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ISLAMABAD: While giving a policy statement in the National Assembly, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said on Friday that Pakistan would not serve as a proxy for the United States in any war.

Another minister told the house that the government planned to repatriate Afghan refugees in two years.

The foreign minister said people of Afghanistan and other Muslim countries often wanted Pakistan to take part in the wars fought within their borders. “However Pakistan will not act as a proxy in any US-led war,” he said.

Afghan refugees to be repatriated in two years

Mr Asif was responding to a calling-attention notice of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman who wanted to know why Pakistan had not voted against the war in Syria during a debate in the UN Human Rights Committee.

Mr Rehman said that of the eight Muslim countries in the committee three Muslim states did not cast their votes, including Pakistan.

The minister said that lack of harmony and unity among the Muslim countries was the main reason behind the various problems they were facing. “No enemy can harm Muslims if they do not become facilitators of the enemy.” He said everyone knew who had taken the militant Islamic State group from Iraq to Afghanistan. The next target of the militant group could very well be Pakistan.

“Pakistan has always remained a target of others because people of all warring Muslim states look towards Pakistan and its armed forces for help,” he said.

In the past Pakistani rulers compromised the country’s sovereignty only to protect their own rule and interests, and fought a “fake jihad” for the defence of the US, said Mr Asif. “That was one of the biggest mistakes that we have committed.

“Pakistan fought a made-in-America jihad against Russia in Afghanistan. We committed the same mistake after 9/11,” he said.

The minister claimed that despite pressures and temptations the present government did not become part of any war being fought in a Muslim country, adding that Pakistani troops were sent to Saudi Arabia only for training purposes and not to take part in Yemeni war.

He discussed various crises in the Middle East and without naming the US appeared to hold the superpower responsible for unrest in the region.

Terming the Syrian conflict a “fight for power”, Mr Asif said that although he did not support dictatorship “at least human lives were safe under dictators”. He claimed that Iraq, Libya and other Middle Eastern countries had been destabilised under a conspiracy against the ummah.

“Despite presence of the US with all its military might in Afghanistan, the production of heroin has increased there from 200 tonnes to 9,000 tonnes and Taliban are operating in 43 per cent of the country; yet they [the US] blame us for facilitating the Haqqani network,” he remarked.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader Dr Shireen Mazari said it had become difficult for the country to support any of the sides fighting in Syria. “Which side will you support in the Syrian war — Syrian government, the US, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia or Turkey?” she asked.

She also urged the Muslim countries to forge unity in order to defeat the agenda of the West and protect their people.

Afghan refugees

Earlier, during the question hour, Minister for States and Frontier Regions retired Lt Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch revealed that the government was preparing a plan for repatriation of Afghan refugees within two years.

“In fact, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani informed us recently that his government is working on a plan to accommodate the Afghan refugees; therefore, we are also chalking out a two-year plan for their repatriation,” he said.

The minister said a total of 1.4 million Afghans were staying in Pakistan, of which 1m were registered and 400,000 unregistered. The refugees who did not possess the proof of registration cards would be treated as aliens and would be sent back to their country as soon as possible.

The issue of 2,500 Pakistanis languishing in Saudi Arabian jails also came under discussion in the house and the government was accused of ignoring them by not providing them with legal assistance.

Foreign Minister Asif said the government was aiming to increase the number of Pakistani community welfare officers to resolve the problems of over 28,000 Pakistanis living in Saudi Arabia.

PTI leader Shafqat Mehmood referred to media reports that Ali Jahangir Siddiqui was expected to replace the incumbent Pakistani ambassador in Washington and asked why a young man, who had no experience as a diplomat, was being appointed to the important position at a time when relations between Pakistan and the US were far from ideal.

However, the foreign minister did not answer the question. The proceedings were later adjourned till Monday evening.

Published in Dawn, March 10th, 2018