Pakistan’s Riyadh envoy hails UN resolution to declare March 15 day to combat Islamophobia

Ameer Khurram Rathore, Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, talking to Arab News about recent developments in bilateral relations between both countries. (AN photo)
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Updated 23 March 2022

Pakistan’s Riyadh envoy hails UN resolution to declare March 15 day to combat Islamophobia

  • Saudi Arabia and Pakistan together persuaded the United Nations to condemn Islamophobia
  • The resolution was introduced by Pakistan’s representative Munir Akram, on behalf of the OIC

RIYADH: Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia has hailed a UN resolution to declare March 15 a day to combat Islamophobia globally.

Ameer Khurram Rathore said the international organization’s move would help to break down bigoted stereotypes surrounding Muslims and terrorism.

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are leading members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and together persuaded the UN to condemn Islamophobia.

“We have had full support in the multilateral fora, between Pakistan and the OIC countries, after which we were able to achieve this, and this is a big success.

“After 9/11 (the terror attacks against the US), Islam was associated with terrorism and an effort was made to carve out a stereotype for Muslims. This initiative of bringing the focus on Islamophobia is a long-term thing, it will break down that stereotype that some people tried to build between Muslims and terrorism,” Rathore added.

The resolution was introduced by Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN, Munir Akram, on behalf of the OIC. It marked three years to the day since a gunman entered two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 51 worshippers and wounding 40 others.

The 48th session of the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers was on Tuesday due to take place in Islamabad. The two-day conference will coincide with Pakistan Day celebrations on Wednesday and selected guests will be invited to attend a parade.

“The mere fact that this is being held on March 23, which is Pakistan Day, tells us how strong the relationship between Pakistan and OIC countries is and how important it is for every Muslim country to stand together in these trying times,” the envoy said.

The summit will be the second OIC meeting to have recently been held in the Pakistani capital. Representatives of 56 OIC member states are expected to take part in the conference, titled “Partnering for Unity, Justice, and Development,” at which Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan will deliver a keynote speech at the opening session.

As well as addressing issues such as Palestine, and Jammu and Kashmir, conference discussions will also focus on key priorities such as countering Islamophobia, recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, peace and security, economic development, cultural and scientific cooperation, and revitalizing the role of the OIC.

“We are very thankful to the Saudi leadership for supporting us in this endeavor and we look forward to further deepening our relationship in this sphere,” Rathore added.

More than 2 million Pakistanis live and work in Saudi Arabia.

The ambassador said: “It is my greatest pleasure to live in Saudi, the Saudi-Pakistani relationship is in the hearts of people. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia’s relationship is a special relationship, it is very deep, it is historical, it is rooted in our history, in our culture, in our religious beliefs.

“Whenever there is a need of Pakistan for Saudi Arabia, we always find Saudi Arabia on our side, and vice versa. It has always been like that.

“It also shows how considerate the Saudi government is toward the Pakistanis who are living and working here. And they are not only contributing toward the development of Saudi society, but they are also helping Pakistan, in the form of remittances,” he added.

Rathore noted that the bonds between the two nations had helped to forge joint visions and shared perspectives on various issues.

He said: “Earlier, it was the political and cultural aspect which had driven the relationship. But these days, there is keenness on the part of the leadership of Pakistan, as well as the Saudi Arabian leadership, that the strength of our relationship should also be reflected in the economic domain. So, both countries are trying to build and deepen our business relationship.

“Economic relations are always a two-way street. We are working on the enhancement of exports to Saudi Arabia. We are working on investments and joint ventures between Saudi and Pakistani businesses.

“There are areas we are paying more attention to these days, and these are IT, the agricultural sector, petrochemicals, and a host of things we see a lot of potential for, and God-willing, we will see the fruits of these efforts coming in soon.”

In 2019, during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Pakistan, the Council of Saudi Chambers organized the Saudi-Pakistani Business Forum in cooperation with the Saudi Ministry of Commerce and Investment and its Pakistani counterpart.

Saudi Minister of Commerce Dr. Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi lauded the developments in Saudi-Pakistani relations and pointed out the need to further strengthen strategic business partnerships.

“We are very excited about the new projects, and we are praying for the success and early completion of mega projects like NEOM, which I think would be a game changer, not only for Saudi Arabia, but for the whole region, and we are looking forward to contribute in that development.”

Both countries have frequently exchanged high-level delegations and developed plans to expand bilateral cooperation. “The nature of our relationship is such that high-level bilateral visits are normal,” the envoy said.

The crown prince received a red-carpet welcome to Pakistan from Khan and his Cabinet members, the country’s army chief, and other senior officials during his two-day official visit in February 2019 when seven memorandums of understanding and agreements worth $20 billion were signed between the two countries. And Khan visited the Kingdom in October.

