Blinken defends Pakistan arms sales against Indian criticism

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks after his meeting with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari at the State Department in Washington, DC, September 26, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 28 September 2022

Blinken defends Pakistan arms sales against Indian criticism

  • Top US diplomat defends $450 million F-16 deal for Pakistan approved in September, says package for maintenance of existing fleet
  • Pakistan’s military relies heavily on US equipment but the relationship soured during the two-decade-long US war in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday defended military sales to Pakistan after withering criticism from growing US partner India, which considers itself the target of Islamabad’s F-16 planes.

Blinken met in the US capital with India’s foreign minister a day after separate talks with his counterpart from Pakistan.

The US-Pakistan alliance, born out of the Cold War, has frayed over Islamabad’s relationship with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

The top US diplomat defended a $450 million F-16 deal for Pakistan approved earlier in September, saying the package was for maintenance of Pakistan’s existing fleet.

“These are not new planes, new systems, new weapons. It’s sustaining what they have,” Blinken told a news conference with his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

“Pakistan’s program bolsters its capability to deal with terrorist threats emanating from Pakistan or from the region. It’s in no one’s interests that those threats be able to go forward with impunity,” Blinken said.

Jaishankar did not criticize Blinken in public. But on Sunday, speaking at a reception for the Indian community in the United States, Jaishankar said of the US position, “You’re not fooling anybody.”

“For someone to say, I’m doing this because it’s for counter-terrorism, when you’re talking of an aircraft like the capability of the F-16, everybody knows where they are deployed,” he said, referring to the fleet’s positioning against India.

“Very honestly, it’s a relationship that has neither ended up serving Pakistan well nor serving American interests well,” he said.

Pakistan’s military relies on US equipment but the relationship soured during the two-decade US war in Afghanistan, with Washington believing that elements in Islamabad never severed support for the Taliban, who seized back power last year.

India historically has bought military equipment from Moscow and has pressed the United States to waive sanctions required under a 2017 law for any nation that buys “significant” military hardware from Russia.

Speaking next to Blinken, Jaishankar noted that India has in recent years also made major purchases from the United States, France and Israel.

India assesses quality and purchase terms and “we exercise a choice which we believe is in our national interest,” he said, rejecting any change due to “geopolitical tensions.”

The United States since the late 1990s has made warm relations with India a top goal, seeing common cause between the world’s two largest democracies on issues from China’s rise to the threat of Islamist extremism.

The United States has largely turned a blind eye to India’s continued relationship with Russia since the Ukraine invasion but was pleased when Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently told President Vladimir Putin that it was “not a time for war.”

Jaishankar indicated that India was working behind the scenes, saying it had “weighed in” with Russia during UN- and Turkish-led negotiations that opened up grain shipments from the blockaded Black Sea.

India “is widening its international footprint,” Jaishankar said.

“There are many more regions where we will be intersecting with American interests. It is to our mutual benefit that this be a complementary process,” Jaishankar said.

But once rock-solid support for India in the US Congress has seen gaps amid concern over rights under Modi, a Hindu nationalist whose government has been accused of marginalizing Muslims and other religious minorities and pressuring activists through legal action and financial scrutiny.

Blinken addressed the issue delicately, saying the two nations should commit to “core values including respect for universal human rights, like freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression, which makes our democracies stronger.”

Jaishankar responded indirectly that both nations were committed to democracy but “from their history, tradition and societal context.”

“India does not believe that the efficacy or indeed the quality of democracy should be decided by vote banks,” he said.


Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa set to hand over command of Pakistan Army to Gen Asim Munir

Updated 12 sec ago

Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa set to hand over command of Pakistan Army to Gen Asim Munir

  • Outgoing chief passes baton to successor at a change of command ceremony in Rawalpindi
  • Gen Bajwa on Monday held farewell meetings with PM Shehbaz Sharif and President Arif Alvi

ISLAMABAD: Outgoing Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa will shortly be handing over command of army to his successor, General Asim Munir, as he retires as head of Pakistan's all-powerful military branch, which has historically held a massive sway in governance and foreign policy matters of the nuclear-armed South Asian nation.

Gen Bajwa's tenure comes to an end after six years. The outgoing general will pass the baton to Gen Munir at a change-of-command ceremony at the army’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. Gen Munir will be the 17th army chief of Pakistan.

Gen Bajwa will be presented a Guard of Honour at the ceremony, which will have services chiefs, both serving and retired military officials, and other dignitaries in attendance.

Ahead of the handing over, Bajwa on Monday held farewell meetings with PM Shehbaz Sharif and President Arif Alvi, in which both leaders lauded the outgoing officer's services for Pakistan, particularly in the areas of defense, security, and geo-economics.

“Under the leadership of General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the army demonstrated exemplary services in effectively dealing with various challenges, including the country’s exclusion from the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) Grey List, COVID-19 pandemic, and the recent flashfloods,” the PM office said in a statement. 

