Pakistan launches 4,500 scholarships for Afghan students amid ongoing security tensions

In this handout photograph, shared by Pakistan’s Special Representative in Afghanistan Asif Durrani, Officials and students sing national anthem during the launch of the third phase of Allama Iqbal scholarships for Afghan students at the National University of Technology in Islamabad on June 10, 2024. (Photo courtesy: X/@AsifDurrani20)
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Updated 11 July 2024
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Pakistan launches 4,500 scholarships for Afghan students amid ongoing security tensions

  • The scholarships will allow Afghan nationals to study social and natural sciences in Pakistan for the next five years
  • Pakistani officials say relations with Afghanistan remain a high priority, with deputy PM planning a visit to Kabul

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Wednesday launched 4,500 scholarships for Afghan students aspiring to study social and natural sciences at local universities, amid ongoing security issues between the two countries that prompted Islamabad to launch a deportation drive targeting unregistered Afghans last year.
Pakistan introduced the Allama Iqbal Scholarship program for Afghan nationals in 2009 to strengthen bilateral ties between the two neighboring states.
The program covers tuition fees, accommodation and a monthly stipend for undergraduate, graduate and doctoral studies at Pakistani universities.
The third phase of these scholarships was launched on the same day the federal cabinet approved the extension of registration cards for 1.5 million Afghan refugees for another year.
“Glad to launch the third phase of Allama Iqbal scholarships for Afghan students,” Asif Durrani, Pakistan’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said in a social media post.
“In the coming five years, 4500 Afghan students will pursue studies in social and natural sciences in various universities of Pakistan,” he added.

 
Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant attacks in its western provinces bordering Afghanistan since November 2022, following the breakdown of its fragile truce with the proscribed armed network, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Officials in Islamabad have blamed the Afghan government for sheltering TTP militants and providing them sanctuaries to launch attacks in Pakistan, a charge Kabul denies.
Pakistan’s also launched the deportation drive against Afghan nationals last year in November, blaming them for involvement in militant attacks and other crimes in different parts of the country.
More recently, however, representatives of the two countries held meetings in Doha to discuss bilateral issues and resolve their differences.
Pakistan’s Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar also told the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs earlier this week that relations with Afghanistan remain a high priority for his country, adding he would soon visit Kabul to meet with interim Afghan administration officials.


Six killed in suspected militant violence in Pakistan, citizens hold protest rallies demanding peace

Updated 16 sec ago
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Six killed in suspected militant violence in Pakistan, citizens hold protest rallies demanding peace

  • Policeman was among three people killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, paramilitary soldier killed in Balochistan
  • Protest rally in Bannu came under fire by unidentified suspects, killing two protesters and injuring 24 others

