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Last updated: Friday 23 Dec, 2005-12.30 P.M (PST)



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Dec 05 - 11, 2005


Commonwealth Summit at Valletta in Malta and interaction with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other leaders of the Commonwealth were the highlights of PM Shaukat Aziz's activities last week.

Prime Minister left for Malta on Thursday last. Earlier he co-chaired two important meetings with the President to review the ongoing reconstruction and rehabilitation work in the earthquake affected areas and held a meeting with the Privatisation Commission, besides performing other routine work.

Queen Elizabeth II in her opening remarks at the 53 nation Commonwealth Summit sounded a note of warning that more work still needed to be done to tackle rampant poverty around the world. In her speech, the British monarch said "much still remains to be done" if UN targets to halve the number of the world's poor are to be achieved by their 2015 deadline.

The summit in the Maltese capital Valletta, which brings together leaders representing some 1.8 billion people, focused mainly on fears of developing countries that trade barriers will restrict their economic growth.

In his opening comments, Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon said there was still time for poorer nations - that majority of the club of mainly former British colonies - to influence World Trade Organization talks in Hong Kong next month, despite pessimism about progress towards a new global trade deal. He said that if the Commonwealth could give the deadlocked negotiations "a shot in the arm", then the body would have shown its worth.

Addressing the summit Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz called on rich countries to show leadership and come up with a timetable to phase out agricultural subsidies that are preventing poor nations from competing with their farmers. "The developed world has to show leadership and come up with a timetable to get to a market mechanism in agriculture. What we need to do is to have a clear roadmap on how we get from where we are to a more free economy," he said. Opening up trade to poor countries is a key issue of the 53 nation summit that opened on Friday last just weeks ahead of a key round of World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Hong Kong on a new global deal.

The Prime Minister acknowledged there were disagreements on how to address disparities and that there was a greater need for discussion on a way forward. "Our attempt today and tomorrow will be to find common ground," he said. He lamented that one third of the revenue of European farmers was subsidies, saying "that is a very tough thing to compete with". He said the climate in South Asia had improved as a result of Pakistan-India engagement in a dialogue but stressed the need for tangible steps to resolve the core issue of Kashmir. He also called upon heads of government from 53 member states to make sincere efforts to provide a level playing field for trade to all developing countries.

Later, talking to newsmen on the sideline of the Commonwealth Summit, Shaukat Aziz said Pakistan has participated in the Commonwealth after a gap of six years and termed it as recognition of revival of democratic process in the country. He said he had discussed many issues including trade and fight against terrorism during his bilateral meetings with leaders from Commonwealth states. He said he had briefed leaders about developments in South Asia and Pakistan's efforts for peace in the region.

He said trade was an important part of the agenda of the Commonwealth conference and Pakistan explained the importance of providing a level playing field to developing countries to encourage their trade. "We want more access to the world market," he said, adding more discussion on trade relations between developed and developing countries would be held in Hong Kong round of WTO talks. There should be a roadmap to ensure "open market" for all countries, he added.

The Prime Minister said subsidy to farmers in Europe was hampering the agricultural production in the developing countries. Therefore, there was a need to provide a level playing field to all counties in the world market. Replying to a question, the Prime Minister said Pakistan was committed to rooting out terrorism and was fighting against it out of conviction. Terrorism had no boundaries, no faith and no linkage to any religion and it was an extreme behavior, which could be anywhere in the world, he said.

But at the same time there was a need to resolve root causes of terrorism, which, he said, included political and economic deprivation and lack of justice and basic rights. He said all these issues should be addressed to fight terrorism effectively. There should be more sharing of information and intelligence, better security system and coordination among world countries in the fight against terror, he said.

Asked whether the October 8 earthquake had an effect on the war against terrorism, the Prime Minister said the natural disaster had absolutely no impact on this war. He said Pakistan was working for peace in South Asian and the world and was making sincere efforts toward this objective. On Pakistan-India relations, he said he had" intensive interactions with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Dhaka during the 13th Saarc summit earlier this month. Pakistan wanted good neighborly relations with all its neighbors including India, he added.

The Prime Minster said the atmosphere in the region had improved following confidence building measures started after the two countries launched a dialogue process during the 12th Saarc summit held in Islamabad in January 2004.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair assured Pakistan that the UK would extend full help and assistance to Pakistan in its long term process of reconstruction in the earthquake devastated areas. He gave the assurance during a 30 minute meeting with Prime Minister meeting Shaukat Aziz. The two leaders decided to strengthen bilateral cooperation in fighting terrorism and promoting trade and economic relations between the two countries.

