Sartaj Aziz, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's adviser on foreign affairs. — File Photo by Reuters
ISLAMABAD: Making an opposition-sought appearance, the prime minister’s foreign affairs and national security adviser told the National Assembly on Friday of what he called new ‘warmth’ with Kabul flowing from Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s recent visit to Islamabad while he blamed India for “persistently rising” tensions and bloody violations of the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir.
In a policy statement following opposition demands for a briefing on some key foreign policy and security issues, adviser Sartaj Aziz also spoke of a history of ups and downs in Pakistan’s relations with the United States and a planned resumption of a strategic dialogue between the two long-time allies.
He expressed hope that “more headway” would be made in the coming days to get US drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas stopped.
On the prevailing concern over Syria following US threats of military strikes in the country over alleged use of chemical weapons by government forces, he said Pakistan, currently being a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, wanted the international community to wait for the report of UN inspectors now in Syria to investigate the matter.
But Mr Aziz, in his prepared speech in Urdu, skipped a reported government offer for dialogue with Pakistani Taliban and the implications of the recent conversion of the old Defence Committee of the Cabinet into the Cabinet Committee on National Security -- with an enhanced scope to consider internal security besides external threats -- over both of which the opposition had sought to be briefed. The opposition had staged a walkout from the house on Wednesday when the government failed to assure the house whether the adviser’s briefing could come before Friday’s conclusion of its 18-day session.
The adviser referred to frostiness in recent past in relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan due to Kabul’s allegations, repeatedly denied by Islamabad, of Pakistan’s favourable links with the Afghan Taliban rebels and said that as result of President Karzai’s Aug 26-27 visit, “this chill has changed into warmth”.
He also referred to planned rail and road projects linking the two countries, in which Pakistan will have a role, and said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had assured the Afghan president that Pakistan would use its influence and “contacts with all groups in Afghanistan” to help national reconciliation there and that “we do not wish to make any nationality or political party our favourite”.
Pakistan, he said, also wanted the work done so far in connection with the so-called Qatar process for Afghan reconciliation to succeed with the cooperation, rather than intervention in Afghanistan, of regional countries.
Regarding India, he dilated on derailment of the 1999 Lahore Declaration of then prime ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif by the 1999 coup, the setback dealt to a “composite dialogue” process by the 2008 attacks on Mumbai and then a process to end tensions initiated by the present government halted after an Aug 6 LoC incident in which five Indian troops were killed.
The new government’s initiatives included two telephone talks between the two countries’ prime ministers, a projected meeting between them, start of back-channel diplomacy and a schedule issued for working groups under the composite dialogue.
The adviser regretted that the Indian defence minister had succumbed to pressure from opposition in parliament to accuse Pakistani troops for the incident after initially blaming an estimated 20 “terrorists” for the attack half a kilometre inside the Indian side of the territory in Poonch sector and authorised the Indian military to take “effective action”.
In the past 24 days, he said, the Indian army had “persistently violated the LoC, killing three Pakistan soldiers, including a captain, and two civilians”, while he put the number of casualties on the Pakistani side since January at 11 killed, including eight troops, and 31 wounded.
Mr Aziz said India had rejected Pakistani suggestions for a joint investigation or one by the Kashmir-based UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan and failed to give a positive response to a suggestion to expand the present mechanism of contacts between directors general of military operations of the two countries to include foreign ministry officials.
“A keen observation of the present situation would clearly show contradictions and lack of consistency in the Indian attitude,” he said, wondering whether, in view of the picture of bilateral dialogue between the two countries since 1999, the long-standing Kashmir dispute could be settled through this process as India insisted despite 23 Security Council resolutions on the issue.
“Now, is it not the responsibility of the international community to decide whether an issue in which any incident can act like a spark to ignite flames of violence in relations between the two nuclear-armed countries is really no longer a problem,” he said. “And if bilateral negotiations remain in this broken state despite Pakistan’s continuous efforts, then how this problem will be solved and how an era of peace and progress will come to this region?”
RELATIONS WITH US: Mr Aziz said the visit to Pakistan by US Secretary of State John Kerry in the first week of this month had been “quite useful”, with the visitor agreeing to Islamabad’s view that Pakistan-US relations had been seen for the past 12 years through “Afghanistan’s lens” and that time had come to firm up these ties anew with a resumption of strategic dialogue. It would happen by the end of this year or early next year, preceded by six working groups completing their task in the next few weeks and an expected meeting between Prime Minister Sharif and US President Barack Obama during the UN General Assembly session in New York, he said.
He also expressed his “strong hope” that with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and different countries endorsing Pakistan’s view that the drone strikes were counter-productive and a violation of its sovereignty, “there will be more headway in the coming days in getting these attacks stopped immediately”.
On Syria, Mr Aziz said Pakistan had asked its representatives to the UN to take a stand in the Security Council based on respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of the war-torn country, non-intervention and non-interference in the internal affairs of states under any pretext, resolution of disputes through peaceful means and rejection of regime change through external intervention.
He said a contingency plan had been prepared by the Pakistan embassy in Damascus to shift its 18-strong staff, their family members and teachers of a Pakistani school there to Lebanon or Jordan besides helping 270 other Pakistanis in Syria engaged in business and other sectors.