Engagement with India ‘untenable,’ Pakistan FM says when asked if neighbor sent flood aid

Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari speaks during an interview with France 24 in New York on September 22, 2022. (Screengrab)
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Updated 23 September 2022

Engagement with India ‘untenable,’ Pakistan FM says when asked if neighbor sent flood aid

  • Muslim-majority Himalayan region has been at the heart of more than 70 years of animosity between Pakistan and India
  • Bhutto Zardari draws world’s attention to conflict in Indian-administered Kashmir, calls for “lasting” solution at OIC meeting

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said on Thursday engagement with neighbour and archrival India was “untenable” over what he called its anti-Muslim policies, especially in Indian-administered Kashmir.

The Muslim-majority Himalayan region of Kashmir has been at the heart of more than 70 years of animosity since the partition of the British colony of India into the separate countries of Muslim Pakistan and majority Hindu India. Both rule parts of the region but claim it in full.

Ties between the nuclear-armed rivals have been particularly strained since a suicide bombing of an Indian military convoy in Kashmir in 2019 that New Delhi says was carried out by Pakistan-based militants. The bombing led to India sending warplanes to Pakistan. Islamabad denies state complicity in any attacks in Indian-administered Kashmir.

In August 2019, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi withdrew Indian-administered Kashmir’s autonomy in order to tighten his grip over the territory, provoking outrage in Pakistan and the downgrading of diplomatic ties and suspension of bilateral trade.

“Unfortunately, the India today is a changed India … it is no longer the secular India promised by its founding fathers for all its citizens,” Bhutto Zardari said in an interview with a French TV channel when the host asked if India had sent aid to help victims of cataclysmic floods. “It is increasingly becoming a Hindu-supremacist India at the expense of its Christian and Muslim minorities.”

“We have seen certain steps and actions that had made engagement with India untenable for us, particularly the unilateral illegal actions of August 2019,” the foreign minister added. “All of this creates very little space for us to engage.”

On Wednesday, Bhutto Zardari drew the world’s attention to the ongoing conflict in Indian-administered Kashmir, calling for a “just and lasting” solution while speaking at a meeting of the OIC Contact Group on Jammu and Kashmir on the margins of the 77th United Nations General Assembly Session in New York on Wednesday.

The group reviewed the political and security environment in Kashmir Valley and what it called “the deteriorating humanitarian and human rights situation” there.

The Contact Group comprises Azerbaijan, Niger, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

OIC Secretary General Hissein Brahim Taha chaired the meeting and in his opening remarks reaffirmed the OIC’s commitment to a “peaceful settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations and the OIC Summits and Council of Foreign Ministers.”

He also presented a report on the implementation of an action plan agreed upon during the last meeting of the Contact Group in March 2022 in Islamabad.

Speaking at the Contact Group meeting, Bhutto Zardari drew attention to “the worsening situation” in Kashmir since August 2019.

Indian security forces, he said, “continued to conduct cordon-and-search operations, put down protests violently, indiscriminately use pellet guns, imprison Kashmiri political leaders, abduct and torture children and women, and stage fake encounters.”

“The Foreign Minister stressed that durable peace and stability in South Asia would remain tense and fragile without a just and lasting solution to the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with United Nations Security Council resolutions and the wishes of the Kashmiri people,” the foreign office said in a statement.

The meeting of the Contact Group concluded with the adoption of a joint communiqué that “unequivocally reaffirmed the OIC’s position and resolutions on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.”


Three million children may miss a semester in flood-hit Pakistan — officials

Updated 29 September 2022

Three million children may miss a semester in flood-hit Pakistan — officials

  • In southern Sindh province, Pakistan’s worst-hit area, flooding has damaged about 15,000 schools
  • Pakistan, UNICEF and other agencies have set up temporary learning centers in flood-ravaged areas

ISLAMABAD: Almost 3 million children in Pakistan may miss at least one semester because of flood damage to schools, officials said Thursday, following heavy monsoon rains likely worsened by climate change.

Unprecedented deluges since mid-June have affected more than 33 million people, inundated millions of acres of land and devastated infrastructure, including education facilities.

Local authorities have set up temporary learning centers in flood-hit areas to enable children to keep studying. However, officials say these measures are not enough, given the scale of destruction.

In southern Sindh province, Pakistan’s worst-hit area, flooding has damaged about 15,000 schools, where 2.4 million children were enrolled, according to the local education department.

It has raised fears that at least 2.8 million children across the country may miss a semester, officials at the Planning Commission and National Disaster Management Authority told The Associated Press. Pakistan, UNICEF and other agencies have set up scores of temporary learning centers, they said.

