and different” from that seen in the 1990s, saying that, for example, protests in Kabul had “by and large been tolerated”.
“These are initial signs which are not discouraging,” the top diplomat said. “Let’s see if this is the direction that they follow.”


Pakistan launches third anti-polio drive to immunize over 40 million children

Updated 6 sec ago

Pakistan launches third anti-polio drive to immunize over 40 million children

  • Health chief reports ‘significant gains’ in initiative with zero cases in seven months
  • Pakistan remains one of only two countries in the world with circulating wild poliovirus

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan launched a week-long national anti-polio immunization drive on Monday, its third this year, to vaccinate over 40 million children under five years of age after making “significant gains” against the crippling disease in the past seven months, officials said.
The South Asian nation of over 220 million people had resumed its anti-polio drive in June, months after halting it due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which had overwhelmed the country’s health system, and amid threats to the campaign by militants who often target polio teams, alleging that the initiative is a Western conspiracy to sterilize children.
Pakistan remains one of only two countries in the world, besides Afghanistan, with circulating wild poliovirus, which has been eradicated elsewhere, attesting to the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.
“The program has made significant gains with not a single case being reported for seven months, giving us a unique opportunity to achieve polio eradication,” Dr. Faisal Sultan, Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Health, said in a statement on Monday.
In the latest chapter, nearly 2,90,000 polio workers will visit people’s homes while adhering to strict COVID-19 health protocols, the Pakistan Polio Eradication Program (PPEP) said.
Along with being inoculated with the polio vaccine, the children will also receive an extra dose of Vitamin A.
Dr. Shahzad Baig, a PPEP coordinator, said that the “campaign is vital for Pakistan’s ability to achieve polio eradication” after only one case was reported this year compared to 75 last year.
The PPEP statement added that the significant reduction in cases was also due to “a decrease in positive environmental samples from 55 percent to 12 percent,” highlighting that poliovirus is “less active” in the country.
“This is one of the lowest levels of detected wild poliovirus in the history of the country. It is vital that this opportunity to finally eradicate polio from Pakistan is seized,” the statement said.
Polio is a highly infectious disease mainly affecting children under five years of age. It invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis or even death. While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from the disease.


Pakistani envoy seeks flights resumption in talks with Saudi civil aviation head 

Updated 17 min 31 sec ago

Pakistani envoy seeks flights resumption in talks with Saudi civil aviation head 

  • Lt-Gen Akbar briefs Al-Duailej on Pakistan’s anti-virus vaccination measures, progress in curbing COVID-19 outbreak 
  • Officials also discussed prioritization of flights for separated families, teachers and students stranded in Pakistan 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia held talks with the head of the Kingdom’s civil aviation authority on Sunday to apprise him of progress in the COVID-19 situation across the South Asian nation and its readiness to resume direct flights between the two countries.
Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Bilal Akbar also briefed Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al-Duailej, president of Saudi’s General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA), of the “robust and successful” vaccination program to limit the outbreak, Pakistan’s Embassy in Saudi Arabia said in a Twitter post on Sunday.
Hundreds of thousands of Pakistani workers in Saudi Arabia remain stranded at home due to travel and flight restrictions imposed by the Kingdom since last year.
In August, Saudi Arabia lifted an entry ban on expatriates from 20 countries, including Pakistan, with its Foreign Ministry saying the decision only applied to those individuals who had been fully vaccinated in Saudi Arabia before leaving for their home country.
“[The officials spoke about] resumption of direct flights for people vaccinated with first Covid-19 dose in the Kingdom and second in Pakistan with Saudi approved vaccines,” the Embassy said.
The officials also discussed prioritizing flights for separated families, teachers and students stranded in Pakistan.

 


Al-Duailej, for his part, assured ambassador Akbar that “the proposals will be considered favorably” after consultation with health authorities in the Kingdom, and a solution will be “worked out” to address the plight of Pakistanis stranded in Saudi.

 

 


It follows a meeting in July between the foreign ministers of the two countries who discussed how to ease COVID-19 travel curbs.
Pakistan’s Shah Mahmood Qureshi took up the issue with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, who was on a one-day visit to Pakistan.
The Kingdom’s direct entry ban was imposed after a global surge in cases linked to variants detected in England, South Africa and Brazil and fears that vaccines being rolled out worldwide might be less effective against them.
Those seeking to return to the Kingdom must undergo all health measures to ensure they are free from infection.
“Approval for PIA’s [Pakistan International Airline] arrangements for institutional quarantine in KSA to help facilitate direct flights for individuals vaccinated with Sinovac & Sinopharm,” the Embassy said.
Thousands of Pakistanis visit Saudi Arabia annually, mainly for the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimage to Makkah and Madinah.
The Kingdom is home to over 2.5 Pakistanis who make the largest contribution to the country’s foreign remittances each year.

 


Record food, energy imports pose challenge to Pakistan’s balance of payments

Updated 20 September 2021

Record food, energy imports pose challenge to Pakistan’s balance of payments

  • Pakistan’s energy and food import bills increased by 102 percent and 50 percent respectively in July-August 
  • Analysts forecast CAD will exceed 3 percent of Pakistan’s GDP by the end of current fiscal year 

KARACHI: Swelling energy and food import bills are posing a challenge to Pakistan’s balance of payments, experts say, as the country’s current account deficit may reach unsustainable levels by the end of the ongoing fiscal year.

