Middle East ties not at US expense: Pakistan Foreign Office

Dr. Mohammad Faisal
Updated 30 December 2018
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Middle East ties not at US expense: Pakistan Foreign Office

  • Saudi Arabia agreed to give Pakistan $3 billion in foreign currency support for a year, and a further loan worth up to $3 billion in deferred payments for oil imports

ISLAMABAD: Islamabad’s ties with Middle Eastern states are “not at the cost of our bilateral relationship with any other country,” including the US, Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman told Arab News on Saturday.
“Pakistan is actively engaged with the US, and as a result Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Islamabad and the US special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has visited Pakistan three times,” said Dr. Mohammad Faisal.
“The (Pakistani) government believes in productive and proactive diplomacy, and this is what we’ve done in the last four months.”
During its first four months in office, the government of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has focused on strengthening ties with Middle Eastern countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Analysts say this is due to tensions between Pakistan and the US over the war in Afghanistan.
“Saudi Arabia and the UAE are time-tested and all-weather friends of Pakistan, and it’s quite natural for Pakistan to warm up its relationship with these countries at a time of ever-deteriorating diplomatic relations with the US,” said Tahir Malik, international affairs professor at NUML University in Islamabad.
It is imperative for Pakistan to forge close ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE “to stay relevant in the international community,” he added.
After being elected in August, Khan chose Saudi Arabia for his maiden foreign trip in September, where he held meetings with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Khan traveled to the UAE soon after.
Both trips bore dividends. Saudi Arabia agreed to give Pakistan $3 billion in foreign currency support for a year, and a further loan worth up to $3 billion in deferred payments for oil imports to help stave off a current account crisis. The UAE offered $3 billion in aid.
“I don’t think this clear appreciation of our close historic relationship with Saudi Arabia and the UAE was demonstrated by previous Pakistani governments,” Rasul Bukhsh Rais, a professor of political science, told Arab News.
Khan returned from those two countries with “incredible support at a very difficult hour in Pakistan’s history,” marked by a new transition to democracy, a deteriorating economy, a new party (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) in power and a new prime minister, Rais said.
Pakistan needs to explore trade and investment opportunities in the Middle East, lure investors by offering incentives, and explore opportunities to increase agricultural exports, he added.
Former Pakistani diplomat Javed Hafeez said Khan’s government has boosted relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Islamabad is committed to protecting Saudi sovereignty against any foreign aggression, Hafeez added.
According to the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development, some 4 million Pakistanis live and work in the Middle East.


Taliban under attack in Badghis province

In this file photo, Afghan National Army soldiers carry out an exercise during a live firing at the Afghan Military Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Afghan officials say around 100 soldiers fled their posts and tried to cross into neighboring Turkmenistan during a weeklong battle with the Taliban, in the latest setback for the country's battered security forces. (AP)
Updated 18 March 2019
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Taliban under attack in Badghis province

  • Several government troops fleeing the Taliban rampage crossed into neighboring Turkmenistan
  • In a statement, the ministry had said that 50 Taliban combatants had been killed

KABUL: Afghanistan’s government launched a ground and air offensive on Monday to flush out Taliban insurgents from a key area in the northwestern province of Badghis, which is close to the border with Turkmenistan, officials said.

The focal point of the operation was the Bala Murghab district where, a few days ago, the Taliban had captured dozens of government forces in addition to overrunning several parts of the district, which serves as a gateway to the northern areas for the insurgents.

Several government troops fleeing the Taliban rampage crossed into neighboring Turkmenistan, officials said. 

One provincial official and a lawmaker from the province, who requested anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media, said that Turkmenistan was due to hand over the troops to Afghanistan on Monday.

Sayed Mohmmad Musa, a lawmaker from the province, said that hundreds of government troops have taken part in the operation, which had resulted in the deaths of several of the Taliban’s top commanders.

“Through the operation, the government wants to not only regain the control of the district, but is also trying to free those forces who either had to join the Taliban or were captured by them several days ago,” he said by phone.

“There is heavy fighting there and the government wants to end the Taliban threat because it is a strategic location,” he said.

Meanwhile, spokesmen for the defense and interior ministries did not answer repeated calls for comment about the government’s operation and about the Taliban’s rampage days ago.

In a statement released earlier, the ministry had said that 50 Taliban combatants had been killed.

There were conflicting reports about the number of troops who were captured by the Taliban and those who had fled to Turkmenistan, while the Taliban said 90 soldiers had surrendered.

The development comes amid continuing efforts in recent months by US diplomats and Taliban delegates for finding a peaceful settlement to the war. 

Both the Taliban and government forces, backed by the US military, have stepped up their attacks in a number of areas in the country.

Ahmad Saeedi, an analyst from Badghis, said the remoteness of the province, changes in the leadership of the ministry and confusion among troops about the peace process were some of the factors for the Taliban’s gains in Badghis.

“The time of US and Taliban formally announcing a deal has become closer; this has disheartened some troops in some parts of the country to keep on fighting,” Saeedi told Arab News.

Mirza Mohammed Yarmand, a military analyst and retired general, agreed. He told Arab News: “Unfortunately, the schism and differences among the political leaders of the country have caused disruption and slowness in the conduct of responsibilities of officers in the battlefield.”

He added: “Logistical shortcomings, the amount of attacks conducted by the enemy, (the government’s) failure to transport on time the war casualties from the battle ground and the amount of time officers spend in war zone, are among the reasons for incidents such as Bala Murghab.”

“When there is difference among the leaders that certainly impacts the moral of troops,” he said.