Pakistan welcomes Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt becoming new SCO dialogue partners

Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari during the Shanghai Council of Foreign Ministers in Tashkent on July 29, 2022. (Photo courtesy: @BBhuttoZardari/Twitter)
Short Url
Updated 29 July 2022

Pakistan welcomes Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt becoming new SCO dialogue partners

  • Foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is in Tashkent to for the SCO’s Council of Foreign Ministers
  • Currently, SCO has six dialogue partners, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal and Sri Lanka

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Friday welcomed UAE’s desire to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and welcomed new Dialogue Partners Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt, saying the developments were a reflection of the organization’s growing importance in the world.  

FM Bhutto-Zardari is in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, leading the Pakistani delegation for a two-day Shanghai Council of Foreign Ministers which started yesterday, Thursday. He is also expected to hold meetings with his counterparts from the SCO during his stay in Tashkent.  

The SCO is an inter-governmental organization whose permanent members include China, Russia, Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.  

On July 4, SCO Secretary-General Zhang Ming met UAE Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ali Obaid Al Dhaheri during which the UAE diplomat said he followed the activities of the SCO closely and with interest and highly appreciated its achievements in ensuring stability in the region.  

“We welcome new Dialogue Partners Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt and look forward to brotherly Iran taking its place soon as a full member,” Bhutto-Zardari said during his address at the council of foreign ministers.  

“We also welcome the UAE’s desire to join the SCO family,” he added, saying the SCO's membership expansion was a testimony to its growing importance "in the global multilateral architecture."

The foreign minister also supported the applications of Bahrain and Maldives as new dialogue partners and Azerbaijan and Armenia as new observers of the group.  

Currently, the SCO has four observer states, namely Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia, and six dialogue partners namely Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Pakistan’s new fuel pricing scheme needs to be agreed before IMF deal

Updated 6 sec ago

Pakistan’s new fuel pricing scheme needs to be agreed before IMF deal

  • Pakistan PM last week announced a pricing plan to charge affluent consumers more for fuel
  • Petroleum Minister Musadik Malik says his ministry has been given 6 weeks to work out the plan

ISLAMABAD: A long-awaited loan agreement between Pakistan and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will be signed once a few remaining points, including a proposed fuel pricing scheme, are settled, an IMF official confirmed on Friday.

Pakistan and the IMF have been negotiating since early February on an agreement that would release $1.1 billion to the cash-strapped, nuclear-armed country of 220 million people.

The latest issue is a plan, announced by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif last week, to charge affluent consumers more for fuel, with the money raised used to subsidise prices for the poor, who have been hit hard by inflation, which in February was at its highest in 50 years.

Petroleum Minister Musadik Malik told Reuters on Thursday that his ministry had been given six weeks to work out the pricing plan.

But the IMF’s resident representative in Pakistan, Esther Perez Ruiz, said the government did not consult the fund about the fuel pricing scheme.

Ruiz, in a message to Reuters, confirmed a media report that a staff level agreement would be signed once a few remaining points, including the fuel scheme were settled.

The petroleum and finance ministries did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.

With enough foreign reserves to only cover about four weeks of necessary imports, Pakistan is desperate for the IMF agreement to disperse a $1.1 billion tranche from a $6.5 billion bailout agreed in 2019.

IMF says bailout deal not linked to elections in Pakistan

Updated 32 min 8 sec ago

IMF says bailout deal not linked to elections in Pakistan

  • Statement comes after election regulator postponed Punjab election citing security threats, economic crisis
  • IMF country representative says feasibility and timing of elections ‘rest solely with Pakistan’s institutions’

KARACHI: The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) loan program is not linked with provincial or general elections in Pakistan, the IMF country representative said on Friday, amid a financial crunch in the South Asian country.

The statement came after the Pakistani finance ministry informed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that the country was facing a severe economic crisis and the government did not have enough funds to separately hold elections in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces as per the Supreme Court’s directives.

Earlier this week, the election commission also decided to defer the Punjab provincial elections by more than five months, citing financial and security constraints.

