US promoting imbalance in South Asia: Sartaj

Pakistan on Thursday expressed its concerns over the expanding US-Indo defence ties, describing it as a threat to strategic and conventional balance of power in South Asia.

Speaking at a news conference, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said Pakistan will share its concerns with international community about threats to regional peace and stability as Pakistan has the right to maintain minimum nuclear deterrence to defend itself in the given situation.

The latest statement comes amid Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US where the two countries signed a number of agreements to expand strategic ties.

Pakistan-US relationship needs to the reviewed, he said, adding the trust deficit needs to be removed and the US has to give equal importance to our security. When the bilateral relations between Pakistan and the US was put back on track following the incumbent government came into power, he said that the Obama administration conveyed that the US wants to transform the transitional relations into a strategic partnership.

But with the passage of time, Aziz said, the Obama administration reverted to its short-term policy approach toward Pakistan and started expanding its strategic ties with India. “They [Obama administration] don’t give much importance to our security and the way it is expanding its strategic ties with India, is posing serious threat to strategic balance in South Asia,” he said, adding it was necessary to maintain nuclear and conventional balance in the region through equity.

He said the US approaches Pakistan whenever it needs, and abandons it the moment it doesn’t need Pakistan. He said Pakistan will convey its concerns to US over the latest issues in the bilateral ties, adding a high-level meeting is planned between the high authorities of the two countries on June 10 in Islamabad.

He said that Pakistan succeeded in resuming the Strategic Dialogue with US in 2013, after the difficult phase in the relationship experienced during 2011-12.

Three sessions have been held on the basis of the work of six Working Groups on energy, economy, defence, non-proliferation, counter terrorism, education, science and technology, in January 2014, January 2015 and February 2016. He said that three business opportunities conferences have been held in the past two years.

“Pakistan is strongly committed to the objectives of strategic stability in South Asia. The international community has appreciated the system evolved by Pakistan for nuclear safety, nuclear security, strict export controls and effective command and control”, he said.

Aziz stated that Pakistan has actively participated in Nuclear Security Summits. In our interactions, we firmly conveyed to the US that maintaining effective nuclear deterrence is critical for Pakistan’s security and only Pakistan itself can determine how it should respond to the growing strategic and conventional imbalances in South Asia, he added.

To a question, he said the recent drone attack in which Taliban chief Muallah Akhtar Mansour was killed, has not only breached Pakistan’s sovereignty but also undermined the Afghan peace process, adding Pakistan has strongly condemned the attack and would continue to raise its concerns over the attacks.

He said that the recent drone attack in Balochistan caused a serious setback to the peace efforts and intensified hostilities in Afghanistan and the drone strike must, therefore, be condemned by all stakeholders.

About India’s state actors’ hostile activities inside Pakistan, Aziz said that Pakistan has decided to take up the issue of the arrested RAW agent Kulbhushan Yadev with the UN and other international forums. “They [Indian authorities] are talking about the non-state actors but we have proofs of their state actors’ hostile activities to destabilise Pakistan,” he pointed out.

Referring to the statement made by Director General of India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) that “no evidence linked Pakistan to the Pathankot attack”, he said that it is vindication of Pakistan’s position in the attack probe. However, Aziz said dialogue is the only way to resolution of all outstanding issues between Pakistan and India.

He pointed out that India does not want Kashmir to be discussed in the bilateral talks but Pakistan has already explained its position that the issue of Jammu and Kashmir would be on the agenda whenever there will be dialogue between the two countries.

With India, he said that Pakistan has continued its efforts to resolve all outstanding issues, including Kashmir, with India through dialogue and there was some positive progress in December 2015, when during the Heart of Asia Conference the two countries agreed to resume the Comprehensive Dialogue on all issues covered under eight segments.

But before the Foreign Secretaries could meet and finalise a schedule for resuming the Comprehensive Dialogue, he said, the Pathankot incident of 2 January 2016 gave India an excuse to postpone the resumption of the dialogue. Pakistan sent a Joint Investigation Team to India and has already initiated the required investigation against those alleged to be involved.

Pakistan believes that dialogue is the best way forward to resolve outstanding issues, including mutual concerns related to terrorism.

Earlier, sharing achievements of the government in the realm of foreign affairs during the last three years, Aziz said the most important achievement of the past three years was the path breaking transformation in Pakistan’s strategic partnership with China.

The most visible manifestation of this transformation was the launch of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) involving Chinese investment of $46 billion in energy, infrastructure, communication projects and development of the Gwadar Port, he said.

