Pakistan not isolated, pursuing active Foreign Policy to protect its security, national interests: Sartaj Aziz

ISLAMABAD June 27(APP): Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz on Monday categorically dispelled an impression of Pakistan’s international isolation, saying, it was pursuing an active foreign policy for promoting and protecting its national interests in the changing geo-strategic situation in the region.

Flanked by Minister for Information, Broadcasting and Cultural Heritage Pervaiz Rashid, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on foreign affairs Tariq Fatemi and foreign secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry, he was briefing editors and anchor persons on the entire gamut of foreign policy and Pakistan’s strategy to address emerging challenges in terms of its relations to its neighbours and other countries of the world.

He dwelt at length on Afghanistan, Pakistan relations with India, United States, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Gulf Cooperation Countries and recounted many achievements of a successful government’s policy in forging its foreign relations while pursuing its vital national interests.

After giving an overview of the foreign policy, Aziz answered questions of the journalists on various important issues concerning its relations with different countries.

Aziz said the peace process in Afghanistan was deadlocked and could take time to restart. Despite 15 years of war in Afghanistan, peace could not be restored there hence it would come through dialogue.

Afghan Taliban who might not be able to capture Kabul but had the ability to continue fighting. If they started gaining ground they would not talk but if they failed they would come to talks.

However, he made it clear it was not in the hands of Pakistan to bring all the Afghan Taliban groups to a negotiating table but it was ready to facilitate a dialogue process for achieving lasting peace in Afghanistan.

Sartaj Aziz said Pakistan had some influence over Taliban. But since the operation Zarb-e Azb, the Taliban mostly had shifted into Afghanistan and most of their fighting capability was inside Afghanistan now.

Aziz said it was too early to say when the dialogue could kick off again but Pakistan would continue efforts towards that end but talks had to be between Afghan government and the Taliban.

Questioned on firing incident at Torkham border with Afghanistan, he said Pakistan was well in its right to erect a gate inside its border and no one was being allowed to cross into Pakistan since June 1, 2016 without valid documents.

Aziz said after talks with his Afghani counterpart in the sidelines of the recently concluded Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a high level mechanism had been agreed upon between the two sides under which Director Generals of both the countries would decide where to built gates for better management of the border between the two sides. This arrangement would help avoid untoward incidents in future, he added.

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Signifying importance of the border management, he said Pakistan could not afford to have loose border with Afghanistan as all the attackers committing terrorism here came from across the border. It was in the interest of Islamabad and Kabul to have border management to curb the incidents of terrorism. It was very important in efforts being made by the two sides to counter terrorism, he added.

He said Pakistan had already reviewed its Afghan policy and was now following a policy of non-interference in Afghan affairs and had no favourites among Afghan groups.

Asked why Afghanistan was objecting to erection of a gate at Torkham border, he said it might like to have a loose border through which timber, marble and drugs could be smuggled across the border.

On Pakistan’s relations with India, he said Pakistan wanted to have peaceful relations with India but it would not back down from its principled stance over Kashmir. If there have to be an improvement in relations between the two countries, there have to be a dialogue on all issues including the core issue of Kashmir, he added.

However, Pakistan did not want to escalate tension with India and its minimum objective was to avoid further tension with its neighbor.

Questioned on Indian quest to become member of the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), he said it was not acceptable to Pakistan that despite being a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (NPT) , India should become its member. Pakistan therefore had emphasized that a criteria-based approach should be followed as both Pakistan and India had not signed NPT hence if India was to become NSG member, Pakistan should also be given this opportunity.

Secondly, if India alone was given membership it would undermine the strategic stability in the region and many countries were convinced of this argument advanced by Pakistan, he said.

It was not only China and Turkey but many other countries like Brazil, Austria, Kazakhistan, Norway and Switzerland which supported Pakistan stance in NSG, he mentioned.

However, Aziz said the issue of NSG membership had not gone away hence Pakistan was working out a post-Seoul Strategy on it.

“We will continue our diplomatic offensive in this regard”, Sartaj Aziz said.

On Pak-US relations, Sartaj Aziz said, overall relations between the two countries were good as they were engaged in six working groups for cooperation in counter-terrorism, energy, education and many other important areas. Both countries were also engaged in strategic dialogue but there were divergence of views on some issues like nuclear issue.

He said Pakistan had its own nuclear policy and it would not allow anyone what should be its contours and how it should maintain its minimum credible nuclear deterrence. Pakistan relations with the US were intact and our priorities were right but there were difficulties due to geo-political circumstances, he added. The US relations with India were not at the expense of Pakistan, he added.

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Asked about the eight F-16 deal with the US which could not materialize as the US withdrew its subsidy, he said, Pakistan was looking for alternatives and was in talks with China, Russia and other countries to diversify its sources for fulfilling its defense needs.

Sartaj Aziz said if seen in a big picture, the United States was following a policy of containing China in this region and had developed close relations with India. While Russia and China together, were playing their own role in this part of the world. As Pakistan’s future was tied in this region hence it had to balance its relations with all its neighbours and
other countries.

On the $46 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor(CPEC), he said it was a quantum jump with its historic relations with China. Pakistan, he said, was determined to implement CPEC and had created a special force to ensure protection of its workers.

He said the importance of the CPEC could be gauged from the fact that within a span of 12 months all its projects were nearing financial close because of the special priority accorded to it by the top Chinese leadership. This multi-billion project was very important for the countries of the entire region as it would provide them connectivity and generate huge economic activity.

Referring to the elections contested by Pakistan at various international forums, he said, of the 18 elections, it had won 17 while lost only one election, adding this would not have been possible without an active foreign policy. Pakistan, he said had been playing very active role in OIC, SCO and had been actively involved with the GCC countries to export its skilled labour.

Asked about Indian moves to forge relations with Saudi Arabia and GCC countries, he said India was a big market and had exportable surplus so the countries wanted economic relations with it. However Pakistan’s relations with these countries were historic and deep-rooted hence would not be influenced by such developments.

On Pak-Iran relations, he said given the then Western sanctions on Iran, the two countries had decided to develop Gwadar-Nawabshah LNG pipeline which would be completed by 2017 to the benefit of the two sides. He said Pakistan’s overall relations with Iran were good and historic. Iran had made it clear that its soil would not be allowed to be
used against Pakistan, he added.

Similarly, its relations with Saudi Arabia were cordial and deep-rooted and Pakistan had joined 34 countries alliance against terrorism. Pakistan was maintaining balanced and positive relations with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, he added.