Other options to be explored if F-16 deal not materialised: Asif

WEB DESK: Minister for Defence Khwaja Muhammad Asif on Monday said that Pakistan would explore other options to meet its defence needs if the F-16s deal with the United States were not materialised.

Talking to journalists after addressing a two-day international conference, he said that Pakistan was an independent and sovereign state and it could acquire defence related products from other suitable markets of the world.

The conference titled `Refugee crisis and its ramifications for global and national security’ was organised by South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI) University in collaboration with the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON), National Security Division and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. The minister said ups and downs in the bilateral relations of Pakistan and US were not a usual matter, but the overall ties between the two countries were better.

He said that US had provided the aircraft to other countries and halting its supply to Pakistan was tantamount to injustice with it. He also highlighted importance of F-16s for Pakistan in its ongoing fight against terrorism.

Answering a question, Asif said Shakeel Afridi was a citizen of Pakistan and he was being tried in Pakistani courts, adding that no one would be allowed to interfere in internal matters of the country.

He said durable peace in Afghanistan was of great importance for Pakistan, adding that people of Afghanistan wanted to lead their lives with tranquillity and harmony.

The minister said the process of repatriation of temporarily displaced persons of Waziristan was continuing at a fast pace.

In the decade of 80s, Asif said, a large number of Afghan refugees came to Pakistan and were still residing here, adding that Pakistan was playing a positive role in repatriation of the refugees and for peace and stability of the neighbouring country.

Earlier, addressing the conference, Asif said that Pakistan shared 2,560-kilometer porous border with Afghanistan with over 200 unfrequented routes, which served as points for illicit trafficking of weapons, drugs and humans.

“Around 24,000 people from Afghanistan are crossing from Khyber Agency alone per day and majority of them travel without any legal documentation,” he pointed out.

He said while the world dealt with the Syrian crisis and its global ramifications, no country in the world could understand better than Pakistan the implications of refugee crisis and its ramifications for domestic as well international peace and stability.

He said the border management was a priority for Pakistan as it dealt with the challenge of trans-border terrorism by the groups operating out of Afghan territory.

“Hence where we recognize importance of the right of easement, it cannot be extended to the entire Afghan population as 81.2 percent Afghans travel to Pakistan without any legal travel documentation,” he said.

The minister said the prevailing security situation in Afghanistan remained challenging with the Afghan government facing a number of problems, including an increase in opium production that helped finance the insurgency.

“On our part, Pakistan is making sincere efforts in bringing the Taliban militant group to the negotiations table and supporting the quadrilateral Afghan peace talks but in the end it will be the Afghan government which will have to lead the process as it must be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led,” he stressed. – APP