On Thursday, Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal told journalists at the military-backed National Flood Response and Coordination Center that the deluges have caused so much destruction that relief and rehabilitation work will continue for two years.

The floods have killed 1,666 people, and damaged 643 schools in Balochistan, 109 in Punjab and 287 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. The majority of those killed or affected by the disaster are women and children, according to data released Wednesday by the National Disaster Management Authority.

A World Bank report released Wednesday said the flooding had heavily impacted schools. The Government High School Ahmadani, in Punjab’s Dera Ghazi Khan district, had served generations of students since 1916. But it was no longer functional because of flood damage, it said.

“An estimated 3.5 million children have had their schooling disrupted,” the World Bank report said.

It quoted Gohar Abbas, an education activist, as saying many schools have been transferred to emergency shelters where families have temporary accommodation.

The new government data comes as UK-based charity Save the Children estimates that almost half of flood-affected families are sleeping outside in tents or makeshift shelters.

It surveyed 1,200 households in the four worst-hit provinces. Most of the families surveyed had lost their homes and were living in squalid conditions near roadsides, using pieces of cloth or tarpaulin for shelter from monsoon rains.

Save the Children’s country director in Pakistan, Khuram Gondal, said Pakistan was now in the grip of a major health emergency.

“In Sindh province, I saw hundreds of thousands of people living in filthy conditions in makeshift camps – some with only a plastic sheet to protect themselves from the heavy monsoon rains,” Gondal said. “We’re seeing children dying from waterborne diseases every day, and things will only get worse the longer they go on sleeping outside without shelter, food or water.”

He said teams on the ground were doing everything they can to ensure people have food, shelter, and clean drinking water. “But the reality is, there aren’t nearly enough funds to meet the desperate level of need.”

The charity has so far reached over 28,000 people, including more than 14,000 children, he said.

On Aug. 31, the United Nations and Pakistan issued an appeal for $160 million in emergency funding to help flood victims.

UNICEF last week renewed its appeal for $39 million to help the most vulnerable, saying only a third of the sum had been met so far.


Pakistani former prime minister's daughter acquitted in 'Avenfield Reference'

Updated 13 min 1 sec ago

Pakistani former prime minister's daughter acquitted in 'Avenfield Reference'

  • Sharifs accused of embezzling public funds to offshore accounts used to purchase four luxury Avenfield properties
  • Graft case also implicated Sharif’s sons, Hassan and Hussain, Maryam Nawaz and husband Safdar Awan acquitted

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday acquitted Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and her husband Muhammad Safdar Awan in a case popularly known as the Avenfield Reference that relates to the purchase of a number of upscale properties in London. 


The Sharifs were accused of embezzling public funds to offshore accounts that were used to purchase four high valued Avenfield properties, an apartment block on Park Lane in central London. The graft case also implicated Sharif’s sons, Hassan and Hussain.

The Sharifs say the case is politically motivated.

In July 2018, an accountability court sentenced former PM Sharif to 10 years in prison in the case and gave his daughter Maryam Nawaz seven years for abetment. Sharif’s son-in-law Awan got a one-year sentence for not cooperating with the investigation. 

Th ex-PM and his daughter subsequently filed an appeal against the jail sentence with the Islamabad High Court, asking it to annul the verdict of the accountability court.

"This is how lies come to end," Nawaz said after the acquittal hearing, lauding her legal team for fighting her case for four years.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, took to the Twitter:

“The edifice of lies, slander & character assassination has come crumbling down today,” he said.

“Maryam Nawaz's acquittal in the Avenfield Reference is a slap in the face of so-called accountability system that was employed to target Sharif family. My congratulations to Maryam Beti [daughter] & Safdar.”

 

 

 

Sharif was also sentenced in a separate case to seven years in prison in December 2018 and fined $25 million on corruption charges. An anti-corruption court in Islamabad ruled that Sharif was unable to prove the source of income that had led to his ownership of a steel mill in Saudi Arabia.

Sharif left the country to receive medical treatment in London in 2019 and has since not returned.


Pakistan fast bowler Naseem Shah tests positive for COVID-19

Updated 51 min 45 sec ago

Pakistan fast bowler Naseem Shah tests positive for COVID-19

  • Shah was discharged from hospital on Thursday after being diagnosed with pneumonia
  • Shah played only one game in 7-match series against England at Karachi before being rested

LAHORE: Pakistan fast bowler Naseem Shah has tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss the remaining two Twenty20s against England, the Pakistan Cricket Board said on Thursday.

Shah was discharged from hospital on Thursday after being diagnosed with pneumonia and the PCB said the fast bowler was feeling “much better.”

