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UK called off Moeed Yusuf’s visit over Russia-Ukraine tensions

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LONDON: British Government unilaterally called off the official visit of Pakistan’s National Security Advisor (NSA) Moeed Yusuf in the aftermath of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Russia and his meeting with President Vladimir Putin. While US is also evaluating Pakistan’s response to the situation unfolding in Ukraine.

During the visit, Moeed Yousuf scheduled to meet with his British counter part and other officials to discuss situation in Afghanistan and other important issues.

Therefore, the UK has conveyed its reservations to Pakistan for not condemning Russia’s attack on Ukraine and for visiting Putin on the day Russia launched an assault on Ukraine.

A source in the UK government said that tensions have “heightened to the extent that the UK government called over UK’s High Commissioner to Pakistan Christian Turner for a briefing in relation to the new situation including UK-Pakistan relations.”

The source said that Turner has briefed his government’s lawmakers, and during the talks, UK’s aid to Pakistan also came under discussion and a new policy in this regard will be announced soon.

Pakistan has conveyed to the UK that it was pursuing a neutral position in the Russia-Ukraine war and had “no favourites,” adding that “dozens of countries, including UK’s strong allies, have abstained from condemning Russia over its Ukraine adventure, the Pakistani source who was involved in arranging Yusuf’s meeting said.

Sources said that the UK conveyed the message to Pakistan on March 1 that NSA’s visit will not go ahead anymore due to the situation unfolding in the wake of Russia’s war on Ukraine and the unease in relations between the two countries (Pakistan and the UK) as it would be useless to visit where the focus is on issues that are “less important from Pakistan’s viewpoint.”

Sources privy to the matter said that Yusuf was scheduled to meet the UK National Security Advisor, senior ministers at the foreign office, and meet a senior official of the British army. 

He was also supposed to speak at the London School of Economics (LSE) annual Pakistan Society event in person, along with Chief Justice Mansoor Ali Shah. The Supreme Court chief justice attended the LSE conference but Yusuf spoke over the phone to the conference and rejected the impression that the UK had cancelled the meeting with him. He said that “such news was baseless.”

The Pakistani source further said that Pakistan has decided to follow an independent foreign policy and PM Imran Khan’s visit to Russia and his latest public statements are a reflection of Pakistan’s new approach.

Another source revealed that Yusuf’s visit was cancelled after it was realised that the UK was “not interested in what Pakistan was going to discuss and Pakistan was not interested in what the UK had to talk about.”

On Monday, The Assistant US Trade Representative for South and Central Asia Christopher Wilson said to evaluate Pakistan’s response to the situation unfolding in Ukraine.
Wilson also urged the government to take steps aimed at stopping its departments from using pirated US-made software that were harming US interests. Pakistan’s biggest data hacking took place in August last year due to the Federal Board of Revenue’s decision to use pirated software.

In a virtual interaction with journalists after the 3rd round of Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), Wilson said Pakistan’s economic relations with Russia did not enter into discussions, which were focused on the Pak-US economic relations. To a question whether the US would still trade with Pakistan if it goes ahead with plans to deepen economic ties with Moscow, Wilson said that the Office of the US Trade Representative focuses on trade and investment issues but not sanctions issues.
But “obviously we all will be evaluating the response of Pakistan and other governments to the broader situation unfolding in Eastern Europe”, said Wilson.

The US and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Russia aimed at crippling its economy. Pakistan is heavily reliant on the US and Europe for its trade and inflow of remittances. The EU remains the single largest trading partner of Pakistan as a block. “The US State Department has called for the need to show strong response against Russia, including economically,” said Wilson, and added Pak-US trade discussions were focused on taxation, transparency, good governance and intellectual property rights.
Total Pak-US bilateral trade is less than $8 billion, which the Assistant Trade Representative does not fully reflect the size of two economies. Christopher also said that unpredictable taxation policies of Pakistan were making the country less attractive for foreign investors.

“What we hear from the US investors that there is a general lack of predictability in applicability of taxes; there are often problems in payment of refunds and the concern is that there are frequent changes in tax arrangements that have the effect creating confusions among the investors and thereby diminishing Pakistan’s attractiveness as an investment locations.”

The Federal Board of Revenue has been using taxpayers’ money to inflate revenues. A tractor manufacturing company has announced to shut its plant due to refund problems. After failing to achieve its targets for two consecutive months, the FBR also resorted to slowing down the release of refunds in February to achieve a low monthly target. Refunds payments in February were roughly 35% less than the same month a year ago.

Wilson said that a lot of trade barriers in Pakistan are related to lack of clarity in regulatory decision making, lack of predictability in taxation, insufficient protection in intellectual property and all of those difficulties are impacting investment climate. The US expressed concerns over extensive use of pirated software, including by government agencies. “The government should only use licensed software in government computers,” said Wilson.

He said that Pakistan and the US were holding discussions under the TIFA after several years and it is now important to effectively re-launch the TIFA process. The discussions were “very productive” and there was “good relaunch of the process that both the governments place a lot of value”, he added.

“Our visit is part of the process of reinforcing trade and economic dimensions between the US and Pakistan relationship. Both the governments share an interest in deepening the economic dimension of our relationship. We made a big start today,” said Wilson.

He said that Pakistan and the US did not discuss the bilateral investment treaty because the Biden administration is not actively pursuing the BIT negotiations with any country in the world.

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