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Chaos in Pakistan Parliament; lawmakers hurl abuses

Islamabad: The Pakistan National Assembly witnessed some unruly scenes on June 15 over Imran Khan government’s budget proposals.

During the sitting of the House, members of the treasury benches created chaos on the floor and even abused other parliamentarians, according to a video of the incident. The proceedings of the lower house were adjourned by the Speaker after the incident.

The chaos broke out when Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president and Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif addressed the House.

According to the video, which is now going viral, Sharif was greeted by jeers, slogans, and whistles from the treasury members as soon as he started speaking.

“Imran Khan Niazi promised 10 million jobs. Where are those jobs?” asked Sharif. “Where are the USD 300bn that was supposed to be brought back to the country from abroad?”

Continuing to lash out at the government, he said that PM Imran Khan’s claims of eliminating corruption from Pakistan were hollow.

“Pakistan is suffering from the worst form of corruption today,” he said. “No act of posting or transferring someone these days is done without an element of corruption these days,” added Shahbaz.

He criticized the government’s budget, saying that it had failed to provide relief to the masses from unemployment and inflation, Geo News reported citing the video.

The lawmakers were then seen fighting on the floor of the House and throwing copies of the budget.

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Toll in deadly Pakistan train crash rises to 63

Islamabad: Death toll from the horrific collision of two trains in southern Pakistan rose to 63 on June 8 after rescuers pulled 12 more bodies from crumpled cars a day after the crash, officials said.

The collision took place on a dilapidated railway track in Ghotki, a district in the southern Sindh province, when an express train barreled into another that had derailed minutes earlier, before dawn, on June 7.

Most of the passengers — there were about 1,100 on both trains — were asleep when the Millat Express, traveling between the southern port city of Karachi to Sargodha in eastern Punjab province derailed and many of its cars overturned. As passengers scrambled to get out, another passenger train, the Sir Syed Express, crashed into the derailed coaches.

Rescue work continued throughout the day on June 7, overnight, and into June 8. Bodies of passengers killed in the crash were taken to their hometowns for burial.

It was unclear exactly what caused the derailment. Aijaz Ahmed, the driver of Sir Syed Express, said he braked when he saw the disabled train but did not have time to avoid the collision.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has ordered a probe into the mishap.

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International Latest News USA

Russian President to visit Pak amid changing priorities

Islamabad: After Pakistan and Russia signed a fresh agreement to lay a gas pipeline, prospects of Russian President Vladimir Putin visiting Islamabad for the very first time were on the cards.

The project, previously named The North-South Gas Pipeline, has now been renamed as Pakistan Steam Gas Pipeline, in which a gas pipeline will be laid from Pakistan’s Karachi city to Kasur.

It is a flagship project between the two countries, which intends to remove the memories of rivalry of the Cold War and bring both countries on the road to bilateral ties.

Both Pakistan and Russia have been working to materialize Putin’s visit.

In April, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Islamabad after a gap of at least nine years.

As per official details, Lavrov came with a message that Moscow was willing to extend all possible help to Islamabad and create pathways for bilateral relations.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has already extended a formal invitation to President Putin.

Experts have said that with the signing of the Pakistan Steam Pipeline agreement, the visit of President Putin has become even more significant and important.

Pakistan is anxious to have President Putin inaugurate the groundbreaking of the gas pipeline project, which is expected to be held later this year or in early 2022.

As per sources, Russia is keen on selling arms to Pakistan, something it avoided in the past because of opposition by India.

It is pertinent to mention that both countries have been holding regular joint military exercises since 2016.

Russia and Pakistan are also in close contact in the peace process and ongoing regional security issues including Afghanistan.

The Pakistan Steam Gas Pipeline is a stepping-stone in the normalization of relations between the two countries, which has been strained for years due to Cold War rivalry.

The project was originally signed in 2015. However, it could not be initiated due to possible sanctions by the US on Russian companies.

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Pakistan PM Imran Khan appoints Moeed Yusuf as NSA

Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s close aide Moeed Yusuf, who is believed to have played a key role in recent back-channel contacts with India, has been formally appointed the country’s national security adviser.

Since December 2019, Yusuf had served as special assistant to the prime minister on national security and strategic policy planning.

