MULTAN: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has said that Pakistan welcomes US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw half of the American troops from Afghanistan.

Talking to reporters on Saturday, he claimed that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government had put the country’s foreign policy in the right direction.

The foreign minister also claimed that there had been improvement in the country’s relations with the United States since the PTI had come to power. “We do not believe in merely making claims, rather we believe in taking practical steps,” he said.

He, however, denied that Pakistan was making any deal with the US for the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, Pakistani woman incarcerated in the US, in exchange for freeing jailed Dr Shakil Afridi, a physician who allegedly helped the CIA in locating Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.

Mr Qureshi said Pakistan released some Afghan Taliban in a bid to make the political atmosphere in the region suitable for a dialogue between the US and the Taliban.

Qureshi says PTI govt has put the country’s foreign policy in right direction

He said that Pakistan was playing the role of a mediator to facilitate the dialogue between the US and the Taliban so that peace could be restored to Afghanistan and to achieve this purpose he had recently made two visits to Afghanistan.

He said that he had held meetings with the Afghan president, the chief executive and the foreign minister during his recent visit to the country. He said any final decision about these peace initiatives would be taken by the Afghan people.

He said the US government had also agreed to hold dialogue with the Taliban, adding that some sessions of this dialogue process had already been held in Abu Dhabi.

The foreign minister said Pakistan was expecting an outcome from this dialogue process.

He said because of the PTI government’s policies the country’s relations with the United Arab Emirates were improving and the Gulf country had announced a financial package of $3 billion for Pakistan. Similarly, he added, Saudi Arabia had also announced a financial package for Pakistan.

He said the crown princes of both the UAE and Saudi Arabia were willing to visit Pakistan in January and February, respectively. “The visits of these two dignitaries will further strengthen Pakistan’s relations with these countries,” he added.

Mr Qureshi said that the nation would soon witness positive outcomes of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visits to Malaysia and China.

He said the country was facing a serious financial crisis when the PTI came to power. But, he added, the government did not want to put additional burden on the masses.

He said the International Monetary Fund should show some flexibility in talks with Pakistan for a bailout package for the country.

South Punjab province

Mr Qureshi said the PTI government was sincere in fulfilling its promise of establishing south Punjab province, adding that the creation of this province would further strengthen the federation.

“Good governance and betterment in Punjab could only be possible by dividing it into two different administrative provinces,” he said.

He said that the PTI government was convinced about transferring powers to grass-roots level, adding that the government wanted to transfer resources and powers from the Centre to provinces and districts.

“We have to finalise not only the constitutional but also the administrative procedure for the creation of a new province. Administratively, separate budget will be allocated for south Punjab besides establishing separate sub-secretariat for the area. South Punjab secretariat will be made functional from next fiscal year,” he said.

He said instead of political point scoring, practical steps were required for the creation of south Punjab province.

“The political parties that are not in favour of the creation of south Punjab province are interested in lingering on the creation of it by raising the issue of Bahawalpur province but we will resist them and will create a consensus by negotiating with the people of Bahawalpur,” he said.

Published in Dawn, December 23rd, 2018

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