Saudi foreign minister arrives in Pakistan on two-day official visit

Pakistan's foreign minister Ishaq Dar (center right) receives his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan (center left), at Nur Khan air base in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on April 15, 2024. (Government of Pakistan)
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Updated 15 April 2024

Saudi foreign minister arrives in Pakistan on two-day official visit

  • Prince Faisal accorded red-carpet welcome at Nur Khan air base, received by Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar
  • Former diplomats, analysts say visit shows further deepening of relations between two brotherly countries

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan arrived in Pakistan today, Monday, on a two-day visit aimed at enhancing bilateral economic cooperation, with local media widely showing footage of the Saudi official being received by Pakistani Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar.

The Saudi foreign minister’s visit comes a little over a week after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Makkah and reaffirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to expedite an investment package worth $5 billion that was previously discussed.

Upon his arrival at the Noor Khan air base in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, the Saudi foreign minister, who is leading a high-level delegation comprising several top ministers, was accorded a red-carpet welcome by Pakistani officials.

“A week after Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s visit to Saudi Arabia (April 6-8), a high-level delegation of Saudi Arabia is coming to Pakistan,” the Pakistani information ministry said in a statement shared with journalists.

“The Saudi delegation will consult on the next stages of investment and implementation issues,” the statement added, saying Saudi Arabia’s planned investment in the Reko Diq gold and copper mining project would also be discussed during the visit.

Pakistan's foreign minister Ishaq Dar (right) receives his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan (left), at Nur Khan air base in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on April 15, 2024. (Government of Pakistan)

On Sunday, Pakistani state media reported Saudi Arabia was likely to invest $1 billion in the mine project in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, one of the world’s largest underdeveloped copper-gold areas.

Riyadh was also interested in investing in agriculture, trade, energy, minerals, IT, transport and other sectors in Pakistan, the statement said.

“As a result of this visit, Pakistan’s export capacity will increase, joint ventures will be launched and new opportunities will be paved.”

The Pakistani foreign office said last week the Saudi delegation would comprise the foreign minister, minister of water and agriculture, minister of industry and mineral resources and deputy minister of investment as well as senior officials from the Saudi energy ministry and the Saudi Fund for General Investments.

The Saudi delegation is expected to hold meetings with the Pakistani president, the prime minister, the foreign minister and other ministers, as well as the army chief and members of the apex committee of Pakistan’s Special Investment Facilitation Council, set up last year to oversee all foreign funding.

The Saudi government has not yet commented on the agenda of the visit.

Former diplomats and analysts said the visit showed further deepening of relations between the two brotherly countries.

“This is a high-powered Saudi delegation led by the foreign minister and it is purely focused on investments in Pakistan,” Javed Hafeez, a former Pakistani diplomat, told Arab News, pointing to a recent indication by Saudi Arabia to expedite $5 billion investment in Pakistan.

“This delegation will also be exploring different fields and options during the visit to materialize the investment pledges as quickly as possible.”

Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary, termed the visit “very significant,” saying the potential Saudi investment in Pakistan was a “welcoming step” in the Saudi-Pakistan friendship.

“The Saudi’s investments under the banner of the SIFC will be safe and secure, and this will help further deepen the ties between the two countries,” Chaudhry told Arab News.

Cash-strapped Pakistan desperately needs to shore up its foreign reserves and signal to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that it can continue to meet requirements for foreign financing that has been a key demand in previous bailout packages. Pakistan’s finance minister, Muhammad Aurangzeb, is currently in Washington to participate in spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and discuss a new bailout program. The last loan deal expired this month.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong trade, defense and cultural ties. The Kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates and the top source of remittances to the cash-strapped South Asian country.

Saudi Arabia has often come to cash-strapped Pakistan’s aid in the past, regularly providing it oil on deferred payments and offering direct financial support to help stabilize its economy and shore up its forex reserves.

Last year, Saudi Arabia’s finance minister said the Kingdom was changing the way it provides assistance to allies, shifting from previously giving direct grants and deposits unconditionally.

“We used to give direct grants and deposits without strings attached and we are changing that. We are working with multilateral institutions to actually say we need to see reforms,” Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said at the World Economic Forum in Davos last January.

“We are taxing our people, we are expecting also others to do the same, to do their efforts. We want to help but we want you also to do your part.”

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states like the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have increasingly moved toward investing rather than extending direct financial aid.