“You had the honor of leading the best army in the world.”

In an interview published by an international media outlet on Sunday, Bajwa reiterated the army’s resolve to remain apolitical and, in an apparent reference to former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, said that a campaign had been launched against the armed forces because it refused to intervene in politics. 

“Despite some criticism and undue vilification of the armed forces through mass propaganda and meticulously crafted false narratives, the institutional resolve to remain apolitical will remain steadfast,” the outgoing army chief said in the interview.

“I am certain that this political quarantine of the armed forces will auger well for Pakistan in the long term by fostering political stability and strengthening the army-to-people bond.”

The army has ruled Pakistan for almost half of its 75-year history either through coups or as an invisible guiding hand in politics.

Munir's appointment coincides with a dispute between the military and former premier Imran Khan, who blames the army for playing a part in his ouster in a parliamentary no-trust vote earlier this year and who has since been leading anti-government protests.

Gen Munir assumes his three-year stint as army chief on Nov. 29, the 17th holder of the post since Pakistan won independence from Britain in 1947. That compares with about 30 prime ministers during the same period.


McCullum wants England to play aggressively in Pakistan

Updated 13 min 28 sec ago

McCullum wants England to play aggressively in Pakistan

  • Under McCullum, England showed plenty of aggression in Test cricket at home this summer
  • Visitors have plenty of flare in middle-order with the likes of Stokes, Livingstone and Brook

RAWALPINDI: England coach Brendon McCullum aims to continue playing an aggressive brand of test cricket when his team takes on Pakistan in a three-test series starting Thursday.

Under McCullum, England showed plenty of aggression in the longer format of the game at home this summer when it routed coach’s home country New Zealand 3-0 and beat South Africa 2-1.

“One of the things we try and do is respect the conditions but at the same time if we are given the opportunity to try and play aggressive and attacking cricket, we’ll try and take that option,” McCullum told reporters on Monday as England had its first training session at the Pindi Cricket Stadium — the venue for the first test.

“The guys who are in our squad, that’s how they play their cricket and that’s what gives them the most amount of freedom and the best opportunity to perform at the highest level.”

England has plenty of flare in its middle-order with the likes of captain Ben Stokes, Liam Livingstone and Harry Brook to score at a rapid pace with experienced Joe Root also showing glimpses of aggression at home in this summer.

McCullum was excited that his team will be taking up the challenge of playing in Pakistan for the first time since 2005. Only veteran James Anderson has experience of the conditions when he toured with the team 17 years ago.

“We understand the size of the challenge in front of us,” he said. “You don’t want easy challenges. You want to take on the best in their own conditions … I don’t know if we’re going to win the series. I can almost guarantee when the skipper comes in here in 48 hours’ time he’ll say there’ll be no draws in the series.

“To win away from home is the greatest accomplishment you can achieve as a test player and as a test side.”

The opener at Rawalpindi will be followed by matches at Multan (Dec. 9-13) and Karachi (Dec. 17-21), with big crowds expected for each. England drew large crowds for a seven-match series in Karachi and Lahore in September and October prior to the T20 World Cup in Australia, where it beat Pakistan in the final.

“That’s what we want from red-ball cricket all around the world, stadiums packed out and fans getting behind their local team,” McCullum said.

“We’re lucky that the crowd here is sold out and that’s kind of what we want. The skipper (Stokes) wants them to be rockstars and to be a rockstar you’ve got to play in front of the big houses. We’ve got that opportunity to do that.”

The home team will be without its key fast bowler Shaheen Afridi, who is ruled out of the series because of a knee injury, but McCullum said Pakistan still has plenty of talented players.

“He’s (Afridi) a big loss, no doubt,” McCullum said. “But one thing when you play against Pakistan, you look at their team sheet and you see talent. It’s a very good Pakistan squad, it’s well-rounded, it’s got some experience and some youth, with both batting and bowling, and they’ll be a tough challenge. We know we’ll have to play well if we’re going to be successful.”

Pakistan has plenty of surprises up in its sleeves, especially in the bowling department as it has named uncapped fast bowlers Haris Rauf, Mohammad Ali and mystery spinner Abrar Ahmed in its 18-man squad for the test series.


