Pakistan urges Western countries to expedite resettlement of thousands of Afghan nationals

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A worker from the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), along with police officers, speaks to an Afghan citizen while checking identity cards, during a door-to-door search and verification drive for undocumented Afghan nationals, in an Afghan Camp on the outskirts of Karachi, Pakistan, on November 21, 2023. (REUTERS)
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Police officers stand guard at the main entry gate of Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in Islamabad on January 18, 2024. (AP/File)
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Updated 11 July 2024
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Pakistan urges Western countries to expedite resettlement of thousands of Afghan nationals

  • Rights groups say Pakistan foreigners’ deportation drive has targeted those waiting resettlement
  • Foreign office spokeswoman says no plans for government to open talks with Pakistani Taliban

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is pushing Western countries to expedite the approval and visa issuance process for over 44,000 Afghan nationals awaiting resettlement following the Taliban takeover of Kabul in 2021, the foreign office spokesperson said on Thursday. 

The United States’ presence in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan has relied on the life-saving assistance of thousands of locals who put themselves in danger to serve alongside US troops, diplomats, and contractors. These individuals provided linguistic, cultural, and geographic knowledge to the United States at great personal risk to themselves and their families. 

Since 2006, Congress has established several Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) programs that allow eligible applicants to resettle to safety in the United States. After the fall of Kabul, thousands of Afghans who had filed such refugee resettlement applications entered neighboring Pakistan, but remain trapped in legal limbo, while facing persistent threats for their collaboration with the US. 

Last year, Islamabad began a drive to expel what it called all undocumented foreigners, a campaign that has disproportionately hit Afghans, with over 600,000 repatriated so far. Afghan rights activists and applicants of SIVs have said the deportation drive has also forcibly repatriated scores of Afghans awaiting resettlement in the United States, which Islamabad denies. 

Speaking at a media briefing on Thursday, Baloch said the number of people who had been processed for relocation to third countries was “in the thousands,” with 9,000 awaiting relocation to Australia, 6,000 to Canada, 3,000 to Germany, over 1,100 to the United Kingdom, and more than 25,000 to the US.

“Pakistan has been working with governments of Australia, Canada, Germany, the US, the UK, France and Italy who agreed to take a certain number of Afghan nationals,” Baloch said. “For that we have remained engaged with them and we have urged them to expedite the approval and visa issuance process for these individuals so that they can relocate as early as possible.”

DEPORTATION DRIVE

Islamabad launched the deportation drive last year after a spike in suicide bombings which the Pakistan government, without providing evidence, says were carried out by Afghan nationals. Islamabad has also blamed them for smuggling, militant violence and other crimes. 

A cash-strapped Pakistan navigating record inflation, alongside a tough International Monetary Fund bailout program last year, had also said undocumented migrants had drained its resources for decades.

Until the government initiated the expulsion drive last year, Pakistan was home to over four million Afghan migrants and refugees out of which around 1.7 million were undocumented, as per government figures. 

Afghans make up the largest portion of migrants, many of whom came after the Taliban took over Kabul in 2021, but a large number have been present since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Islamabad insists the deportation drive is not aimed specifically at Afghans but at all those living illegally in Pakistan. 

In October 2023, Pakistan announced phase one of the “Illegal Foreigners’ Repatriation Plan” with a 30-day deadline for “undocumented” aliens to leave the country or be subject to deportation, putting 1.4 million Afghan refugees at risk. Over 600,000 Afghans have been expelled under this phase.

In phase two, Afghans holding Pakistan-issued Afghan citizenship cards (ACCs) will be expelled while phase three is expected to target those with UNHCR-issued Proof of Registration (PoR) cards.

Speaking about Pakistan’s deportation drive, Baloch said phase one of the repatriation program had progressed “in a fast manner” over the past several months and was “nearing completion” while a mapping exercise was taking place before the launch of phase two. 

“The implementation and start of phase two will be announced by the government of Pakistan and at this time I do not have an exact date to share,” Baloch added.

On Wednesday, Pakistan extended expired PoR cards given to almost 1.5 million Afghans for a year and Baloch said those holding such cards or who had refugee status in Pakistan were not being considered for deportation at this stage of the plan.

TALKS WITH PAKISTANI TALIBAN

Responding to a question about an offer by the Afghan Taliban government in Kabul to mediate talks between the Pakistan government and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan militant group, the FO spokesperson said the government had no plans to enter talks with “any terrorist organization” involved in the killing of Pakistani nationals.

The TTP has stepped up attacks against Pakistan security forces in recent months, with daily assaults on army and paramilitary posts and targeted killings of police and government officials.

Pakistan blames the surge on neighboring Afghanistan, saying Kabul was not doing enough to tackle militant groups using its territory to target Pakistan, which the Afghan Taliban deny. 

“Pakistan has no design for entering into any talks with a terror group (TTP) that has been involved in killing of Pakistani citizens,” Baloch said. “We expect Afghan authorities to take action against terrorist groups which have found sanctuaries inside Afghanistan and use their territory for terrorist attacks against Pakistan.”


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

Updated 1 min 33 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.
Later, commenting on the development the provincial administration’s spokesperson Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif said in a video statement people had the right to hold peaceful protests, though no one would be allowed to take law into their hands.
He said Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur had taken notice of the situation in Bannu and asked the commissioner and deputy commissioner of the region to hold negotiations with protesters.
“After negotiations with the elders, the situation is under control,” the KP spokesperson said. “The chief minister has also announced a package for those killed and injured in the incident.”
He added the incident would be investigated and those responsible for the violence would be punished.
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 19 July 2024
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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 26 min 18 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.