PESHAWAR: Four people, including a policeman and a paramilitary soldier, were killed in suspected militant attacks in Pakistan’s northwestern and southwestern regions on Friday, officials said, while at least two others perished in shooting at a protest rally in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province against the worsening security environment.
KP, which borders Afghanistan, has seen a surge in attacks on security forces, government officials and anti-polio vaccination teams in recent weeks. Attacks have also spiked in the southwestern Balochistan province, home to a decades-long insurgency by separatist fighters.
The shocking surge in daily attacks has unleashed protests in KP’s Bannu and Tank districts, with citizens demanding authorities ensure peace in the two districts that have been worst-hit by the militancy surge. In Bannu in particular, ten soldiers were killed earlier this week when militants attacked a military cantonment.
In a fresh attack on Friday, two people were killed and four others wounded when a bomb targeted a militant commander, Ain Ullah, associated with Mullah Nazeer group, a Pakistan Taliban (TTP) faction, in the South Waziristan tribal district, according to police.
“A bomb exploded near Maulvi Noor Muhammad mosque this morning, leaving two persons dead and four injured,” Fareed Wazir, a police officer in the town of Wana, told Arab News. “It was a planted bomb. Police are investigating the matter to identify the perpetrators.”
Separately, a policeman was killed and two others injured when unidentified gunmen opened fire on a police check-post in the Bhai area of KP’s Mardan district, rescue officials said.
Meanwhile, unidentified gunmen opened fire at a protest rally in Bannu, killing at least two protesters and injuring another two dozen, according to provincial officials.
“At least two persons died and 24 were wounded when all of a sudden firing started during a peace rally by hundreds and thousands of people in Bannu,” KP Public Health Engineering Minister Pakhtoon Yar Khan told Arab News, saying he had “narrowly escaped” the gunfire.
Khan said the recent unrest in Bannu had disrupted businesses, educational institutions and public life, and residents wanted peace “at any cost.”
Arab News tried reaching out to the Bannu district police officer, Ziauddin Ahmad, to get more details of the incident, but he did not return phone calls.
In Tank, hundreds of people continued a two-day long sit-in over the fragile security situation in the district.
Pattu Bhittani, one of the organizers of the protest, told Arab News the residents were “fed up” of frequent militant attacks and living in a state of insecurity.
“Till the acceptance of our demands, which is restoration of peace, the entire district will boycott the polio campaign and hoist black flags on their vehicles and homes as a token of protest,” Bhittani said, warning that the protesters would also block highways if their demands were not met.
Islamabad blames the recent surge in attacks, including the July 15 attack on the army cantonment in Bannu, on militants mainly from the TTP operating out of neighboring Afghanistan. Kabul denies the allegations and says rising violence in Pakistan is a domestic issue for Islamabad.
Pakistani forces were able to effectively dismantle the TTP in a string of military operations in KP’s tribal districts from 2014 onwards, driving most of the fighters into neighboring Afghanistan, where Islamabad says they have regrouped.
Islamabad says TTP leaders have taken refuge in Afghanistan and now run camps there to train insurgents to launch attacks inside Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban rulers say Kabul does not allow militants to operate on its territory.
BALOCHISTAN
In Balochistan, one Frontier Corps (FC) paramilitary soldier was killed and four were injured in an IED blast in the Buleda area of Kech district, officials said.
The IED attack took place as an FC convoy was passing an area called ‘Gili’ some 100 kilometers away from Turbat, Insap Baloch, the head of the paramilitary Levis force in the area, said.
“The security forces have surrounded the area and injured soldiers have been shifted to hospital for medical treatment,” Baloch added.
In another attack, one soldier of the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) was injured in an explosion that targeted a CTD vehicle in the Pishin district.
With inputs from Saadullah Akhter in Quetta


Pakistan is looking for external financing avenues, finance minister says

Updated 5 min 30 sec ago
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Pakistan is looking for external financing avenues, finance minister says

  • Pakistan to meet external financing needs by speaking with foreign governments and lenders to draw foreign investment as well as seeking loan rollovers
  • Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb says government was seeking to focus on more sustainable forms such as direct investment and climate financing

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will focus on meeting its external financing needs by speaking with foreign governments and lenders to draw foreign investment as well as seeking loan rollovers, the country’s finance minister told Reuters on Friday, as his government prepares to execute its new $7 billion International Monetary Fund agreement.
Pakistan and the IMF reached an agreement for the 37-month loan program this month. Tough measures such as raising tax on agricultural incomes and lifting electricity prices have prompted concerns about poor and middle class Pakistanis grappling with rising inflation and the prospect of higher taxes.
Pakistan has relied heavily on IMF programs for years, at times nearing the brink of sovereign default and having to turn to countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to provide it with financing to meet external financing targets set by the IMF.
Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb said in an interview that external financing continued to be an important component, though the government was seeking to focus on more sustainable forms such as direct investment and climate financing.
“I think in the existing situation we can expect those (loan) rollovers to continue to take place ... we have requested extension of maturities,” Aurangzeb said.
Rollovers or disbursements on loans from Pakistan’s long-time allies Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and China, in addition to financing from the IMF, have helped Pakistan meet its external financing needs in the past.
The IMF said the new Extended Fund Facility program is subject to approval from its Executive Board and obtaining “timely confirmation of necessary financing assurances from Pakistan’s development and bilateral partners.”
Aurangzeb said that meeting the external financing gap was “very manageable and very doable.”
He said Pakistan plans to expand its strategy beyond relying heavily on rollovers and toward foreign direct investment, including in the huge copper and gold Reko Diq mine in southern Pakistan. He added his government was working on identifying “bankable and investable” projects for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have announced interest in billions of dollars in investment in Pakistan.
“That is what’s going to lead to sustainability, ” he said. “If we can’t get this executed in the next three years, we will not be able to get out of the ‘last’ program.”
Pakistan has been plagued by boom-and-bust cycles for decades, leading to more than 20 IMF bailouts since 1958. It is currently the IMF’s fifth-largest debtor, owing $6.28 billion as of July 11 according to IMF data.
Aurangzeb said the Reko Diq copper and gold mine project had drawn interest from the World Bank’s private investment arm, the International Finance Corporation(IFC), which had signalled it would invest a “large amount.”
Aurangzeb said that during a trip to China that he plans by the end of July, Islamabad will discuss power sector structural reforms with Beijing that have been suggested by the IMF. Beijing has set up over $20 billion worth of planned energy projects in Pakistan.
CLIMATE FINANCE
Pakistan has also agreed with the IMF to launch talks this year on financing under the fund’s Resilience and Sustainability Trust (RST) to draw financing for projects related to climate change.
Pakistan is one of the countries worst affected by climate change. Huge floods in 2022 killed hundreds of people and caused billions of dollars of damage in infrastructure and agriculture.
“We will start the discussions around that during this calendar year, possibly at the time of the first review, which will be in October, around the annual meetings in Washington,” said Aurangzeb, though he did not specify how much his government would request.
Pakistan has only successfully completed one long term Extended Fund Facility, in 2017. Aurangzeb said he planned to ensure Pakistan completed the current program, despite mounting political pressure and the inflationary impact of IMF-suggested reforms.
The minister, former head of Pakistan’s largest bank, also stressed that the government planned to push through the privatization of loss-making enterprises including national carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).


