Pakistan expects to sign key pacts during Saudi crown prince’s visit

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan maintain strong ties and Riyadh has repeatedly come to Islamabad’s financial rescue. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 17 February 2019

Pakistan expects to sign key pacts during Saudi crown prince’s visit

  • KSA will give Pakistan a total of $9.6 billion in loans and oil on deferred payments in the next 3 years — FM Shah Mehmood Qureshi
  • Saudi crown prince to be the first state guest to stay at the official residence of Pakistan'S PM

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is hopeful that it will sign eight investment agreements during a visit to Pakistan by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the weekend, the Pakistani foreign minister said on Wednesday.

The crown prince is due to arrive in Islamabad on Feb. 16 on a two-day visit that is being seen as the culmination of strong ties between the historic allies. 

He is expected to sign a range of agreements worth up to $15 billion dollars, including for three power plants in Pakistan’s Punjab province and an oil refinery and petrochemical complex to be set up in the coastal city of Gwadar in southwestern Balochistan. 

“When he (the crown prince) comes to Islamabad on his two-day visit, we hope to sign eight MoUs,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Wednesday, declining to give a final figure for the total investments expected. 

He said that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia had also agreed to form a “coordination council” jointly supervised by the Pakistani prime minister and Saudi crown prince to ensure the implementation of the eight deals.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan and the crown prince, ministers from both countries would be part of a new Pakistan-Saudi Arabia “coordination council” that would follow up on and implement agreements, Qureshi said. 

“Through the council, the MoUs (memoranda of understanding) will be followed up on and made a reality,” the foreign minister said. 

“We are putting in place a mechanism to take these MoUs to their logical conclusion.”

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have long maintained strong ties and Riyadh has repeatedly come to Islamabad’s financial rescue. 

Qureshi said over the next three years, Saudi Arabia would give Pakistan a total of $9.6 billion in loans and oil on deferred payments to help keep its economy afloat and avert a balance of payments crisis. 

On Tuesday, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told Arab News that the Saudi crown prince would be the first state guest to stay at the official residence of the prime minister of Pakistan.

Outlining the prince’s agenda, the information minister said that he would attend a reception at the presidential palace on Saturday. 

“A reception will be hosted in his honor at the president’s house and will be attended by the (Pakistani) prime minister, army chief, all top ministers, bureaucrats and important personalities in the country as well as members of the royal entourage,” Chaudhry said. 

On Sunday, he said, Prime Minister Imran Khan and the crown prince will co-chair meetings of joint working groups including on trade and investment, energy, science, culture and information and media.

The crown prince will leave Pakistan on Feb. 17 and continue to Malaysia, Indonesia, India and China.

Responding to a question about reports that the prince would address a joint session of Parliament, Chaudhry said: “That is highly unlikely.”

Giving details of security arrangements made for the visit, the information minister said that the crown prince’s “own security team” would guard the prime minister house’s during his stay there but Pakistani security officials would also be on duty.

Chaudhry said that Islamabad would be on “high security alert” throughout the prince’s visit and the Pakistan army and paramilitary Rangers would be in charge of keeping the capital safe. 

Saudi security and intelligence officials are also expected to be present, not just at the prime minister’s house but across Islamabad during the two days that the crown prince is there. 

Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

Updated 43 min 56 sec ago

Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

  • Young volunteers tackle tough terrain, pandemic myths in isolated northern region

JAKARTA: A group of tech-savvy young locals in Indonesia’s northern North Halmahera regency is spreading awareness about the dangers of COVID-19 in remote corners of the archipelago at a time when bureaucracy has impeded a rapid response to the pandemic.

The Relawan Merah Putih, or Red and White Volunteers, includes a multimedia expert, university students, lecturers, civil servants and a web developer in Tobelo, the main city of North Halmahera in North Maluku province, about 2,500 km from the capital Jakarta.

The city is located on Halmahera island, part of the Maluku Islands, Indonesia’s fabled Spice Islands on the northeastern part of the sprawling archipelago.

Stevie Recaldo Karimang, a 28-year-old freelance photographer and videographer, told Arab News that he set up the group after social restrictions introduced to counter the pandemic put him out of business. 

He quickly developed a website on the pandemic and created online flyers and audiovisual materials that he and 31 other volunteers distributed on social media platforms and messaging apps to educate the public about the pandemic soon after the first cases in Indonesia were confirmed in Jakarta in early March.

“We translated the information we took from the national COVID-19 task force into the market language spoken here, which is a mixture of Indonesian and the local dialect, to make it more understandable for the locals,” Karimang said.

The group also used a drone to issue public warnings against mass gatherings.

“The drone helped to remind people not to form a crowd when social restrictions were enforced. We attached a flashlight to the device to catch the crowd’s attention, and we were able to dismiss such gatherings.”

But the volunteers shifted their efforts to rural areas after the first coronavirus case in North Maluku province was confirmed on March 23.

Jubhar Mangimbulude, a microbiology expert at Halmahera University and the group’s adviser, said the team had visited 30 isolated villages out of 196 townships in the regency, which is home to 161 million people.

“We reached one village after hours of driving over rough terrain. We have to use four-wheel-drive vehicles because along the way we may have to cross a river where the bridge is damaged,” he told Arab News.

Mangimbulude said that many villagers were unaware of the pandemic and only knew from TV that a dangerous virus was spreading quickly and infecting people. He was glad to find that no COVID-19 cases had been detected among the villagers.

But he acknowledged that misinformation was rife and said that he had to debunk myths about “how alcohol could be used to prevent the disease.”

“The villagers heard that the virus can be killed with heat in one’s body, and since drinking alcohol can warm the body, they encouraged their children and elders to drink a local alcoholic beverage made of fermented sugar palm fruit,” Mangimbulude said.

Fellow volunteer Oscar Berthomene, a local civil servant, said that the group was able to move faster than the regency administration whose bureaucracy slowed down the response to the pandemic.

“I have support from my supervisor, and we were able to help their activities with cars to allow them to move around,” he told Arab News.

The regency has about 18 percent of the 953 cases in the province, which make up about 1.5 percent of the national total of 62,142 as of Saturday.