“We not only coordinate our positions in the multilateral fora. In the bilateral sphere, there is a constant consultation, there are many mechanisms whereby we consult each other very regularly.”

Both nations often exchange gifts, usually dates, and Pakistan considers its relationship with Saudi Arabia as its most “important and bilateral partnership” in current foreign policy.

The people of Muslim-majority Pakistan make regular religious pilgrimages to the holy sites of Makkah and Madinah, and more than 200,000 Pakistanis took part in the 2019 Hajj season.

Last year, around 70 delegations from OIC member states, non-members, and regional and international organizations attended the 17th extraordinary session of the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers, hosted by Islamabad, to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

At the summit’s conclusion, OIC member states agreed to establish a humanitarian trust fund to channel assistance, appoint a special envoy, and work together with the UN in the war-torn country.

Pakistan seeks larger job quota in Saudi Arabia's NEOM business zone

Updated 19 May 2022

Pakistan seeks larger job quota in Saudi Arabia's NEOM business zone

  • Pakistan hopes to benefit from Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative
  • The kingdom is home to over two million Pakistani expatriates

ISLAMABAD: Minister for Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resources Sajid Hussain Turi met the Saudi envoy in Islamabad on Thursday and discussed job opportunities for Pakistanis in the kingdom's NEOM City Project, a $500 billion flagship business zone aimed at diversifying the economy of the world’s largest oil exporter.

NEOM is part of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 and aims to transform more than 26,500 sq. km in the kingdom’s northwestern Tabuk region. The zero-carbon city is expected to be ready to receive tourists and investors by 2024.

Saudi Arabia is home to over two million Pakistani expatriates and is the single largest remittance source to the South Asian nation.

“Federal Minister discussed issues and opportunities for creating jobs for Overseas Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia,” the ministry of overseas Pakistanis said in a statement. “Federal Minister emphasized ensuring the Pakistani quota in the workforce for the development of the futuristic NEOM City Project in Saudi Arabia.”

“As we are a developing country so the criteria for Pakistanis should be more open towards skilled and unskilled labour to accommodate more and more Pakistanis in diverse jobs in the multi-billion project,” the statement read.

Pakistan is hoping to benefit from Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative — am ambitious economic reform program expected to create millions of jobs in the Kingdom — by building its workforce’s professional skills.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, on his first foreign trip since assuming the top political office of his country last month, visited Saudi Arabia from April 27 to 29 and discussed enhancing the kingdom's $3 billion deposit in Pakistan’s central bank “through term extension or otherwise.”

Saudi Arabia last year deposited $3 billion in Pakistan’s central bank to help support its foreign reserves.

Baloch militants actively recruiting women attackers — provincial government spokeswoman

Updated 19 May 2022

Baloch militants actively recruiting women attackers — provincial government spokeswoman

  • Two women arrested this week in Balochistan, one described as would-be bomber planning to target Chinese
  • Two weeks ago woman bomber blew herself up on university campus in Karachi, killing three Chinese teachers

ISLAMABAD: Farah Azeem Shah, a spokesperson for the provincial government in Balochistan, on Wednesday confirmed the arrest of a suspected woman suicide bomber from Turbat, a city in the southwestern province, saying the separatist Balochistan Liberation Army was now actively recruiting female attackers.

Shah’s statement comes days after the arrest of two women in Balochistan, one of whom security officials described as a would-be suicide bomber who was planning to target Chinese citizens.

The arrests came two weeks after a woman suicide bomber blew herself up on a university campus in the southern port city of Karachi, killing three Chinese teachers. The woman belonged to the militant separatist group the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), which has waged a violent secessionist insurgency in Balochistan, and targeted Chinese interests in the region.

“The arrested woman has made revelations regarding the BLA activities and the wife of one Aslam alias Uccho was training women to become terrorists,” Shah told reporters. “Aslam alias Uccho has already been killed and now his wife Yasmeen is training women to become terrorists.”

Shah said a suicide vest, a Kalashnikov, nine kilograms (kgs) of explosive material and six grenades were recovered from the female suspect who was arrested in a raid carried out on May 16. The suspect had confessed during interrogation that she was being financed from “abroad,” Shah added.

She said the names of another three women suspects had surfaced during the investigation.

“Those who care for the cause of Balochistan should return home to truly serve the people here,” Shah said. “Real Baloch cannot use their women for terror attacks.”

Demonstrators this week blocked a highway in Hoshab in Balochistan to protest the arrests of the two local women. The highway links Quetta with Gwadar port and was built under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor initiative.