“Shah is back in the team hotel where he will follow all COVID-19 protocols,” the PCB said in a statement.

Pakistan is due to leave for New Zealand next Monday to participate in a triangular Twenty20 series also featuring Bangladesh.

The PCB didn’t clarify whether the fast bowler will accompany the team to New Zealand.

Shah played only one game in the seven-match series against England at Karachi before being rested. He returned expensive figures of 0-41 off his four overs in the first match, which England won by six wickets.

He was admitted to hospital late Tuesday night in Lahore with a chest infection and fever.

Pakistan leads the series 3-2 with back-to-back narrow wins at Karachi and Lahore in the last two games as England couldn’t chase down below-par totals.

The remaining two matches will be played on Friday and Sunday at Lahore.


Given scale of flood damage, relief work to continue for two years — planning minister

Updated 52 min 56 sec ago

Given scale of flood damage, relief work to continue for two years — planning minister

  • Devastating floods engulfed large swathes of Pakistan this month, killing more than 1,600 people
  • Deluges swept away homes, crops, bridges, roads, causing an estimated $30 billion of damage

ISLAMABAD: Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives, Ahsan Iqbal, said on Thursday devastation from recent floods was so severe that relief activities would have to carry on for at least the next two years.

Devastating floods engulfed large swathes of Pakistan this month, killing more than 1,600 people and sweeping away homes, crops, bridges, roads and livestock and causing an estimated $30 billion of damage.

“Rehabilitation activities in the flood-affected areas may continue for two years in view of the scale of the devastation caused by the calamity,” Radio Pakistan reported, quoting Iqbal at a media talk.

“Natural disasters are a result of climate change, however, we are coming up with plans to deal with them in future. For now, the government has allocated Rs40 billion for 20 underdeveloped districts.”

Iqbal added that the nation would have to unite to come in aid of flood victims, lauding the work of international charities, local non-governmental organizations and the armed forces.

In the wake of the floods, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has appealed to rich nations for immediate debt relief, saying what had been done was commendable, but adding, “It’s far from meeting our needs.”

Sharif, who was in New York last week to attend the UN General Assembly, told Bloomberg TV that Pakistan had taken up the debt relief issue with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and world leaders.

“We have spoken to European leaders and other leaders to help us in Paris club, to get us a moratorium,” he said, referring to rich nation creditors.

Sharif has said the country of 220 million would not be able to stand on its feet “unless we get substantial relief.” He said Pakistan would also seek relief from long-time ally China, to which it owes about 30 percent of its external debt.

Sharif and then finance minister Miftah Ismail said they had also taken up the relief issue with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Ismail said the IMF has “almost agreed” to the request for easing the conditions of Pakistan’s $7 billion program that was resumed in July after being delayed for months.

“They’ve said almost yes,” he told local Pakistani Dunya News TV in New York a day after Sharif met the IMF’s managing director.


Pakistan, UAE agree to start work on Mubarak Center construction project in Lahore

Updated 29 September 2022

Pakistan, UAE agree to start work on Mubarak Center construction project in Lahore

  • Dhabi Group signed agreement with Pakistan to invest Rs60 billion in construction project in February this year
  • Mabarak Center will have commercial, residential and entertainment facilities as well as a seven-star hotel

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates have decided to start work on a construction project called the Mabarak Center in Lahore, the capital of the Punjab province, the office of the provincial chief minister said on Thursday.

The UAE’s Dhabi Group signed an agreement with Pakistan to invest Rs60 billion in the construction project in February this year. The center will include commercial, residential and entertainment facilities and is slated to be the tallest building in Lahore. It will include a seven-star hotel linked with Lahore’s Qaddafi Stadium.

On Thursday, UAE ambassador Hamad Obaid Al-Zaabi met Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, chief minister Punjab, to discuss the Mubarak Center initiative and other issues, including the promotion of bilateral relations and investment opportunities.

“Both agreed to start work on the Mubarak Center project on Ferozepur Road Lahore soon,” a statement from the chief minister’s office said.

“We welcome the billions of rupees investment in the state-of-the-art Mubarak Center project by the Dhabi Group and are deeply grateful to Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, UAE Minister [for Tolerance and Coexistence].”

“The construction project of the Mubarak Center will further promote mutual cooperation between the two countries,” the UAE envoy was quoted as saying in a statement.

During the meeting, Elahi also thanked the ambassador for UAE’s help for flood victims. Last month, the UAE began operating an air bridge to transport humanitarian aid to Pakistan. It has since sent 41 relief flights to support Pakistan where over 1,600 have died in cataclysmic floods.

The UAE is also Pakistan’s largest trading partner in the Middle East and home to more than 1.6 million Pakistani nationals.