Iranian minister visits Pakistan but support from Islamabad likely to be limited

Foreign Minister of Pakistan Shah Mahmoud Quraishi greets his Iranian counterpart Jawad Zarif in Islamabad. Zarif’s visit came days before the expected arrival of US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in Pakistan. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad)
Updated 31 August 2018
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Iranian minister visits Pakistan but support from Islamabad likely to be limited

  • Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is first foreign dignitary to visit Pakistan since new government took over
  • His trip comes days before the US secretary of state is due to arrive in Pakistan, on Sept. 5

ISLAMABAD: Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif concluded a two-day official visit to Islamabad on Friday. While Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi publicly declared the country support for Iran’s “principled stance” over the 2015 nuclear deal, after the withdrawal of the US from the agreement, analysts said that Islamabad might not be in a position to provide Tehran with the support it has promised.

In addition to Qureshi, Zarif, the first foreign dignitary to visit Pakistan since the new government took over, also met Prime Minister Imran Khan, National Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser and army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa.

“Welcoming his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi noted the potential for strengthening the already strong bilateral relationship,” said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Referring to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal between Iran, the P5+1 countries (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the US and Germany) and the EU, which was signed in 2015, Qureshi said that Pakistan supports “Iran’s principled stance.”

US President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the agreement this year and announced the re-imposition of economic sanctions that had been lifted as part of the deal. However, experts believe that Pakistan might be unable to support Iran as it has promised.

“Islamabad does not have that political clout, and Pakistan’s own relations with the US are hanging with a fragile thread that could break any moment,” said geopolitical analyst, Qamar Cheema.

During his meetings, “Zarif discussed the expansion of cooperation with Pakistan in different fields of common interest, including economy and social relations,” the Foreign Office said. In addition, security collaboration along the troubled Pakistan-Iran border, military cooperation and counterterrorism were among the key issues he discussed with the Gen. Bajwa.

Zarif’s visit came days before the expected arrival of US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in Pakistan on Sept. 5. US-Pakistan relations remain frosty due to a deep and longstanding trust deficit, but mindful of the country’s alleged influence over the Taliban, the US has not imposed sanctions and continues to engage with its estranged ally despite the strained relations.

However, the administration in Washington has kept Islamabad under mounting pressure, in an attempt to force it to comply with its demand for action against the militants who have consistently thwarted American peace efforts in Afghanistan.


Pakistan ex-PM in custody of anti-graft body amid Qatar LNG case

Updated 19 July 2019
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Pakistan ex-PM in custody of anti-graft body amid Qatar LNG case

  • Last year, the NAB ordered an inquiry into Abbasi over the alleged misappropriation of funds
  • Pakistan is currently receiving a supply of 500 million cubic feet per day of LNG from Qatar

LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was remanded in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for 13 days, a day after he was arrested in a case involving a multibillion-rupee liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract to Qatar.
Abbasi, who is also the vice president of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz (PML-N) party, was presented before Judge Bashir Ahmed of an accountability court on Friday morning. The case has been adjourned until Aug. 1.
Speaking to journalists before his appearance at the court, Abbasi called his arrest “an attack on democracy.”
Last year, the NAB ordered an inquiry into Abbasi over the alleged misappropriation of funds in the import of LNG that the agency says caused a loss of about $2 billion to the national exchequer. He is also being investigated for allegedly granting a 15-year contract for an LNG terminal to a “favored” company. Abbasi rejects the allegations.
PML-N Sen. Mushahid Ullah Khan said Pakistan was facing “the worst energy crisis of its kind” when his party came to power after the 2013 general election, and the LNG deal was quickly finalized with Qatar to overcome it.
“The industry was shutting down with thousands of people getting unemployed, but this LNG supply helped us reverse the tide,” he told Arab News.
Khan said Pakistan’s LNG contract with Qatar was “the cheapest possible deal” the country could have gotten, and rubbished allegations of corruption and kickbacks.
“If there is something wrong in the contract, why is this government not reviewing it?” Khan asked.
Pakistan is currently receiving a supply of 500 million cubic feet per day of LNG from Qatar under a 15-year agreement at 13.37 percent of Brent crude price. It is a government-to-government agreement and the price can only be reviewed after 10 years of the contract.
“It is the worst example of political victimization by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government,” PML-N Chairman Raja Zafrul Haq said on Friday after the accountability court remanded Abbasi in NAB custody. “Shahid Khaqan served the nation with dignity and did not commit any wrongdoings,” Haq added.
Abbasi was arrested on his way to Lahore to address a news conference along with PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday.
He served as federal minister for petroleum in the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when he finalized an LNG import deal with Qatar. Abbasi then served for less than a year as prime minister following the resignation of Sharif in 2017.
On Thursday, Pakistan opened technical bids of four international companies for the supply of 400 million cubic feet per day of LNG for a period of 10 years to fulfil the country’s rising energy requirements.
Officials told Arab News that a Qatari delegation, led by Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani in June, resented that Islamabad had ignored its lowest offer of 11.05 percent of Brent for the fresh deal, and instead floated tenders seeking provision of LNG for 10 years from international companies.
The secretary of Pakistan’s Ministry of Energy said: “Yes, this is true. Qatar expressed its annoyance, but we are following our rules. Qatar has not submitted its bid to participate in the process.”
Khan won power last year vowing to root out corruption among what he describes as a venal political elite, and views the probes into veteran politicians — including Sharif and former President Asif Ali Zardari — as long overdue.
The NAB’s campaign has become a topic of fierce political debate in Pakistan, and its focus on the new government’s political foes has prompted accusations of a one-sided purge. The government denies targeting political opponents.
Commenting on Abbasi’s case, former NAB prosecutor Munir Sadiq said the anti-corruption watchdog would file a reference against Abbasi in an accountability court for prosecution, but only if it found irrefutable evidence against him.
“This case is now at the evidence-collection stage, and the NAB will file a reference in the court if it finds irrefutable corruption evidence against Abbasi during the investigation,” Sadiq said.
He added that any inquiry against Abbasi would be shelved after 90 days if corroborating evidence of corruption was not found.
“If a weak case will be filed against the accused, then he will surely receive support from the court,” Sadiq said.