China, a close Pakistan ally, plans to invest over $65 billion in Pakistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor - a part of Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative to seek road and sea trade routes to connect with the rest of the world.

Beijing is also developing the Gwadar deep-water port and other projects in Balochistan.

Rights activists and locals have long accused security forces of extrajudicial abductions and killings in Balochistan. Security officials deny the charges.

Pakistan top court opens case on 'apprehensions' top officials meddling in criminal justice system

Updated 19 May 2022

Pakistan top court opens case on 'apprehensions' top officials meddling in criminal justice system

  • Court’s action comes after reports FIA was withdrawing high-profile money laundering case against PM Shehbaz Sharif
  • Supreme court has for years relied on “suo motu” provisions in law that allow court to open cases on its own initiative

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial late on Wednesday night took "suo motu" notice over perceived fears "persons in authority" could undermine the criminal justice system, days after media reports suggested a high-profile money laundering case against the prime minister would be dropped by a federal investigation agency.

Hearings in the case will commence today, Thursday.

Pakistan’s supreme court has for years relied on “suo motu” provisions in Pakistani law that allow the court to open cases on its own initiative to set its stamp on wide swathes of public life and denounce the failure of public institutions. It has ordered inquiries into issues ranging from payments to farmers by powerful sugar mills to milk prices, city water supplies and corruption allegations against managers of the railways and national airline PIA.

In a press release, the top court said the CJP had taken notice of perceived interference in the “independence of the prosecution branch in the performance of its powers and duties for the investigation and prosecution of pending criminal matters involving persons in authority in the government.”

The CJP had taken suo motu notice on the recommendations of a judge of the Supreme Court, the statement said.

The court said “perceived interferences” could influence the prosecution of cases and lead to the tampering with or disappearance of evidence in courts or in the possession of prosecuting agencies, as well as the transfer and postings of officers on key posts.

"Such actions, along with media reports to modify accountability laws, are likely to undermine the functioning of the criminal justice system in the country and that tantamounts to violation of fundamental rights affecting the society as a whole and eroding the confidence of the people in the rule of law and constitutionalism in the country," the statement said.

The Supreme Court’s action comes a week after Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) denied media reports it was withdrawing a high-profile money laundering case against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

According to news reports based on court documents, the country’s top investigation agency had said last week it did not want to pursue a Rs16 billion money laundering case against Sharif and his two sons three days before a special court in Lahore was scheduled to frame charges against them.

Sharif, who became prime minister last month after Imran Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote in parliament, is the president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party.

Sharif, his sons Hamza, who is the chief minister of Punjab province, and Suleman, who resides in London, were booked by FIA in November 2020 under various sections of the Prevention of Corruption Act and Anti Money Laundering Act.

According to a written application submitted in court on April 11, the FIA director general (DG), via the investigating officer, told Special Prosecutor Sikander Zulqarnain Saleem not to appear in court as the “accused in the case are going to be elected the prime minister of Pakistan and chief minister of Punjab.”

“A fake news is circulating in media regarding withdrawal of the case against political leaders of a party in Lahore,” the FIA said in a statement. “The case has not been withdrawn. Proceedings are continuing in the Court.”

The statement said the prosecutor of the case submitted his “opinion-based application” in the court after he was instructed not to appear on behalf of the prosecution.

“It was not a withdrawal application,” the FIA said, adding that the document was submitted on April 11 when the new prime minister had not even taken oath.

The Sharifs have always said the cases against them are politically motivated and driven by now ex-PM Khan who won power in 2018 vowing to root out corruption among what he cast as a venal political elite.

While few dispute the need to clean up Pakistani politics, the anti-graft campaign by Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in the last three and a half years has become a topic of fierce political debate, with many saying its focus was just on the government’s political foes.

The Khan government denied targeting political opponents.

This week, PM Sharif's cabinet approved setting up a committee to amend NAB laws.

‘Encouraging sign,’ Pakistani foreign minister says as Afghan Taliban broker ceasefire with local militants

Updated 19 May 2022

‘Encouraging sign,’ Pakistani foreign minister says as Afghan Taliban broker ceasefire with local militants

  • Pakistan has in the past said local Taliban commanders operate from safe havens in Afghanistan
  • Taliban government in Kabul has repeatedly said it would not let militant groups use its soil

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has said it was an “encouraging sign” that the Taliban government in Afghanistan had mediated a ceasefire deal between Islamabad and Pakistan’s local Taliban outfit, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), saying he hoped Kabul would live up to its promise not to allow Afghan soil to be used to launch terror attacks against other nations.

