171 students repatriated from violence-hit Bishkek

Govt to operate four special flights; Dar calls off ministerial visit to Kyrgyz capital

Our Correspondent May 19, 2024
Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar. PHOTO: FILE



A special flight, transporting 171 Pakistani students from Bishkek, touched down on Sunday evening as part of the government's efforts to repatriate stranded citizens following recent mob attacks in the Kyrgyz capital.

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar cancelled his planned visit to Bishkek at the eleventh hour upon the request of Kyrgyzstan’s government. He was informed that the situation was under control, negating the need for his visit.

Despite assertions of normalcy returning to Bishkek, hundreds of students have begun returning home via special or commercial flights. The initial group of 130 students arrived in Pakistan last night, with four additional flights scheduled to repatriate over 500 more students.

Two of the flights reached Lahore and Islamabad. At the New Islamabad International Airport, the flight KA4575 landed at 7.45pm, carrying 171 male and female students. They were received by Petroleum Minister Musadik Malik. The parents and other relatives were also present at the airport.

Last week, Bishkek witnessed mob violence targeting foreign students, including those from Pakistan. Upon receiving reports, the prime minister took immediate action, directing Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar and Kashmir Affairs Minister Amir Muqam to travel to the Kyrgyz capital to ensure the safe return of the affected students.

Speaking at a press conference in Lahore, deputy prime minister Dar stated that no Pakistani student was killed in the mob attacks triggered by a brawl between some foreign students and locals in the Central Asian republic a week ago.

“The Kyrgyz foreign minister has requested me not to come. You are senior and your visit will give the wrong impression,” Dar, flanked by Information Minister Ataullah Tarar and Kashmir Affairs Minister Engr Amir Muqam, told reporters soon after they called off their visit to Bishkek.

Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Jeenbek Kulubayev told Dar that the opposition had been campaigning against the foreign students in his country and the arrival of the Pakistani foreign minister would give them an opportunity. “The Kyrgyz minister has requested that you trust us,” Dar said.

Dar said that the information provided by the Kyrgyz foreign minister and the information received from the Pakistani ambassador in Kyrgyzstan were identical. He added that two foreign ministry officers had already been sent to Kyrgyzstan, adding: “If necessary, the foreign secretary or the additional foreign secretary can also be sent for confirmation.”

Dar said that he was told by the Kyrgyz government that a total of 16 students were hospitalised as a result of the injuries in these incidents, of which 4-5 were from Pakistan. However, he stressed that no Pakistani students had been killed and that the Pakistani students were not the target of these attacks.

Apart from the Pakistanis, Indian, Arab, Egyptian and Bangladeshi students were also among the injured in Bishkek, the deputy prime minister told reporters. The Kyrgyz foreign minister had assured that no untoward incident had happened with the Pakistani students after Friday, he added.

Dar announced that four special flights, including a Pakistan Air Force aircraft, would transport 540 Pakistani students back to the country. With these Sunday flights, he stated, the total number of repatriated students would reach 670.

During the press conference, Dar disclosed that three of the four flights were fully booked, while the PAF flight still had available seats. He emphasized that 24-hour hotlines were operational to assist any Pakistani national wishing to return to the country via special flights.

Read Families on pins and needles as Bishkek riots rage on

“We are prepared to facilitate the return of students who wish to leave,” he said, acknowledging that not all students may choose to return.

Shedding light on the incident, Foreign Minister Dar said opposition parties in Kyrgyzstan often criticise foreign students. “He [Kyrgyz foreign minister] said that ‘we highly value you as a brother country’ but they [opposition] talk against the government’s policy,” Dar said.

“’Paid bloggers and paid social media; we don’t know what their agenda is’,” Dar further quoted his counterpart as saying regarding misinformation on social media. “The foreign minister assured me that absolute lies were posted on social media. He guaranteed, ‘Not a single Pakistani student has died’.”

Therefore, Dar continued, the ministerial visit was cancelled upon assurances from the Kyrgyzstan’s “senior leadership” that the situation was under control.

The “disturbances” in Bishkek followed an incident earlier in the week when foreign students reported being harassed in their dormitories by “unidentified persons”, the Kyrgyzstan ministry of internal affairs said in a statement published online.

Prime Minister Shehbaz on Sunday instructed Pakistan’s Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic Hassan Ali Zaigham to make necessary arrangements for special flights being sent to Bishkek to bring back Pakistani students, the Prime Minister Office Media Wing said in a press release.

The PM instructed continuous communication with all students and their families, prioritizing the return of injured students. He emphasized bringing back those students whose families resided with them in Kyrgyzstan urgently.

Ambassador Zaigham briefed the PM on his meeting with the Kyrgyz deputy foreign minister, highlighting enhanced security measures and the safety of foreign students, including Pakistanis.

Kyrgyz authorities assured that the situation was under control, with no new incidents of violence reported in the last two days. Despite the return of normalcy, the PM directed the ambassador to facilitate the return of students who wished to come back to Pakistan.

In a separate statement, Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said that the situation in Kyrgyz Republic was reportedly improved, adding: “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and our Embassy in Bishkek remain active in facilitating all students.”

The spokesperson provided the phone numbers of the Pakistanis Embassy in Kyrgyzstan, which could be contacted in case of any assistance and emergency: 00996550730550, 00996501140874, 00996555554476 and 00996507567667.

She added that phone numbers of the foreign ministry 0519203108 and 0519203094 can also be contacted for any assistance. “All these numbers are operational 24/7,” Baloch said.



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