540 students to return from Kyrgyzstan today via special flights, says Dar

Published May 19, 2024
Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar addresses a press conference in Lahore alongside Information Minister Attaullah Tarar and Kashmir Affairs Minister Amir Muqam. — DawnNewsTV
Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar addresses a press conference in Lahore alongside Information Minister Attaullah Tarar and Kashmir Affairs Minister Amir Muqam. — DawnNewsTV

Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar on Sunday said that three special commercial flights had been arranged to bring back 540 Pakistani students from Kyrgyzstan today.

Addressing a press conference in Lahore alongside Information Minister Attaullah Tarar, Dar — also the foreign minister — said, “Yesterday, around 130 students reached Pakistan via commercial flights. So today, three commercial flights, special flights have been arranged. Through these 540 more students will be able to return and the [total] number will increase to 670.”

He further said that the government had also talked to the air force today, adding that it would also operate a special flight. “The capacity of that flight will be approximately 130 and for that the embassy has let the students know […] So far, around 50 students have let the embassy know they wish to go on this flight,” he said.

The development comes after around more than 100 students arrived in Lahore last night, following mob violence in the Central Asian country’s capital Bishkek, which had resulted in injuries to five Pakistani students as per the Kyrgyz health ministry.

Kyrgyz police said they had mobilised forces in the Central Asian nation’s capital on Friday to quell violence, in which hundreds of Kyrgyz men attacked buildings housing foreign students, including Pakistanis. According to Pakistan’s embassy in Bishkek, foreign students living in the Kyrgyz capital, including those from Pakistan, were attacked by locals in the aftermath of a brawl with Egyptian nationals on May 13.

Kyrgyz private media outlet 24.kg reported that a “spontaneous protest against foreigners” that began on Friday night in Bishkek ended on Saturday morning after police came to an agreement with the rioters and they dispersed a little later.

Pakistan on Sat­urday summoned Kyrgyz envoy Melis Moldaliev to the Foreign Office and demanded “all possible measures” for the protection of the students, with the embassy asking them to remain indoors till de-escalation of the situation.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had also asked Dar to visit Bishkek along with Kashmir Affairs Minister Amir Muqam on a special flight. However, the two did not travel as planned.

Addressing the media today, Dar quoted Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Zheenbek Kulubaev as telling him that a total of 16 foreign students had been injured, including four to five Pakistanis.

The foreign minister said his Kyrgyz counterpart assured him that officials were monitoring the situation and there was “complete peace”, with no further problems arising on Saturday.

The international students were made to sit together with the Kyrgyz students and talk, Dar quoted FM Kulubaev as saying, adding that the opposition parties in the Central Asian country often “campaigned” against foreign students.

“He (Kyrgyz FM) said ‘we highly value you as a brother country’ […] they (opposition) talk against the government policy,” Dar said. “‘Paid bloggers and paid social media; we don’t know what their agenda is’,” Dar quoted his Kyrgyz counterpart as saying.

“The foreign minister told me categorically that absolute lies were posted on social media that, God forbid, Pakistani students have been killed. He said ‘I guarantee you that not a single Pakistani student has died’,” Dar asserted.

Explaining the reason for not visiting Kyrgyzstan, Dar said he and Muqam had deliberated a visit under the premier’s instructions but the country requested Pakistani officials to trust the authorities and the Pakistani envoy present there.

“We were not going there to criticise them but to satisfy our students […] so this is why we accepted their request,” the deputy premier said.

Recalling that he had sent two additional officers from the FO to assist the Pakistani mission, Dar said if needed, the additional secretary of the foreign ministry could also be sent after discussing the matter with PM Shehbaz.

It was decided that both countries would monitor the situation daily at a high-level multiple times a day, Dar stated, reiterating that the Kyrgyz FM had told him that no Pakistani student had died.

“If students want to leave, we are prepared to bring them back […] but obviously not all students would like to come,” the deputy premier asserted.

Tarar emphasised that Pakistani students were not the target of the clashes as they had taken place between local students and those of an Arab country. “Clashes were not targeted against Pakistan or Pakistani students but when such a situation arises, many people get caught in it.”

He added that there was “not a single second’s delay” from the government in taking action when the incident came to notice.

Reiterating the assurances given by the Kyrgyz FM and from a few students he said he was in contact with, Tarar termed it “unfortunate” that a “specific political party” organised a “specific propaganda” where “parents were told that their daughters had been raped and that their children had died”.

“A Bangladeshi student’s picture was posted stating that it was a Pakistani student who had died,” the information minister added.

Tarar asserted that using the situation “against the government and worrying people’s parents only for political point-scoring to put yourself above the government was extremely unfortunate”.

