Pakistani FM says Islamabad and Washington entering new engagement after years of strain

Pakistani Foreign Minister Bhutto Zardari speaks during his meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at UN headquarters, May 18, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 21 May 2022

Pakistani FM says Islamabad and Washington entering new engagement after years of strain

  • Bilawal Bhutto Zardari says United States and his country must move beyond past tensions over neighboring Afghanistan
  • Recalls legacy of his mother and grandfather, calls them “towering figures on world stage” and says he feels “burden of history”

UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan’s new foreign minister says the United States and his country must move beyond past tensions over Afghanistan and are entering a new engagement after years of strained relations under former Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the 33-year-old son of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, spoke in an interview with The Associated Press in New York, where he was attending meetings this week on the global food crisis at UN headquarters. He has also held talks with top diplomats, including a one-hour discussion with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Bhutto Zardari called the meeting with Blinken “very encouraging and very positive and productive.”

“We believe that Pakistan must continue to engage with the United States at all levels,” he said. “This meeting was indeed an important first step.”

Bhutto Zardari co-chairs one of the two largest parties in Pakistan’s disparate governing coalition, which spans the political spectrum from the left to the radically religious. The coalition removed Khan in a no-confidence vote on April 10. Shahbaz Sharif, the leader of the other major party, replaced Imran Khan as prime minister.

US-Pakistani ties deteriorated under Khan, who as prime minister tapped into anti-American sentiment in Pakistan that has spread ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda, and the US war on terror. The 2011 American raid that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan angered many hard-liners in the country.

Khan accused the Biden administration of colluding with the opposition to oust him, a claim the administration denies.

Afghanistan also raised mistrust between the two countries. Washington felt Islamabad did too little to help ensure peace as the US and NATO withdrew their troops from Afghanistan; Pakistan insists it did all it could to broker peace and blamed the abrupt US pullout. During the final weeks of the American withdrawal, the Taliban overran Kabul in mid-August and seized power.

Bhutto Zardari said the Pakistan-US relationship in the past had been “too colored by the events in Afghanistan, of the geopolitical considerations, and it’s time for us to move beyond that to engage in a far broader, deeper and more meaningful relationship.”

Under Khan, Pakistan pushed hard for the world to engage with Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers, and Bhutto Zardari said his country continues to do so.

“Regardless of what we feel about the regime in Afghanistan,” the world can’t abandon the Afghan people and must immediately address the country’s humanitarian crisis and crumbling economy, he said. A total collapse of the Afghan economy would be a disaster for Afghans, Pakistan and the international community, he said, expressing concern that many Afghans would flee the country.

Pakistan is also insisting the Taliban live up to their international commitments that the country not be used for terrorism, that girls and women be able to pursue education, and that they form an inclusive government, he said.

The Taliban, however, have taken a more hard-line turn in recent weeks, imposing new restrictions on women. At the same time, tensions have grown between the Taliban and Pakistan over militants based in Afghanistan carrying out attacks in Pakistan.

Bhutto Zardari said the more the humanitarian crisis is alleviated and the economy is saved from collapse, “the more likely we are to succeed in our pursuit for women’s rights and the more likely we are to succeed in our efforts against terrorism.”

He said his focus in talks with Blinken was on increasing trade, particularly in agriculture, information technology and energy. He said he is looking forward to working with the US on an initiative to empower women, including women entrepreneurs.

On economic, defense and military coordination, “if we continue to engage, then we can move forward in a more positive direction,” Bhutto Zardari said.

Asked about Khan’s anti-US rhetoric, Bhutto Zardari dismissed the ex-premier’s accusation of American collusion, calling it a “fanciful conspiracy theory based on a big lie” to explain his removal.

“I am particularly anti the politics of hate, division and polarization,” the foreign minister said. “If we consistently pursue the politics of `you’re with us or against us,’ whether that’s on an international level or a domestic level, I don’t believe it serves the interests of the people of Pakistan.”

He said he believes Pakistanis understand their country needs to engage with the US and all countries, in order to become democratic and progress economically.

President Joe Biden has strengthened ties with Pakistan’s arch-rival India, but Bhutto Zardari said Pakistan is not “jealous” of their relationship. “We believe the world is big enough for both Pakistan and India,” he said.

Biden will meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the leaders of Australia and Japan at a summit in Tokyo on May 24 of the so-called Quad, an Indo-Pacific alliance which China sees as an attempt to contain its economic growth and influence.

