US official visits to Pakistan from Monday to bolster bilateral talks, address Afghan deportation issue

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A State Department contractor adjust Pakistan national flag before a meeting at the State Department in Washington on February 19, 2015. (REUTERS/File)
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US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Julieta Valls Noyes speaks during a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signing ceremony at the State Department in Washington, DC, on December 12, 2022. (AFP/File)
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Updated 03 December 2023
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US official visits to Pakistan from Monday to bolster bilateral talks, address Afghan deportation issue

  • Foreign office says the high-level visits are part of an ongoing dialogue over a range of issues
  • US has urged Pakistan not to repatriate Afghan nationals who actively collaborated with its forces

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will witness back-to-back visits by senior US officials starting tomorrow, the foreign office spokesperson confirmed on Sunday, characterizing the upcoming interactions between Pakistani and American officials as part of dialogue over a range of issues.
The US State Department announced the visit of Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration Julieta Valls Noyes to Pakistan on Friday, saying she would be in Islamabad for a series of meetings from December 4 to 7.
The statement described the purpose of her visit to discuss “shared efforts to protect vulnerable individuals and accelerate safe, efficient relocation and resettlement of Afghan refugees in the US immigration pipeline.”
Pakistan has launched a deportation drive against “illegal immigrants” for security reasons, affecting the lives of a number of Afghans who left their homeland after the Taliban swept back to power after US and NATO troops pulled out of the war-ravaged country in August 2020.
The US government urged the Pakistani authorities not to repatriate people who actively collaborated with its forces in Afghanistan, fearing reprisals from the Taliban administration.
“Pakistan and the United States continue to hold consultations on a range of issues,” foreign office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said in a statement. “To advance these consultations, exchange of visits also takes place.”
She identified three US officials, noting that Noyes’ visit would be followed by Special US Representative on Afghanistan Tom West, scheduled to be in Pakistan from December 7 to 9, and then by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Elizabeth Horst, who plans to visit Islamabad from December 9 to 12.
“These visits are part of ongoing dialogue with the US on a range of issues including, but not limited to, the situation in Afghanistan,” Baloch added.
Pakistan’s arrest and deportation of Afghan nationals has been criticized by a number of international rights organizations amid harassment complaints by registered refugees.
The US has also asked Pakistan to fulfil its obligations toward asylum seekers from Afghanistan seeking international protection after entering its territory.


Pakistani policewoman, lauded for rescuing woman from blasphemy mob, says ‘it was my duty’

Updated 27 February 2024
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Pakistani policewoman, lauded for rescuing woman from blasphemy mob, says ‘it was my duty’

  • The woman was surrounded in a Lahore restaurant by men who wrongly claimed her shirt was adorned with verses from Holy Qur’an
  • Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in ultra-conservative Pakistan, where mobs have lynched people they deem to have insulted Islam 

LAHORE: A Pakistani policewoman, who has been recommended for a gallantry award for rescuing a woman from a blasphemy mob, said on Tuesday she went to the site of the incident to protect an innocent life as “it was my duty” and nothing more.

The woman, who has not been named by authorities for security reasons, was surrounded by men in a restaurant in the eastern city of Lahore for wearing an Arabic-inscribed dress. The crowd claimed the shirt was adorned with verses from the Holy Qur’an.

Videos shared online showed the woman being sheltered in a shop, before a senior woman police officer, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Shehrbano Naqvi, arrives at the scene and rescues her to safety.

ASP Naqvi of Punjab police has since been showered with praise by politicians, senior police officials and general public, and has been recommended by the provincial police chief for the highest gallantry award for law enforcement in Pakistan.

On Tuesday, the senior policewoman said while it was a great honor to be recommended for the Quaid-e-Azam Police Medal, she only did her duty by taking the woman out of harm’s way.

“This is of course a great honor, and something that everyone in the service looks forward to, to be recognized for their hard work,” Naqvi told Arab News.

“But really, it was just work, it was my duty. Nothing more. I didn’t go out there to make a name for myself, I went there to protect an innocent life, and defuse a situation that could have gotten very violent.”

Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in deeply conservative, Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam and its noted personalities can provoke death at the hands of vigilantes. Politicians have been assassinated, lawyers murdered and students lynched over such accusations.