Talking to the media after the meetings, the British Prime Minister said UK and other members of the EU would continue their help to Pakistan in its relief and reconstruction work. Tony Blair said he once again expressed his solidarity and sympathies with Pakistan. "We will continue to help Pakistan, and our help and assistance will continue in future,". He paid tributes to the government and people of Pakistan for facing the quake tragedy with courage and resilience.

The Prime Minister said he briefed the Prime Minister Tony Blair about his recent meetings with Indian counterpart and added that Pakistan believed in settling all issues through dialogue and discussions and these are complex issues including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, where Pakistan had talked to Indian government and leadership to find a solution to this major issue. He said, "We are making steady progress and I think the overall relations between the two countries are moving in right direction, but we do believe that sustainable peace in South Asia will be achieved when the issue of Kashmir is addressed in line with the wishes and aspirations of the Kashmiri people.

In the meeting co-chaired with the President to review the reconstruction and rehabilitation work in quake affected areas of NWFP & Azad Kashmir, it was decided to enhance the compensation package to Rs 80 billion from Rs 20 billion announced earlier. Each affected house will get an additional amount of Rs. 125,000 and President directed for quick disbursement of money amongst the affected people. The decision to this effect was taken on the recommendations of NWFP Chief Minister Muhammad Akram Durrani and AJK Prime Minister Sardar Sikandar Hayat Khan in a meeting of Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) and Federal Relief Commission.

The meeting, which was chaired by President General Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, discussed the revival of income opportunities, creation of industry and also improving the life of people in the earthquake hit areas, which ultimately would lead to the conversion of this challenge into opportunity. During the meeting it was decided that an amount of Rs. 125,000 would be distributed to each affected house in NWFP and AJK. This amount would be in addition to already announced Rs 25,000 which is being distributed to each affected house in earthquake hit areas. It was also decided that an additional amount of Rs. 25,000 would be paid as an incentive to those affected houses that would adopt the earthquake resistant standards, laid down by the government. Thus every affected house will ultimately get a total amount of Rs. 175,000.

The matters about detailed follow up actions for the realization of pledges and maintaining a database were also discussed in the meeting and it was decided that the data be placed on the website and would be available to all for study and follow up.

Speaking at the launching ceremony of National Volunteer Core by President General Musharraf at Islamabad on Wednesday Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz hoped the National Volunteer Movement (NVM) would help channelize the unity and passion of the entire nation to help their distressed countrymen struck by the October 8 earthquake. "It is a historic and very important day for us, we are going to begin a new journey today," he said.

Prime Minister said that under the President's leadership, the NVM would turn out to be a national movement to help the people in need. He said the earthquake is the greatest tragedy in the country's history that has killed and wounded thousands of people, orphaned children and shattered families. "The infrastructure, buildings, schools, colleges and hospitals that took years to build were razed to the ground within seconds, " he added. But, the way nation responded to the tragedy and the unity showed by the people for the common cause of helping people find no parallel in the country's history. The calamity has gelled together people from all walks of life to rise to the occasion in the help of their fellow countrymen devastated by the tragedy. He expressed the confidence that the people, the army and the government would work together with a new zeal to promise a better future for the survivors of the ruthless earthquake. "It is a long journey in which we all have to show commitment, unity and determination to help the affected people," he added. The Prime Minister particularly referred to those who have been traumatized by the massive calamity and needed support and counseling to return to a normal life.

He said the volunteers would be trained to help such people who would go from door to door to guide the people and provide them all necessary assistance. Prime Minister paid rich tributes to President Musharraf who worked day and night and personally spoke to world leaders to raise required funds for the reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has fixed January 15, 2006 as deadline for Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) self-off, and directed the Privatisation Commission officials that they should complete the process on fast track. He also directed the PC officials that they should ensure its transfer to the successful bidder as early as possible.

The Prime Minister gave these directions at a meeting here to discuss privatisation of PSM and decide final schedule for bidding. The Privatisation Commission officials told the meeting that PSM sell-off process was in an advanced stage and the remaining phases, such as due diligence and presentation to the prospective bidders, would be completed as per schedule. They said that the Privatisation Commission was targeting the deadline of December 31 for completing the formalities to bring the transaction on the bidding table within the stipulated time, PC officials informed. They were confident that the issue of land would also be resolved amicably as the committee formed for the job was already afoot to prepare its proposals for the Privatisation Commission Board.

In a recent meeting MOI and Privatisation Commission had strongly, opposed PSM proposal that the entire land of the industrial unit (about 15,000 acres) should be made the part of the bid document to make it an attraction to the interested parties. PC and MoI recommended to the government that 6000 acres of land would be enough for the mills future expansion plan and other purposes such as dumping of waste and storage facilities. They are of the view that land available with PSM was very costly and its 6000 acres should be offered to the buyer and the rest either be utilized for some industrial zone like facility or separately sold to the private sector at the national industrial park rates.


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