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Pakistan to host SCO Heads of Government summit in October

Islamabad, 4 July 2024, (GNP): Pakistan will host the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Heads of Governments meeting in October this year, according to Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch on Thursday.

During the weekly press briefing, she mentioned that prior to the October summit, there would be a ministerial meeting and several rounds of senior officials meetings to focus on enhancing cooperation in finance, economics, socio-cultural affairs, and humanitarian efforts among SCO member countries.

She emphasized that 2024 is a pivotal year for Pakistan’s relationship with the SCO, as Pakistan will take on the rotational Chairmanship of the SCO Council of Heads of Government (CHG), the organization’s second most important decision-making body.

Baloch elaborated that Pakistan is committed to playing a proactive role in the SCO and is looking forward to working closely with other member states to address shared challenges and explore opportunities for mutual benefit.

She also highlighted the importance of the SCO as a platform for regional stability and economic integration, noting that Pakistan’s leadership role comes at a crucial time when global and regional dynamics are rapidly evolving.

Moreover, she reiterated Pakistan’s dedication to strengthening ties with all SCO member countries, promoting peace, security, and sustainable development in the region. The upcoming meetings and Pakistan’s chairmanship are expected to pave the way for deeper collaboration and more robust partnerships within the organization.

She informed the media that Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif and senior cabinet members recently visited Kazakhstan for the SCO Council of Heads of State and SCO Plus Summits, as well as Tajikistan for a bilateral visit.

During the SCO Summit in Astana, the Prime Minister also participated in the inaugural Pakistan-Azerbaijan-Turkey Trilateral Summit. In Dushanbe, his meetings focused on enhancing comprehensive cooperation between Pakistan and Tajikistan on regional and global issues of mutual interest.

During the visit, Pakistan and Tajikistan signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement, which includes scheduled high-level dialogues involving leaders and Foreign Ministers.

She also mentioned that the government has allowed medical students from Gaza to complete their medical education in Pakistan. This decision was made following the directions of Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammad Ishaq Dar, and facilitated by the Pakistan Medical & Dental Council (PMDC), to enable Gaza students to continue their medical education in Pakistan on humanitarian grounds.

She said the Palestinian students from Gaza, in batches of 20-30, will soon join medical colleges in Pakistan. This decision will enable Gaza students to complete their medical education in Pakistan in fields such as cardiology, orthopedics, oncology, pediatrics, and surgery to address the critical needs in Gaza’s healthcare system.

Commenting on the recent International Religious Freedom report, she expressed that unilateral reports assessing other countries’ human rights situations were often politically biased and presented an incomplete and distorted picture. She added that the methodology used in preparing these reports, as well as the mandate and expertise of their authors, lacked transparency.

“It is unfortunate that the report refers to certain incidents in Pakistan last year without highlighting the strong political will shown by the government to hold the perpetrators accountable, as well as the remedial efforts undertaken and the legal and administrative protections in place for religious minorities. These issues cannot be viewed through the lens of any single country’s social and legal perspective,” she said.

She also informed the media about the relentless campaign by Indian authorities to crush dissent in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK). She noted that a prominent Kashmiri lawyer and former President of the High Court Bar Association, Mian Abdul Qayoom, was recently arrested on fabricated charges.

Qayoom, who suffers from multiple chronic ailments and old age, was detained as an act of political vendetta. “We urge the Indian authorities to release Mian Abdul Qayoom and thousands of other Kashmiri political prisoners, dissenters, and human rights defenders,” she stated.

The spokesperson reiterated that Pakistan will continue to extend political, diplomatic, and moral support to the Kashmiri people for the just and peaceful settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with UN Security Council Resolutions.

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Commenting on Pak-India relations, she stated that Pakistan and India exchanged lists of prisoners in each other’s custody as part of the Consular Access Agreement of 2008. Pakistan handed over a list of 254 Indian or believed-to-be-Indian civilian prisoners and fishermen in Pakistani jails, while India shared a list of 452 Pakistani or believed-to-be-Pakistani civilian prisoners and fishermen in Indian jails. Additionally, Pakistan provided a list of 38 missing Pakistani defense personnel, believed to be in India’s custody since the wars of 1965 and 1971.

She emphasized that Pakistan is committed to addressing these humanitarian matters as a priority. Last year, Pakistan released 485 Indian nationals, including 6 civilian prisoners and 479 fishermen. “We will also continue efforts to ensure the early return of all Pakistani prisoners in Indian jails. As part of these efforts, the repatriation of 62 Pakistani prisoners in 2023, and 4 in 2024, has taken place,” she said.

The spokesperson also highlighted the participation of Pakistan’s Special Representative on Afghanistan, Ambassador Asif Ali Khan Durrani, along with a delegation, in the Doha-III meeting of Special Envoys on Afghanistan, held under the UN auspices in Doha from June 30 to July 2, 2024. Ambassador Durrani presented Pakistan’s perspective on the current situation in Afghanistan, underscoring Pakistan’s support for alleviating Afghanistan’s economic situation and highlighting the threat posed by TTP-led terrorist activities originating from sanctuaries inside Afghanistan.

She further mentioned that, to promote a stable Afghanistan, a bilateral meeting between Pakistan and the Afghan Interim Government was held on July 1, 2024. The two sides exchanged views on key issues of mutual concern, including peace and security.