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After US-North Korea summit, PML-N chief Shahbaz Sharif asks India to follow suit

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Shahbaz Sharif

Lahore | Pakistan’s ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s brother and PML-N chief Shahbaz Sharif has asked India to resume peace talks with Islamabad, saying the Singapore summit between the US and North Korea should set a good precedent for both the bickering neighbours to follow.

Marking an epoch in the history of the decades-long tense relationship between the US and North Korea, leaders of the two countries yesterday met in Singapore for a summit where the North’s Kim Jong-un pledged to work toward the “complete denuclearisation” in return for security guarantees from Washington.

“Ever since the start of Korean War, the two nations have been at odds with one another – both threatening to use military force with their nuclear arsenals facing each other.

“If the United States and North Korea can return from the brink of a nuclear flashpoint, there is no reason why Pakistan and India cannot do the same … beginning with a dialogue on Kashmir whose heroic people have resisted and rejected Indian occupation,” Shahbaz Sharif said in a series of tweets.

He further said: “It is time for comprehensive peace talks in our region. International community must focus on the peace process in Afghanistan. Dialogue between Pakistan and India over Kashmir should also resume so that the long-festering Kashmir dispute is resolved in accordance with the UN resolutions.”

This is a rare statement from Shahbaz Sharif on India, contrary to his elder brother (Nawaz Sharif) whose one of the major reasons behind his ouster, as many political pundits here say, was his efforts to normalise ties with New Delhi.

Shahbaz, who is a prime ministerial candidate from his party, also asked India to leave behind the past tensions between the arch-rivals and starts afresh.

“The US and North Korea talks should be a role model for Pakistan and Indian. If they can return from their previous hostile positions of attacking each other, Pakistan and India can also resume composite dialogue,” he said.

The leader said a dialogue between Pakistan and India over Kashmir was needed to resolve the long-festering dispute in accordance with the United Nations resolutions.

The PML-N chief said if his party returns to power in July 25 elections, it will promote peace in the region with a focus on Afghanistan, as peace in Afghanistan is “inextricably intertwined” with peace and security in Pakistan.

He welcomed the initiatives mooted by the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban for ceasefire in Afghanistan during Eid-ul-Fitr.

Terming it as a positive first step towards promoting an Afghan-led Afghan-owned peace process, Shahbaz said the PML-N government had played a pivotal role in initiating steps for peace in Afghanistan, including hosting the first-ever direct, face-to-face talks between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban in Murree in July 2015.

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Pakistan may not seek IMF bailout; seeking help from ‘friendly countries’: PM Khan

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Khan

Islamabad | Pakistan may not have to approach the IMF for loans as it has received “positive” responses from some “friendly countries”, Prime Minister Imran Khan has said, days after Islamabad formally approached the global lender for a bailout to tide over the economic crisis.

Talking to a delegation of senior editors on Wednesday, Khan said his government was in touch with some “friendly countries” and has sought cooperation to address the mounting balance of payments deficit and dwindling foreign currency reserves.

Though he did not name any countries, Pakistani media has reported that the government was consulting allies like China and Saudi Arabia for financial help.

“Their response is positive. I am quite hopeful that we will not have to approach the International Monetary Fund for our economic needs,” he was quoted as saying by The News.

Imran’s comments follows some tough talking by IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde and the US on Pakistan’s bailout plan, demanding absolute transparency on the country’s debts, including those owned by China under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects.

Apart from selling off surplus luxury cars, Prime Minister Khan’s proposals include turning state-owned buildings into universities, dispensing with VIP security protocol and cutting air conditioning in government offices to keep the economy afloat.

Khan has vowed to steer Pakistan out of a looming balance-of-payments crisis, saying it needs USD 10 to 12 billion.

He said Pakistan’s economy has been badly hit. He said the previous governments borrowed so much that it has become hard for his government to repay the loans.

“Had the former government not received loans or the amount so received was utilised properly, the economy of the country would have been in a good shape,” he said.

Pakistan Finance Minister Asad Umar met IMF chief Lagarde on the sidelines of the IMF and World Bank annual meetings in Bali, Indonesia on October 12 and formally requested a “stabilisation recovery programme”.

Umar said that a team of the IMF will arrive in Pakistan on November 7.

