RAWALPINDI: Chief of Army Staff Gen Syed Asim Munir briefs Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and key members of his cabinet on matters of national security, regional stability and counterterrorism operations at the General Headquarters, on Friday.—ISPR
RAWALPINDI: Chief of Army Staff Gen Syed Asim Munir briefs Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and key members of his cabinet on matters of national security, regional stability and counterterrorism operations at the General Headquarters, on Friday.—ISPR

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday committed to fulfilling the military’s resource requirements, as he sought US support for economic reforms and a new International Mone­tary Fund (IMF) programme.

“Government shall provide all the resources required for ensuring operational readiness of the Armed Forces,” PM Shehbaz said during his first visit to the General Headquarters after assu­ming office, where he was accompanied by some of his key ministers.

The prime minister was given a security briefing during his visit, which covered the threat spectrum, response to the security threats and ongoing counterterrorism operations.

“During the visit, Prime Minister and Cabinet members engaged in discussions with military leadership on matters of nati­onal security, regional stability and military preparedness,” a statement relea­sed by the PM Office said.

The official press release did not explicitly state whether the economic crisis was discussed, except for making public the PM’s assurance on fulfilling the requirements related to operational readiness. This implied that while the government may cut some of its expenditures as part of its belt-tightening, defence spending would remain unaffected.

PM Shehbaz said that Pakistan was destined to rise and the armed forces had a crucial role in ensuring the peaceful rise of the country.

“PM and cabinet members appreciated the professionalism, operational readiness, and sacrifices of Pakistan Army in war against terrorism and commended the dedication of the Pakistan Army in safeguarding the nation’s territorial integrity and ensuring peace and stability,” the statement said.

According to the statement, Army Chief Gen Asim Munir affirmed that Pakistan Army will live up to the nation’s expectations and will resolutely support the government in addressing the security challenges facing the country.

US support for IMF programme

Earlier on Friday, the PM met with the US ambassador to pinpoint areas of cooperation, including Islamabad’s engagement with the IMF.

According to the US Embassy in Islamabad, “US support for continued economic reforms with and through the IMF” was among the key areas of bilateral cooperation discussed during a meeting between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and US envoy Donald Blome — the first since Mr Sharif assumed office for the second time.

The meeting occurred a day after the commencement of discussions between Pakistan and the IMF for the second review of the Stand-By Arrangement.

Although a new programme is not on the agenda of the ongoing meeting, the new finance minister Muhammad Aurangzeb has already hinted that Pakistan would advocate for a larger, long-term programme during the review.

The discussions with the IMF for the release of the last tranche under the SBA will continue until Monday (March 18).

During his meeting with Ambassador Blome, PM Shehbaz stated that his government would focus on macro-economic reforms to stabilise the economy and attract foreign investment.

He highlighted the role of the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), established to expedite foreign investments in the country’s priority sectors.

Other areas of cooperation discussed during the Shehbaz-Blome meeting included regional security, trade and investment, education, climate change, and private sector-led economic growth.

The prime minister called for regularly convening existing dialogue mech­anisms on areas of cooperation, particularly trade, investment, energy, health, defense, education, agriculture, and climate change.

The envoy noted that the US considered Pakistan an important partner and hoped for stronger ties.

The US embassy said that Ambassador Blome “expr­essed US support for Pak­is­tan’s democracy and the role of an independent press”.

PM launches plantation drive

Separately, PM Shehbaz launched a countrywide spring tree plantation drive and urged the nation to vehemently take part in the campaign.

The PM kicked off the drive on Friday by planting a sapling in the Prime Minister House’s lawn.

Reiterating the government’s resolve to increase the green cover, the PM announced doubling the number of saplings planted in 2024 compared to the previous year’s target.

PM Shehbaz highlighted the urgency of expanding the forest cover from five per cent of the total area to mitigate the impact of climate change.

The prime minister directed the authorities concerned to make all possible efforts to expand the plantation drive to every corner to make Pakistan “green and pollution-free”.

He also asked the citizens to help the government by participating in the drive.

Syed Irfan Raza also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2024

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