Pakistan has a very close economic and military relationship with neighboring China, where Bhutto Zardari is heading to on Saturday. He told the AP he didn’t think the growing relationship with the US would hurt its ties to Beijing.

Pakistan has abstained on UN General Assembly resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and withdrawal of its troops. Bhutto Zardari said Pakistan used to rely a lot on Ukrainian wheat and fertilizer and has been affected by rising food prices and calls for diplomacy to end the war.

The lives of the Bhutto Zardari family have in many ways reflected their country’s turbulence. Bhutto Zardari took over his mother’s Pakistan People’s Party after she was killed in a suicide bombing in December 2007.

The daughter of Pakistan’s first democratically elected prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who led Pakistan in the 1970s and was overthrown and executed by the military, Benazir Bhutto was Pakistan’s first woman premier and twice served as head of government.

At the time of her assassination, she was rallying in a third bid for premiership. Bhutto Zardari’s life in politics was also shaped by his father, Asif Ali Zardari, who served as Pakistan’s president from 2008 to 2013.

In the interview with the AP, Bhutto Zardari recalled the legacy of his mother and grandfather. He called them “towering figures on the world stage,” and said he feels “the burden of history.”

“What motivates and drives me is the pursuit of their unfulfilled mission,” he said. “I hope that we live up to the expectations of the people of Pakistan” who have longed for true democracy and struggled for their economic, political and human rights.

“These are the ideals that we hold dear and we work toward every day,” Bhutto Zardari said.


Monsoon death toll climbs to 188 in flood-ravaged southwestern Pakistan

Updated 13 August 2022

Monsoon death toll climbs to 188 in flood-ravaged southwestern Pakistan

  • Provincial disaster management authority reports six new deaths over last 24 hours
  • 582 people have died in rain-related incidents across Pakistan since mid-June

QUETTA: The death toll from rain-related incidents since the onset of monsoon season has killed at least 188 in Balochistan, authorities said on Saturday, as rains continue to lash the southwestern Pakistani province, triggering flash floods.

Monsoon rains have wreaked havoc in Pakistan since mid-June, killing at least 582 people. Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province by size and its most impoverished one, has reported the highest number of casualties.  

The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) recorded six new deaths in rain-relates incidents in the past 24 hours.

“Six more bodies were recovered in the last 24 hours in Balochistan’s Killa Abdullah and Lasbela districts who were swept away in flash floods due to heavy rains on Friday,” Meer Zia Langove, advisor to the chief minister on disaster management, told reporters in the provincial capital, Quetta.

PDMA Balochistan director general Naseer Khan Nasir said four out of Friday’s six deaths were recorded in Killa Abdullah district, where the victims were trying to cross a flooded road.

Many roads are impassable, and traffic has been suspended also on the Quetta-Karachi highway due to the overflowing of the Lunda River in the Lasbela district.

“Our teams are fully engaged with the National Highway Authority (NHA) to clear the roads. It will be opened for traffic in the next 24 hours,” Langove said.

“Twenty-six out of 34 districts in Balochistan are badly affected by monsoon rains and floods which destroyed 40,000 homes and crops cultivated on 500,000 acres of agricultural land.”

Last month, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif visited the province’s worst hit areas, ordered immediate aid for their residents, and set up a relief fund for flood victims.

According to Pakistan’s Meteorological Department (PMD), the coming week may bring even more torrential rains to the region.

“Flash floods are expected in Killa Saifullah, Loralai, Barkhan, Kohlu, Mosa Khel, Sherani, Sibbi, Bolan, Kalat Khuzdar Awaran, Turbat Panjgur and other cities of Balochistan,” the PMD said in a notification on Saturday.

Downpours are also forecast for the provinces of Punjab and Sindh province.


Pakistan to expand COVID-19 vaccination to children next month as cases rise

Updated 8 min 56 sec ago

Pakistan to expand COVID-19 vaccination to children next month as cases rise

  • Government expects to receive vaccines and special syringes by next week
  • Pakistan Medical Association says vaccine for children is safe and effective

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government said on Saturday it will start vaccinating children aged five to eleven against COVID-19 from mid-September as infection figures are again on the rise.

After reporting a significant decline in COVID-19 cases earlier this year, Pakistan did away with almost all coronavirus restrictions. It has been witnessing a spike in infections since June, although health authorities say the situation largely remains under control and has fully vaccinated against COVID-19 over 88 percent of the population aged above 12 years.

“We will be starting COVID-19 vaccination of children aged between five to eleven years by mid-September,” Muazzam Abbas Ranjha, a vaccination lead at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Islamabad told Arab News.

