NATIONAL Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq talks to reporters along with the parliamentary delegation after returning from Afghanistan.—APP
NATIONAL Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq talks to reporters along with the parliamentary delegation after returning from Afghanistan.—APP

ISLAMABAD: National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq said on Monday that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had discussed with him the matter of former army chief Gen Raheel Sharif’s nomination as head of the Saudi-backed military alliance against terrorism.

The speaker, who led a parliamentary delegation to Kabul, told reporters upon his return to Pakistan that the Iranian leader had brought up the issue during a meeting in Tehran last month.

Mr Sadiq said he had assured President Rouhani that Iran’s interests would always be looked after.

“Yes, the issue did come under discussion,” the speaker said in response to a question, adding: “But at that time no decision had been made about Gen Sharif’s appointment. However, I assured him that if any Pakistani officer would lead the forces of Muslim countries, the interests of neighbouring Iran would be looked after and that it would be for the betterment of the whole Muslim Ummah.”

He was flanked by representatives of nearly all major political parties, who had accompanied him on a two-day official visit to Afghanistan. The speaker said that he had told the Iranian president — who he met during an earlier visit to Tehran — that the 41-nation military alliance was against terrorism and that “we do not want to give it a religious tinge.”

Mr Sadiq said he had also drawn the attention of Iranian officials to how an Indian agent — Kulbhushan Jadhav — had lived in their country for months. He stressed the need to initiate dialogue between Iranian and Pakistani national security advisers, adding that Iran had expressed the desire to become a part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.

The speaker termed both his visits “successful” and expressed the hope that they would help improve Pakistan’s relations with the two neighbouring countries.

Earlier, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency had reported that Mr Rouhani, in a veiled reference to the Saudi-led military alliance, had told Mr Sadiq that the countries that had supported militant groups for a long time could not claim to fight them.

Without naming any specific country, the Iranian president had reportedly said that countries “supporting terrorist groups” such as the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State terrorist group “financially and logistically for a long time could not claim to be combating them”.

Pakistan is a part of the Saudi-led military coalition — the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT) — headed by former army chief Gen Raheel Sharif, who has already left for Riyadh to assume his command.

Briefing reporters on his visit to Kabul as the head of a 15-member parliamentary delegation, Mr Sadiq said both sides had a common desire for peace in the region, adding that the two countries should “restore their relationship”, which was broken by tensions following Islamabad’s decision to close the border with Afghanistan in the wake of recent terrorist attacks.

“We did not go to increase bitterness, we did not go to exchange any lists,” he said when asked whether the two countries had exchanged any lists of wanted terrorists. Such lists, he said, would be exchanged by the institutions concerned when Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar would visit Kabul in the next couple of days to discuss the key issues.

Mr Sadiq said the talks were held in a pleasant environment. “They provided us with every comfort and gave us the respect that is given not only to a neighbouring country, but to a brother,” he added.

He said the delegates had a frank discussion with the Afghan leadership, including President Ashraf Ghani and former president Hamid Karzai.

“We saw that the desire among the Afghan leadership, elected members of parliament and the Afghan people was for better relations and nothing else,” he said.

Mr Sadiq said a report based on the minutes of parliamentarians’ meetings with the Afghan and Iranian leaderships and their recommendations would be compiled and handed over to the government for further action.

He also said the Afghan leadership had “promised” that former president Karzai and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah would soon visit Pakistan “and the process [of dialogue] that has been broken will be restarted.”

The parliamentary delegation consisted of Leader of the House in the Senate Raja Zafar-ul-Haq; federal ministers Abdul Qadir Baloch, Hasil Bizenjo and Akram Durrani; NA Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sardar Awais Leghari; PkMAP chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai; PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar, ANP’s Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, PTI’s Shafqat Mehmood, JI’s Sahibzada Tariqullah; Aftab Sherpao and Fata MNA GG Jamal.

Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2017