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Steps taken to boost ties with US, says FO

Updated October 12, 2018

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FM Shah Mehmood Qureshi and US Secretary of State  Mike Pompeo have held two meetings since the new government came to power.
FM Shah Mehmood Qureshi and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have held two meetings since the new government came to power.

ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office on Thursday noted with cautious optimism that engagement with the United States has lately grown and initial steps have been taken for addressing the irritants in bilateral ties.

“I must say that the engagement between Pakistan and the United States has increased,” FO spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal said at his weekly media briefing.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Islamabad last month and last week Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was in Washington for meetings with his counterpart and other key Trump administration officials. Meanwhile, newly appointed US special envoy for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad was here earlier this week.

“These meetings constitute the initial steps for moving further and resolving the irritants in bilateral relations,” Dr Faisal said.

Relations between Pakistan and the US have mostly remained tense since President Donald Trump announced his South Asia and Afghanistan policy last year except for brief occasions when the two sides looked to take steps for addressing each other’s concerns. The current optimism in ties, however, stems from signals from Washington that it could be revisiting its policy on Taliban and was willing to hold direct talks with the insurgent group — something that Pakistan had long advocated and Taliban had been demanding.

The spokesman noted that meetings with Mr Khalilzad resulted in an understanding that both sides should re-engage and cooperate for the common objective of peace and stability in Afghanistan through a politically negotiated settlement.

“We have conveyed to the US side that while Pakistan will take all possible steps, in good faith, to facilitate the process for political settlement, it remains a shared responsibility,” he added.

The spokesman emphasised the role of regional countries for restoring peace in Afghanistan and noted that Ambassador Khalilzad’s visit to the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia was important in this regard.

India-held Kashmir

The spokesman described the local government elections in India-held Kashmir as a “sham exercise”.

“This is just a cover-up for the Indian atrocities in the Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir,” he maintained.

Local body elections are being held in the occupied valley for the first time since 2005. Out of a total of 598 seats, contest is taking place for only 178 seats, whereas 236 candidates got elected unopposed. There are no candidates for the remaining 184 seats.

In response to a question, Dr Faisal said that India had been hesitant about dialogue with Pakistan. “Such sham efforts and missteps cannot result in something fruitful,” he added.

Economic corridor

Dr Faisal denied that the government was reviewing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects. He said Prime Minister Imran Khan had been quoted out of context on the matter and a clarification had already been issued.

Media reports had last week quoted Mr Khan as having said at a meeting in Quetta that CPEC projects were being reviewed for protecting the interests of the people, particularly those from provinces like Balochistan.

Interestingly, Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Yao Jing while speaking at the Quetta Press Club on Wednesday disclosed that Beijing was revisiting CPEC in view of suggestions made by the government. He further noted that the decision to review the CPEC agreement was natural as the new government had its own agenda and vision.

Replying to another question regarding inclusion of Saudi Arabia in CPEC, he said the matter had been discussed, but details were yet to be worked out.

“Both Pakistan and China are open to third party/country investments in some projects of CPEC including SEZs. Besides Saudi Arabia, other countries are also welcome to invest in SEZs under CPEC,” he said.

Arms race

The spokesman rejected the ongoing arms race in the region, but said Pakistan was ready to thwart any threat to its stability, adds APP.

In case of any external threat, “we and our forces are ready to give a befitting response”, he said in response to a question about India’s recent $5 billion deal to purchase S-400 missile systems from Russia.

Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2018