Shanghai Cooperation Organization leaders, including Pakistan’s Khan, warn against ‘abandoning’ Afghanistan

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan (left) speaks with Tajikistan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in Dushanbe at the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit on September 16, 2021. (PID)
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Updated 17 September 2021

Shanghai Cooperation Organization leaders, including Pakistan’s Khan, warn against ‘abandoning’ Afghanistan

  • PM addresses Pakistan-Tajikistan Business Forum ahead of Shanghai Cooperation Organization heads-of-state summit today
  • Afghanistan is observer at SCO, but not invited to summit because its new government is not recognized by the bloc

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Thursday he would work with the president of Tajikistan to ensure there was peace in Afghanistan and an inclusive government was formed in the war-torn country, as leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Council met in Dushanbe and called on the world not to abandon Afghanistan.

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 key positions going to veteran players of the Taliban movement.

The Persian-speaking Tajiks of Afghanistan’s western and northern regions have long been opposed to the southern and eastern Pashtuns who make up the core of the Taliban.

The Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan states in Central Asia share a border with landlocked Afghanistan.

“We just wish and pray that finally after 40 years of conflict there will be peace in Afghanistan,” Khan said while addressing the Pakistan-Tajikistan Business Forum in Dushanbe, where he arrived yesterday, Thursday, to attend the 20th Shanghai Cooperation Organization Council of Heads of State (SCO-CHS) summit.

“It’s extremely important for our [Pakistan-Tajikistan] trade for there to be peace there [in Afghanistan] so there’s better connectivity.”

He added: “I will be meeting your president. Your president and myself will be trying everything to make sure that there is peace, especially between the two major communities, Pashtuns and Tajiks. We will be doing our best that they get together and there is an inclusive government.”

Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, the information minister, who is accompanying the PM to Dushanbe, said in a recorded video message:

“All regional leaders agree that if a stable government in Afghanistan is to be achieved then the country should not be abandoned. It should be rather engaged. Afghans should not be left alone at this critical juncture. Efforts should continue for an inclusive government there.”

“There is a consensus on these issues,” Hussain said.

This is PM Khan’s first visit to Tajikistan where the plenary session of the SCO summit will be held today, Friday. Afghanistan will be at the top of the agenda for the meet, with participating leaders likely to demand the formation of an inclusive government in Afghanistan, ask Taliban to prevent the country from becoming a militant safe haven, and discuss ways to tackle an impending humanitarian crisis there.

“While there is a realization among the SCO leaders that Afghanistan should not be abandoned, Taliban government is unlikely to win the region’s recognition during the summit,” Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported. “Afghanistan has an observer status at the SCO, but it has not been invited for the summit because the members of the bloc do not recognize its new government.”

Russian Special Presidential Envoy for SCO Affairs, Bakhtiyer Khakimov, said in an interview with TASS news agency: “At this stage, all member states have an understanding that there are no reasons for an invitation until there is a legitimate, generally recognized government in Afghanistan.”

PM Khan meets SCO leaders

After attending the business forum, Khan had a meeting and discussed Afghanistan and other bilateral and regional issues with President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan.

“The Prime Minister particularly emphasized the importance of connectivity and Pakistan’s pivotal position in providing the shortest access route to the sea,” a statement from the Pakistani foreign office said. “The Prime Minister also highlighted the significance of Trans-Afghan railway project connecting Termez-Mazar-e-Sharif-Kabul-Jalalabad-Peshawar.”

Khan also Ebrahim Raisi, the president of Iran, and with Alexander Lukashenko, President of the Republic of Belarus, on the sidelines of the SCO summit.

Raisi, according to a statement by the Iranian presidency, said: “We should try to help Afghanistan form a government that includes all groups based on the will of the people of the country. The key to solving Afghanistan’s problems is to form an inclusive government and prevent foreign interference in the country’s affairs.” 

Meanwhile, Lukashenko and Khan “exchanged views on the situation in Afghanistan,” the Pakistani foreign office said.

“The Prime Minister stressed that the international community must stand by the Afghan people, help avert a humanitarian crisis, and take steps to stabilize the economy. The Prime Minister reiterated Pakistan’s full support to efforts for stabilization of Afghanistan and hoped that the international community will play a positive role in this regard.”
Khan also renewed his invitation to President Lukashenko to visit Pakistan while Lukashenko invited Khan to visit Belarus at the earliest.

