In message to China, Biden to meet Australia, India, Japan PMs

US President Joe Biden will hold first-ever joint talks on Friday with the leaders of Australia, India and Japan, boosting an emerging four-way alliance often cast as a bulwark against China.

It will be one of the first summits, albeit in virtual format, for Biden, who has vowed to revive US alliances in the wake of the disarray of Donald Trump’s administration.

“That president Biden has made this one of his earliest multilateral engagements speaks to the importance that we place on close cooperation with our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday.

The meeting of the so-called “Quad” comes amid rising tensions with China, which is seen as flexing its muscle both in trade and security realms.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that Biden was “taking this to another level”.

“It will be an historic moment in our region and it sends a strong message to the region about our support for a sovereign, independent Indo-Pacific,” Morrison told reporters.

Both Psaki and India, which earlier announced the participation of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said that the talks would take up climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic — two key priorities for Biden.

“The leaders will discuss regional and global issues of shared interest, and exchange views on practical areas of cooperation towards maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region,” the Indian foreign ministry said in a statement.

The talks, also involving Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, will touch as well on promoting maritime security and “ensuring safe, equitable and affordable vaccines” to fight Covid-19 in Asia, the Indian statement said.

China’s growing assertiveness

Japan said that Suga spoke separately on Thursday to Modi and voiced alarm about China’s “unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China Sea” as well as the status of rights in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that the Quad was well-equipped to deal with the world’s “urgent challenges” but, asked about China, said, the format is “not about any single competitor”.

The summit follows talks on February 18 among the foreign ministers of the Quad when they pressed jointly for a restoration of democracy in Myanmar after the military ousted democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1.

US officials cast the meeting as a key way of exerting pressure as India and Japan enjoy closer relationships with Myanmar’s military — which has historically counted on China as its main source of support.

The Quad foreign ministers, however, were careful not to make an explicit mention of China, which has voiced alarm at what it sees as an effort to gang up on its interests in Asia.

After Biden’s election, Chinese state media had printed articles calling on India to end the Quad, seeing New Delhi as the most likely opponent.

But views have hardened in India after a pitched battle in the Himalayas last year killed at least 20 Indian troops. China has named four dead in confirmation that took half a year.

Australia has also shown growing willingness to participate in the Quad as relations deteriorate with Beijing, last year joining naval exercises with the three other nations off India’s shores.

The Quad was launched in 2007 by Japan’s then prime minister Shinzo Abe, who was alarmed at China’s growing assertiveness around Asia.

Biden has pledged in general terms to continue his predecessor’s hawkish line on China, including by pressing on human rights and territorial disputes.

But the Biden administration has promised what it considers a more productive approach that includes boosting ties with allies and finding limited areas for cooperation with Beijing such as climate change.


IHC dismisses PTI petition challenging Gilani’s Senate victory

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday dismissed a petition filed by PTI’s Ali Awan challenging the Senate victory of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

During today’s proceedings, the court also rejected a plea to disqualifying the former premier’s son, MPA Ali Haider Gilani

Earlier this week, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) formally nominated Gilani as its candidate for the office of the Senate chairman.

Gilani caused a major upset by defeating Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh in the March 3 Senate poll on a general seat from Islamabad.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah announced the verdict after listening to the arguments. During the hearing, the PTI MNA told the court that the party wished to bring transparency to the electoral process.

However, the IHC CJ remarked that the party had approached the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in this regard, adding that there were “alternative forums” to address their grievances. “The election process is currently ongoing and, under the Election Act, you have other forums [for addressing your grievances],” he said.

“Tell us how the court can ignore these forums and hear this writ petition,” the chief justice asked. “You are levelling allegations of selling votes. Some of your own are included in this,” he remarked.

“The court has faith in Parliament and has always respected parliamentarians.” The chief justice added that it was everyone’s responsibility to abide by the law. “Your case is pending in the ECP. Use that forum first,” the judge told the PTI MNA.

“You are a good and respectable public representative, why have you brought such a petition,” he questioned, adding that “this writ petition is not admissible on this occasion.” “It is not appropriate to bring political issues to the court unnecessarily,” the judge said.

The development comes a day after the ECP rejected a petition filed by the PTI seeking to stop the issuance of the notification for Gilani’s victory.

The ECP asked the PTI to file an amended petition and make the lawmakers, who it alleged had been bribed, a party to it.

The petition filed last week by ruling PTI lawmakers Farrukh Habib, Maleeka Bokhari and Kanwal Shauzab had asked the ECP not to issue the notification regarding the opposition candidate’s victory in Senate elections.

The petitions had been filed on the basis of a leaked audio clip of Sindh Minister Nasir Hussain Shah purportedly bargaining with four PTI lawmakers for their votes in Senate elections and a video of Gilani’s son, Ali Haider Gilani, in which he was explaining to some PTI MNAs the techniques to waste their votes and purportedly offering money and development funds.

Govt has no plan to buy vaccines anytime soon, PAC told

ISLAMABAD: The government aims to tackle the Covid-19 health challenge through herd immunity and donated vaccines as it has no plan to buy vaccines at least during the current year.

This was stated by National Health Service (NHS) Secretary Amir Ashraf Khawaja while briefing the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Thursday.

According to National Institute of Health Executive Director Maj Gen Aamir Aamer Ikram, the cost of a single dose of Chinese vaccine CanSino is $13. He said Pakistan was relying on international donors and friendly countries, like China.

The NHS secretary informed the PAC that Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinopharm had committed to providing one million doses of Covid-19 vaccine, saying that 0.5m doses had been handed over to Pakistan, out of which around 275,000 doses had been administered to health professionals dealing with Covid-19 patients.

He said the second phase would cover the health officials working in other hospitals and health facilities, adding that the people aged 65 years and above could also register themselves for vaccination by sending a text message to 1166.

He said Pakistan had planned to vaccinate 70 million people this year.

According to the NHS secretary, Pakistan will also get 16m free doses of Indian-made Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine through Gavi that would give cover to 20 per cent of the population of Pakistan.

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi) is a public-private global health partnership with the goal of increasing access to immunisation in poor countries.

PAC Chairman Rana Tanveer Hussain asked the NHS secretary if they were waiting to get free vaccine.

Mr Khawaja replied: “We wouldn’t need to purchase much.”

In response to a question by the PAC chairman, the secretary said Pakistan would get the first batch of AstraZeneca vaccine made by Serum Institute of India by the middle of March and the rest was expected to arrive in the country by June.

According to him, vaccination to aged people was due to start by March 5; however, the consignment was delayed.

He said that another Chinese company had conducted the phase-three trial of CanSino vaccine in Pakistan, adding that total 18,000 people were inoculated and the vaccine’s efficacy stood at 85pc.

According to the NHS secretary, the ministry had conducted a survey in June 2020 to ascertain the figures of those who have developed anti-bodies against coronavirus. He said the survey disclosed that around 15pc of the population has developed anti-bodies and that they did not need to be immunised.

The PAC chairman pointed out that some people had some reservations over side effects of the vaccine and suggested that the top leadership of the country should get inoculated first to remove doubts in the general public’s mind.

In response to a question by Hina Rabbani Khar, the NHS secretary said that despite the government’s offer to the private sector to buy the vaccine, no serious buyers had so far come forward.

The private sector has also been given permission by the government to cater to the needs of those people who could afford the price of the vaccine.

According to him, the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan has so far received applications only from three companies for the import of vaccines, but their applications have been rejected because they did not give any detail and specification of the vaccines they intended to import.