However, IMF resident representative Esther Perez Ruiz said decisions regarding the constitutionality, feasibility, and timing of the provincial and general elections “rest solely with Pakistan’s institutions.”

“There is no requirement under Pakistan’s EFF-supported program which could interfere with Pakistan ability to undertake constitutional activities,” she told Arab News.

“Targets under IMF-supported programs are set at the aggregate general government level and within these there is fiscal space to allocate or reprioritize spending and/or raise additional revenues to ensure constitutional activities can take place as required.”

Pakistan is desperately awaiting a $1.2 billion bailout tranche from the IMF as part of the $7 billion Extended Fund Facility (EFF) it secured in 2019.

The 9th review of the country’s loan program has been pending since late last year.

The release of IMF funds will offer some relief to the South Asian country reeling from a dollar crunch, which has raised fears for the economy slipping into a recession ahead of the elections this year.

Former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and allies dissolved the provincial assemblies of the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces in January to mount pressure on the government to hold snap national polls across the country. The two regions account for more than half of the country’s 220 million population.

Under the Pakistani law, fresh polls for the two provincial assemblies should be held within 90 days of their dissolution and Khan’s PTI was gambling on the national government being unable to afford to hold the provincial elections separately from a national election, which is otherwise due by October.

Earlier this month, in a landmark ruling, Pakistan’s top court also said general elections in the two provinces should be held within 90 days. President Dr. Arif Alvi subsequently announced April 30 as the date for Punjab Assembly elections after much political wrangling and consultations in recent weeks.

Khan’s party has announced challenging in the Supreme Court the ECP’s decision to postpone the polls.

UAE, Oman potential contenders for neutral venues for India in Pakistan-hosted Asia Cup

Updated 48 min 6 sec ago

UAE, Oman potential contenders for neutral venues for India in Pakistan-hosted Asia Cup

  • The neighbors have strained political ties and have not played a bilateral match since 2013
  • The weather is likely to play a key role in determining the second venue outside of Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: UAE and Oman are among potential contenders for a neutral venue for India for the Pakistan-hosted Asia Cup slated to be held in September, the ESPN Cricinfo reported on Thursday.

India and Pakistan have been grouped together along with a qualifier in the six-nation Asia Cup, scheduled to be held in the first half of September this year and in a 50-over format.

Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are part of the other group. A total of 13 matches will be played across 13 days including the final. As per the format last year, the top two teams from each group advance to the Super 4s and the top two teams then contest the final. The possibility of India and Pakistan playing three times remains.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) have been moving swiftly toward a resolution after an initial standoff on the matter, according to the ESPN Cricinfo report.

“The 2023 Asia Cup is likely to be played in Pakistan with another overseas venue to host India games. Both BCCI and PCB, after an initial standoff, are moving swiftly toward brokering a resolution which could have both teams playing their tournament matches against each other outside Pakistan,” the report read.

“The overseas venue is not confirmed but the UAE, Oman, Sri Lanka and even England are potential contenders to host five matches, including at least two India-Pakistan contests.”

A small working group has been formed with the brief of creating a schedule and travel plan that is agreeable to all participating countries as well as the broadcaster before a final call is taken.

The weather is likely to play a key role in determining the second venue outside of Pakistan, though there will be keenness among the Asian venues to host high-voltage India-Pakistan games.

Since India hosted Pakistan in a bilateral limited overs series in 2013 the pair have only competed against each other at 20- and 50-overs World Cups and the Asia Cup.

The last time they met was at the Twenty20 World Cup in October, where more than 90,000 fans piled into the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch India win a last-ball thriller.

New-look Pakistan brace for competitive Afghanistan T20I series in UAE

Updated 24 March 2023

New-look Pakistan brace for competitive Afghanistan T20I series in UAE

  • Shadab replaced Babar Azam for series as Pakistan decided to rest their skipper, seniors
  • Instead, Pakistan have drafted in top performers from the domestic Pakistan Super League

SHARJAH: Pakistan skipper Shadab Khan vowed his new-look side will put up a good fight against a formidable Afghanistan side in the three-match Twenty20 International series starting in Sharjah on Friday.