Pakistan-Tajikistan Business Forum

In June, PM Khan attended the Pakistan-Uzbekistan “Silk Route Reconnect” Business Forum and signed a significant transit agreement with Uzbekistan to allow Tashkent to utilize Pakistani seaports for much of its trade, bypassing Iran.

Uzbekistan is a landlocked country that heavily relies on Iran’s Bandar Abbas port for international business and commerce. Islamabad wants to tap the unlocked states through its deep-sea Gwadar port in southwestern Balochistan to boost its geo-economic position in the region.

Central Asia also offers Pakistan a $90 billion export market.

Khan also signed deals for the transportation of goods, cooperation between chambers of commerce of both countries, education, culture and tourism during the June trip.

The Pakistani foreign office said on Thursday the PM’s visit to Tajikistan this week was part of Pakistan’s deepened engagement with Central Asia and its focus on enhancing political ties, trade and investment, energy and connectivity, security and defense, and people-to-people contact.

On Thursday, Khan met and interacted with members of the business communities of both Pakistan and Tajikistan in Dushanbe.

“I believe we have some 67 companies here from Pakistan today, in different fields of textiles, minerals, pharmaceuticals,” the PM said at the business forum.

He praised Tajikistan for being a “very resourceful country.”

“You have cheap, clean hydroelectricity and in Pakistan, unfortunately, we have very expensive electricity,” Khan lamented.

“And so, we hope that CASA-1000 will be expedited so that we can also benefit from your clean and cheap energy,” the PM said, referring to a regional electricity generation project linking Central Asia and South Asia.

He said Pakistan, with its 220 million population, offered a “huge market” to Tajikistan and an opportunity to expand the existing “minuscule” trade volume of $80 million.

“We hope and I invite you [Tajikistan’s business community], our business community will invite you, and I assure you that we will facilitate you in every way,” he said. “I can assure you that we will be giving you all the incentives, the government will do everything to make it easier for you to do business.”

Pakistan’s opposition parties hold anti-government protest amid rising inflation

Updated 9 sec ago

Pakistan’s opposition parties hold anti-government protest amid rising inflation

  • The Pakistan Democratic Movement alliance arranged protest demonstrations in Karachi, Lahore, Sukkar and Larkana
  • The Pakistan People Party also highlighted the economic hardships of people in a separate rally in Karachi

KARACHI: The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an alliance of opposition parties, on Friday held protest demonstrations against the government in Karachi and other major cities in the wake of the rising petroleum prices and spiraling inflation in the country.
The opposition alliance kicked off its 15-day nationwide protest from Rawalpindi on Wednesday to highlight the economic hardship of people.
Hundreds of PDM workers gathered at the Empress Market in Karachi where a senior leader of the Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Islam party (JUI-F), Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, led the protest.
Addressing the gathering, Haideri said the country had witnessed a sudden surge in prices during the last four months due to the “ineptitude of the rulers.”
“We will continue the protest till this selected government is dislodged,” Haideri said, adding the current administration had “mortgaged” the country to the International Monetary Fund.
The provincial president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party Shah Muhammad Shah and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan’s Owais Noorani also addressed the rally.
Workers of the opposition parties also held rallies in Lahore, Larkana, Sukkur, Mardan, Jacobabad, Mohmand, Ziarat, Mingora and other cities of the country.
In Balochistan, PDM workers suspended traffic at the Quetta-Chaman highway for several hours.
In Lahore, PML-N members staged a protest near Jain Mandir.
The Pakistan People Party, which quit the the alliance earlier this year over differences with the JUI-F and PML-N, separately held a protest in Malir district of Karachi on Friday.
The protest was led by Sindh chief minister Murad Ali Shah who criticized the federal government and said it should spare the poor masses.
“The prices of essential and basic food items have increased to such an extent that people have been forced to come onto the streets to protest against the defective socioeconomic policies of the selected ruler inducted in Islamabad,” Shah said in an oblique reference to Prime Minister Imran Khan.
“The hunger and helplessness have forced the people to come out into the streets to send the selected ruler back home,” he said. “This poor country cannot afford such a naïve, inefficient and ineffective prime minister.”