Naqvi recalled that the situation was quite tensed when the police arrived at the restaurant in Lahore’s Ichhra market, where the mob had surrounded the woman.

“We got an anonymous call around 1:30pm on Monday that a woman had been surrounded by a mob in Ichhra with rumors of something religiously offensive written on her dress,” she said.

“And this all was based on misinformation. They [mob] thought the dress had Qur’anic verses written on it but it was absolutely not the case. The narrative just came from certain segments of the religious community or certain people I would say.”

The dress had the word ‘Halwa,’ meaning dessert, written on it in the Arabic script, according to the senior policewoman.

When the mob started chanting death threats, Naqvi and other police personnel decided to briefly speak to the charged crowd and then whisked the woman to the Gulberg police station by covering her face with a piece of cloth.

The reason Naqvi was at the forefront when the incident unfolded was that she had encountered a similar situation before, in which a man made similar claims at the city’s Liberty Market during protests over former prime minister Imran Khan’s brief arrest on May 9.

“Whether a mob gathers for political, social or religious reasons, our duty is to follow certain SOPs (standard operating procedures). First of all, law and order must be maintained. Then there are secondary concerns after the accused’s safety. That nearby shops don’t get damaged in mob violence, that no bystander’s life is harmed,” Naqvi told Arab News.

“So, to do all that we have to initiate dialogue, go to the mob, talk to them, because they need a voice of reason. You also need to identify the instigators behind it all. Those who are the most vocal in the mob, remove them and then take the bystanders into confidence.”

Naqvi said the situation in Lahore could have worsened if it was allowed to simmer for some time amid a delayed response from the police, but fortunately, they were able to get to the spot on time and secure the woman and her husband.

Separately, Pir Afzal Qadri, secretary-general of the Majlis-Tahaffuz-e-Khatme Nabuwwat religious movement, visited the Gulberg police station on Tuesday and assured people that the incident was an outcome of a misunderstanding.

“Somebody read something wrong and then gathered a bunch of people, but I want to reiterate that nobody has the right to take the law into their own hands,” Qadri told Arab News.

He said he had helped calm down the mob on Monday as well: “This was wrong, unethical and illegal.”


Murad Ali Shah takes oath as chief minister of Pakistan’s Sindh province amid opposition protest

Updated 27 February 2024
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Murad Ali Shah takes oath as chief minister of Pakistan’s Sindh province amid opposition protest

  • Shah has secured third consecutive term as chief minister of southern Pakistani province
  • Opposition parties observed a ‘black day’ against alleged vote-rigging as Shah took oath

KARACHI: Murad Ali Shah, the chief minister-elect of Pakistan’s southern Sindh province, on Tuesday took oath of his office for the third time as opposition parties observed a “black day” to protest alleged rigging of Feb. 8 national election in the province.

Shah, a Stanford University graduate who has worked as a professional engineer and banker, was first elected to the top provincial office in 2016, when his party removed veteran politician, Qaim Ali Shah, from the post after criticism over his way of administering the province.

In 2018, Shah was again elected as the chief minister after his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won majority in the province. He served on the post until August last year. In the Feb. 8 national election, the PPP once again bagged the highest 84 provincial seats and nominated Shah as the candidate for CM’s office.

On Monday, Shah, whose father Abdullah Shah also served as the chief minister of Sindh, was polled 112 votes in the 168-member Sindh Assembly, while his opponent, Ali Khurshidi, from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) secured 36 votes.

“Governor Sindh Kamran Tessori administered oath to Murad Ali Shah in an oath-taking ceremony at Governor House,” a spokesperson of the Sindh chief minister house said in a statement on Tuesday.

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Sindh Assembly Speaker Owais Qadir Shah, Deputy Speaker Anthony Naveed and newly elected members of the PPP attended the oath-taking ceremony, according to the statement.

Born in the provincial capital of Karachi in August 1962, Shah acquired his early education from St. Patricks High School and a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from the NED University of Engineering and Technology. He pursued dual Masters of Science degrees in Civil-Structural Engineering and Engineering Economic Systems from Stanford University in California.