Shadab replaced Babar Azam for the series as Pakistan decided to rest their regular skipper along with seniors Mohammad Rizwan, Fakhar Zaman, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Haris Rauf.

Instead, Pakistan have drafted in top performers from its domestic T20 league — the Pakistan Super League (PSL).

“It is a great honor for me to be leading Pakistan,” Shadab said on Thursday. “As a player this is the highest you can go in your career.

“I am very excited for the upcoming three T20Is. We have a brilliant mix of youth and experience, which makes us a well-balanced side, and we have what it takes to win this series.”

Shadab previously led Pakistan in a three-match T20I series in New Zealand when Azam was injured, losing 2-1.

Batters Saim Ayub and Tayyab Tahir, and fast bowlers Ihsanullah and Zaman Khan are all uncapped while Imad Wasim, Faheem Ashraf, Azam Khan and Abdullah Shafique have earned recalls.

Pakistan's team members attend a practice session ahead of T20I series against Afghanistan in Sharjah on March 23, 2022. (Photo courtesy: Twitter/TheRealPCB)

Afghanistan have also recalled former skipper Mohammad Nabi after leaving him out of the three-match T20 series against United Arab Emirates that they won 2-1 last month.

Wily leg-spinner Rashid Khan will lead the Afghanistan side, having replaced Nabi last year.

Shadab said Afghanistan were a dangerous side “and they have some good T20 players in their side but I am very confident with the players that I have in my squad.”

Pakistan have beaten Afghanistan in all three previous T20Is — a one-off match in 2013 in Sharjah, T20 World Cup 2021 and Asia Cup last year.

Pakistan agreed to play the series, the first bilateral between the two countries, in place of three one-day internationals that Afghanistan were supposed to play against Australia this month.

Cricket Australia pulled out of that series following an announcement from Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban that it was banning university education for girls and not forming a women’s cricket team.

Afghanistan Cricket Board chief executive Khan hoped fans will enjoy a good series.

“Both nations have passionate fans who support their teams with enthusiasm and pride,” said Naseeb.

“As neighbors, we have a special bond and we hope to showcase not only our cricketing skills but also the spirit of friendship and sportsmanship.”

Ex-PM Khan demands immediate release of social media adviser ‘abducted’ from Lahore

Updated 24 March 2023

Ex-PM Khan demands immediate release of social media adviser ‘abducted’ from Lahore

  • Khan says Azhar Mashwani’s whereabouts unknown, police in Punjab, Islamabad breaking ‘laws with impunity’
  • Since his ouster last year, several of Khan’s aides have been arrested, booked under various charges

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan on Thursday demanded the immediate release of his social media adviser, Azhar Mashwani, whom he said had been “abducted” from Lahore, criticizing police for allegedly torturing supporters of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

Khan’s criticism of the police comes at a time when he faces a slew of cases registered against him. Ever since his removal from office last year, and subsequent falling out with Pakistan’s powerful military, Khan’s aides have been arrested under various charges ranging from terrorism to sedition.

In August 2022, Khan’s chief of staff Shahbaz Gill was arrested on charges of inciting mutiny within the armed forces. In January, another senior aide, Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, was arrested after a member of Pakistan’s election regulator filed a complaint against him for allegedly threatening members of the election authority and their families.

Following violent clashes with police last Saturday, Khan’s nephew Hassaan Niazi was also arrested by Islamabad police. Khan accuses police of illegally rounding up his supporters and subjecting them to custodial torture, allegations that police have vehemently denied.

In a Twitter post, Khan accused police in Punjab and Islamabad of “breaking all laws with impunity” in their bid to target the PTI.

“Today Azhar Mashwani was abducted in the afternoon from Lahore & his whereabouts are unknown,” Khan wrote on Twitter.

In another Twitter post, the former prime minister said he was sending pictures of the police chiefs of Islamabad, Punjab and all officers involved in the alleged atrocities to international human rights organizations.

After his supporters’ violent clashes with police last week, Khan on Wednesday levelled serious allegations against the police chiefs of Islamabad and Punjab, claiming that a plan was afoot to assassinate him in an “operation.” The Punjab government denied his allegations.