Pakistan rules out use of its soil in Middle East conflict

Updated January 06, 2020

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PARTICIPANTS of a demonstration in Karachi on Sunday carry flags and signs to protest the killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani. Similar protests were held in several cities across the country. Mr Soleimani was killed in a US airstrike near Baghdad on Friday. — Reuters
PARTICIPANTS of a demonstration in Karachi on Sunday carry flags and signs to protest the killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani. Similar protests were held in several cities across the country. Mr Soleimani was killed in a US airstrike near Baghdad on Friday. — Reuters

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Sunday reaffirmed its resolve not to become a part of any conflict in the region and renewed its offer for mediating in the Middle East crisis.

The offer was formally conveyed by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi during a telephonic conversation with his counterparts from Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.

This was the first contact of Foreign Minister Qureshi with the Iranian leadership after the assassination of Iran’s Maj Gen Qassem Soleimani in a US drone strike in Iraq on Friday.

Mr Qureshi made the telephone calls to Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on the day anti-US protest demonstrations were held in many Pakistani cities, including Karachi and Islamabad.

Earlier, army spokesman and director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor declared in categorical terms that Pakistan would not allow its soil to be used against anyone and would continue to play its role in establishing durable peace in the region.

Qureshi talks to four counterparts; army asks nation not to pay heed to rumours

According to an official announcement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there was a wide-ranging exchange of views between Mr Qureshi and the foreign ministers of four Muslim countries on “the unfolding situation in the region”. Highlighting Pakistan’s deep concern over recent developments, the foreign minister “underscored the imperative of avoidance of conflict, exercise of maximum restraint and de-escalation of tensions”.

Mr Qureshi renewed the call on the parties concerned to abide by the United Nations Charter and principles of international law to settle differences through peaceful means. He also reaffirmed that Pakistan would neither let its soil be used against any other state nor become part of any regional conflict.

Sharing Pakistan’s perspective, the foreign minister expressed the hope that the progress made in the Afghan peace process would be preserved and further advanced.

He reiterated Pakistan’s readiness to continue to play a role in preventing further escalation and maintaining regional peace and stability.

The foreign minister is expected to make a policy statement on the Middle East situation in the National Assembly or the Senate on Monday (today).

During an interview with ARY News TV channel, Maj Gen Ghafoor asked the nation not to pay heed to rumours on social as well as main media regarding the country’s role in the Middle East situation. Commenting on the recent escalation of tension between Washington and Tehran after the killing of Maj Gen Soleimani, he acknowledged that the incident had “changed the situation in the region”, saying Pakistan desired that the region “does not go towards another war”.

The ISPR chief termed the talks in social media about Pakistan’s possible support for the United States in the present Middle East situation part of the “propaganda” campaign by anti-state elements. “I request the Pakistani people and the media to rely only on authentic source in this regard. Do not pay heed to the rumours being spread by anti-state elements,” he said, adding that “India is playing a lead role in spreading these rumours”.

Maj Gen Ghafoor said he had recently read an Indian article reporting that Pakistan had ditched Iran and linked the development with resumption of Pakistan’s participation in a US military training and educational programme. “In our bilateral relations with America, training cooperation was suspended. For the past four to five months, America had been talking about restoring this because training engagement in military-to-military cooperation goes on,” he said, clarifying that the development had nothing to do with the recent situation in the Middle East.

“Linking something that has been going on for quite a few months to this incident is part of that propaganda campaign,” he declared.

Responding to a question about the telephonic conversation between Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, he said the army chief had stressed the need for exercising “maximum restraint and constructive engagement” following the killing of the Iranian general.

He said Gen Bajwa had said two things. Firstly, he said, the region was improving from very bad conditions, adding that the Afghan reconciliation process was very important for this improvement. He said Pakistan would play its role in this regard and wanted the focus to remain on the Afghan reconciliation process.

Secondly, he said, the army chief had told Mr Pompeo that tensions in the region should be reduced and that Pakistan desired that the region should not go towards any war.

Maj Gen Ghafoor said the region had been facing problems due to security reasons for the past four decades, starting from Russian invasion of Afghanistan to the war on terror in the aftermath of the 9/11 and the recent escalations between India and Pakistan which had even brought the two countries to the brink of war. Pakistan, he said, successfully defeated terrorism in the country, secured Pak-Afghan border, played a positive role in the Afghan reconciliation process and presented itself as a “responsible state” with a fully capable army despite provocative actions by India.

He said peace had been achieved in Pakistan after a lot of sacrifices, adding: “We will not be part of any process that can ruin this peace.”

The ISPR chief said both Prime Minister Imran Khan and Gen Bajwa had been making efforts to reduce tensions in the Middle East and had undertaken foreign visits and talked to the world leaders. He said Pakistan was a “relevant” country and held an important position in the region. He said both PM Khan and Gen Bajwa had clearly stated that Pakistan would not allow its soil to be used against any country and would do whatever possible for peace in the region.

Speaking about the threatening statements by the newly appointed Indian army chief against Pakistan, the ISPR chief said Lt Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane was not new to the Indian army and he knew the capabilities of the Pakistan Army very well. “He [the Indian army chief] was part of the Indian force on Feb 27 as well. So he’s not new,” he said in an apparent reference to the shooting down of two Indian aircraft by the Pakistan Air Force last year.

“The Pakistan armed forces know how to defend the country and India also knows this,” he said, adding that Pakistan desired peace in the region, but “will make no compromises when it comes to safeguarding its security”.

“The Indian army chief should, instead of giving threats, end the siege of occupied Kashmir, end oppression there, and play his role in ending the ongoing protests and tyranny in India due to the Hindutva thought,” he said.

Maj Gen Ghafoor said the path India was on “will lead to its own destruction”.

Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2020