The TTP, which are a separate movement from the Afghan Taliban, have fought for years to overthrow the government in Islamabad and rule with their own brand of Islamic law. In December 2021, the group declared an end to a month-long cease-fire, accusing the Pakistani government of breaching terms, including a prisoner release agreement and the formation of negotiating committees.

Following the breakdown of talks between the two sides, the Pakistan Army resumed operations against the banned outfit early this year, after which the TTP announced the launch of its Al-Badar operation on March 30 to target law enforcement agencies. There has since been a surge in militant attacks, particularly in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, bordering Afghanistan.

Pakistan has in the past said local Taliban commanders were operating out of safe havens in Afghanistan. The new Taliban government in Kabul has repeatedly said, however, that it would not let any group use its soil for militancy.

On Wednesday, Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Kabul had mediated talks between the government of Pakistan and the Taliban movement in Pakistan and they had agreed on a ceasefire until May 30.

“Pakistan has been worried about the increase in terrorist activity and we are looking to the regime in Afghanistan to play their role in discouraging increase of terrorist activity,” Bhutto-Zardari said in an interview with CNN, broadcast on Wednesday night.

“And this is indeed an encouraging sign,” he said about the Afghan Taliban mediating talks with the TTP. “We continue to not only monitor this situation, but work on our side to ensure that we can try to tackle the threat of terrorism and hope that the regime in Afghanistan lives up to their international commitment to not allow their soil to be used for terrorism.”

When asked what it would take for Pakistan to recognize the new government in Kabul, the foreign minister said Islamabad would take that decision “in line with the international community.”

“At the same time, we continue to advocate for engagement, and particularly in light of the humanitarian crisis developing in Afghanistan …So we're emphasizing increased humanitarian efforts and also underscoring the importance of ensuring that there isn't a complete collapse of the Afghan economy,” Bhutto-Zardari said.

“Simultaneously,  we, in the international community, are emphasizing the importance to the new regime in Afghanistan, that they live up to international commitments, be it vis-à-vis  terrorism, or, more specifically, their commitments to women's education and the education of girls in Afghanistan and we feel if they live up to international commitments, it would be easier for us and others to fight the case for increased support for humanitarian efforts and stabilization of the Afghan economy.”

Pakistan’s foreign minister meets US state secretary, seeks stronger relations

Updated 18 May 2022

Pakistan’s foreign minister meets US state secretary, seeks stronger relations

  • Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is currently visiting New York to attend UN food security conference
  • Secretary Blinken says Washington wants to strengthen economic and commercial ties with Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s new Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Wednesday met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and expressed his desire to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries.

The Pakistani foreign minister is currently visiting New York to attend United Nations global food security conference which has brought together top diplomats from several other countries.

His visit to the US comes at a time when Pakistan’s fragile relations with Washington hit a new low after former prime minister Imran Khan accused the American administration of bringing down his government.

Khan said that Washington supported his ouster from power since he was pursuing “independent foreign policy” while trying to build closer relations with China and Russia. US officials have denied the allegations repeatedly.

“I ... look forward to the opportunity to increasing engagement between Pakistan and the United States, working with yourself and your administration to improve trade relations between Pakistan and the United States and create opportunities for American investors and Pakistani investors and Pakistani businessmen and American entrepreneurs to work together,” Bhutto-Zardari said during his meeting with Blinken that lasted for about 45 minutes.

The Pakistani foreign minister, who was invited to the conference by the US state secretary, said countries like Pakistan had been “facing challenges in food security, water security, energy security because of a whole host of issues ranging from climate change to issues in our neighborhood.”

Earlier, during his remarks to welcome Bhutto-Zardari, Blinken said the visit offered “an important opportunity for us to talk about the many issues we’re working together.”

“We want to focus on the work we’re doing to strengthen economic and commercial ties between the United States and Pakistan, of course, focused on regional security,” he added.

A statement issued by the US Department of State said Blinken met the Pakistani foreign minister “to affirm the shared desire for a strong and prosperous bilateral relationship.”

It added that the two officials discussed expanding partnership in climate, investment, trade, and health as well as people-to-people ties.

“They underscored the importance of US-Pakistan cooperation on regional peace, counterterrorism, Afghan stability, support for Ukraine, and democratic principles,” the statement continued. “The Secretary welcomed Pakistan’s Chairmanship of the G77 and committed to advancing climate action and global food security.”

Pakistan’s foreign office also confirmed the two officials discussed several issues of mutual interest.

“During the meeting, a wide range of bilateral, regional and international issues came under discussion,” it said in a Twitter post.

It added the Pakistani foreign minister underscored long standing and broad-based US-Pakistan relations based on mutual trust and respect.