UNITED NATIONS: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi held a brief meeting with US President Donald Trump here on Tuesday evening during which the two leaders talked about the need to continue their countries’ partnership in the fight against terror.

Mr Abbasi and Mr Trump met at the reception that the latter held for world leaders attending the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly at Palace Hotel, New York.

Neither side talked about this meeting until Wed­nesday afternoon when the prime minister disclosed it at the US-Pakistan Business Council’s luncheon.

“On the Afghanistan issue, we are working with the US government. We had a very productive meeting with Vice President (Mike) Pence yesterday,” Mr Abbasi said.

“I also met President Donald Trump at his reception and we discussed the issue in brief. He was also very positive about Pakistan’s role and the continuity of the Pakistan-US partnership to fight terror.”

The prime minister further explained this point in his speech at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), New York, on Wednesday evening.

“I think the engagement will continue. And I think any misconceptions will go away. We remain a partner in the war against terror. That’s the basic issue at hand here,” he said. “We will continue to engage with the American efforts taken to fight the war against terror, and also to find peace in Afghanistan.”

Asked if he was willing to “go to an extra mile” to accommodate President Trump’s demand for Pakistan to do more, he said: “It’s a relationship that goes beyond Afghanistan. It’s 70 years old, and we view it in that context. And we are engaged today. We want this relationship to move forward. And I don’t see any obstacles in that process,” he said.

This is Mr Abbasi’s maiden visit to the United States as prime minister, although he spent several years in this country, studying in California and Washington, DC. But his visit as prime minister comes at a time when the relationship between the two countries is on a downward trajectory in the wake of President Trump’s new strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia, which degrades the partnership with Pakistan and seeks a greater role for India in Afghanistan.

Pakistan fears that India will use its growing influence in Afghanistan for creating troubles in the bordering areas, as it did in the past.

The prime minister confronted this issue at CFR as well, when an audience member asked what he thinks the role of India should be in Afghanistan.

“Zero. India — we don’t foresee any political or military role for India in Afghanistan. I think it will just complicate the situation and it will not resolve anything.”

‘No American base in Pakistan’

Mr Abbasi said that Pakistan could no longer offer bases for US drones to target insurgents inside the country. “No, no. We cannot condone that. We cannot allow that. I think the sovereignty of our territory has to be respected. And this is a decision that only the parliament can make,” said Mr Abbasi when the moderator, a New York Times journalist David Sanger, asked if Pakistan would allow the United States to operate drones from the Pakistani territory.

Pakistan did not have any American base on its soil, he added. “No, no,” said Mr Abbasi, when Mr Sanger asked if Pakistan had US military bases. “Regular bases? None?”

Mr Sanger asked again. “None. No bases at all,” Mr Abbasi said.

Ken Roth of the Human Rights Watch asked him if he, as prime minister, would speak out against the blasphemy law under which a Christian man was recently sentenced to death for a poem deemed blasphemous.

“The laws in the country are very clear, and it’s only up to the parliament to amend the laws. The job of the government is to make sure that the laws are not abused and innocent people are not prosecuted or prosecuted,” Mr Abbasi replied.

“The law is there. The law is in place. The law is in force. The courts can comment on the law. But until it’s in force, it’s the job of the government to enforce the law.”

Asked how an independent candidate was allowed to display posters featuring Hafiz Saeed’s photos during his election campaign for the recent NA-120 by-poll in Lahore, Mr Abbasi said Hafiz Saeed belonged to a proscribed organisation and was in house arrest.

“In the recent by-election, the candidate did use his poster, his picture as an election poster, which is illegal to do, and action will be taken against him by the election commission,” he said.

The prime minister said that independent candidate only polled about four per cent of the vote. “We do not condone such activity, and we will take action where it’s required.”

Meanwhile, the prime minister also met Malala Yousafzai, the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate, and expressed support for her efforts to create better education facilities for girls and raise their status.

On Thursday, Mr Abbasi met the UN secretary general and discussed various issues, including Pakistan’s role in the fight against terrorism and efforts for bringing stability in Afghanistan.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2017



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