Blinken reaffirms commitment to ‘robust partnership’ in phone call with Pakistani foreign minister 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the press after meeting with the Armenian Prime Minister, European Union Foreign Policy chief and the EU Commission President, in Brussels on April 5, 2024. (AFP/File)
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Updated 06 April 2024
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Blinken reaffirms commitment to ‘robust partnership’ in phone call with Pakistani foreign minister 

  • Islamabad has long called for a broadening of relations with Washington beyond just security concerns
  • Analysts widely believe US will not seek to expand ties with Pakistan, remain focused on security cooperation

KARACHI: United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with Pakistani Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar on Friday and reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to a “robust partnership” that benefitted both nations, the US embassy in Islamabad said.

Ties between Islamabad and Washington, once close allies, have just started to warm after some years of frosty relations, mostly due to concerns about Pakistan’s alleged support of the Taliban in Afghanistan, though Islamabad long rejected accusations that it failed to tackle the militants battling the Kabul government and US-led foreign forces from sanctuaries on its side of the border.

Relations strained further under the government of former prime minister Imran Khan, who ruled from 2018-22 and antagonized Washington by welcoming the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021 and later accusing the US of being behind attempts to oust him. Washington has dismissed the accusation.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who took over after Khan and whose first term ended last year and second and ongoing term began in March, has vowed to mend ties but analysts widely believe the United States will not seek a significant broadening of ties with Islamabad in the near future but remain mostly focused on security cooperation, especially on counterterrorism and Afghanistan.

“Secretary Blinken reaffirmed our commitment to a robust partnership between the United States and Pakistan that advances the prosperity of both nations,” the US embassy in Islamabad said in a statement.

“Secretary Blinken stressed the importance of continued cooperation on counterterrorism, expanding our trade and investment partnership, and advancing women’s economic security and empowerment.”

Islamabad has long called for the expandsion ties with Washington beyond just security concerns and hopes to boost bilateral trade in goods and services, which the Pakistani embassy says totals about $12 billion currently.

Pakistan also hopes to attract more US investment, with a particular focus on food, IT and pharmaceuticals, after a long lull during which China became the dominant investor.

Pakistani officials say the country is well-placed to help diversify US supply chains that were dependent on China before COVID-19, but have started to shift toward other regional suppliers and could serve as a gateway to Central Asia.


Pakistan to enhance production of indigenous petroleum products— minister

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Pakistan to enhance production of indigenous petroleum products— minister

  • Cash-starved Pakistan spends over $20 billion each year on petroleum imports to meet energy demand
  • Pakistan welcomes foreign companies to invest in its oil and gas sector, says Petroleum Minister Musadik Malik

KARACHI: Pakistan wants to enhance the production of its indigenous petroleum products, Petroleum Minister Musadik Malik said on Wednesday, citing the financial burden that expensive crude oil imports have on the country’s fragile economy. 

Cash-strapped Pakistan relies heavily on imported petroleum products as its energy demands grow. Struggling with a balance of payments crisis, high inflation and steep currency devaluation, Pakistan is looking to secure cheaper energy imports and find alternate ways to lessen the cost of power generation. 

According to the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP), the country’s indigenous oil production meets only about one-fifth of Pakistan’s current oil needs. The rest is met through high-cost imports.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has urged the government to turn toward renewable energy resources. Last month, he said the country currently imports oil worth $27 billion to meet its power and transportation needs, which puts a strain on the cash-strapped nation. 

Speaking at the Pakistan Energy Symposium, Malik said it would be difficult to manage the country with such a huge energy import bill when Pakistan’s exports were around $30 billion. 

“We want to first of all, produce as much of the petroleum products, including gas and crude, indigenously as much as possible,” the minister said, adding that the government has put blocks for bidding and is actively trying to attract global players in exploration activities.

Malik said the government is expediting oil and gas exploration within the country, adding that it welcomes foreign companies to invest in the sector.

“So, we are telling the world that Pakistan is open for business, our regulatory process, particularly the petroleum concession process is very dense and opaque,” he said. 

He said investment processes and information about oil and gas exploration have been digitized and simplified to facilitate the government’s aims to enhance indigenous production of energy resources. 

Malik advocated for increasing the utilization of Pakistan’s abundant renewable energy resources, pointing out that the country’s solar energy costs have significantly decreased. 
 


PM Sharif demands industry status for Pakistan’s gemstones sector

Updated 22 May 2024
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PM Sharif demands industry status for Pakistan’s gemstones sector

  • Pakistan’s exports of gems and precious stones to China saw 47 percent increase in 2023, as per official figures
  • Pakistan possesses immense natural resources in KP, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir regions, says Sharif

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Wednesday stressed developing the country’s gems and precious stones sector, urging authorities to take steps to accord it the status of an industry, a statement from his office said. 

