In press briefing, Pakistan’s information minister warns of worrying rise in coronavirus cases across Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa
India must stay away from the Afghanistan situation, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said on Tuesday, as he reiterated allegations of Delhi playing the role of spoiler in the war-torn state’s attempts to achieve peace and stability.
Addressing a media briefing in Islamabad after a weekly meeting of the federal cabinet, he said that lawmakers had expressed concern over recent statements from India on the Afghan peace process. “India should stop trying to interfere in the affairs of Afghanistan,” he said, adding that they did not even share a border with the war-torn state and had no stake in the matter.
Alleging that India had utilized Afghanistan’s soil against Pakistan under the previous Kabul government, he claimed that there were “visible” efforts on the past of Indian media to sabotage peace in Afghanistan. “They have no need to comment on Afghanistan’s woes,” he added.
No evacuation for Afghans
Addressing the ongoing efforts to evacuate foreigners from Afghanistan, the minister claimed Pakistan was trying to create an atmosphere that would allow the exit of those wishing to leave Kabul for their countries of origin or safe places. He said that PIA had evacuated 1,500 people thus far. “We are also trying to open our borders for foreign nationals,” he added.
Claiming that Pakistan had opened its air and land borders for everyone who wished to leave Kabul, he stressed that this did not apply to Afghan nationals. “As far as Afghans are concerned, there’s a policy by the present authorities of Afghanistan [Taliban], who have blocked Afghans from leaving Afghanistan because they have already announced amnesty,” he added. “Anyone who can reach Pakistan on valid documentation is welcome,” he emphasized.
“We are playing a responsible role in facilitating the formation of a new government in Afghanistan,” he said, and described as “positive” statements by the Taliban that they would not allow the use of Afghan soil against any other country.
Referring to the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, he claimed funding to them from India had now come to a halt. “They are currently in a state of disarray,” he claimed, adding that Pakistan had the capacity to counter any attempts by them to sow terror. “We are not a weak nation … our only concern was that they don’t receive any foreign funding,” he said.
Fawad claimed that discussions were underway to secure custody of Pakistan’s “most wanted terrorists” who were based in Afghanistan. “We hope they’ll [Taliban] support us in delivering them to us,” he added.
Coronavirus and electoral reforms
Fawad claimed that the coronavirus situation, which had been showing signs of stability, was now worsening once again. “In Khyber-Pakhtunkwha and Punjab, more than 1,500 patients are hospitalized,” he said, adding that 70 percent of Pakistan’s oxygen capacity was being utilized. “If the situation does not improve within a day or two, we’ll have to reduce oxygen supply for industries to ensure sufficient stock for patients,” he warned.
There is great burden on the healthcare infrastructure of Khyber-Pakhtunkwha and Punjab right now, he said, stressing the situation needed to be addressed to prevent it from deteriorating further.
Referring to the incumbent government’s electoral reforms, the information minister claimed the cabinet had condemned “attempts to damage” the process. “We are seeing a sustained campaign to damage the electoral reforms and not grant overseas Pakistanis the right to vote [from their place of residence],” he alleged.
Claiming that Pakistan’s economy was entirely reliant on overseas Pakistanis, he claimed that if they stopped sending their remittances—most of which are sent to struggling families—the country’s balance of accounts and economy would near collapse. “It would be a great failure of Pakistan if we fail to provide them right to i-voting,” he claimed and accused the Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) of colluding to prevent the right to vote from place of residence for overseas Pakistanis.
The information minister also provided some economic indicators, claiming they were doing “fantastic.” He claimed inflation had come down—though the sensitive price index remains in the double digits—while exports had stabilized. “This is because international commodities’ prices have gone up,” he claimed, adding that Pakistan’s prices were “still within control.”
He claimed that the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio was consistently reducing, adding that business confidence has gone up due to this.
The minister said the cabinet had also discussed a recent rise in cases of women’s harassment. “The prime minister said that incidents like the one that occurred at Minar-e-Pakistan [on Aug. 14] were very concerning for all segments of society,” he said. He said there were mounting calls to regulate social media over such incidents, adding that the government had decided to commence a “great debate” on it that would include the participation of experts, ulema, and civil society. “They will discuss the perils of social media and give us guidance on how we should regulate it,” he said.