“The process for procurement of the vaccine and special syringes for the purpose is underway, and we’ll be receiving them next week.”

Ranjha said that Pakistan has done “extremely well” in immunizing its population against the pandemic and that’s why the numbers of deaths and infections have remained low compared to the neighboring countries.

“Now it’s time to immunize our children against the disease to curb the virus spread,” he said. “It is vital to administer the vaccine to our children as well to immunize the whole population against the virus.”

The country has conducted 20,272 COVID-19 tests in the last 24 hours, out of which 728 turned out to be positive or 3.59 percent with three deaths. A total of 161 patients are in critical condition, the official data says.

Ranjha said the number of daily infections in the country was under control as the government was constantly monitoring the situation.

“There is nothing alarming so far, but the people should still keep following health guidelines like mask wearing and social distancing at public places to evade the infection,” he said.

Dr. Qaiser Sajjad, secretary general of the Pakistan Medical Association, told Arab News the vaccination of children would help boost general immunity.

“The scientific data available shows the vaccine for children is safe and effective,” he said, adding that the government should roll out an awareness before starting the drive.

“Developed countries have already started vaccination of the children to curb the virus, and it is highly recommended that we should also start it as quickly as possible.”


Summer home where Pakistani founder spent final days lives on as monument to his memory

Updated 13 August 2022

Summer home where Pakistani founder spent final days lives on as monument to his memory

  • Two-story wooden building called Quaid-e-Azam Residency was built by British in Ziarat Valley in 1892
  • It was a summer retreat of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, today one of Pakistan’s most widely visited heritage sites

QUETTA: A single bed, modest wooden furniture, and black and white photographs on the walls of a small bedroom in a 19th-century residence in southwest Pakistan present an unassuming setting. 

But this is no ordinary room: it has special significance for Pakistanis as the place where the country's founding father spent some of the last days of his life.  

The Ziarat, or Quaid-e-Azam, Residency, has a two-story wooden structure amidst a juniper forest and was built during British rule in 1892. Located in Ziarat Valley, a picturesque hill station in Balochistan province, the house was a summer retreat of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s Quaid-e-Azam (Great Leader). It was also where Jinnah stayed for two months as he tried to recover from a lung disease a year after the success of his movement to separate Pakistan from India on Aug. 14, 1947 after the end of British colonial rule. 

Decades later, people from across the country visit Ziarat to pay tribute to Jinnah's memory.

Chairs and a table used by Pakistani founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah for political meetings on display at his summer residence in Ziarat, Balochistan, on Aug. 2, 2022. (AN Photo)  

“We have read about the Quaid Residency in books and heard stories from our elders … but when I stepped inside the residency, my feelings changed,” Chanda Ashraf, a 21-year-old student from Gujranwala, told Arab News.  

“Inside this residency, I have experienced how the Quaid lived here and his existence was tangible,” she said. “I request all Pakistanis to visit this place once in their lifetime.”

The house has eight rooms, fitted with cedar wood. Jinnah’s bedroom is on the second floor, in front of his sister’s, Fatimah Jinnah, who took care of him in Ziarat.

Tourists take photos in front of Pakistani founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s summer residence in Ziarat, Balochistan, on Aug. 2, 2022. (AN Photo)

Jinnah had had tuberculosis since the 1930s, but hid his condition because he believed it would hurt him politically, historians say. In July 1948, Jinnah arrived in Quetta and journeyed to the higher retreat at Ziarat, where the Pakistani government sent the best doctors it could find to treat him. It was here that a diagnosis of tuberculosis and advanced lung cancer was confirmed. 

On August 13, on the eve of the first anniversary of the independence for which he had fought so hard, the founding father was moved to the lower altitude of Quetta and finally back to Karachi on September 11, 1948. 

Jinnah died later that night at 10:20 pm at his home in Karachi. He was 71 years old and Pakistan was a little over one. 

Today, the Quaid’s clothes and the tableware he and his sister had used at the Ziarat summer home are on display at the residency - now a museum and one of Pakistan’s most widely visited national heritage sites. 
The Quaid-e-Azam Residency has also appeared on the 100-rupee note since 2006.

A dining table used by Pakistan founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah is on display at his summer residence in Ziarat, Balochistan, on Aug. 2, 2022. (AN Photo)  

Muhammad Rahim, who for the past 19 years has been working as an official tour guide at the residency, said he was proud to be working at the house belonging to the man who had “struggled for an independent country for our future generations.”

