Top Pakistan diplomat urges flood aid, patience with Taliban

Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari speaks during an interview with the Associated Press at the Pakistan Embassy, in Washington, US on September 27, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 28 September 2022

Top Pakistan diplomat urges flood aid, patience with Taliban

  • Pakistani FM gave contentious recommendations that the US work more directly with Afghanistan’s Taliban
  • US long has been at odds with many Pakistani officials over sympathetic handling and support for the Taliban

WASHINGTON: Pakistan’s foreign minister says the international community should work with Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban, not against it, when it comes to combatting foreign extremist groups and the economic and humanitarian crises in that country — even as many US officials say the Taliban have proved themselves unworthy of such cooperation.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Pakistan’s top diplomat, spoke to The Associated Press in the final days of a trip to the United Nations General Assembly in New York and to Washington that has focused on trying to draw more world attention to unprecedented flooding that has one-third of his country underwater.

Unrelenting monsoon rains that scientists say are worsened by climate change have killed more than 1,000 people in Pakistan, caused tens of billions of dollars in damage and destroyed much of the country’s staple food and commercial crops.

Pakistan is among many countries hardest-hit by climate change that have become increasingly outspoken in seeking more financial assistance from richer nations. Past and current economic and industrial booms of China, the United States and other leading economies are the biggest contributors to climate change, which is primarily caused by burning fossil fuels.

The roughly 30 million people in Pakistan reported to be displaced by the floods are “truly paying in the forms of their lives and their livelihoods for the industrialization of other countries,” said Zardari.

“And justice would be that we work together” globally, “that we’re not left alone, to deal with the consequences of this tragedy,” he said.

Zardari is the son of a past Pakistani prime minister and a past president. He became foreign minister in April.

He met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday. The Biden administration on the same day announced another $10 million in food aid for Pakistan, on top of more than $56 million in flood relief and humanitarian assistance this year.

More broadly, however, the Biden administration and other governments of leading economic nations have delivered only a small part of the $100 billion in annual aid they have pledged to help less-wealthy nations survive the droughts, rising seas and other disasters of climate change and switch to cleaner energy themselves.

“We expect the United States to be one of the leading players” in that, said Zardari, who also spoke approvingly of a nascent proposal out of the UN in which developed nations could cancel out existing debt as a form of climate aid.

“We’ve not yet seen — and that doesn’t mean we won’t see — the translation of this vision to practicalities on the ground” in terms of the overall climate aid, he said.

Zardari, who spoke to the AP on Tuesday at Pakistan’s embassy, also gave contentious recommendations that the US work more directly with Afghanistan’s Taliban. Pakistan and the United States have shared widely varying amounts of cooperation against violent armed groups sheltering in Afghanistan over the decades. The US long has been at odds with many Pakistani officials over sympathetic handling and support for the Taliban.

No country recognizes the Taliban, a group sanctioned as a terrorist organization that retook power by military force in August 2021, as Afghanistan’s legitimate government. The United States and the international community at large have sought to deal with billions of dollars in frozen Afghan Central Bank funds, to institute financial reforms, and to deliver badly needed aid to ordinary Afghans with minimal involvement by the Taliban.

“At the risk of hurting anyone’s feelings, I think it’s important to mention that these funds, it’s not the Taliban’s funds, it’s not the Americans’ funds. These are funds that belong to the people of Afghanistan,” Zardari said.

Economic isolation and privation such as Afghanistan has experienced since the Taliban takeover only feed authoritarianism and extremism, he said. The best financial outcomes would work through existing institutions, now in Taliban hands, not through “some sort of parallel government.”

Asked if he meant the US needed to hold its nose and deal with Afghanistan’s ruling power, Zardari said, “Pretty much.”

Meanwhile, the US discovery that the global leader of Al-Qaeda, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, had taken up refuge in the heart of Afghanistan’s capital since the Taliban had returned to power has left US leaders condemning Taliban officials for alleged complicity. The US killed Zawahiri in a drone strike in July.

The Taliban had yet to have the time and ability to grapple with extremist groups as a government should, Zardari said. “For them to demonstrate their will to take on terrorist organizations, we need to help them build their capacity to also do so” before judging them, he said.


Japan announces $38.9 million grant for Pakistan’s flood victims

Updated 07 December 2022

Japan announces $38.9 million grant for Pakistan’s flood victims

  • Floods in Pakistan earlier this year killed over 1,700, demolished millions of homes
  • Japan says will support Pakistan’s floods victims with international organizations

ISLAMABAD: Japan announced a grant assistance of $38.9 million for Pakistan as part of the country’s efforts to deliver life-saving aid to flood victims, the Japanese embassy in Pakistan announced on Tuesday.

Unusually heavy rains and melting glaciers during the monsoon season in Pakistan this year triggered flash floods in many parts of the country. Over 1,700 people were killed while millions of houses were swept away by raging currents.

The floods, as per Pakistan’s estimates, inflicted losses of up to $30 billion on the country. Millions were displaced from their homes while thousands continue to suffer from water-borne and vector-borne diseases.

