Balochistan govt reviews polio reduction campaigns

QUETTA: While Balochistan reported 26 of the total 84 polio cases detected last year in the country, so far in the seven months of this year only one case has been found in the province and across Pakistan.

“The situation has improved considerably due to effective anti-polio campaigns in the province and cooperation of the people,” said the provincial coordinator of emergency operations centre, Rashid Razzaq, while briefing a meeting of senior government officials and representatives of Unicef and World Health Organisation (WHO) on Balochitan’s fight against the virus here on Wednesday.

The meeting, which was presided over by Chief Secretary Mathar Niaz Rana, reviewed outcome of the last polio immunisation campaign held across the province.

The chief secretary said complete eradication of polio from the province was top priority of the Balochistan government for which all available resources were being utilised. “The government of Balochistan will continue to strive hard to eradicate polio from the province as soon as possible,” he said.

Since small negligence could result in lifelong disability, he said, all relevant officials should consider it an important mission to cover all children, aged five or less, during the vaccination campaigns.

The chief secretary appreciated the efforts of deputy commissioners and local administration in eradicating polio and laid emphasis on better coordination for an effective vaccination drive.

Pakistan neither responsible for Taliban, nor are we their spokespersons: PM Imran

Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that Pakistan cannot be held “responsible” for the actions of the Taliban in the aftermath of US and its allies’ ongoing withdrawal from Afghanistan, adding that his government is not a spokesperson for the militant group.

“What the Taliban are doing or aren’t doing has nothing to do with us. We are not responsible, neither are we spokespersons for the Taliban,” he said in comments to Afghan media representatives that were aired on Thursday.

The premier’s remarks were a continuation of Pakistan’s repeated warnings that it would not accept the responsibility if it was blamed for any deterioration in the Afghan peace process.

In June, National Security Adviser Dr Moeed Yusuf had said the sudden withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan was not ideal, adding that any shifting of blame on Pakistan for “facesaving” would be unacceptable.

Earlier this month, the premier gave a robust response to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s allegation about Pakistan’s “negative role” in the Afghan peace process and said it was “extremely unfair” to blame Islamabad for the situation in Afghanistan.

PM Imran today again distanced Islamabad from the happenings in Kabul, saying: “All we want is peace in Afghanistan.”

He said that the Afghans had a choice to make: to either pursue the US-backed military solution or to pursue a political settlement where there is an inclusive government. “[The latter] is the only solution,” he said.

“There are three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, almost all of them are Pashtuns and most will have sympathies with the Taliban. How is Pakistan supposed to check who is going over there to fight when we have about 30,000 people crossing into Afghanistan every day. How is Pakistan going to check that?”

“We have three million refugees in Pakistan […] how can Pakistan be held responsible? There are refugee camps with 100,000 and 500,000 people.”

He said it was not possible for Pakistan to sift through the refugee camps to find out who was pro-Taliban and who was not, adding that until recently there was no physical border between the two countries.

“The Durand Line was imaginary,” he said, referring to the 2640-kilometre-long border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He said that Pakistan has completed 90 per cent of the border fencing.

“We are trying our best, but it is not possible to hold Pakistan responsible when you have over three million refugees here.”

‘Civil war in Afghanistan not in Pakistan’s interest’

He said that it was not in Pakistan’s interest to have civil war break out in Afghanistan. “What interest could Pakistan have in backing someone to take over Afghanistan?”

What is clear is that no one party will be able to take over Afghanistan, he said.

PM Imran said that in the 90s Pakistan had pursued the policy of ‘strategic depth’ as it was wary of Indian influence in Afghanistan.

“In those days we did try to have favourites. Now, and especially in my government, we believe that Afghanistan can never be controlled from the outside.”

So Pakistan will have good relations with whoever the Afghans choose, he said. “We have no favourites now.”

‘Discrepancy in what Afghan envoy’s daughter says and what evidence shows’

Commenting on the recent incident involving the Afghan ambassador’s daughter in Islamabad, the premier said that authorities had charted out the exact path taken by Silsila Alikhil. He said that taxi drivers were traced and interrogated.

“Unfortunately, what the ambassador’s daughter is saying and what the cameras show do not add up. She says she was put in a taxi, taken away and beaten up. But there is a picture of that taxi and she is sitting there and she is fine.”

He said that the police had pulled all the records and there was a “discrepancy”. He said that since the ambassador’s daughter had gone back to Afghanistan there was no way to confirm what had happened.

