Drone strike damaged Pak-US trust relations: Sartaj

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ISLAMABAD, June 9 (APP): Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz on Thursday, terming the May 21 drone strike as “unfortunate”, said the incident had damaged Pakistan’s trust relationship with the United States.

“The drone strike has not only violated our sovereignty, but also damaged the level of trust with the United States,” the Adviser said at a press conference held here at the Foreign Office.

Sartaj Aziz said the drone attack that killed Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mansour had “undermined the Afghan peace process”, adding that the incident would have far-reaching impact.

He said Pakistan was unsure of the United States’ objective behind the strike, however said apparently it had “more negative [aspects] than positive”.

About the visit of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi to the United States and his efforts for India’s inclusion in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Sartaj Aziz expressed the concern that tilt of US towards India would disturb regional strategic balance.

“We have been constantly reminding the United States to be mindful of maintaining security balance for peace in the region,” he said.

The Adviser dismissed the impression that Pakistan had initiated “belated foreign policy efforts” to mobilize support for Pakistan’s membership for NSG.

Instead, he said, Pakistan had been pursuing active diplomacy on the point that no non-NPT (Nuclear Proliferation Treaty) country should be given exception in applying for NSG membership.

When asked about the course of foreign policy to be taken with India following the arrest of its spy Kalbhushan Yadav, Aziz said Pakistan had a “mutual concern of terrorism” with India.

“They talk about our non-state actors, but we talk about their state-actors that are active in subversive activities in Balochistan, tribal areas and Karachi,” he said.

He mentioned that India’s statement, about non-involvement of Pakistan in the attack at Pathankot airbase, was a “good development” for Pakistan.

To a question about no permanent foreign minister appointed by the government, the Adviser on Foreign Affairs said it was not unprecedented in the history of Pakistan.

He gave the examples of the governments of prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Indian prime minister Jawahar Lal Nehru and even the first term of prime minister Nawaz Sharif, where no foreign minister was appointed.

Aziz said being the Adviser on Foreign Affairs, it did not matter much with the title and he was dealing with much more responsible role at present without feeling handicapped.

Sartaj Aziz gave an outline of the 10-point achievements of foreign policy during the first three years of government’s tenure, and also pointed a number of policy options for the challenges of upcoming year.

He said Pakistan had largely protected its national interests through a vibrant foreign policy and with persistent efforts of its institutions and diplomatic assets.

He mentioned that the government’s foreign policy focused on three main objectives – economic revival, improved ties with neighbouring states especially China, India, Afghanistan and Iran and wider robust relations with United States, besides close relations with Muslim countries.

He said the 2013 Election Manifesto of PML (N) called for a “coherent, well-formulated and popularly supported foreign policy” to face new and daunting challenges.

About the most important achievement of the past three years, Aziz said it was undoubtedly “the path-breaking transformation in Pakistan’s strategic partnership with China” with launch of $46 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Also, China had become Pakistan’s largest trading partner with two way trade at $ 19 billion in 2015, he added.

Aziz said the second major accomplishment was the enhanced cooperation with Central Asian Republics including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyz Republic and Turkmenistan.

He mentioned CASA-1000 (Central Asia South Asia), TAPI (Turkmenistan Afghanistan Pakistan India) pipeline and Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline were important developments.

He said obtaining Pakistan’s full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization(SCO) was another milestone to re-balance the country’s position in the global arena.

Adviser Sartaj Aziz said the fourth success was ensuring Prime Minister’s vision of a peaceful neighbourhood including Afghanistan and India.

He said Pakistan has been making sincere efforts to deepen engagement with Afghanistan and address post 9/11 mistrust, by facilitating reconciliation talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

He mentioned the Pakistan’s role in Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) and holding of Hearts of Asia Conference in Islamabad, were major step forward.

On relations with India, he said Pakistan believes that dialogue is the best way forward to resolve outstanding issues including mutual concerns related to terrorism.

Sartaj Aziz mentioned resumption of Strategic Dialogue with US in 2013 with holding of sessions of six Working Groups on energy, economy, defence, non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, education, science and technology, in January 2014, January 2015 and February 2016.

The Prime Minister also paid two successful visits to USA in October 2013 and October 2015 besides three business opportunities conferences held in the past two years, he said.

Aziz also mentioned tangible progress on Pakistan’s engagement with the European Union in the past three years and success in winning GSP+ status in 2014 after intense lobbying.

Sartaj Aziz termed “an important milestone” the agreement with Russia on the construction of North-South Gas Pipeline in Pakistan with $2 billion investment.

He said Pakistan had been playing an active role in reducing tension and promoting unity within the Muslim Ummah and mentioned the Prime Minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Iran in January 2016 for reconciliation.

He said President Rouhani’s visit to Pakistan in March 2016 had given a fresh impetus to ties with Iran, besides special relationship with Turkey was growing from strength to strength.

He said 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 with active participation in the OIC, Pakistan ensured stronger OIC support to the Kashmir cause.

Sartaj Aziz said Pakistan would be hosting the 19th SAARC Summit in Islamabad in November this year, for which SAARC Connectivity agreements were under active consideration.

He mentioned Pakistan’s Associate Membership of CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) in September 2015 a recognition of major achievements by Pakistani scientists and technicians especially in peaceful uses of nuclear energy and research.

The Adviser said Pakistan continued its lead role in the United Nations and other international fora on issues of peace and security, socio-economic development, climate change and human rights.

“We maintained effective and strong position on Kashmir dispute at the UN and other multilateral fora. Prime Minister’s principled stance on Jammu and Kashmir in his addresses during the UNGA was reflective of the nation’s sentiments,” he said.

He said success in Pakistan’s claim for extension in continental shelf in 2015, accorded it with an additional area of approximately 50,000 sq.km.

At UN platform, he said Pakistan maintained its strong profile through membership of the principal organs and other key bodies of the UN system. During the period, Pakistan won 17 out of 18 elections contested for various UN bodies.

About future challenges and priorities, the Adviser on Foreign Affairs said the Foreign Office was constantly analyzing global and regional events and trends to formulate feasible policy options.

He said consolidating the success achieved in eliminating terrorism through National Action Plan, it would be ensured that “no armed militias are allowed to function in the country.”

He said in future, focus would be laid on deeper engagement for Afghan peace under QCG, intensified engagement with the U.S., timely completion of CPEC, ensuring success of SAARC summit in Islamabad and increasing share of skilled workers in Gulf countries.

He said in addressing these challenges, the Foreign Office would continue to need the support and guidance of political leadership of country including the Opposition and the Parliament.