Pakistan condemns Israeli strikes on schools, shelters in Gaza

Updated 16 min 45 sec ago
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Pakistan condemns Israeli strikes on schools, shelters in Gaza

  • “Atrocious attack” on tents of displaced persons in Khan Yunus area had killed many Palestinian women and children, FO says
  • Over 38,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s ongoing military offensive in a war now grinding on into its tenth month

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday condemned Israeli strikes on Gaza schools and shelters, the foreign office said, adding that eight educational institutes being utilized as a shelter by Palestinians had been bombed in the last 10 days.

At least 25 people were killed and dozens more wounded earlier this week when Israeli forces targeted dozens of Palestinians gathered outside the Al-Awda school in Abasan, a city in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis governorate. Across Gaza, this was the fourth strike on as many schools used as shelters in four days, killing at least 49 people in total, according to medics and officials in the territory.

“Pakistan also condemns in the strongest terms the continued genocidal barrage by Israel on the schools and shelters in Gaza,” Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said in a weekly press briefing on Friday. “Over the last 10 days, they have attacked eight schools being used as a shelter by the displaced.”

The statement said the “atrocious attack” on the tents of displaced persons in the Khan Yunus area had killed many Palestinian women and children taking refuge there. Targeting a safe zone camp violated international humanitarian law, the foreign office said, condemning measures taken by Israel against the recreation of a viable Palestinian state and saying Israel had no right too decide the future of lands belonging to the Palestinians.

The statement said the only “just solution” to the Palestinian question was the creation of a sovereign state of Palestine based on 1967 borders. 

Pakistan has frequently condemned Israel’s military offensive in Palestine following the start of the war in October last year and has for decades backed the demand for an independent and contiguous Palestinian State with pre-1967 borders and Jerusalem as its capital, per United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) resolutions.

The upsurge in fighting, bombardment and displacement in Gaza takes place as talks are set to resume in Qatar toward a truce and hostage release deal in the war now grinding on into its tenth month.

Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on southern Israel sparked the war in which at least 38,295 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, have been killed, according to Palestinian authorities. Israel has also imposed a punishing siege on Gaza’s 2.4 million people, eased only by sporadic aid deliveries.
 


Pakistan offers counter-terrorism support to Oman after six killed in mosque attack

Updated 19 July 2024
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Pakistan offers counter-terrorism support to Oman after six killed in mosque attack

  • Sharif offered support in meeting with Omani ambassador hours after bodies of four Pakistanis were brought home, handed over to families
  • The Pakistan prime minister thanked the Omani envoy for encouraging a trade, investment delegation to undertake a visit to Pakistan next week

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday offered Pakistan’s support to Oman after a mosque attack in Muscat killed six people, including four Pakistanis, and injured dozens of others this week, Sharif's office said.

The statement came after Sharif's meeting with Omani Ambassador Fahad Sulaiman Khalaf Al-Kharusi that followed the arrival of bodies of Pakistanis who were killed in Monday's attack claimed by the Daesh militant group.

The attack unfolded as three gunmen, all brothers and of Omani nationality, opened fire on worshippers at a Shia Muslim mosque. Two others killed in the attack included an Indian and a police officer who responded to the attack.

