Mumtaz Zahra Baloch
Mumtaz Zahra Baloch

ISLAMABAD: While it welcomed foreign governments’ statements in support of free and fair elections, Pakistan on Thursday advised diplomats based in Islamabad to ponder how their activities were seen by the public at large.

The remarks by Foreign Office Spokesperson Mum­taz Zahra Baloch came in reply to a question about British High Com­missioner Jane Marriott’s meeting with the chief election commissioner.

Before the UK high com­­missioner, the US am­­bassador to Pakistan also held a meeting with the CEC.

“[W]e expect relevant embassies to reflect on how their activities in Pakistan are being perceived by the Pakistani public and whether such activities can actually contribute to promotion of democracy and the cause of free and fair elections in Pakistan,” Ms Baloch said during the weekly press briefing.

Spokesperson welcomes statements in support of polls; says Afghan transit trade deal ‘being misused’

She stressed people of Pakistan were fully capable of overcoming the challenges faced by the country.

While replying to a que­stion about foreign gover­n­­ments’ observations about the forthcoming elections, the spokesperson said statements by some governments to “support free and fair elections” and not “intervene in Pakistani politics” were welcoming.

Misuse of transit trade

On a question about bilateral trade with Afg­h­anistan, Ms Baloch said the transit trade agreem­ent between the two countries “was being misused”.

“It is important for our customs authorities to ensure that any border trade that takes place complies with the understandings and agreements that exist between Pakis­tan and Afghanistan and that such commercial acti­vities do not contravene Pakistani laws,” she remarked.

“Our major concern is that sometimes the exp­o­r­­ts that are meant for Afg­h­anistan are diverted back to Pakistan and the custo­­ms duties and taxes are not paid as they should be,” she said, adding the cust­oms authorities were concerned that people were “misusing the bilateral provisions that allow for trade with Afghanistan”.

She said these concerns will be taken up with the Afghan authorities.

She said the trade between the two nations was on the rise and this was due to the fact that “Pakistan has facilitated trade with Afghanistan”.

On the Afghan Foreign Ministry’s statement about transit trade with India, she clarified the agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan did not include overland trade with India through the Wagah border.

On a question about US Ambassador Donald Blome’s visit to Gwadar, she said the port was an important project under CPEC.

Equal threat

On terror threats emanating from Afghanistan, the spokesperson said Pakistan considered all entities that espouse terrorism “an equal threat” and was committed “to fight all of them with full force”.

“We consider it the crown jewel of Pakistan-China cooperation under CPEC. We have welcomed international cooperation under CPEC and investments by third parties. We have also welcomed foreign dignitaries and diplomats to visit Gwadar and see for themselves the potential of Gwadar and how it can be a game changer for prosperity in this region”.

Published in Dawn, September 15th, 2023

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