Pakistani rupee hits historic low as outcome of IMF talks remains uncertain

Updated 22 October 2021

Pakistani rupee hits historic low as outcome of IMF talks remains uncertain

  • Pakistan’s national currency has lost its value by Rs22 against the greenback since May 2021 due to a high import bill and Afghanistan’s situation
  • The IMF country head says the fund remains engaged with Pakistan for the completion of the sixth review of a $6 billion bailout package

KARACHI: Pakistan’s national currency on Friday closed the weekend trading session in the interbank market at Rs174, making experts attribute its continuous slide against the US dollar to the uncertain outcome of the country’s ongoing talks with the International Monetary Fund.

The Pakistani rupee has shed its value against the greenback by 14.4 percent since May 2021 when the currency was trading at about Rs152 per dollar.

While analysts previously attributed the currency depreciation to weak economic fundaments, they believe the Pakistani rupee is now losing its value further due to the continuing IMF negotiations for the completion of the sixth review of a $6 billion loan.

“Earlier, the rupee was under pressure due to the high import bill but its most recent spike is caused by the uncertainty related to the outcome of the IMF talks,” Tahir Abbas, research head at Arif Habib Limited, said. “If we cannot successfully conclude talks with the IMF, it will have an impact on our inflows. A positive outcome, however, will ease off some of the pressure that has recently built on the rupee.”

A top IMF official told Arab News on Friday her organization's negotiations with Pakistan were continuing on how to move forward the bilateral agenda.

“The IMF team remains engaged with our Pakistani counterparts on moving forward our work agenda,” Teresa Dabán Sanchez, the fund’s country head, said. “We are looking forward to our continued discussions with the Pakistani authorities on the set of policies and reforms that could form the basis for the completion of the 6th review under the EFF [Extended Fund Facility].”

The Pakistani currency has also been under pressure for the last several months due to a sharp increase in imports on the back of the country’s economic recovery amid the coronavirus pandemic.

More recently, Pakistan witnessed a significant outflow of US dollars to Afghanistan as well, after the withdrawal of the international forces from the neighboring country in August which further exerted pressure on the Pakistani rupee.

The country’s central bank governor Dr. Reza Baqir tried to highlight the positive dimension of the currency depreciation during his London visit on Monday, saying it benefited the families of overseas Pakistanis since “the volume of their hard-earned remittances are now increasing because of the exchange rate.”

His comment met with strong criticism at home from all segments of the society.

Meanwhile, currency traders said the quantum of trade in the open market had substantially declined due to the condition of biometric verification imposed by the central bank.

“The daily trade volume has declined from $2-3 million to less than half a million dollars due to the condition of biometric verification,” Malik Bostan, chairman of the Exchange Companies Association of Pakistan, told Arab News.

Bostan said many exchange companies were not facilitated by the authorities with biometric equipment which was slowing the open market trade.

“Authorities have assured that the system will be placed by Monday or Tuesday which will enable them to monitor the trade that exceeded more than $500,” he continued.

He said the pressure on the Pakistani rupee due to the surge in demand in Afghanistan had eased off.

“The pressure arising from Afghanistan has subsided, though the import pressure on Pak rupee has continued to increase,” Bostan added.

The country’s stock market also posted losses on Friday and closed 243 points lower at 45578.36 due to the recent decision of the Financial Action Task Force to keep Pakistan under increased monitoring along with the economic uncertainty caused by the IMF negotiations.

“The stocks closed lower due to delay in the conclusion of the Pak-IMF talks and the FATF decision over status quo and retention of the country on the grey list,” Ahsan Mehanti, senior stock analyst and chief executive of Arif Habib Corporation, told Arab News. “Economic uncertainty, surging trade deficit and weakening rupee played a catalyst role in the bearish close.”

Pakistan look to break World Cup jinx in Dubai against favorites India

Updated 22 October 2021

Pakistan look to break World Cup jinx in Dubai against favorites India

  • India have beaten Pakistan in all of their 12 matches at the T20 and 50-over World Cups
  • Cricket experts say ‘anybody can beat anybody’ in T20 on their day