“My late uncle Toti Khan had performed duties in the residency when Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had come to live here back in the summer of 1948,” he told Arab News.  

Muhammad Rahim, a guide at the Quaid-e-Azam Residency, poses at the museum’s gallery with photos of Pakistani founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in Ziarat, Balochistan, on Aug. 2, 2022. (AN Photo)  

“Despite two janitors hired for cleaning Quaid’s residence, I clean the entire residency with my hands, because I consider it as my service for the Quaid.”

The building was damaged in 2013, when a blaze tore through its wooden structure after a grenade attack by a Baloch separatist group. It was restored within four months.

Balochistan has long been the scene of a low-level insurgency, and a few attacks have been reported in Ziarat district in recent years, but the province’s tourism minister, Abdul Khaliq Hazara says, told Arab News the security situation was normal and thousands of people visited Jinnah’s residence every year.

“The government has been developing the infrastructure in Ziarat to facilitate tourists,” he said. “The Quaid Residency is a national heritage.”

A visitor Mohamad Alam Qasim said: "Not just for Balochistan, this is Pakistan’s heritage. Quaid-e-Azam was our national hero. He was everyone's leader."


Pakistan condemns suicide blast targeting Saudi security forces in Jeddah

Updated 13 August 2022

Pakistan condemns suicide blast targeting Saudi security forces in Jeddah

  • Security forces were targeted while trying to arrest a suspect in a deadly 2015 mosque attack
  • Explosion injured three members of the security forces and a Pakistani resident

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan condemned on Saturday a suicide blast that targeted Saudi security forces during an attempt to arrest a man linked to a deadly 2015 bombing in the Kingdom.

Abdullah bin Zayed Abdulrahman Al-Bakri Al-Shehri detonated a suicide vest when security forces attempted to arrest him in Jeddah earlier this week, the Presidency of State Security said on Friday.

When the militant blew himself up, he died at the scene, with the explosion injuring three members of the security forces and a Pakistani resident.

“Pakistan strongly condemns the recent terrorist incident in Jeddah, resulting in injuries, including to a Pakistani national,” Pakistan’s foreign office said in a statement.

“The Government and people of Pakistan reiterate their full support for and deep solidarity with the leadership, government and brotherly people of Saudi Arabia against any threats to the Kingdom’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Al-Shehri was suspected of being a member of a militant cell that coordinated the 2015 suicide bombing of a mosque in Abha frequented by security force members.

Eleven members of the security forces and four Bangladeshi nationals were killed in the 2015 attack.


Finance division says Pakistan’s economy made headway despite challenges since independence

Updated 13 August 2022

Finance division says Pakistan’s economy made headway despite challenges since independence

  • The country is currently facing the daunting challenge of dealing with a mounting current account deficit, dwindling forex reserves
  • The finance division says its aspiration is to put Pakistan’s economy on higher growth trajectory through investment, efficiency, productivity

KARACHI: Pakistan’s finance division on Saturday brought out a comprehensive report on 75 years of the country’s economic journey, showing the economy had improved its growth potential over a period of time despite tough challenges.

Pakistan is poised to celebrate its 75th independence anniversary on Sunday.

The South Asian nation of over 220 million people is currently facing a daunting challenge of managing a stuttering economy, as it faces a huge current account deficit projected at nearly four percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The country’s foreign exchange reserves have also been consistently depleting in recent months, though officials say Pakistan will soon be in a position to stabilize its external sector with the assistance of friendly countries and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“Pakistan’s GDP rose from $3bn to $383bn from 1950-2022,” the report said. “In 1950, GDP was 1.8 percent and in 2022 it is 5.97 percent.”

The report noted the per capita income in Pakistan also rose from $86 to $1,798 within the same period.

“Exports rose from $355.5 million to $72.0 billion from 1950-2022,” it added, “while Tax Revenues rose from Rs. 0.31 billion to Rs. 6,126.1 billion from 1950-2022.”

The finance division said Pakistan only inherited 34 industrial units at the time of its independence out of the 921 currently operating in the country.

“FDI [Foreign Direct Investment] increased from $1.2 million in FY1950 to $1,867.8 million in FY2022,” it noted, “while the remittances increased from $0.14 billion in FY1973 to $31.2 billion in FY2022.”

“Pakistan has made significant headway in spite of the many challenges that it has faced,” the report maintained. “The nation was able to transform itself into a semi-industrial economy and hub for business activities.”

The finance division added its aspiration was to put the economy on a higher growth trajectory through greater investment, efficiency and productivity.