According to a report by Pakistan’s Ministry of Commerce, the country’s exports of pearls and precious stones to China saw a 47 percent increase in 2023, showcasing the rising demand for Pakistan’s precious stones in China. 

“The prime minister gave directions for steps to be taken for the gems and precious stones sector be granted industry status,” the PMO said, as Sharif chaired a meeting of the gems and private stones sector in Pakistan’s capital on Wednesday. 

Sharif said Pakistan possesses immense natural resources, particularly in the regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan, and, Azad Jammu and Kashmir. He called on authorities to properly utilize these resources to Pakistan’s advantage. 

“Efforts should be made to obtain international certifications for precious stones and the products made from them, and to ensure Pakistani representation in global exhibitions,” the prime minister said. 

He directed necessary consultations to be held with the private sector and provinces in this regard.

Separately, the prime minister also presided over a meeting on Information Technology Parks, directing the construction of Islamabad IT Park “as soon as possible.”

The Islamabad IT Park is expected to act as a state-of-the-art facility that would aim to foster collaboration, innovation and product development in teh capital. 

“The establishment of IT parks to promote IT, increase IT exports, and provide facilities to startups is a welcome development,” PM Sharif was quoted as saying by the PMO.

Sharif was told during the meeting that the Islamabad IT Park would be completed next year in collaboration with South Korea. 

“The Islamabad IT Park will feature startups, incubation centers, banks, restaurants, and other facilities,” the statement said. 


Babar holds key for success as unpredictable Pakistan gear up for World Cup

Updated 22 May 2024
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Babar holds key for success as unpredictable Pakistan gear up for World Cup

  • Pakistan has experienced massive changes in its cricket board since T20 World Cup 2022
  • Pakistani batter will be first person to lead a team for first time in three successive World Cups

ISLAMABAD: The return of tried and tested Babar Azam as captain for the Twenty20 World Cup belies the massive changes in Pakistan cricket over the last 18 months.

Since Babar’s team lost the T20 World Cup final to England in November 2022, the Pakistan Cricket Board has had four chairmen, the selection panel has been overhauled, and the experiment with Shaheen Shah Afridi as skipper was quickly aborted.

A new head coach for the limited-overs formats joined the squad in England just weeks ahead of the June 1-29 World Cup in the US and Caribbean.

And to top it off, Pakistan will be the last team to confirm its 15-member World Cup squad as it continues to experiment with various combinations.

Babar is urging supporters to be patient, and there’s a plan in place for success.

Babar stepped down from all-formats captaincy during the tenure of Zaka Ashraf as head of the PCB after Pakistan failed to qualify for the semifinals of the 50-over World Cup in India last year.

But he was reinstated as T20 captain by Mohsin Naqvi — the fourth PCB chairman in less than 14 months — ahead of home series against New Zealand in April after Afridi lost the series in New Zealand 4-1.

Allrounder Imad Wasim and fast bowler Mohammad Amir came out of international retirement in the hope that their experience of playing in the Caribbean Premier League will benefit Pakistan in the West Indies.

South African Gary Kirsten, who was appointed last month as head coach, will gain some first-hand knowledge of the Pakistan squad during a four-match series in England that both teams are using to rehearse for the World Cup.

All these off-the-field happenings have impacted Pakistan’s preparations for the tournament.

It badly lost the away series to New Zealand, scraped to a drawn 2-2 series at home against the Black Caps and lost a T20 series against Afghanistan 2-1. A shock loss to Ireland in Dublin preceded back-to-back wins and 2-1 series result.

And so unpredictable Pakistan enters another world tournament as a team to watch because of its rich history in the T20 World Cup. It has featured in three finals, winning the title in 2009, and also reached the semifinals three other times.

One of Kirsten’s coaching tips has already resonated with the players.

“Gary told us, don’t play for the name on the back of your jersey but for the badge in front of your shirt,” Afridi told a PCB podcast. “And that stayed with me.”

The depth in its pace bowling, with the likes of Afridi, fit-again Haris Rauf, Naseem Shah and Amir, can pose a threat to any team. But Pakistan’s top-order batting was still unsettled going into the series in England. Left-hander Saim Ayub is yet to fire in his role after selectors decided to separate the successful T20 opening pair of Babar and Mohammad Rizwan.

Babar has faced criticism for not pushing the scoring rate in the T20 power play, particularly while batting first. Pakistan has mostly aimed for totals in the 170-180 range while other teams have crossed 200 on regular basis.