Shah has an extensive experience of working in both public and private sectors in Pakistan, UK, Kuwait, and the US from 1986 to 2002. He worked as an engineer at multiple positions before becoming an investment banker at prestigious institutions like Citibank and the Gulf Investment Corporation.

In 2002, Shah ventured into politics and has since excelled in navigating the tricky arena, winning five provincial assembly elections and holding key provincial portfolios like revenue, irrigation, finance, energy and planning and development.

Shah’s oath-taking was held amid a protest by opposition parties, including the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), outside the Karachi Press Club. The protesters alleged their mandate had been stolen in the Feb. election.

“As we protest here, the thieves who stole our mandate took oath of the office,” GDA general-secretary Dr. Safdar Abbasi said, adding his group would soon announce its next line of action to reclaim its mandate.

“The masses will not accept the hybrid dictatorship,” JI’s Dr. Osama Razi told a few hundred protesters from the three opposition groups.

A day ago, jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party also announced observing a black day on Tuesday against what it called an “election fraud,” however, the party did not attend the demonstration outside the Karachi Press Club.


Pakistan hopes to clear final IMF review, considers additional financing of $6-8 billion

Updated 27 February 2024
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Pakistan hopes to clear final IMF review, considers additional financing of $6-8 billion

  • Pakistan has increased energy prices to meet the global lender’s conditions under the short-term $3 billion loan
  • Pakistani officials say the final decision to avail another IMF program will be made by the next elected government

KARACHI: Expressing confidence to clear the final review of $3 billion short-term financing program of International Monetary Fund (IMF) after meeting key conditions including energy price hike, Pakistani authorities are weighing options to avail another $6-8 billion program, an official privy to the situation confirmed on Tuesday.
The South Asian nation, with a population of over 241 million, increased gas prices by up to 76 percent for domestic consumers in recent months before raising petroleum prices by 1-3 percent in February. The National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) also notified Rs7.05 per unit hike in power prices under fuel charge adjustment (FCA) on Monday.
Pakistani authorities are confident that recent energy price adjustments to meet some of the key conditions of the global lender would help clear the second and last review of the $3 billion Stand By Arrangement (SBA) that ends in March 2024.
“With latest energy price hikes, Pakistan has met almost all the preconditions set by the IMF for end-December 2023 review including exchange rate stability, continuation of tight monetary policy and restricted circular debt flow,” an official of finance division on Tuesday told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
The official said the government was successful in restricting the circular debt flow below the fund’s stated target of Rs385 billion ($1.37 billion), though it went as high as Rs378 billion ($1.35 billion) by the end of last December.
Pakistan’s circular debt stock, outstanding payments and liabilities in the country’s energy sector, continues to swell despite taking painful measures by the government including tariff hikes that resulted in high inflation.
The circular debt within the energy sector escalated to a staggering Rs5.73 trillion (approximately $20.5 billion) by the end of last November, official data reveals. This figure encompassed a power sector debt of Rs2.7 trillion ($9.66 billion) alongside a gas sector indebtedness surpassing Rs3 trillion ($10.7 billion).
While the IMF has not yet announced dates to start negotiations with Pakistan for the second review since it was ostensibly waiting for the formation of the next government, a successful review of the program will enable the South Asian nation to receive another tranche of about $1.1 billion from the fund.
The Pakistani official said the country was exploring various options to put before the IMF to avail new long-term program in recent weeks.
“The options under consideration included the size and conditions for the new program,” he said adding: “Yes, the size could be anywhere between $6-8 billion including the climate financing factor, the RSF.”
The Resilience and Sustainability Facility (RSF) of the IMF offers affordable, long-term financing to countries committed to reforms aimed at mitigating risks to future balance of payments stability, including challenges posed by climate change and pandemic preparedness.
The official, however, clarified that nothing had been finalized yet, adding these options were still at a preliminary stage and would be suggested to the next government, if finalized.
“It will be the prerogative of the next elected government to negotiate the size, terms and condition of the next program with the fund or whether or not they want to go to the IMF,” he added.
Last year in November, Pakistan’s caretaker finance minister Dr. Shamshad Akhtar hinted the country would continue to seek financial facility from the IMF to keep its fragile economy afloat.
Pakistani economists underscored the need for a new IMF program while calling for immediate engagement with the fund.
“It is good to hear that the government is working to get another IMF program,” Dr. Sajid Amin, deputy executive director at Islamabad-based Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), said.
“The real test, however, will be how quickly the new government takes up the challenge and engages with the fund.”
The present state of economy, particularly the low foreign exchange reserves and high external debt repayments, made it imperative for the country, Amin continued, to seek the IMF support for at least three more years.
“Unnecessary delays, as we witnessed in the PTI [Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf] and PDM [Pakistan Democratic Movement] tenures, will hurt the economy,” he warned.
Arab News sought comments from both the IMF and the finance ministry for this story, but received no response.