“Its implementation will lay a solid foundation for enhanced regional trade, integration, connectivity and industrial investment. China has already become Pakistan’s largest trading partner with a two-way trade at $19 billion in 2015,” he added.

He said the enhanced cooperation with Central Asian Republics was another achievement with finalisation of three important projects. CASA-1000 would bring surplus electricity from Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan, TAPI gas pipeline would transmit natural gas from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India; Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project is also being pursued.

These projects are in different stages of implementation. Air links with Central Asia are being restored and new road links will emerge with the completion of the CPEC, he added.

He said that another positive development was our success in obtaining Pakistan’s full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), he said, adding this is an important milestone for re-balancing Pakistan’s place in the global arena.

He said Pakistan has been making sincere efforts to deepen its engagement with Afghanistan and address post-9/11 mistrust, by facilitating reconciliation talks between the Afghan Government and the Taliban. For this purpose, the creation of a new mechanism, the Quadrilateral Co-ordination Group (QCG), during the Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference in Islamabad, in December 2015 was a major step forward, he added.

“Pakistan is committed to deeper engagement with Afghanistan. QCG has also endorsed Pakistan’s contention that the option of the military action has been tried for 15 years, with the help of 130,000 ISAF forces, without much success,” he said.

He said the alternative route of a negotiated political settlement cannot yield results within a few months. It will require more time and collective efforts by all the members of the QCG to bring durable peace to Afghanistan, he added.

He said Pakistan’s engagement with the EU and its member states, both bilaterally and within the EU framework, has seen tangible progress in the past three years. After intense lobbying, Pakistan succeeded in winning GSP+ status in 2014, leading to a significant growth in Pakistan’s exports to the EU, he said, adding Pakistan’s Strategic Dialogue with the UK at Foreign Ministers’ level, serves as the central pivot of this important and growing bilateral relationship. Pakistan’s relations with Germany, France and Italy have moved on a positive trajectory.

After his ground-breaking meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Ufa, Russia, in July 2015, the Prime Minister has paid particular attention to the consolidation and expansion of Pakistan’s relations with Russia. An agreement on the construction of North South Gas Pipeline in Pakistan with $2 billion Russian investment is a significant milestone.

He said Pakistan’s traditional ties with the Muslim World are reinforced by strong economic ties and the presence of 5 million strong diaspora in the Gulf countries and total trade of $17 billion.

He said Pakistan has been playing an active role in reducing tensions and promoting unity within the Muslim Ummah. For this purpose, the Prime Minister visited Saudi Arabia and Iran in January 2016. Pakistan also welcomed the Saudi Arabia’s initiative to forge a 35-nation military alliance to counter terrorism, he added.

Lifting of international sanctions from Iran has opened up an opportunity to revive and expand economic and trade relations, he said, adding President Rouhani’s visit to Pakistan in March 2016 has given a fresh impetus to these opportunities. With Turkey our special relationship has been growing from strength to strength, he added.

Pakistan continued its pioneering role in shaping regional and multilateral arrangements for cooperation in SAARC, OIC, ECO, D-8 and Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), he said, adding with active participation in the OIC, we ensured stronger OIC support to the Kashmir cause.

He said that Pakistan will be hosting the 19th SAARC Summit in Islamabad in November this year, adding SAARC Connectivity agreements are under active consideration. Pakistan’s Associate Membership of CERN (European Organisation for Nuclear Research) in September 2015 was a recognition of major achievements made by Pakistani scientists and technicians in the scientific field, especially in peaceful uses of nuclear energy and research.

Referring to future challenges and priorities, the Adviser said that the Foreign Office is constantly analysing global and regional events and trends to formulate feasible policy options.

Based on this analysis, he said Pakistan’s foreign policy challenges and priorities for the coming year will include consolidating the success achieved in eliminating terrorism and extremism through intensifying the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP).

He said the Karachi Cleanup Plan initiated in September 2013, the launch of operation Zarb-e-Azb in June 2014 and the comprehensive NAP set into motion in January 2015, have led to a 60 percent reduction in cases of suicide attacks and bomb blasts in 2015, bringing about a significant improvement in the overall security situation. “These gains will be consolidated to ensure that “no armed militias are allowed to function in the country”, he added.

He said we will continue and intensify engagement with US at different levels to achieve our common objectives of durable peace in Afghanistan and stability in South Asia, formulation of a multi-dimensional implementation plan to ensure effective and timely completion of all CPEC projects, full protection to Chinese workers and experts and countering all subversive and negative moves against the CPEC.

He said the priorities also include expanding mutually beneficial economic relations with all countries including South East Asian countries, Japan, Republic of Korea and African countries.

-Copyright Business Recorder