Pakistan’s imports in the first two months of the current fiscal year 2021-22 grew by 74 percent to $12.2 billion, compared with the same period last year. The main contributors to the growth were energy and food, whose import bills have increased by 102 percent and 50 percent respectively. 
During July-August, the South Asian nation imported petroleum goods worth $3 billion and food worth $1.5 billion, mainly wheat and sugar.
The growth in imports has widened the country’s current account deficit during July-August to $2.29 billion, as compared with $838 million in the same period last year. 

“Tt shows that the economy is consuming more than producing,” Samiullah Tariq, head of research at Pakistan Kuwait Investment (PKI), told Arab News on Sunday. “The CAD more than 3 percent of GDP will not be sustainable.”

While the central bank attributes the rise in CAD to increasing global commodity prices and Pakistan’s economic recovery, analysts forecast it will cross the 3 percent mark by the end of the current fiscal year.
“We expect CAD to clock-in at $10 billion to $11 billion in FY22,” Tahir Abbas, head of research at Arif Habib Limited, said. “Any further uptick in the overall food and energy import will only put further pressure on the external account.”

To arrest the rise in CAD, Tariq added, Pakistan should increase production.

“Pakistan needs to increase production from agriculture and industrial sectors, substitute imports and curtail non-essential consumption/imports like automobiles etc.,” he said.

But Arif Nadeem, chief executive of Pakistan Agriculture Coalition (PAC), a body that works for the transformation of the agriculture sector, says agricultural production is already high.

“Pakistan has produced bumper wheat crop, highest ever, this year and there is no shortage of the sugar as well in the country,” he told Arab News. “Pakistan is also beefing up stocks of the commodities as other countries did in wake of lockdowns imposed after the coronavirus pandemic to avoid inflation.”

He said rising commodity prices in the international market were responsible for the high food import bills and to address the country’s food security farmers should be offered better prices for their produce.

“If international prices are given to our farmers they will work more,” Nadeem said, “(they will) use good quality fertilizers and seeds, resultantly produce more wheat, oil seeds, sugarcane, and cotton.”


Pakistan government says election body derailing electoral reform

Updated 6 min 43 sec ago

Pakistan government says election body derailing electoral reform

  • Government wants to introduce electronic voting in the next general elections in October 2023
  • Election Commission of Pakistan says use of electronic voting machines could jeopardize the polls

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani ministers on Sunday accused the country’s election body of derailing electoral reform by trying to prevent the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the next general elections.

Electoral reform has become a hot-button issue in Pakistan where political parties frequently raise rigging allegations against their rivals.

The government says it wants to address the problem by allowing electronic voting in the next general elections in October 2023, though the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and opposition parties say technology alone cannot ensure free, fair and transparent polls in the country.

“A campaign has been launched to discredit the EVMs," Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said while addressing a press conference alongside Science and Technology Minister Shibli Faraz in Islamabad.

"That is against the spirit of reforms the government wants to introduce."

Earlier this month, the ECP submitted to the Pakistani Senate a list of 37 objections, warning that a hasty use of EVMs could jeopardize the upcoming polls.

The ECP said a largescale deployment of these devices was not possible in a short span of time, especially when they had not been properly tested and provided no ballot secrecy, voter anonymity and necessary transparency at various levels.

“It seems as if the chief election commissioner is speaking the opposition’s language,” Chaudhry said, as he accused the election body of excluding from its report data that is in favor of EVMs.

As following the ECP's report Pakistan's Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs voted against the Election Act Amendment Bill that would introduce the use of voting machines, Chaudhry said it "will be passed through a joint sitting of the parliament" if the government and the opposition do not find a common stand on the issue.

 

 


NZ tour pullout to cost Pakistan millions of dollars, credibility — cricket board CEO

Updated 19 September 2021

NZ tour pullout to cost Pakistan millions of dollars, credibility — cricket board CEO

  • New Zealand was visiting Pakistan for first time in 18 years for three ODI and five Twenty20 matches
  • Pakistan Cricket Board rules out New Zealand World Cup boycott despite the abandoned tour

ISLAMABAD: New Zealand's abrupt pullout from their Pakistan series has set a "dangerous precedent" that will cost the host side millions of dollars, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chief executive said on Sunday.

The Black Caps were in Pakistan for the first time since 2003. They said they were abandoning the tour over security fears just as they were to face the host side at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium in the first of three one-day internationals (ODIs) on Friday.

New Zealand Cricket said on Sunday the team was warned of a “specific, credible threat” against them. 

But the visitors did not provide any details about the threat, PCB chief Wasim Khan told reporters in an online conference.

"This is going to cost us millions of dollars. This has severely affected us from the cricket credibility perspective and has set us back," he said. "I think it sets a very dangerous precedent, when countries are unilaterally making decisions that potentially can have long-term consequences for countries." 

 

 

"When we contacted our security agencies, they clarified that there was no security threat to the visiting team," Khan said, adding the threat notice came from the Five Eyes intelligence alliance of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and US, and was not followed by any dialogue with the Pakistani side.

"I think the abrupt departure of the team has left many scars for us," he said. "We certainly hope that it is not going to have long-term consequences for us moving forward."

The New Zealand decision sparked calls for a boycott of the Black Caps as Pakistan are due to meet them in the Twenty20 World Cup in Sharjah on October 26.

But Khan said no such action is on the cards.

"Right now, there is no issue of us not playing NZ," he said. "We have a duty to the fans and we have to fulfill that."

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).

New Zealand's withdrawal has put an unwanted question mark over the South Asian nation's ability to host international matches.

Pakistan is awaiting a decision from the England and Wales Cricket Board over the fate of scheduled short tours by the England men's and women's teams next month.

The West Indies is also due to tour Pakistan in December and Australia in February.