US, Sindh province launch $9 million initiative to combat tuberculosis in Pakistan 

Updated 6 sec ago

US, Sindh province launch $9 million initiative to combat tuberculosis in Pakistan 

  • TB cases have risen in Pakistan by 42.5 percent in last three years with 47,000 people dying of the illness in 2023
  • TB remains world’s leading infectious disease killer, Pakistan ranks fifth among high TB burden countries

KARACHI: US Ambassador to Pakistan Donald Blome and Sindh Minister for Health and Population Dr. Azra Fazal Pechuho launched a collaborative initiative on Thursday aimed at addressing tuberculosis (TB), a significant health challenge in Pakistan. 
TB cases have risen in Pakistan by 42.5 percent in the last three years with 47,000 people dying of the illness in 2023, according to official data, undermining the government’s plans to stamp out the disease by 2035 in the face of inadequate resources for screening and treatment.
Despite being preventable and treatable, TB remains the world’s leading infectious disease killer, sickening 10.6 million people and taking 1.3 million lives annually. Pakistan ranks fifth among high TB burden countries. 
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) leads the US government’s global TB efforts, working with partners around the world including Pakistan, prioritizing local community involvement and recognizing its critical role in ensuring sustainable and effective outcomes.
“Funded by USAID, the newly launched program, named the Tuberculosis Local Organization Network (TB-LON), is an investment of $9 million over five years,” the US embassy said in a statement.
“Its primary goal is to provide expert guidance and resources for Pakistan to effectively tackle TB. Through direct engagement with affected communities and individuals, the program will tailor solutions to meet specific needs. TB-LON will treat more TB cases in Sindh and significantly reduce the number of people affected by the disease.”
“Tuberculosis is not just a disease affecting millions in Pakistan; it’s an illness that disrupts lives, livelihoods, and communities,” Blome was quoted in the statemet as saying. 
“Pakistan ranks fifth among countries with the highest rate of TB, but I am proud to say, we are changing that with this groundbreaking $9 million initiative that will provide expert guidance and resources to help eradicate TB, exemplifying our constant commitment to the resilient people of Sindh.”
 Dr. Pechuho expressed appreciation for the ongoing support from the US government and reaffirmed the Sindh government’s commitment to enhancing health care services. 
“We are confident that our joint efforts in addressing critical health challenges will bring a positive change in the lives of people of Sindh,” she added, emphasizing the importance of joint efforts in addressing critical health challenges.
In Pakistan, TB cases registered an increase from 272,990 in 2020 to 474,981 in 2023, with a treatment success rate of more than 90 percent, according to official data. The disease killed 48,000 people in 2021, 46,000 in 2022, and 47,000 people in 2023. Currently, there are a total of 608,000 TB cases registered with the National TB Control Program, according to data collected by Arab News in April this year.

Pakistan PM extends greetings to Buddhists on Vesak Day, calls for celebration of ‘shared heritage’

Updated 21 min 22 sec ago

Pakistan PM extends greetings to Buddhists on Vesak Day, calls for celebration of ‘shared heritage’

  • Pakistan does not have a significant Buddhist population, though it is home to important centers of Buddhism
  • Vesak Day celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of the founder of the Buddhist faith, Gautama Buddha

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday felicitated the global Buddhist community as its members observe Vesak Day, which celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha, the founder of their faith.
Vesak Day is among the most sacred days in the Buddhist calendar, with its observance varying among different Buddhist traditions and cultures but generally falling on the full moon day of the ancient lunar month of Vesakha, which occurs in May or early June on the Gregorian calendar.
Although Pakistan does not have a significant Buddhist population, several parts of the country were historically important centers of Buddhism during the Gandhara period, from around the 1st century BCE to the 7th century CE.
The Pakistani government has sought to develop religious tourism in these areas, mainly concentrated in today’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and northern Punjab regions, and has regularly hosted Buddhist pilgrims and religious leaders in recent years.
“On this Vesakh Day, we extend warm wishes to our Buddhist friends worldwide,” the prime minister said in a social media post. “May this day bring peace, prosperity, and harmony to all.”
“Let’s celebrate our shared heritage and continue working toward mutual respect and understanding,” he added.

Pakistan has taken several initiatives aimed at improving its international image by enhancing its treatment of religious minorities and promoting religious tourism. One prominent example is the Kartarpur Corridor, inaugurated in November 2019, which provides visa-free access for Sikh pilgrims from India to visit the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan.
The site is highly significant in Sikhism as it is where Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, spent the last years of his life.
Despite its efforts, however, the country continues to face challenges, including occasional mob violence and discrimination against minorities, highlighting the ongoing struggle to ensure consistent protection and enforcement of minority rights.

Pakistani laborers sweat it out in sizzling heat wave

Updated 14 min 14 sec ago

Pakistani laborers sweat it out in sizzling heat wave

  • Met office has forecast heat wave conditions across the country throughout the week
  • Disaster Management Authority has asked public to stay indoors, take precautions

