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ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Tuesday confirmed that Pakistan returned $1 billion Saudi loan out of the remaining $2 billion due to what he said "financial constraints" of the kingdom subsequent to the recent decline in oil prices in the international market.

Speaking at a news conference, the foreign minister dispelled the impression that there is any rift in Pakistan-Saudi relations due to which Pakistan was asked to repay the loan extended in 2018 to help Pakistan address its balance of payments (BoP) crisis.

"When we were in trouble, they [Saudi Arabia] came to our help and gave deposits in our State Bank of Pakistan. They [Saudis] also have problems...the decline in oil prices was unprecedented and their [Saudis] major income is from oil.

They also have their financial needs. When we approached them [for the loan], they agreed. And when they felt that we [Pakistan] need to realize their position, we returned [their loan] and it's because we have a mutual understanding," the Foreign Minister stated.

Qureshi further contended that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy "excellent" relations, adding that the kingdom supported Pakistan in difficult times and extended balance of payment (BoP) support of $3 billion. He also noted that the Saudi Foreign Minister in the recent meeting of the OIC's Council of Foreign Ministers openly supported Pakistan's stance on the Kashmir issue.

The Foreign Minister also stated that he will visit Abu Dhabi and will hold talks with his UAE counterpart on Thursday to discuss issues of mutual interest, including the issue of visa suspension.

Qureshi, who at the outset, stated that he would be talking on behalf of Prime Minister Imran Khan and as vice chairman of ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), referred to the Pakistan Democratic Movement's (PDM's) demands, particularly its January 31, 2021 'ultimatum' for resignation of Prime Minister Khan, and rejected all the demands of the opposition, terming these "undemocratic and unconstitutional".

He accused the opposition of "prioritizing their personal agenda over national agenda", saying "the country cannot be run on the whims of somebody."

He emphatically stated that Prime Minister Imran Khan would not step down and that the assemblies would not be dissolved, adding that the present government enjoyed the mandate of the people and secured millions of votes in the 2018 general elections.

"We reject your ultimatum. You say the prime minister should resign by January 31, 2021. We are categorically saying the prime minister of Pakistan will not step down...You say assemblies should be dissolved. The prime minister has said and I am repeating his words, assemblies will not be dissolved. The deadline stands rejected," Qureshi stated in categorical terms.

However, he added that the government is ready for talks on electoral reforms, issues of inflation, provincial autonomy and the National Finance Commission (NFC) award.

"The doors of negotiations in politics are never shut...We are political people and are open-minded. The posture of the opposition parties may damage the democracy," he said while referring to the opposition's stance which has rejected any dialogue with the government and described it as opposition's "inexperience".

Referring to the PDM's Lahore rally, Qureshi claimed that the PDM had failed to mobilise public support, adding that the people showed their indifference to the Lahore rally "which was a meaningless activity as it carried no new announcement".

He also maintained that there was no consensus among the PDM over the issue of resignations from the assemblies, and the "long-march" towards Islamabad. According to him, the policy of the PPP was "ambiguous" as the decisions of the party were being taken not by PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari but former president and co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari.

He further claimed that the PML-N was also divided on the issue of resignations, adding that "there is a clear difference between the factions - one led by Shehbaz Sharif and the other by Maryam Nawaz".

"If you have consensus on resignations and are seriously going for exercising it, then why after 31st January, your resignations should reach the speaker [National Assembly] and not the party head. Submitting resignations to leadership is just for a show," he added.

On the "long march", Qureshi claimed that the opposition parties were divided, adding that the PDM had stated that they would call a meeting on February 1, 2021, and then the decision would be taken after discussion, and a date would be given.

He said that the government had previously invited the opposition for a dialogue on a legislation related to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which he said was necessary to get Pakistan out of the watchdog's grey list.

"If the opposition had any regard for national security, they would have come forward. But instead they linked it to the NAB [National Accountability Bureau] laws. They said progress on FATF [legislation] can only happen when you show flexibility in our cases," he claimed.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020


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