He said the government don’t want to fully rely on the IMF and would do anything to bring improvement in the economy. He said the loan programme with the IMF is almost final, but the government will have to see that the IMF does not place any undoable conditions for Pakistan in return.

Lagarde has made it clear to Umar that the IMF would require absolute transparency on Pakistan’s debts, including those owned by China under the multibillion-dollar CPEC.

The CPEC is a network of infrastructure projects that are currently under construction throughout Pakistan that will connect China’s Xinjiang province with Gwadar port in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. It is the part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative.

The US has said that the huge Chinese debt was responsible for the economic challenges facing Pakistan, adding that it will review Islamabad’s bailout plea to the IMF from all angles, including the country’s debt position.

Umar said the Pakistan government was also exploring other options to avoid problems if the IMF programme did not materialise.

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French minister pulls out of Saudi conference over Khashoggi

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Jamal Khashoggi

Paris: French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said Thursday he was pulling out of a major investment conference in Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “I won’t go to Riyadh next week,” Le Maire told France’s Public Senat TV channel, adding that “the current circumstances do not allow me to go to Riyadh”.

The minister echoed President Emmanuel Macron’s remarks last week on Khashoggi’s disappearance, calling it a “very serious” matter. Le Maire is one of the first senior Western officials to pull out of the October 23-25 Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh. US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said he will decide on Thursday whether to attend.

Several business titans and Western media groups have already pulled out of the conference organized by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Khashoggi, who was living in self-imposed exile in the United States where he contributed to the Washington Post, vanished after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. He was critical of some of Saudi Arabia’s policies. Turkish officials claim he was killed and dismembered in the consulate by a hit squad which arrived from Riyadh — claims denied by the Saudi government.

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US Congressman seeks immediate designation of Pakistan as state sponsor of terrorism

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Poe

Washington: A top Republican lawmaker has urged the Trump administration to immediately designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism and terminate its non-NATO ally status, asserting that Islamabad consistently defends Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed and condemns US’ counterterrorism efforts.

Congressman Ted Poe said in the House of Representatives that Pakistan will not receive any financial support from the US if terrorists continue to live safely in the country. “Now is the day of reckoning. All assistance to Pakistan must end, its Major non-NATO ally status must be terminated, and the State Department should immediately designate it as a state sponsor of terrorism,” Poe said last week, according to Congressional records. In his remarks, the Republican Congressman from Texas slammed Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi for what he described as lecturing the US on aid. “While I do not oppose open engagement with Pakistan, our position must be clear: Pakistan will not receive a dime of US support if terrorists continue to live safely on their soil,” he said. “For too long the opposite has been the case. Fortunately, President Donald Trump has disrupted the status quo and suspended most of the funding we give to Pakistan, specifically calling them out for their support to terrorism. But more should be done,” he said.

Poe said if Qureshi was truly interested in restoring the relationship between the two countries, he would accept responsibility and acknowledge that countless terrorists still live inside Pakistan. “His country has been the epicentre for extremism for decades, where extremists are still able to hold massive public rallies to incite young men to violence. This isn’t conjectured, the evidence is well documented,” he asserted.

Poe said Mumbai terror attack mastermind and the founder of the US and UN-designated terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba Hafiz Saeed operated freely in Pakistan. Despite his role in the 2008 Mumbai attack, Saeed leads public rallies and can raise money for extremists causes, he said. “Yet, Pakistan, including its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, consistently defends Saeed and condemns US counterterrorism efforts,” Poe said. He said Qureshi even claimed terrorist groups that target Pakistan had a safe haven in Afghanistan under the US’ watch. “Yet it is Pakistani officials who somehow claim there is a ‘good’ Taliban, while the US makes no distinction,” he said. “If the Foreign Minister wanted to earn our trust, his government could demonstrate good faith by taking action. This includes handing over Saeed, the leaders of the Taliban and Haqqani Network, and banning all extremist groups on its soil. But this is a fantasy,” Poe said.

The relations between Pakistan and the US nosedived this January after President Trump accused Islamabad of giving nothing to Washington but “lies and deceit” and providing “safe haven” to terrorists. The US Congress also passed a bill to slash Pakistan’s defence aid to USD 150 million, significantly below the historic level of more than USD one billion per year. The Trump administration had announced early this year that it was suspending security assistance to Pakistan over differences on Afghanistan.

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