He said that the probe team from Afghanistan would be handed over all the information so that they could question the daughter when they go back.

‘American should have spoken to Taliban from position of strength’

PM Imran said that Pakistan had nothing to do with why 150,000 Nato troops did not succeed in Afghanistan. “It’s exactly like what the Americans did in Vietnam. When they failed in Vietnam, they blamed insurgents from Cambodia or Laos.”

He said that Pakistan was told at one point that the Taliban’s main sanctuaries were in North Waziristan. “The kept pushing us to take action. Finally after four or five years, we took action [but] one million people were internally displaced […] what difference did it make?”

He said that the Americans should have spoken to the Taliban from a position of strength. “When there were 150,000 Nato troops, that was the time to talk to [the Taliban]. How can they expect the Taliban to compromise when an exit date has been given and a few thousand troops are left?”

The premier also questioned what the US would achieve operating from Pakistan when it could not achieve its goal in Afghanistan for the last 20 years.

“If someone can convince me that it would make a big difference and there would be peace in Afghanistan […] maybe we would consider it. But what they haven’t achieved in 20 years, how do they expect to achieve that by having bases in Pakistan?”

It will involve Pakistan in a conflict which it has nothing to do with, he said, adding that Pakistan had already suffered great human and economic losses due to the ‘war on terror’.

‘Pakistan’s future economic strategies depend on Afghanistan’

Responding to a question, the premier said that he has always believed that there is no military solution to the situation in Afghanistan.

He stated that Pakistan was the country that wanted peace in Afghanistan the most as it would connect the country to Central Asia. “All our future economic strategies depend on peace in Afghanistan,” he said, adding that Pakistan had signed an agreement with Uzbekistan for a railway project through Afghanistan.

Concluding his media talk, the prime minister said that he saw relations between the countries getting stronger with every passing year. “That’s because we need each other,” he said, adding that it was a mutually beneficial relationship.

UNITED STATES AND KHYBER PAKHTUNKHWA IMPROVE DIABETES TREATMENT

ISLAMABAD

 The United States Government, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is partnering with the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to improve diabetes treatment.  By installing a case-based information management system – called the D-Talk Electronic Medical Records system – at 20 health facilities across the province, they will revolutionize the case management of diabetic patients and improve the availability of insulin at provincial health facilities.

“USAID is committed to extending all possible support to the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for sustainable public health systems in the province,” said Dr. Enilda Martin, Director of USAID/Pakistan’s Office of Health, Population and Nutrition.

“If we want Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to progress and health services to be on par with the developed world, digitization is the key,” said KP Secretary of Health, Mr. Syed Imtiaz Hussain Shah.  “Digitizing and having a dedicated management information system for various functions in the department is the way towards e-governance and effective patient management in the future.”

The U.S. government support will also include an Asset Management Information System to automate the inventory at health facilities and thereby manage resources more effectively, reducing the waste of expensive equipment and assets to streamline health management in the province.

Additionally, USAID has partnered with the Government of Pakistan’s health and disaster management authorities in their COVID-19 pandemic response to strengthen district-level monitoring and rapid response teams, expand testing, provide ventilators, and train health workers across COVID-19 related service delivery systems.  This partnership encourages citizens to have confidence in the public health system and seek care in local health facilities.

Pakistan has denied threatening Afghan forces against removing the Taliban from the border

Pakistan has denied allegations by Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh that the Pakistan Air Force had issued an official warning to Afghan security forces to repel any action by the latter to dislodge the Taliban from the border crossing of Spin Boldak.

Such allegations “undermine Pakistan’s sincere efforts to play its part in an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led solution” for restoring peace in the war-torn country, said a statement issued by the Foreign Office (FO) on Friday.

Saleh had made the allegations in a tweet on Thursday, also claiming that the Pakistan Air Force was providing air support to the Taliban in certain areas.

“Breaking: Pakistan air force has issued official warning to the Afghan Army and Air Force that any move to dislodge the Taliban from Spin Boldak area will be faced and repelled by the Pakistan Air Force. Pak air force is now providing close air support to Taliban in certain areas,

In a separate tweet, he had added: “If anyone doubts my tweet on Pak Air Force & Pak Army warning to d Afg side not to retake Spin Boldak I am ready to share evidence through DM.

The FO denied the allegations on Friday, stating that the Afghan side had conveyed to Pakistan its intention of carrying out an air operation inside its territory adjacent to the Chaman border.