Pakistan has appealed to the international community for aid to mitigate the massive losses caused to it by the floods.

“On December 2, the Government of Japan announced its plan to provide grant assistance of USD 38.9 million to Pakistan as part of Japan’s supplementary budget to deliver life-saving aid to the flood victims,” the Embassy of Japan in Pakistan said in a statement.

It said Japan would support flood victims in various social and economic dimensions in partnership with international organizations across Pakistan’s four provinces and in its capital city, Islamabad.

The embassy said an amount of $34.2 million would be provided for emergency medical assistance, food distribution, agriculture and livestock restoration, livelihood recreation, and gender-based violence risk mitigation and response.

“In order to ensure the rapid rollout to reach the most vulnerable, these projects will commence in January 2023,” it added.

Japan, the embassy said, would also provide support through JICA, equivalent to USD 4.7 million, for recovery from the floods in health, agriculture, education, gender, and resilient disaster management.


Pakistan could be world’s sixth largest economy by 2075— Goldman Sachs report

Updated 07 December 2022

Pakistan could be world’s sixth largest economy by 2075— Goldman Sachs report

  • China to overtake US as world’s largest economy by 2050, report says
  • Climate catastrophe, populist nationalists in power risk to projections

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan could be the sixth largest economy in the world by 2075, according to a report compiled by renowned US investment banking firm Goldman Sachs earlier this week.

Titled ‘The Path to 75’, the research report predicts the state of the global economy in the decades to come and goes as far as 2075. 

According to the report, China will dethrone the US in 2050 to become the largest economy in the world. However, by 2075, the report predicts the largest economies in the world would be China, India, the US, Indonesia, Nigeria and Pakistan.

“By 2075, with the appropriate policies and institutions, Nigeria, Pakistan and Egypt could be among the world’s largest economies,” it stated. The prediction regarding Pakistan’s growth was made due to the country’s population growth in the years to come.

The report warned, however, that climate catastrophes and populist leaders were risks to its projections.
It added that populist nationalists in power may lead to increased protectionism that could potentially result in the reversal of globalization which could increase income inequality across countries.

Furthermore, Goldman Sachs predicted that global growth will average just under 3 percent a year over the next decade, down from 3.6 percent in the decade before the financial crisis. The report said that global growth would be on a gradually declining path afterwards, reflecting a slowing of the labor force growth.

In another key projection, the report said that emerging markets would continue to converge with industrial nations as China, the US, India, Indonesia and Germany top the league table of the largest economies when measured in dollars.

Nigeria, Pakistan and Egypt could also be among the biggest, it added.


Saudi Arabia committed to averting Pakistan’s economic crisis— ex-envoy Ali Asseri

Updated 07 December 2022

Saudi Arabia committed to averting Pakistan’s economic crisis— ex-envoy Ali Asseri

  • Pakistani PM has ability, courage and will to take country forward, ex-Saudi envoy says
  • Ambassador highlights ongoing ‘major transformation’ in Pak-Saudi economic relations

Saudi Arabia is committed to rescuing Pakistan’s economy and help the country achieve political and economic stability, Dr. Ali Awadh Asseri, Saudi Arabia’s former ambassador to Pakistan, said on Wednesday.

The statement from the ex-Saudi envoy comes at a time when the South Asian nation reels from dwindling foreign exchange reserves, a depreciating currency and a ballooning current account deficit amid soaring inflation.

To make matters worse, torrential rains in mid-June triggered flash floods across the country, killing over 1,700, destroying millions of homes and washing away large swathes of crops. Pakistan estimates losses from the climate disaster to be over $30 billion.

Speaking at the Islamabad Conclave organized by the Institute of Strategic Studies, Asseri said it was crucial for Pakistan to achieve economic stability as it brings about political stability and can help Pakistan safeguard its national security.

“This is clear from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s personal resolve for not only addressing Pakistan’s immediate financial needs but also guaranteeing long-term investments in the energy sector,” he said.

Asseri said PM Shehbaz Sharif has the “ability, courage and will” to take Pakistan forward. “He can count on the Saudi nation and its leadership for whatever support is needed for economic and political stability,” he added.

Asseri pointed out that the Saudi Vision 2030 offered “enormous opportunities” for Pakistan’s trade and investment relationship with the kingdom. He said it was a chance for the South Asian nation to employ its skilled manpower in mega development projects.

He said a major transformation is underway in Pak-Saudi economic relations. Asseri said Riyadh was eyeing long-term investments in Pakistan.

“The Saudi leadership is committed to $20 billion dollars investment in refinery, petrochemical complex, mining and renewable energy projects in Pakistan,” he said.


Babar Azam reclaims number 3 position in ICC Test batter rankings

Updated 07 December 2022

Babar Azam reclaims number 3 position in ICC Test batter rankings

  • Babar Azam scored 136 runs in Pakistan’s first innings against England
  • Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne secures top spot in Test batter’s ranking

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s all-format captain Babar Azam on Wednesday reclaimed the third spot in the ICC Men’s Test Batting Rankings, according to the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Azam, widely regarded as one of the best batters in international cricket today, is currently ranked at number 1 and number 4 on ICC’s ODI and T20I batters rankings. According to the latest update to the ICC rankings released on Wednesday, Azam reclaimed the number three spot he had lost with 879 points.

