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WASHINGTON: Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said on Friday that Pakistan would welcome any effort by the Trump administration to encourage India and Pakistan to resolve their differences.

In his speech at a think-tank, Mr Dar assured the international community that “Pakistan’s nuclear assets are as safe as those of the United States.”

He said that more than half of the world’s population lived in the region, which is directly affected by relations between India and Pakistan, particularly the Kashmir dispute. “So, any effort to help improve this situation is welcome,” said the minister while recalling that Mr Trump telephoned Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif right after his election, sending a very positive message to the entire region.

Mr Dar said a former US president Bill Clinton had also offered to help resolve India-Pakistan dispute and Pakistan had welcomed that offer too.

He said Pakistan also welcomed a recent statement by the US envoy to the UN who had said that instead of waiting for a calamity to happen, the Trump administration would engage the two South Asia countries to defuse tensions between them. “Any such move is welcome,” he said.

Mr Dar acknowledged that US-Pakistan relations had reached a stalemate but said that “we need to break this stalemate” as this relationship was important for both. “We need to work together to resolve these differences. If there’s any misunderstandings, those should be removed.”

The minister also defended Islamabad’s decision to deny consular access to Indian spy Kulboshan Jadhav: “It is a law, and commonly known, where there is a charge of treason or spying, consular access is not allowed.”

Mr Dar, however, said that legal consul was made available to Mr Jadhav and there were “further steps” that a sentenced person can also take. Mr Jadhav has been sentenced to death by a military tribunal in Pakistan.

Responding to a question, Mr Dar rejected a former Afghan intelligence chief’s claim in the US media that Pakistan’s nuclear assets were not safe and could end up in the hands of militants. In an article published, the Afghan official urged the United States and other major powers to denuclearise Pakistan by seizing its weapons.

“Pakistan’s command and control system as well as its nuclear security regime remain robust and are on a par with international standards. There has never been a single nuclear security incident in the country,” the minister said.

Mr Dar, who is also a member of the National (nuclear) Command Authority, said Pakistan worked closely with the international community and the IAEA in the areas of nuclear safety and security. “In fact, Pakistan is providing nuclear security, training to regional countries as its centre for excellence for security,” he said.

The former Afghan intelligence chief’s claims were “grossly misleading and … mala fide … the world should ignore such claims,” the minister said.

Mr Dar also rejected the Afghan official’s claim that he had a copy of a letter that the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) purportedly wrote to authorities in Peshawar, expressing concern about the safety of the country’s nuclear assets.

“PAEC writing to the National Command Authority does not make sense. This seems to be presumptive, even if there was any such situation, these things are not communicated through writing.”

Responding to another question, he said Pakistan wants regional connectivity in South Asia as it would encourage investment and development for all nations.

Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2017