Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Iran on Sunday following a request from the United States and Saudi Arabia for him to try to defuse rising tensions in the Gulf.
Khan’s office said his visit was part of an initiative “to promote peace and security in the region”, and that he would hold talks with Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani.
Khan landed in Tehran and was greeted at the airport by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif before going into a meeting with Rouhani, an AFP correspondent reported.
It is his second visit this year to Iran, which shares a border of about 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) with Pakistan.
Last week, a spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign office said Khan was also expected to travel to Saudi Arabia, without providing further details.
Khan said last month that both the United States and Saudi Arabia had asked him to mediate with Iran to calm tensions in the Gulf.
There has been a spate of still-unexplained attacks on shipping in and around the vital seaway involving Iran and Western powers, as well as drone attacks on Saudi oil installations.
Washington accused Tehran of attacking the vessels with mines and of being behind the drone assault, something it strongly denies.
Pakistan has strong relations with Saudi Arabia, with more than 2.5 million of its nationals living and working in the kingdom.
But it also maintains good relations with Iran and represents Tehran’s consular interests in the United States.
Khan met both Rouhani and US President Donald Trump at the United Nations General Assembly last month, shortly after he visited Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said the day before Khan’s arrival that Tehran was ready to talk with Riyadh.
“Iran has repeatedly announced that it is ready to negotiate with its neighbours including Saudi Arabia to solve any misunderstandings with our without a mediator,” Abbas Mousavi was quoted as saying by the semi-official ISNA news agency.
Pakistan leader Imran Khan hit back Monday at Donald Trump’s claim that Islamabad does not do “a damn thing” for the US, calling on the president to name an ally which has sacrificed more against militancy.
“Record needs to be put straight on Mr. Trump’s tirade against Pakistan,” Khan, a former World Cup cricketer, wrote in a series of tweets defending his country’s record in Washington’s war on terror.
The US president gave an interview to Fox News on Sunday in which he said he cancelled assistance worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Pakistan earlier this year because “they don’t do anything for us, they don’t do a damn thing for us”.
Washington has long pressured Islamabad to crack down on militancy, accusing Pakistan of ignoring or even collaborating with groups which attack Afghanistan from safe havens along the border between the two countries.
Pakistan, which joined the US war on terror in 2001, says it has paid the price for the alliance.
“Pakistan suffered 75,000 casualties in this war & over $123 bn was lost to the economy. US “aid” was a minuscule $20 bn,” Khan tweeted Monday.
“Our tribal areas were devastated & millions of ppl uprooted from their homes. The war drastically impacted the lives of ordinary Pakistanis.”
He also noted that Pakistan continues to provide the US with supply lines into Afghanistan, adding: “Can Mr. Trump name another ally that gave such sacrifices?”
Instead of making Pakistan “a scapegoat for their failures”, the US should do a serious assessment of “why the Taliban today is stronger than before”, he concluded.
Trump also told Fox News host Chris Wallace that Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden had lived “beautifully in Pakistan and what I guess in what they considered a nice mansion, I don’t know, I’ve seen nicer”.
“Living in Pakistan right next to the military academy, everybody in Pakistan knew he was there,” he said, according to a transcript of the interview.
Bin Laden was found to be hiding in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, where he was killed in a raid by US Navy Seals in 2011 in an incident that sent relations between the wayward allies to a new low.
Khan did not respond to Trump’s bin Laden comments.
Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan was sworn in at a ceremony in Islamabad on Saturday, ushering in a new political era as the World Cup cricket hero officially took the reins of power in the nuclear-armed country.
The ceremony at the President’s House in the capital marks the end of decades of rotating leadership between the ousted Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), punctuated by periods of army rule.
A tearful Khan smiled as he stumbled over some of the words of the oath administered to him by President Mamnoon Hussain during the ceremony, televised live by the state broadcaster PTV.
He swore to “discharge my duties and perform my functions honestly, to the best of my ability… and always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well-being and prosperity of Pakistan”.
The 65-year-old former cricketer, who captained Pakistan to World Cup victory in 1992, had won a confidence vote in the National Assembly the previous day.
In parliament, on Friday he came out fighting with a divisive speech in which he vowed to hold corrupt officials accountable.
The July 25 election that brought his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party to power was branded “Pakistan’s dirtiest”, with accusations throughout the campaign that the military was trying to tilt the playing field in Khan’s favour.
The army and Khan have denied claims from rival parties of “blatant” vote rigging.
‘No dictator has taken care of me’
Khan’s third wife Bushra Bibi kept her eyes cast modestly downwards during Saturday’s ceremony.
It was her first public appearance since their wedding earlier this year, and she appeared escorted by tight security and covered from head to toe in a white niqab, a conservative garment by Pakistani standards.
Khan had invited the rest of the 1992 cricket team to the ceremony, and fast bowler Wasim Akram was pictured smiling among the crowd.
Another cricketer-turned-politician, India’s Navjot Singh Sidhu, was seated in the front row and earlier warmly embraced the powerful Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Later, Khan went to the Prime Minister’s house in the capital, where he was met by a guard of honour.
Khan campaigned on promises to end widespread graft while building an “Islamic welfare state”.
“I promise to my God that everyone who looted this country will be made accountable,” he said in Friday’s speech to parliament.
He also defended himself against widespread claims the military had targeted the formerly ruling PML-N, especially its leader Nawaz Sharif, and fixed the playing field in Khan’s favour.
“No dictator has taken care of me. I am standing here in this parliament on my own feet,” he told the raucous assembly as opposition members shouted protest slogans.
Pakistan’s 71-year history has been punctuated by coups and assassinations and the 2018 election was only its second ever democratic transition of power from one civilian government to another.
No prime minister of Pakistan has ever completed a full five-year term. Khan will have to contend with the same issue as many predecessors: how to maintain a power balance in civil-military relations.
The new 15-member cabinet was announced by PTI in a tweet.
Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who previously served as foreign minister under a PPP government until 2011 when he switched to PTI, returns to the role.
Pervez Khattak, the former chief minister of Khan’s stronghold in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, was appointed defence minister.
Khan and his cabinet face a myriad of challenges including militant extremism, water shortages, and a rapidly growing population negating growth in the developing country, among others.
A massive power outage that plunged over 60 percent of the port city of Karachi and southwestern Balochistan province Friday evening starkly highlighted a chronic energy crisis the country faces.
Most pressing is a looming economic crisis, with speculation that Pakistan will have to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.
PTI fell short of an outright majority in the July 25 vote, forcing Khan to partner with smaller parties and independents in order to form a government.
But it retained its stronghold in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and has made an alliance with regional parties in Balochistan.
The party is also expected to form a coalition government in powerful Punjab, formerly a PML-N stronghold. Southern Sindh province remains in the hands of the PPP.
PTI secured the positions of Speaker and Deputy Speaker in the National Assembly — putting Khan in a strong position to act on his legislative agenda.
In the West, Khan is often seen as a celebrity whose high-profile romances were tabloid fodder. But at home, he cuts a more conservative persona as a devout Muslim who believes feminism has degraded motherhood.
Known in Pakistan as “Taliban Khan” for his calls to hold talks with insurgents, he increasingly catered to religious hardliners during the campaign, spurring fears his leadership could embolden extremists.