F-16 deal with US not a closed chapter: FO

WEB DESK: Foreign Office said on Thursday that the F-16 fighter jets deal with the US was not a closed chapter and efforts were underway to make it a done-deal for enhancing the precision-strike capability of Pakistan in the ongoing counter-terrorism operations.

Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakaria said at his weekly media briefing that Pakistan-US relations should not be judged only on the basis of F-16’s deal, which was a commercial commodity and their value was known to all.

“The US was giving F-16s to Pakistan because it wanted to enhance the precision-strike capability of Pakistan. Basically, they knew that Pakistan is using F-16s for strikes against the terrorists…This issue is still under discussion and we need to wait and see while we continue with our efforts”, he said.

Referring to various statements by various US officials, he said that the issue was still being debated. He explained that there were two stages in this process, the first was approval by Congress to and the sale was approved by an overwhelming majority in the Congress.

The second stage was about financial arrangements and this discussion was still going on within the US, Mr Zakaria made clear.

“The Pakistan-US bilateral relationship is much larger and broader than the F-16 issue”, he said, indicating that the statements coming from the US reiterated the convergence of interests between Pakistan and the US on fighting terrorism.

When his comments were sought on the US Congress bill allowing 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia, the spokesperson declined to comment, saying both the countries were sovereign states and had a long-standing relationship with each other.

“We don’t comment on bilateral relations between two sovereign countries”, he said. To a query, he said that Pakistan had serious concerns over India’s interceptor missile test and would take all necessary measures to augment its Defence capabilities.

“Indian actions are against the spirit of a peaceful and friendly neighbourhood and will upset the balance of power in the region”, he said, adding that Pakistan had raised the issue of India’s ambitious missile program with the US during the 8th Round of Working Group on Security, Strategic Stability and Non-proliferation and Members of Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.

Asked if Pakistan was ready to sign Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), he said that Pakistan is a responsible nuclear power and a vital part of the international disarmament dialogue.

However, he said that Pakistan will only sign an agreement if other countries in the region also sign it and if Pakistan’s deterrent interests were not affected.

“Let me also reiterate that we want all such regimes to have non-discriminatory criteria-based approach for non-NPT countries”, he emphasised. On Pakistan-India relations, he said that normalisation of relations between the two countries would require sincere efforts, good faith and commitment from both the countries.

“We have already conveyed that the dialogue process will not be a concession from one side to the other but a modest modus vivendi in inter-state relations,” he said.

However, he said the two countries were in touch with each other but no date had so far been finalised for the meeting between the foreign secretaries of the two sides.

Responding to another query about the Indian government’s alleged move to clean up all terrorist acts committed by Hindu extremists linked to the RSS, he said it appeared that the Indian government was trying to exonerate individuals, who, many in India itself believed, were involved in Samjhauta Express terrorist attack that left more than 42 innocent Pakistanis dead.

“During his visit to India last month, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahamd Chaudhry conveyed Pakistan’s concern to his Indian counterpart and urged the Indian government for fair investigation and trial of the terrorist attack,” he said.

About the 5th Quadrilateral Co-ordination Group (QCG) meeting and Afghanistan reaction to that, he said that QCG was aimed at facilitating direct negotiations between Afghan government and the factions at war in Afghanistan, including Taliban.

He said that all the members had shared responsibility to bring Taliban and other groups to the negotiation table and the members were making sincere efforts to that end.

“The member countries of 5th Quadrilateral Co-ordination Group expressed their opinion in Wednesday’s meeting that we should give peace a chance as it remained the only option to move forward,” he said noting it was 36-year old turmoil with 15 years of military efforts by the world’s powerful countries.

About Kabul’s peace agreement with Hizb-e-Islami, he said that Pakistan welcomed any and every effort, which could bring the militant groups to the negotiation table.

Regarding the US and Afghan governments’ concerns over Haqqani network, he said that Pakistan has undertaken non-discriminatory military action in North Waziristan and its sincerity cannot be doubted in this regard.

He said doubting Pakistan’s intention was not only wrong, but also strengthened those elements who did not want to see peace in Afghanistan.

To another question, he said that the CPEC was an economic and a connectivity project, linking Pakistan and China’s western province with the Arabian Sea and beyond.

He said that the project related to socio-economic uplift and economic development.

“We realise that there are security challenges to the CPEC, and Pakistan is fully capable of ensuring the continuity and completion of this project and has taken all necessary security measures to ensure the safety of the project and personnel working on it”, he asserted. – Business Recorder