“The Prime Minister has been pleased to approve that Dr Moeed W Yusuf, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Security and Strategic Policy Planning, shall function as National Security Adviser with the status of Federal Minister, with immediate effect,” the notification said.

Before being made chairman of Pakistan’s Strategic Policy Planning Cell (SPPC), which comes under the National Security Division (NSD), Yusuf was associate vice president of the Asia Center at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).

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No talks until India changes its decision on Kashmir: Imran

Islamabad: Prime Minister Imran Khan said that Pakistan would not hold talks with India until New Delhi reverses its decision of scrapping the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

India abrogated the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 on August 5, 2019 and bifurcated it into two Union territories.

“Unless India retreats from the steps taken on August 5…, the Pakistani government will not talk to India at all,” Khan said while responding to questions from the public during a live broadcast session.

India has repeatedly said Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and the country is capable of solving its own problems.

New Delhi has told Islamabad that it desires normal neighborly relations with it in an environment free of terror, hostility and violence.

Indo-Pak relations deteriorated after India announced withdrawing special powers of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcation of the state into two union territories in August, 2019. India has maintained that issue related to Article 370 of the Indian Constitution was entirely an internal matter of the country.

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Pakistan ready to talk if India revisits some decisions: Qureshi

Islamabad: Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has said that the country would be happy to hold talks on all the differences with India and seek their resolution through dialogue if the latter shows its willingness to revisit its unilateral decisions taken on August 5, 2019, which resulted in the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35-A of the Indian Constitution that granted special status to the erstwhile state of J&K.

Qureshi said this during an interview with the Turkish news agency Anadolu during his two-day visit to the country.

“If India is willing to revisit some of the decisions that it took on August 5, 2019, Pakistan will be more than happy to engage, sit and talk and resolve all the outstanding issues,” the Pakistan Foreign Minister said.

“India’s unilateral actions of August 5, 2019 were against international law and UN Security Council resolutions,” he added.

Qureshi went on to say that there are many pending issues between India and Pakistan, including Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, water and other matters, adding that the only workable and sensible way forward is through dialogue.

Qureshi revealed that it was the Indian leadership that showed interest in engaging through backdoor channels to de-escalate tensions along the borders.

“So, when the Indian leaders expressed an interest in recommitment, we welcomed it. Kashmiris welcomed it. And that has, in my view, lowered tensions and has gone well on both sides. Sensible elements on this side and on that side have welcomed this new development,” he said.

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Covid-19 crisis: Pakistan offers ventilators, medical equipment to India

Islamabad: Pakistan has offered ventilators and other medical equipment as a “gesture of solidarity” to India, facing a devastating second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As a gesture of solidarity with the people of India in the wake of the current wave of COVID-19, Pakistan has offered to provide relief support to India including ventilators, Bi-PAP, digital X-ray machines, PPEs and related items,” the Pakistani foreign office said in a statement.

It said that concerned authorities of Pakistan and India could work out the modalities for quick delivery of relief items. “They can also explore possible ways of further cooperation to mitigate the challenges posed by the pandemic,” said the statement.

So far, the Indian government has not responded to these offers.

Earlier in the day, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had tweeted sympathy for the victims of the pandemic in India. “Our prayers for a speedy recovery go to all those suffering from the pandemic in our neighborhood & the world,” he posted.

Relations between India and Pakistan have been volatile in the last several years. There has been a relative thaw following the agreement to strictly implement the ceasefire agreement on the Line of Control in February this year.

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Biden admin lukewarm to Pak desire for ties ‘reset’

Islamabad:  Since the time the Biden administration has taken over, Pakistan has been putting its efforts to reset its relations with the US through a transformational phase, but all its efforts have been met with a lukewarm response.

The Imran Khan-led dispensation had hoped to opt for a transactional relationship with the new US administration, knowing that President Joe Biden knew Pakistan well as the Vice President earlier, and had a better knowledge of the country, which Islamabad felt would pave the way for a better understanding.

Pakistan’s efforts were focused on resetting ties with the US on the basis of security and economic cooperation. However, government officials now admit that the effort has been met with a cold shoulder so far.

