Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived in Iran yesterday to discuss security and regional issues, Iranian state TV reported, a day after Islamabad urged Tehran to act against militants behind killings in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province.
A new umbrella group representing various insurgent groups operating in Baluchistan claimed responsibility for an attack on Thursday, when 14 passengers were killed after being kidnapped from buses in the province, which borders Iran.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Saturday that the training and logistical camps of the new alliance that carried out the attack were inside Iran, and called for Iran to take action against the insurgents.
Iranian TV said that Khan began his two-day visit to Iran, the first since he took office last August, with a stop in the northeastern city of Mashhad, Iran’s second largest and home to the shrine of Imam Reza, who is revered by Shia Muslims, state television said in a live broadcast.
Khan will meet Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani, as well as other officials, in Tehran today.
“During the meetings, improving bilateral ties, border security, countering terrorism and regional issues will be discussed,” state TV said.
Relations between Iran and Pakistan have been strained in recent months, with both sides accusing each other of not doing enough to stamp out militants allegedly sheltering across the border.
Shia Muslim Iran says that militant groups operate from safe havens in Pakistan, and has repeatedly called on Islamabad to crack down on them.
Tehran has stepped up security along its long border with Pakistan after a suicide bomber killed 27 members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards in mid-February in southeastern Iran, with Iranian officials saying that the attackers were based inside Pakistan.
The Sunni group Jaish al Adl (Army of Justice), which says it seeks greater rights and better living conditions for the ethnic Baloch minority, claimed responsibility for that attack
Baluchistan, which borders Afghanistan and Iran, is Pakistan’s poorest province and the largest by landmass, with religious militants as well as ethnic Baloch separatists active there.
Earlier, Prime Minister Khan inaugurated the Naya Pakistan Housing project in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan.
Speaking at the ceremony, he said that his government is committed to uplifting Baluchistan and to make it at par with other developed parts of the country.
“The country will develop when the weak segments of the society are cared for by the state,” Khan said, adding that no nation can progress unless corrupt elements are brought to justice.
The prime minister further said under the Naya Pakistan Housing Programme, 5mn houses will be built to provide shelter to those who cannot afford it.
“Today, it is difficult for salaried persons to afford houses,” Khan said. “In other countries, [the number of] people who take out a mortgage to build homes is quite high, in comparison with Pakistan.”
“A law will be introduced in Pakistan so that mortgages can be taken,” he added.
“The State Bank of Pakistan is also encouraging commercial banks to disburse more housing loans to consumers,” the prime minister said, adding that companies from Malaysia and China are interested in investing in the housing programme.
Addressing the youth, Khan said that more opportunities will be created for them so that they are able to start construction companies to benefit from the housing boom.
“I urge the youth to start their own businesses and become entrepreneurs rather than looking at the government for jobs,” he added.
Emphasising on the importance of a master plan for Quetta, the prime minister said that basic civic services can be ensured only when the cities are planned and organised.
“It is important to make a master plan for Quetta or it will keep expanding. [Baluchistan Chief Minister] Jam Kamal and I will work for the province. Baluchistan is lucky that they have a chief minister such as him,” Khan said.
“I am responsible for every person in this country. We have to help Baluchistan and take the country forward,” the prime minister added.
Under the Naya Pakistan Housing Programme, 135,000 housing units will be built across the country in the first phase.
At least 25,000 apartments will be built in Islamabad for federal government employees, and 110,000 apartments constructed in Baluchistan, mainly for the fishermen of Gwadar.
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