LAHORE: Pakistan continued to sizzle this week after the Met office forecast heat wave conditions across the country, with laborers at a construction site in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore speaking about the challenges of working in the “intense” heat.
The Met Office has predicted high temperatures throughout the week, followed by dust and thunderstorms over the weekend. The governments of Sindh and Punjab provinces have announced closure of schools for a week.
“We do construction work but the heat is so intense that after working for 10 minutes we cannot carry on any more, so we come and sit in the shade for a while,” laborer Mohammad Iqbal said as he took a break from construction work earlier this week.
“What can we do? We have to work for our children. Inflation is so high. If we don’t work what will we eat? How will we feed our children?“
Muslim Hussain said a more flexible work schedule was helping to beat the heat — to some degree.
“Since it’s very hot, we come to work an hour earlier in the morning and get off an hour early,” he said. “We get a couple of hours off during the day. This is the way we are continuing our work.”
The Disaster Management Authority (DMA) has said the heat wave is expected to last for at least 10 days and asked the public to take precautionary measures.
“To fight the heat, I soak this cloth and put it on my head. Sometimes I drink water. Sometimes I sit in the shade for a while and relax,” Shehbaz Khan said.
“We come for work early in the morning.”
But the heat also follows the workers home.
“We don’t get enough sleep after work because when we go home, there is load shedding [power cuts],” Mohammad Irshad said.
“Sometimes we go and sleep on the roof, but it is hot there too. And the mosquitoes keep biting us. The load shedding starts around midnight when it’s time for us to sleep, so we cannot get enough sleep.”

Over 31,000 Pakistani pilgrims in Saudi Arabia as special Hajj flight operation continues

Updated 12 min 13 sec ago

Over 31,000 Pakistani pilgrims in Saudi Arabia as special Hajj flight operation continues

  • Pakistan has so far operated 126 flights that have taken pilgrims to Madinah, with 12 more flights expected today
  • The country will start transporting pilgrims directly to Jeddah, about an hour’s drive from Makkah, from tomorrow

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs announced on Thursday 31,057 Hajj pilgrims benefiting from the government scheme have reached Saudi Arabia since the launch of its special flight operation on May 9, with an additional 2,450 pilgrims scheduled to arrive in Madinah later in the day on 12 flights.
The country has so far operated 126 Hajj flights that have taken the pilgrims to the holy city of Madinah to spend the first few days in the kingdom before being transported to Makkah to perform Hajj rituals. However, the country will start direct Hajj flights to Jeddah – about an hour’s drive from Makkah – starting tomorrow.
Over 12,000 Pakistani pilgrims, who have completed their stay in Madinah, have already been driven to Makkah, with the ministry announcing the Aziziyah and Batha Quraish neighborhoods are beginning to bustle with them.
“Through 126 Hajj flights, 31,057 government-sponsored pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia,” the ministry said in its statement. “Today, an additional 2,450 pilgrims will reach Madinah through 12 flights. More than 2,000 pilgrims under the private scheme have also arrived in the kingdom.”
The statement also informed the ministry had engaged 156 people to provide medical facilities pilgrims while 336 were responsible for arranging transport, accommodation and food.
It added the officials in the main control office in Makkah were also providing guidance and assistance to the pilgrims through the Pakistan Hajj cellphone app.
Pakistan has a Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims, of which 63,805 people will perform the pilgrimage under the government scheme, while the rest will benefit from private tour operators.
This year’s pilgrimage is expected to run from June 14 till June 19.

‘Enough is enough’: Ex-PM Khan asks supporters to wait for his call for street agitation from prison

Updated 23 May 2024

‘Enough is enough’: Ex-PM Khan asks supporters to wait for his call for street agitation from prison

  • Khan says the attack on his party’s information secretary reflects the government wants to quell dissenting voices
  • He says his party has remained silent despite ‘political persecution’ but will no longer tolerate being targeted

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Imran Khan on Wednesday instructed supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party to wait for his call for street agitation following an attack on one of its leaders and central information secretary Raoof Hassan outside the office of a private news channel earlier this week.
Hassan, who was roughed up by a group of unidentified transgender individuals on Tuesday, received a gash on his face when one of his attackers wielded a blade against him while others knocked him to the ground. The PTI described the incident as a bid on his life and accused the Islamabad Police of tampering with the complaint by omitting the terrorism charge mentioned in it.
As PTI leaders hinted at the possibility of the attack being carefully orchestrated for political reasons, the top Islamabad police official, Syed Ali Nasir Rizvi, announced the formation of a three-member special investigation team to probe the incident.
Reacting to the development, Khan, who has been in jail since his arrest last year in August, said his party was facing “political persecution” and would no longer tolerate it.
“During past two darkest years in Pakistan’s history, PTI’s political persecution was carried on with complete impunity,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “We were subjected to the prohibited war tool of collective punishment — our houses trespassed, our people killed and tortured, our businesses destroyed, even the elderly and children were not spared. For the sake of Pakistan, we have been very patient so far. But ENOUGH IS ENOUGH NOW!! The heinous attack on Rauf Hassan is very instigating and further demonstrates that the powerful are unwilling to accept dissent, preferring to resort to cowardly tactics rather than addressing the underlying problems.”
“I instruct all of you— my central party leadership, central, provincial and local party organization, members, workers, supporters and the common man to wait for my street agitation call,” he added.

Khan said he had repeatedly said it was not possible to reach economic stability without first working for political stability in the country.
He maintained the last two years had witnessed the worsening of the economic conditions of the common man since the ouster of his administration from power in a no-trust vote in April 2022.
The PTI has said it has been facing a state crackdown, especially after May 9, 2023, when riots broke out after Khan’s brief incarceration from an Islamabad court on graft charges.