The level of interest expressed by Pakistan can be well gauged by the fact that prime minister Imran Khan had formed an apex committee to evolve a broad-based agenda for engagement with the Biden administration, with special focus on seeking economic cooperation and not only relying on security cooperation.

Enhanced trade ties, energy and climate change, and investment were among the important areas for Pakistan to seek US cooperation.

Pakistani officials maintained that their ambition was to evolve the relationship with the US “through a bilateral lens” and not through the paradigm of China or India.

“We want to evolve relationship with the US purely through bilateral lens. We don’t want to be perceived through the Chinese lens or Indian lens,” said a senior Pakistani official.

“However, the trouble is that the new US administration has not given us a positive signal so far,” he admitted.

The new US President speaks to heads of various key governments, especially allies, as a normal ritual. Biden, who has been in the White House for over two months now, has not yet spoken to Imran Khan over the phone, and has ignored Pakistan’s request for a direct contact.

On the other hand, he has already spoken to the Afghan President and the Indian Prime Minister.

While the US’s lukewarm response has come as a surprise to many in Pakistan, Islamabad is hopeful that Pakistan’s pivotal role in the Afghan peace process and ongoing negotiations will compel Biden to speak to Imran Khan in the coming days.

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India Latest News

INDIA-PAK THAW? Not so fast

by K.S. Tomar

Contrary to expectations, while taking a ‘political decision’ not to lift a ban on the import of sugar and cotton from India despite severe economic crisis, Pakistan government has re-emphasized the notion of ‘Kashmir Phobia’ which reigns supreme in the minds of army generals and politicians in Islamabad, thereby ignoring woes of people and seriousness of economic depression which has hit this nation hard.

Pakistan government took a U-turn in importing cotton and 500,000 metric tons of sugar from India, dragging Kashmir into the imbroglio, which may bear on the UAE efforts to start a peace process between the two neighbors.

Pakistan decided to suspend bilateral trade with India in August 2019 after the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A. However, one factor was also the 200% tariff imposed by India on Pakistani imports earlier while revoking Pakistan’s Most Favored Nation status after the Pulwama terrorist attack, which was abetted and supported by the army of that country.

A cursory look shows that India’s exports to Pakistan dropped nearly 60% to USD 816.62 million and its imports fell by 97% to USD 13.97 million in 2019-20. Over the years, nicknamed as “Little Sparta’’ by US generals like former Defence  Secretary Jim Mattis, UAE is without any military power but immense ambition as peace broker as witnessed during last year’s Abraham accord between Israel and Arab states.  UAE’s latest project is audacious as it pertains to  India and Pakistan’s negotiations, which led to the unexpected Feb 25 announcement by DGMOs of India and Pakistan to respect the 2003 ceasefire agreement. As per indications, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s Army Chief, has taken charge of the peace initiative with India, which seems to be meaningful as the army pulls the levers in the elected government there. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is dubbed as ‘puppet’ of the army and Bajwa’s extended term will run to November 2022. Hence he may be deemed to be India’s main interlocutor in the peace process.

It was General Bajwa who took the lead in statements emerging from Islamabad that arch rivals India and Pakistan should  “bury the past” and move towards cooperation, an overture came after the joint announcement on ceasefire. Bajwa cleverly put the burden on India to create a “conducive environment”, bringing in Washington to play an effective role in ending regional hostilities.  He mentioned intentionally that Pakistan’s powerful army has ruled the country for nearly half of its 73-year existence.

UAE foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed’s quick visit to India after the ceasefire confirmed the peace broker’s role being played by  a country friendly with both India and Pakistan.

Analysts believe that as India and Pakistan are starting afresh after a long time, they should inject liveliness and vitality to the previous Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), which include 2005-initiated cross-LoC movement of civilians and cross-LoC trade started in 2008.

As negotiator, UAE is still expecting to facilitate an exchange of ambassadors between New Delhi and Islamabad, which may later lead to restoration of trade links between the two countries.

India and Pakistan’s current faceoff  is the world’s most dangerous as it was triggered two years ago when 40 Indian soldiers were killed in a suicide bomb attack in Kashmir, claimed by a Pakistan-based terrorist group, and actively supported by Pakistan.

Writer is a senior journalist and national columnist based in Delhi.

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