Pakistan and Saudi Arabia vow to boost investment in key sectors — commerce ministry

Updated 27 February 2024
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Pakistan and Saudi Arabia vow to boost investment in key sectors — commerce ministry

  • Pakistan’s caretaker commerce minister held high-level talks in the kingdom to enhance bilateral economic ties
  • Saudi officials commit to strengthening trade relations and exploring new collaboration avenues with Pakistan

KARACHI: Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have agreed to work toward increasing investment in key sectors, laying the groundwork for sustainable economic growth and prosperity, Pakistani commerce ministry said on Tuesday.
The statement comes after Caretaker Commerce Minister Gohar Ejaz returned to Islamabad after completing an official visit to the kingdom, where he engaged in high-level discussions to strengthen bilateral economic ties between the two nations.
During his visit, Ejaz met with key Saudi officials including Minister of Investment Khaled Al-Falih and Commerce Minister Majid Bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi in Riyadh.
“These meetings aimed to explore opportunities for collaboration and investment between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia,” the statement added.
Accompanied by a delegation of 20 Pakistani industrialists, Ejaz held productive discussions with Saudi ministers on various avenues for enhancing bilateral trade and investment.
The discussions emphasized the importance of increasing cooperation in sectors such as oil and gas, construction, food and agriculture.
The Pakistani commerce minister highlighted the need to elevate trade and investment relations between the two sides, underscoring the mutual benefits of closer economic cooperation.
The Saudi ministers expressed their commitment to strengthening trade relations with Pakistan, affirming their willingness to explore new avenues for collaboration, according to the commerce ministry.
During the visit, the Saudi-Pakistan Business Forum in Riyadh was held on 21 February, which was organized in collaboration with the Saudi Ministry of Commerce, General Authority of Foreign Trade and the Saudi Federation of Chambers.
The focus of the event was to connect Pakistan’s top tier business leadership with their Saudi counterparts.
Sectors that were well represented on both sides included petrochemicals, fertilizers and chemicals, food, IT, investments, textile and real estate, according to commerce ministry.


Pakistan Army, Saudi land forces conclude joint military training exercise in Multan

Updated 27 February 2024
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Pakistan Army, Saudi land forces conclude joint military training exercise in Multan

  • The exercise continued from Jan. 15 to Feb. 26 with a view to foster joint employment techniques, exchange expertise
  • Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong defense ties and regularly engage in joint air, ground and sea military exercises

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Army and the Royal Saudi Land Forces (RSLF) this week concluded a joint military training exercise in the eastern city of Multan that was aimed at enhancing their military capabilities and exchanging expertise, the Pakistani military said on Tuesday.

The exercise continued from January 15 to February 26 with a view to foster joint employment techniques and benefiting from each other’s experiences, according to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the Pakistani military’s media wing.

“The training, which encompassed conventional as well as sub-conventional operations, culminated with field maneuver and battle inoculation exercise, employing air and ground forces,” the ISPR said in a statement.

The commander of Pakistan Army’s Multan Corps witnessed the exercise as the chief guest and expressed his satisfaction over mutual understanding and the training standards achieved, according to the ISPR.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong defense ties and bilateral security cooperation. The two nations regularly engage in joint air, ground, and sea military exercises, while several cadets from the Kingdom, along with counterparts from other Middle Eastern nations, annually visit Pakistan to undergo specialized military training.

The joint exercise that concluded in Multan further consolidated longstanding fraternal relations between Pakistan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the ISPR added.