He added, “These are absolutely authenticated figures. Currently, there are six students who are under treatment in three different hospitals. Their names and details are also available and they are stable as well. The [Pakistani] envoy has also contacted them and their family is also in touch.”

“Rest assured, every Pakistani citizen’s protection is this government’s responsibility. PM Shehbaz is monitoring this even right now and we will not let any Pakistani be unsafe,” the minister emphasised.

Speaking about the reports of rape, Dar said the Kyrgyz FM, expressing his regret, said there was “no such thing” and termed the reports “totally fake and based on lies”.

“Brother, please don’t worry, I guarantee you this [that] everything is normal here. If you want to send somebody here, you can and see,” Dar quoted the Kyrgyz FM as telling him. FM Kulubaev told Dar he could explain the situation further at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation tomorrow.

The deputy minister termed the spreading of lies on social media to “provoke people, hurt their sentiments and play with their emotions” as very unfortunate.

In his talk, Muqam emphasised that it was also to be considered that those studying there had spent their money. The Kashmir affairs minister reiterated that those students who wanted to return could inform the embassy there and would be brought back.

Asked about the total number of Pakistani students in Kyrgyzstan, Dar said there were 11,000 enrolled in Bishkek while another 6,000 in other cities, highlighting that they all were in different institutions whereas the current violence at medical students’ dorms was at a separate location from those.

Further explaining the cancellation of his visit, Dar said Kyrgyzstan was a brotherly Muslim country, had assured Pakistan that the situation was under control and the government there supported international students. “If need be, we definitely will go there. We are monitoring this.”

He highlighted that diplomatic ties were a “sensitive matter” and had to be considered when taking such decisions after Pakistan had been “isolated in the past few years”.

The deputy premier further said the Kyrgyz authorities had “arrested a few individuals” with FM Kulubaev assuring him: “I commit to you that we will not let go any perpetrator without punishing them.”

According to a Dawn.com correspondent, the information minister received 180 students who landed at Lahore Aiport later in the day.

180 students land at Lahore Airport after escaping Bishkek amid mob violence against international students.—Photo courtesy: Dawn.com correspondent
180 students land at Lahore Airport after escaping Bishkek amid mob violence against international students.—Photo courtesy: Dawn.com correspondent

PM speaks to Pakistani ambassador in Kyrgyzstan

Meanwhile, the premier instructed Hasan Zaigham, Pakistan’s ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, to make necessary arrangements regarding the special plane for bringing back Pakistani students from the Central Asian country, state broadcaster Radio Pakistan reported.

In a telephonic conversation with Zaigham today, PM Shehbaz directed the ambassador to stay in touch with all Pakistani students and their families in Kyrgyzstan.

“The prime minister said injured Pakistani students should be brought to Pakistan on a priority basis,” the report said. PM Shehbaz also said that repatriation of family members residing in Kyrgyzstan with Pakistani students should also be arranged on a priority basis.

“On the instructions of the prime minister, a special plane will leave for Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan this evening and will bring back 130 Pakistani students tonight,” the report added.

Meanwhile, the ambassador briefed the premier about his meeting with the Kyrgyz deputy foreign minister. Zaigham said that the Kyrgyz government had said the situation had been completely brought under control and there were no new incidents of violence last night and today.

“The Kyrgyz deputy foreign minister said security has been enhanced and Pakistani and other foreign students are absolutely safe,” the report said.

Attack on hostels

Zaigham posted a video update on X, formerly Twitter, on Saturday regarding the situation in the Central Asian state. He said “local extremist elements” had attacked six hostels of international students and their private residences last night in Bishkek, injuring 14.

“In view of mob violence around student hostels in Bishkek, the embassy strongly advises all Pakistani students in Bishkek to stay indoors until the situation returns to normal. We are liaising with the local law enforcement authorities to ensure the safety of our student fraternity,” the ambassador said in a post on ‘X’.

Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch also reposted the envoy’s message and said the embassy was in contact with the Kyrgyz authorities as the safety of the students was of paramount importance for the ambassador and his team.

In a statement, the FO said the government had been in contact with Kyrgyz authorities to ensure the safety and security of its nationals at risk in view of the riots.

“The Kyrgyz authorities have expressed regret at the incidents of violence against foreign nationals, including Pakistanis in Bishkek last night. They have also pledged to hold an inquiry and punish the perpetrators”, it said.

“The government of Pakistan takes the matter of the safety and security of its national around the world very seriously and will take all necessary measures to ensure their wellbeing. The deputy prime minister and foreign minister [Ishaq Dar] has directed the Foreign Office to monitor the situation round-the-clock and fully assist and facilitate Pakistani nationals.”

Additional reporting by Imran Gabol



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