Political tensions between Pakistan and India means there hasn’t been a bilateral series for over a decade, but the ICC tournaments always attracts a huge TV audience when the archrivals meet.

Pakistan and India will play a group game on June 9 at a newly built 34,000-capacity Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York that will be the center of attention for South Asian communities.

Both teams are expected to advance to the Super 8 stage from a group that also contains tournament co-host US, Canada and Ireland.

Babar has twice gone close to lifting the trophy as captain, losing to eventual champion Australia in the 2021 semifinals and to England in the final in the Melbourne final the following year.

And for that, he’ll get the distinction of becoming the first player to lead a country in three successive T20 World Cups and will be aiming for third time lucky if his Pakistan lineup can reach the June 29 decider in Barbados.


Saudi aid agency distributes 9,000 shelters, non-food items among Pakistan’s flood-hit families

Updated 22 May 2024
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Saudi aid agency distributes 9,000 shelters, non-food items among Pakistan’s flood-hit families

  • The relief kits containing solar panels, blankets, kitchen sets, water coolers and soaps will benefit 63,000 individuals
  • These items have been distributed among people of Upper Dir, Lower Chitral, Swat, Gwadar, Chaghi and Pishin districts

ISLAMABAD: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) announced on Wednesday it has distributed 9,000 shelters and non-food items to flood-affected families in Pakistan’s two western provinces to meet the needs of people affected by recent rains.

The death toll from rain-related incidents in Pakistan’s Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provinces surged to 78 last month.

Heavy rains in these provinces inundated the streets of several districts, damaging thousands of houses. The casualties included at least 33 children and 15 women, while many others were also injured and displaced.

“These relief kits, containing vital items such as shelters, solar panels, blankets, plastic mats, kitchen sets, water coolers, and antibacterial soap provided comprehensive support to 63,000 individuals,” KSRelief said in a statement.

The Saudi aid agency added the “vital assistance during this critical time” would benefit flood victims in Upper Dir, Lower Chitral, Swat, Charsada and Dera Ismail Khan districts of KP and Gwadar, Chaghi and Pishin districts of Balochistan.

“This initiative was executed in close collaboration with the National Disaster Management Authority and the respective provincial governments of KP and Balochistan through the Hayat Foundation,” the statement concluded.


Pakistani security forces kill 29 militants in Balochistan, say violence originating from Afghanistan

Updated 22 May 2024
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Pakistani security forces kill 29 militants in Balochistan, say violence originating from Afghanistan

  • Security forces say these militants were killed in intelligence-based operations within the last one month
  • Pakistan also lost one officer in firefight, asks Afghan authorities to ensure effective border management

ISLAMABAD: Security forces in Pakistan lost one officer and killed 29 militants within the last month while carrying out intelligence-based operations in the country’s southwestern Balochistan province, an official statement said on Wednesday, adding the violence was generated by armed groups operating from Afghanistan.
Pakistan has blamed the Taliban administration in Kabul in recent months for not doing enough to clamp down on militant outfits that have allegedly taken sanctuary in the neighboring state.
The top official of the military’s media wing, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), said on May 7 a deadly suicide car bombing targeting Chinese nationals in Shangla earlier this year was also planned in “terrorist sanctuaries” in Afghanistan.
However, Afghan authorities denied the claim the very next day.
“Pakistan has witnessed a surge in terrorist incidents orchestrated from Afghan soil, wherein, terrorists from Afghanistan attempt to infiltrate through Pakistan-Afghanistan Border and target Security Forces as well as the innocent civilians,” the ISPR said in a statement.
“In this context, in addition to other areas along Pakistan-Afghanistan border, Security Forces are conducting operations in general area Sambaza in Zhob District of Balochistan, since 21 April 24,” it continued. “As a result of effective engagements, 29 terrorists have been successfully neutralized by the Security Forces in past one month. In the same series of operations, during an intelligence based operation on 14 May 2024, Maj Babar Khan also embraced Shahadat [martyrdom], while fighting gallantly.”
Balochistan is a strategically significant province where Pakistani and Chinese governments are jointly working on a series of infrastructure and regional connectivity projects. However, the area has also witnessed a low-level insurgency carried out by Baloch nationalist groups seeking independence from the central government in Islamabad.
The security situation in the province is further complicated by armed networks such as the proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), whose leadership broke a fragile ceasefire with Pakistan in November 2022.
“Pakistan has consistently been asking Interim Afghan Government to ensure effective border management on their side,” the ISPR statement continued. “Interim Afghan Government is expected to fulfill its obligations and deny the use of Afghan Soil by terrorists for perpetuating acts of terrorism against Pakistan.”