DUBAI: Babar Azam’s Pakistan will look to end their losing streak against India at the Twenty20 World Cup when the two rivals begin their title race in a Sunday blockbuster.
India have beaten Pakistan in all of their 12 matches at the T20 and 50-over World Cups.
However, Pakistan come into the Super 12s contest with 10 wins in a row in the United Arab Emirates and former Pakistan all-rounder Mudassar Nazar believes the team has struck the right balance to challenge Virat Kohli’s India.
“A week ago I had apprehensions about the team but now they have made certain changes and they look a decent, well-balanced side,” Nazar told AFP.
“Pakistan stand a very good chance as they have experienced players who have played a lot against India. India start as favorites and they have all the areas covered but in T20 anybody could beat anybody on their day.”
Azam, who is in top form with two T20 centuries this year, believes his team can break the World Cup jinx.
“Definitely we have played a lot of cricket in the UAE,” he said when asked about his team’s dismal 0-5 record against India in T20 World Cup clashes.
“These conditions suit us and we know how to play here. We need to keep things simple in all the departments.”
The two teams last met in the 2019 ODI World Cup in England as India only plays Pakistan in multination events after cutting off bilateral cricket ties with their neighbors following the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
India, who have blamed Pakistan for importing terror, last hosted their neighbors in a bilateral series in 2013 during a brief thaw in their rivalry.
There have been protests in India with calls to boycott the match in the wake of recent killings of 11 migrant workers and minority Hindus and Sikhs in Indian-administered Kashmir.
But fans from both the nations have shown immense interest in watching Sunday’s game in Dubai as tickets for the key contest were sold out hours after they went on sale early this month.
Kohli, though, has downplayed the hype around the encounter, saying “it’s just another game” of cricket.
“I have always approached this game as just another game of cricket. I know there is a lot of hype created around this game more so with ticket sales and the demands for tickets,” said Kohli.
“Yes, the environment, you can say, is different. From the fans’ point of view, it is definitely louder. From the players’ point of view, we stay as professional as we can.”
India’s two-time World Cup-winning skipper MS Dhoni is with the team as mentor and Kohli said the icon’s presence in the dressing room will further “boost” their morale.
Dhoni led India to the inaugural T20 World Cup crown in 2007, beating Pakistan in the final, and hold a 7-1 advantage in the shortest format.
Pakistan’s only win came in a bilateral series which ended 1-1.
India head into the contest with two big wins against England and Australia in their warm-up matches with openers KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma scoring big runs.
Pakistan will depend on the experience of Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik while Babar, Mohammad Rizwan and Fakhar Zaman hold the key at the top of the order.
The bowling, led by Shaheen Shah Afridi and Hasan Ali, looks potent to trouble any opposition in the Super 12 stage.

Punjab forms negotiation committee as activists of banned religious party kill two policemen in Lahore

Updated 22 October 2021

Punjab forms negotiation committee as activists of banned religious party kill two policemen in Lahore

  • Outlawed Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan clashes with police as its followers seek the expulsion of the French envoy from the country
  • Punjab government spokesperson hopes dialogue will help resolve the issue

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: The Punjab government said on Friday it had constituted a two-member committee to negotiate with a banned Pakistani religious faction to stop its protest march to the country’s federal capital as the group’s followers clashed with the police in Lahore and killed two uniformed personnel.
The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party started its march on Islamabad Friday afternoon to force the government to release its top leader and expel a European envoy whose country defended the publication of anti-Islam caricatures in the name of free speech.
The Pakistani authorities partially shut down the country’s federal capital and other major cities by blocking several thoroughfares with shipping containers after the TLP leaders threatened to stage a sit-in in Islamabad until their demands were met.
“The Punjab government has formed a committee with senior cabinet members to hold negotiations with TLP,” Hasaan Khawar, the provincial administration’s spokesperson, told Arab News. “We hope that dialogue will resolve this issue.”
The government committee, which consists of provincial law minister Raja Basharat and public prosecution minister Chaudhry Zaheeruddin, will negotiate with the proscribed religious faction.
“We respect everyone’s right to protest, but we hope that people will not try to take law into their own hands,” Khawar said. “If anyone tries to do that, the writ of the government will be enforced. Dialogue is always a better way to resolve such issues.”
However, there was a massive clash between TLP workers and police in Lahore soon after the group instructed its followers to march toward Islamabad.
Armed with batons, rocks and bottles, thousands of TLP activists tried to cross the barriers placed in their way, forcing the police to fire teargas shells, use rubber bullets and resort to aerial firing to disperse the protesters.