Pakistan, IMF begin talks on $7 billion loan review 

Updated 18 min 29 sec ago

Pakistan, IMF begin talks on $7 billion loan review 

  • Fiscal data shared with the IMF and a team of the agency is expected to visit Islamabad soon 
  • Pakistan reserves stood at $7.8 billion as of Nov. 18, barely enough to cover a month’s imports 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and the International Monetary Fund have begun talks online on a ninth review of a $7 billion loan program, the Finance Ministry said on Monday, after a media outlet reported that the lender had asked the country to cut its expenses. 
The government has shared fiscal data, including for floods and related expenditures, with the IMF, and a team from the agency is expected to visit Islamabad soon, the ministry added. 
Under the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility (EFF), Pakistan secured a $6 billion bailout in 2019 that was topped up with another $1 billion earlier this year. 
“As part of the 9th review under the EFF, remote discussions continue between IMF staff and the Pakistani authorities over policies to re-prioritize and better target support toward humanitarian and rehabilitation needs,” the lender’s resident representative, Esther Pérez Ruiz, told Reuters in a statement. 
Pakistan has been reeling from floods this year that killed more than 1,700 people, destroyed farmland and infrastructure and exacerbated an economic crisis marked by decades-high inflation and dwindling foreign exchange reserves. 
“The IMF understands that the floods have changed the macroeconomic assumptions on which the program was designed,” the ministry told Reuters. 
“Detailed analysis is being conducted by their team using the data provided.” 
Pakistan reserves stood at $7.8 billion as of Nov. 18, barely enough to cover imports for a month. 
The Pakistan Stock Exchange fell around 2 percent on Monday, its first day of trading after the central bank unexpectedly hiked its key policy rate to 16 percent last week. 
ARY News reported on Monday that the IMF had asked Pakistan to reduce expenses before talks on the ninth review. 
The IMF’s board approved the seventh and eight reviews in August, allowing the release of more than $1.1 billion. 
The ninth review has been pending since September. The IMF told Reuters last week that finalization of a recovery plan from the floods was essential to support discussions, along with continued financial support from multilateral and bilateral partners.
 


After six-year tenure, General Bajwa retires as Pakistan army chief today

Updated 28 November 2022

After six-year tenure, General Bajwa retires as Pakistan army chief today

  • Outgoing chief holds farewell meetings with PM Shehbaz Sharif, President Arif Alvi
  • Will pass baton to successor General Asim Munir at change of command ceremony

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa will be retiring today, Tuesday after completing a six-year tenure as head of Pakistan's all-powerful military, which has an outsized role in the governance and foreign policy of the nuclear-armed nation.

A change of command ceremony will be held at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi on Tuesday morning during which Bajwa will pass the baton to his successor, General Asim Munir, who will become the 17th army chief of the country.

Ahead of the handing over, Bajwa on Monday held farewell meetings with PM Shehbaz Sharif and President Arif Alvi, in which both leaders lauded the outgoing officer's services for Pakistan, particularly in the areas of defense, security, and geo-economics.

“Under the leadership of General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the army demonstrated exemplary services in effectively dealing with various challenges, including the country’s exclusion from the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) Grey List, COVID-19 pandemic, and the recent flashfloods,” the PM office said in a statement. 

“You had the honor of leading the best army in the world.”

In an interview published in an international media outlet on Sunday, Bajwa reiterated the army’s resolve to remain apolitical and, in an apparent reference to former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, said that a campaign had been launched against the armed forces because it refused to intervene in politics. 

“Despite some criticism and undue vilification of the armed forces through mass propaganda and meticulously crafted false narratives, the institutional resolve to remain apolitical will remain steadfast,” the outgoing army chief said in the interview.

“I am certain that this political quarantine of the armed forces will auger well for Pakistan in the long term by fostering political stability and strengthening the army-to-people bond.”

The army has ruled Pakistan for almost half of its 75-year history either through coups or as an invisible guiding hand in politics.

Munir's appointment coincides with a dispute between the military and former premier Khan, who blames the army for playing a part in his ouster earlier this year and who has been leading anti-government protests since then.


Pakistan minister heads to Russia for oil and gas talks

Updated 28 November 2022

Pakistan minister heads to Russia for oil and gas talks

  • Trip comes as the South Asian nation struggles to meet domestic gas supply needs as winter approaches
  • Finance Minister Ishaq Dar last month said that Pakistan is considering buying discounted Russian oil

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's junior oil minister and the petroleum secretary have flown to Russia for talks on issues including oil and gas supplies, two people close to the matter told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The trip comes as the South Asian nation struggles to meet domestic gas supply needs as winter approaches while battling to contain a current account deficit swelled by energy payments, mostly for oil.

Junior oil minister Musadik Malik did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

The sources provided no further details, such as the exact agenda, who the Pakistani officials would meet in Russia or when the talks will take place.

Pakistan Finance Minister Ishaq Dar last month said that the country is considering buying discounted Russian oil, pointing out that neighbour India has been purchasing oil from Moscow and Islamabad also has a right to explore the possibility.

Pakistan has been unable to procure Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) from the international market because spot prices remain out of its range and shipments under long-term deals remain insufficient to match rising demand.

With dwindling local gas reserves, the country has begun to ration supplies to residential and commercial consumers. Local media has also reported that oil supplies remain tenuous owing to difficulties in paying for imports.