"The Prime Minister strongly condemned the dastardly terrorist attack on Imam Bargah Ali bin Abu Talib in Wadi Kabir district of Muscat, which resulted in the death of six people, including four Pakistani nationals and over thirty injured, nearly all of whom were Pakistanis," Sharif's office said in a statement. 

"While appreciating Oman’s swift response and cooperation with the Pakistan Mission in repatriation of the dead bodies and treatment of the injured, the Prime Minister said Pakistan had itself been the victim of terrorism for the past several decades. He offered Pakistan’s support to Oman in dealing with the menace of terrorism, which must be eliminated in all its forms."

The statement came hours after bodies of the four Pakistani nationals killed in the Muscat mosque attack were brought back home by the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and handed over to their families.

Monday evening marked the beginning of Ashura, an annual period of mourning marked by Shia Muslims to commemorate the 7th-century death of Imam Hussain, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Daesh’s operations have indicated the group is attempting a comeback after it was crushed by a US-led coalition following its occupation of large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate. It also inspired lone-wolf attacks in the West.

Any inroads in Gulf Arab oil producers such as Oman would raise fears in Washington and the region which has long viewed militant groups as a major threat.

TRADE AND INVESTMENT

During the meeting, the prime minister conveyed his good wishes for Sultan Haitham bin Tariq and reiterated his invitation to the Omani leader to undertake an official visit to Pakistan at his earliest convenience, according to the statement.

He expressed Pakistan’s desire to further strengthen bilateral cooperation between the two countries, particularly in trade, investment, energy and defense.

"The Prime Minister thanked the Ambassador for encouraging a trade and investment delegation to undertake a visit to Pakistan next week, while assuring him that the concerned authorities would extend full cooperation to the delegation while seeking mutually beneficial outcomes," Sharif's office said.

"The Ambassador thanked the Prime Minister for receiving him and conveyed the greetings of His Majesty the Sultan of Oman. He reaffirmed his country's desire to further enhance its trade and investment relations with Pakistan."

Pakistan, which narrowly escaped a default last year, is currently navigating a tricky path to economic recovery. The South Asian country recently reached a staff-level agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $7 billion loan.

Apart from IMF deal, Islamabad has high-level exchanges with several countries, particularly the Gulf states, in a bid to boost trade and foreign investment in the country to support the $350 billion South Asian economy.


Amid investment push, Turkmenistan foreign minister to visit Pakistan next week

Updated 19 July 2024
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Amid investment push, Turkmenistan foreign minister to visit Pakistan next week

  • Pakistan hopes to enhance its role as pivotal trade and transit hub connecting landlocked Central Asia to rest of the world
  • There has been a flurry of visits, investment talks and economic activity between Pakistan and Central Asian states recently

ISLAMABAD: Turkmenistan Foreign Minister Rasit Meredow will undertake a two-day visit to Pakistan from July 22-24, the foreign minister said on Friday, as the South Asian state pushes to boost trade with Central Asian states. 

Pakistan hopes to leverage its strategic geopolitical position and enhance its role as a pivotal trade and transit hub connecting the landlocked Central Asian republics with the rest of the world. In recent months, there has been a flurry of visits, investment talks and economic activity between Pakistan and Central Asian states, including meetings with leaders from Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan.

“Foreign Minister Rasit Meredown will visit Pakistan from July 22-24,” foreign office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said during a weekly press briefing on Friday. “He will hold extensive talks with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar and also call on the Pakistan leadership.”

The talks would cover “all aspects of bilateral relations” as well as regional and global developments, the FO added.

Located in a landlocked but resource-rich region, Central Asian countries need better access to regional markets including Pakistan, China, India, and the countries of West Asia. Meanwhile, Pakistan has huge energy demands that can be satisfied by growing trade with Central Asia. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, in which Beijing has pledged around $65 billion in energy, infrastructure and other schemes in Pakistan, also presents a strategic opportunity for Central Asian states to transport their goods more easily in regional and global markets.

Islamabad is seeking to bolster trade and investment relations with allies to stabilize its fragile $350 billion economy as it faces an acute balance of payment crisis amid soaring inflation and surging external debt.

Last week, Pakistan and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reached an agreement for a $7 billion, 37-month loan, capping negotiations that started in May after Islamabad completed a short-term, $3 billion program that helped stabilize the economy and avert a sovereign debt default.