ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office took on Thursday an ambivalent position on the Trump administration’s visa ban, saying it was America’s right to decide who could enter their country, but at the same time expressed concern that the move could become a propaganda opportunity for extremists.

“It is every country’s sovereign right to decide its immigration policy,” FO spokesman Nafees Zakaria said at his weekly media briefing while answering a question about the travel restrictions imposed by US President Donald Trump through an executive order on people from seven Muslim countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

It was the first official reaction to President Trump’s directive that riled Muslim communities.

FO hits out at India for its scepticism about action taken against Hafiz Saeed

Mr Trump’s decision has been widely condemned. It is facing legal challenge within the United States and experts believe that it also contravenes international law.

The FO’s acknowledgement of the American right to regulate immigration looked to closely echo some Arab countries that voiced support for the ban. The spokesman, however, asked the US administration to consider “huma­nitarian and political dimensions” of the decision.

Also read: In a first, UAE foreign minister defends Trump visa ban

“Countries would be well advised to adopt policies that are not susceptible to be exploited as propaganda tools by entities wishing to see cracks in the coalition against extremism and terrorism along religious lines,” Mr Zakaria said.

The FO’s stance betrays its precarious situation on the issue – it cannot afford alienating the new US administration, but at the same time it has to reflect the sentiment at home.

The spokesman, in reply to the same question, underscored the importance that Pakistan attached to its relations with the US. “Pakistan and the US have longstanding and cooperative relations in diverse fields and we look forward to further strengthen these ties,” he said.

Examine: Slipping Pak-US ties

Hafiz Saeed

Mr Zakaria hit out at India for its scepticism about the action taken against Mumbai attack accused Hafiz Saeed.

“India should take corrective actions for itself rather than commenting on other countries’ affairs,” he said, noting that India had remained involved in “perpetrating terrorist activities and terror financing in Pakistan”.

Indian external affairs ministry had in its reaction to detention of the Jamaatud Dawa chief said: “Exercises such as yesterday’s (Monday) orders against Hafiz Saeed and others have been carried out by Pakistan in the past also. Only a credible crackdown on the mastermind of the Mumbai terrorist attack and terrorist organisations involved in cross-border terrorism would be proof of Pakistan’s sincerity.”

The FO spokesman asserted that Pakistan’s counterterrorism effort had been across the board.

“Pakistan had taken all actions against the proscribed elements that were required under the UN sanctions. Pakistan’s action against terrorist elements without discrimination in the larger national interest as well as our sacrifices and losses have been repeatedly acknowledged and appreciated by all the countries. Our commitment to eradicate the scourge of terrorism from its roots is beyond doubt,” he maintained.

India, Mr Zakaria alleged, was hiding “behind the bogey of terrorism while it carries out terrorist acts not only on its soil and blames it on others but also uses other countries’ soil to destabilise for terrorist activities, especially against Pakistan.”

Indian defence budget

The spokesman said India’s expanding military capabilities were threatening regional peace and stability.

He was reacting to a 10 per cent increase in India’s defence budget for the next year, taking the allocation to $40.29 billion.

“India’s massive arms-buying spree and the consequent conventional asymmetry continue to be a threat to regional peace and stability,” he maintained.

Mr Zakaria reiterated Pakistan’s aversion to army race in South Asia. “Maintenance of peace and stability in South Asia is the cornerstone of Pakistan’s policy. We are opposed to nuclear or conventional arms race in the region. …. remains committed to pursuing arms control and restraint measures. We believe that the region’s scarce resources should be devoted to the socio-economic uplift of its people,” he said.

Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2017



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