He scored an impressive 136 runs against England in Rawalpindi during the first Test match between Pakistan and England. However, Azam was unable to hold off the English bowling onslaught in the second innings, succumbing to 4 runs from 5 balls off a Ben Stokes delivery.

Pakistan ended up losing the match by 74 runs, earning flak from cricket analysts and pundits for their defensive approach. Stokes and the English side, on the other hand, won praise for playing attacking cricket and forcing a result out of a Test match that was headed for a certain draw.

Azam will have a chance to further move up the rankings as Pakistan take on England again in the second Test match of the series. The match will be played in Multan from December 9-13.

Meanwhile, Australia’s Marnus Lasbuschagne removed Joe Root to claim the top spot in the ICC’s Test Batter rankings.

Labuschagne registered scores of 204 and 104* against the West Indies during the first Test in Perth and that helped him take the top ranking and rise to a total of 935 rating points.

Currently, Australia’s Steven Smith is placed at number 2 with 893 points, followed by Azam with 879 points.  


Pakistan Supreme Court orders new investigation team to probe journalist's assassination

Updated 07 December 2022

Pakistan Supreme Court orders new investigation team to probe journalist's assassination

  • Fact-finding report says Arshad Sharif was forced to leave Pakistan, UAE after his relations suffered with military
  • The document says role of transnational characters is suspected behind the journalist’s assassination in Kenya

KARACHI: Pakistan’s top court on Wednesday directed the federal government to constitute a new joint investigation team (JIT) to probe the assassination of journalist Arshad Sharif which, according to a fact-finding team (FFT), was the work of transnational individuals.

Sharif, a prominent Pakistani journalist who turned into a harsh critic of the incumbent government and the country’s military, was shot and killed by the police in the East African state of Kenya on October 23. The authorities in Nairobi described the incident as a case of “mistaken identity,” adding it took place when the journalist’s vehicle sped up and drove through a checkpoint.

The federal government constituted a five-member JIT to probe the murder a day after the first information report (FIR) was registered by the Islamabad police on the Supreme Court’s instructions on Tuesday. The FIR was lodged against three people, Waqar Ahmed, Khurram Ahmed and Tariq Wasi, who are suspected to have played a role in Sharif’s killing.

“The federal government should immediately constitute a new joint investigation team,” Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial said while hearing the suo moto case related to the matter. “The court wants an independent team to probe this case.”

Justice Bandial said the new team should include officials belonging to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Intelligence Bureau (IB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and police. He argued the court had not constituted a judicial commission as demanded by Sharif’s family since it was a criminal case.

The slain journalist’s mother, who attended the proceedings along with her daughter-in-law, told the court the fact-finding report had recorded how her son was forced to leave Pakistan and then pressured to move out of Dubai.
The court proceedings would resume tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the fact-finding team’s report seen by Arab News said the role of transnational characters in Kenya, Dubai and Pakistan could not be ruled out in the assassination.

“Both the members of the FFT have a considered understanding that it is a case of planned targeted assassination with transnational characters rather than a case of mistaken Identity,” the report said.

The team noted there were compelling reasons for Sharif to leave Pakistan, adding that criminal cases registered against him in different districts were most likely the reason why he was also asked to leave by the UAE authorities.

“The four GSU [General Service Unit] police officials [in Kenya] ... had been used as instruments in this case under any influence, either financial or some other compulsion,” the report said, adding that Waqar, who hosted Sharif, was connected to the National Intelligence Service (NIS) of Kenya and international intelligence agencies and police.

His brother, Khurram, was driving Sharif back to Nairobi when the shooting incident took place.

The fact-finding team said the role of Tariq Wasi was also dubious.

“Since he was the one who was directly linked with Waqar and who arranged for Arshad Sharif to be hosted by Waqar in Kenya, if indeed the case has a transnational angle, then Tariq Wasi would also become a key lynchpin for anybody wanting to murder Arshad Sharif,” the report added.

The document noted Sharif was widely considered throughout the journalistic community in Pakistan as a “pro-establishment journalist.” He was known to have a very positive relationship with the military and also developed a very close relationship with former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

The report said the slain journalist became critical of “the military’s stance” following the no-trust motion against Khan which resulted in the change of government in the country.

“That criticism became sharper and sharper and, in some cases, came out in very personal terms against certain individuals,” it maintained. “This created a rift with the institution.”

The document further said Sharif was struggling to reconcile his previous closeness to the military with his new anti-establishment stance, adding he was conducting a dialogue “either internally or with someone else.”

Barrister Shoaib Razzaq, Sharif’s lawyer and friend, confirmed to the fact-finding team that 16 cases had been registered against the slain journalist who left Pakistan due to the fear of being arrested. He added that some of these cases were brought against Sharif on the behest of a serving brigadier since the two developed a bad relationship after the downfall of Khan’s administration.

Pakistan’s military has so far not responded to the claim.