LONDON: Foreign Mini­ster Ishaq Dar has said PIA flights to the UK will res­ume “in weeks, not months”, and that he took up the matter of banned flights of the national carrier with British government officials here over the weekend.

Mr Dar made this anno­uncement during a brief visit to London on his ret­urn from Brussels, where he attended the First Nuclear Energy Summit.

In London, Mr Dar met Andrew Mitchell, Minister of State of the United Kingdom for Development and Africa, as well as Lord Tariq Ahmad, Minister of State for the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia. He later met some MPs and Lords at an Iftar hos­ted by Pakistan High Commi­ssioner Mohammad Faisal.

Sources told Dawn that the resumption of PIA flights to the UK came under discussion during the meeting, as Mr Dar urged the UK officials to review the matter. In July 2020, the UK joined several countries in suspending PIA’s flight operations due to concerns about the authenticity of pilot licences.

Mr Dar told reporters earlier at a press conference on Saturday evening that the prime minister was keen to resume PIA operations in the UK. “I travelled here on a British Airways flight, and many Pakistanis on the flight asked me to work on this. I am aware of the challenges Pakistanis are facing due to this issue. It takes $20,000 to send a coffin by another airline. It is not a matter of months but weeks [before flight operations resume],” he vowed.

During the 16-month PDM government, he said, everything was done for the resumption of PIA flights and inspections were completed according to international requirements. “They wanted us to update the Civilian Aviation Authority law, and despite the challenges, we did it. But yesterday I was taken aback when I was told the CAA division still has work to do. Whatever requirements are there, we will fulfill them.”

Donald Lu hearing

On questions about the congressional testimony of Donald Lu, a senior State Department official, and implications for Pakistan’s election results, Mr Dar said, “Our election process is standalone, no government or party should or can be influenced.

The Constitution is clear about the role of the caretaker set-up, and barring few things such as public-private partnerships, the caretaker cannot do multi-lateral work. There is a Constitution, whoever has an issue with election results can make a legal challenge.

He added, “It is very unfortunate that threats were made to the spouse of Donald Lu. Whoever sponsored this behaviour is condemnable. Outside Pakistan, we should be apolitical. It’s very sad. Regardless of which party one supports, the threats to Lu’s spouse reflect negatively on Pakistan.”

On allegations of rigging, Mr Dar said, “If there was rigging in the election, then why was it not done in KP or elsewhere? Our country has a history that whoever loses alleges rigging. grievances should be taken to the courts. Defaming the country overseas is not right.”

On a meeting with KP CM Ali Amin Gandapur, Mr Dar said, “The chief minister of KP was very positive. He said he wants to cooperate and work with us. It was pleasant to hear from him.”

Why not finance minister

Asked why he was not made finance minister, the foreign minister said, “It is the prerogative of the PM to decide who gets which portfolio. When you take oath, you take oath as federal minister, and the allocation of duties are done by the prime minister. As finance minister, I dealt extensively with foreign affairs. And the way I see it, we have a domestic need to put our house in order and take Pakistan out of the twin deficit i.e. the budget deficit and external account deficit.”

He said there are “serious challenges” faced by Pakistan’s foreign ministry, and that it is the face of the country globally. “I sat with my senior colleagues to understand and am aware that there is as much hard work involved as there is in the finance ministry. Finance is the country’s top priority… [we need to think of] how we can beef it up economically. I gave one piece of advice: conventional diplomacy is over. Economic diplomacy is the way.”

Mr Dar added, “To be economically strong our missions will have a huge role vis-a-vis trade, foreign direct investment and bilateral trade. Our missions have to jointly support this, and whether direct or indirect, it affects the economy and finance. Mr Aurangzeb is a seasoned banker, we [PML-N] considered him for a position in the central bank during a previous term.” He forecast that by December 2025, the CPI will come down to 10pc, but it should be “a single digit”.

Relations with Afghanistan, India

When pressed to speak about Pakistan’s ties with its neighbours and the international community, FM Dar said country’s foreign relations had deteriorated since 2013-18 era, and that “some countries have been antagonised”.

In a veiled reference to Imran Khan, Mr Dar said, “Our leadership would tell Turkiye, Malaysia to do a summit but then we would back out — these things have a deep impact on foreign relations.”

About recent strikes along Afghan border, Mr Dar said: “On March 16 I got a message that his excellency Amir Khan Muttaqi wants to speak with me. I took that call and during the call I got news that seven of our men were martyred in the northern area. He offered his condolences, and I said it would be better if he made a public statement.”

“Pakistan then decided to have a kinetic counter response. I said this to his excellency that our intelligence is that it is the Gul Bahadur group that is responsible, TTP is being used, and the leadership is in your country. I asked for meaningful action, and for the masterminds to be handed over.”

He continued, “Because no meaningful action took place, we decided that an intelligence-based operation would take place and on March 18, that happened. It was not against the Afghan people or government or military. It was targeting terrorists and I complement our law enforcement for a successful reaction.”

Mr Dar said, “Pakistan should not be misunderstood. We have relations with Afghanistan. Our preference is that this continues since they are our neighbours, brothers and we share a culture. It’s unfortunate that with a new regime, these things have not ended. We are ready to cooperate, but terrorists should be targeted where they are.”

Asked if relations with India will improve, Mr Dar said it would happen after consultation. “Our business community demands and appeals for normalisation of trade. I met businessmen ahead of the last budget, they all said imports come via Dubai and Singapore [instead of India] and that they have to pay extra costs of transport. We will seriously examine this — all stakeholders will see the extent of economic activities and trade what can be done,” he said, adding that the actions of India in August 2019 was “very painful”.

Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2024

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