Muhammad Arif, a police spokesperson, told Arab News that two of his colleagues deployed in the city had lost their lives during the clashes, adding that casualties could go up since many others were critically wounded.
The TLP group was founded in August 2015 and made the sanctity of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) central to its politics. It has opposed any changes to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws in the past and sought the expulsion of the French ambassador to Pakistan after the repeated publication of caricatures disparaging Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in his country.
The top TLP leader, Saad Rizvi, was arrested in Lahore in April for threatening the government with anti-France rallies. His detention was followed by violent demonstrations by the supporters of his party that lasted for about a week in different cities. According to official figures, six policemen were killed and over 800 people were injured during these protests.
TLP leaders on Thursday announced a “long march,” prompting the authorities to block road networks in Islamabad, Rawalpindi and other major cities.
“Our march has started now from Lahore to Islamabad,” Saddam Bukhari, a TLP spokesperson, told Arab News on Friday afternoon over the phone. “Thousands of people are accompanying us, and we will reach Islamabad to register our protest.”
The district administrations of Rawalpindi and Islamabad have deployed heavy police contingents around the Faizabad Interchange – a busy junction between the two cities – to avert any unpleasant situation.
“Everything is normal so far in Islamabad,” Zia-ul-Qamar, a police spokesperson, told Arab News. “The riot police and other law enforcement personnel are deployed in the city to protect law and order.”
He said no TLP protesters had entered the federal capital until Friday afternoon as the law enforcement personnel were vigilant and prepared to thwart any disruption to public life.
After the TLP gave the protest call, the authorities suspended the Metro Bus service in Rawalpindi and blocked roads to prevent protesters from gathering in large numbers.
The Islamabad Traffic Police (ITP) issued a new traffic plan, asking people commuting to Rawalpindi to use the 9th Avenue and the IJP Road.
Similarly, people who intend to travel from the federal capital to Murree Road have been asked to take the Islamabad Highway instead.
The Jinnah Avenue road from Express Chowk to D-Chowk has been sealed, and citizens have been asked to use NADRA Chowk and Ayub Chowk to enter or exit the city’s Red Zone area.
The Lahore High Court recently declared Rizvi’s detention as illegal while approving a petition filed by his uncle against his continued incarceration.
The Punjab government, however, filed an appeal against the court’s verdict, saying the bench had not considered the intent and purpose of putting the TLP leader’s name in a list of proscribed individuals and entities to ensure the maintenance of public order.
The Punjab government also informed it had intelligence reports that TLP activists were planning a major protest rally in November and were waiting for Rizvi’s release.

PM Khan to attend environment summit, woo investors on visit to Saudi Arabia

Updated 22 October 2021

PM Khan to attend environment summit, woo investors on visit to Saudi Arabia

  • PM Imran Khan will hold talks with Saudi leadership on advancing economic and trade relations 
  • The Kingdom is home to over 2 million Pakistanis, contributing toward progress of both countries 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan will visit Saudi Arabia from October 23 to October 25, where he would hold talks on advancing trade and economic ties with the Saudi leadership and business persons, the Pakistani foreign office said on Friday.
The Pakistani premier is visiting the Kingdom on the invitation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This will be his second visit to Saudi Arabia this year. He visited the Kingdom last in May and signed several agreements.
PM Khan, accompanied by a high-level delegation, will attend the launch ceremony of the Middle East Green Initiative (MGI) Summit in Riyadh. The initiative, which aims to increase reliance on clean energy, offset the impact of fossil fuels and combat climate change, is the first of its kind in the Middle East region.
“The prime minister will have bilateral interaction with the Saudi leadership, with particular focus on advancing economic and trade relations; creating more opportunities for Pakistani workforce; and welfare of the Pakistani diaspora in the Kingdom. The two sides will also exchange views on regional and international issues of mutual interest,” the Pakistani foreign office said in a statement.
“During the visit, the prime minister will also participate in an event on promotion of investment in Pakistan and interact with leading investors and businessmen from Saudi Arabia and Pakistani diaspora in the Kingdom.”
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have long-standing and historic fraternal relations, rooted deep in common faith, shared history and mutual support. The Kingdom is home to more than two million Pakistanis, contributing toward the progress and prosperity of both countries.
The relationship is marked by frequent high-level visits, close cooperation in all fields, and mutual collaboration on regional and international issues, including at the OIC Contact Group on Jammu and Kashmir.
The visit will carry forward the positive momentum of cooperation between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the foreign office added.
“There will be a bilateral meeting with the crown prince along with different meetings with Saudi government officials,” Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi, his adviser on the Middle East, told Arab News earlier this week.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were also expected to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on green and clean cooperation, he added.