“Pakistan responded positively to [the] Afghan Government’s right to act in its territory. In spite of very close border operations normally not acceded to by internationally accepted norms/ standards/ procedures, Pakistan took necessary measures within its territory to safeguard our own troops and population.”

Pakistan acknowledged the Afghan government’s “rights to undertake actions on its sovereign territory,” it added.

In the statement, the FO recalled that recently, Pakistan had rescued 40 Afghan National Defence Security Forces (ANDSF) personnel, who had fled into the country.

They were returned to the Afghan government with “respect and dignity, with a declared offer to ANDSF to provide all logistical support as requested,” the FO said.

It added that Pakistan remained “committed to peace in Afghanistan and shall continue to endeavour towards this end irrespective of the detractors.”

“It is, however, important that at this critical juncture, all energies are focused on achieving an inclusive, broad-based and comprehensive political settlement in Afghanistan,” the FO stressed.

Border closure

These developments came two days after the closure of the Chaman border — a key frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan — amid reports of the Taliban capturing the strategic border crossing of Spin Boldak.

Pakistan had sealed its border with Afghanistan on Wednesday after Taliban militants wrested control from Afghan forces of the border town of Wesh that sits opposite the Pakistani border town of Chaman.

“Wesh Mandi, which has great importance for Afghan trade with Pakistan and other countries besides business activities, has been captured by the Taliban,” an official of the Chaman administration had told Dawn at the time, quoting reports pouring into his town.

The border was briefly opened on Thursday, on what officials described as “humanitarian grounds”, as hundreds of people remained stranded on both sides of the border.

Peace conference

The allegations by the Afghan vice president and the rebuttal from Pakistan also precede a three-day Afghan peace conference that Pakistan will be hosting over the weekend, starting from tomorrow (Saturday).

According to Tolo News, 21 prominent Afghan leaders, including Abdullah Abdullah, Karim Khalili, Mohammad Younus Qanooni, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Mohammad Hanif Atmar, Salahuddin Rabbani, Ismail Khan, Ata Mohammad Noor, Sayed Hamed Gailani, Sayed Eshaq Gailani, Batur Dostum and Mirwais Yasini, have been invited to the conference.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had telephoned former Afghan president Hamid Karzai on Wednesday, inviting him and other leaders to the conference.

The Taliban, however, have not been invited.

The FO spokesperson had clarified in a statement on Thursday that Taliban were not among the invitees as they had already visited Pakistan many times and held detailed discussions on the peace process.

India orders 660 mln vaccine doses amidst warnings over shortages – media

July 16 (Reuters) – The Indian government has ordered 660 million vaccine doses for August-December, its largest procurement, local news reports said on Friday, as state authorities and health experts warned that shortages could leave millions vulnerable if coronavirus infections surge again.

The federal government aims to inoculate all of the country’s estimated 944 million adults by December, a target health experts have said is ambitious, as only 8% of that number is currently vaccinated with the mandatory two doses.

Several states have reported vaccine shortages, with many inoculation centres shut and people having to wait for long hours at others for their shot.

The government has now ordered 375 million more doses of AstraZeneca’s(AZN.L) locally produced Covishield and 285 million doses of Bharat Biotech’s homegrown Covaxin, the Economic Times newspaper reported, citing sources.

The health ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The Serum Institute of India, which manufactures Covishield, has raised monthly production to about 100 million doses.

The government says Bharat Biotech’s monthly output will jump to as much as 70 million doses in July/August, from about 10 million doses in April. Production could rise further to nearly 100 million by September, it says.

Bharat Biotech, which has been struggling to raise output of its vaccine, did not respond to a request for an update on its production plans.

“I expect the vaccine shortage to continue and as per the planned vaccine supply, it appears that the daily average for the whole of July will stay below 4 million,” said Rijo John, health economist and a professor at the Rajagiri College of Social Sciences in the southern city of Kochi.

After a record 9.1 million doses were administered on June 21, fewer than 4 million doses per day have since been given on an average this month.

A full rollout of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine in India has also been delayed due to a lack of imported supplies. Commercial production of the vaccine in India, however, could begin soon.

India’s daily COVID-19 cases have dropped to nearly two-month lows, the country remains the second-highest globally in terms of daily infections.

India reported on Friday 38,949 new coronavirus cases over the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed, taking the nationwide tally above 31 million. Total fatalities were 412,531.