Russian invasion of Ukraine must be stopped immediately: COAS Bajwa
Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Bajwa on Saturday said that Russia's invasion of Ukraine must be "stopped immediately", terming it a great tragedy.
Speaking at the Islamabad Security Dialogue, Gen Bajwa expressed Pakistan's serious concern over the conflict, adding that "despite legitimate security concerns of Russia, its aggression against a smaller country cannot be condoned."
"Pakistan has consistently called for an immediate ceasefire and cessation of hostilities. We support immediate dialogue between all sides to find a lasting solution to the conflict," he added.
He said the Russian invasion of Ukraine was very unfortunate as thousands of people had been killed, millions made refugees and "half of Ukraine destroyed".
The army chief said the conflict gave hope to smaller countries that they could still defend their territory with smaller but agile forces against aggression by a bigger country by carrying out selective modernatisation of equipment.
He noted that Pakistan had enjoyed excellent defence and economic relationships with Ukraine since its independence but relations with Russia were "cold" for a long time because of numerous reasons. However, some positive developments in this regard had taken place recently, he added.
Pakistan had sent humanitarian assistance to Ukraine via Pakistan Air Force (PAF) planes and would continue to do, he said. He cautioned that the continuation or expansion of the conflict would not serve the interests of any side, least of all the developing countries which would continue to face socio-economic costs of the conflict, which he said could "easily get out of hand".
Gen Bajwa pointed out that there were two camps internationally — those who advocated contestation and those who advocated cooperation — and the future vision of security would be decided based on which camp prevailed.
"I believe the world today is built by those who believe in cooperation, respect and equality, instead of division, war-mongering and dominance."
Pakistan's interests were served only when cooperation instead of contestation between power centres was promoted, he said, calling on the international community to support cooperative countries such as Pakistan rather than those who wish to gain from this contest.
'Long and strategic relationship with US'
The army chief also spoke about Pakistan's relations with other countries, including the United States.
Amid concerns about a contestation between global powers, Pakistan was positioning itself as a melting pot for international economic interests by focusing on connectivity and friendship, he added.
"Pakistan does not believe in camp politics and our bilateral relations with our partners are not at the expense of our relationships with other countries."
Pakistan enjoyed a close strategic relationship with China which was demonstrated by the country's commitment towards the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), he said, adding, "equally, we share a long and excellent strategic relationship with the US which remains our largest export market."
He said that Pakistan sought to broaden and expand relations with both China and the US "without impacting our relations with [either]".
In addition, relations with the European Union, the United Kingdom, Gulf countries, South East Asia and Japan were also important for Pakistan's progress, the COAS said.
Indian missile incident
During his speech, Gen Bajwa termed India's "accidental" launching of a supersonic cruise missile into Pakistan on March 9 a matter of "serious concern", saying "we expect India to provide evidence to assure Pakistan and the world that their weapons are safe and secure."
"Unlike other incidents involving strategic weapons systems, this is the first time in history that a supersonic cruise missile from one nuclear-armed nation has landed in another," he said.
The incident had raised "serious concerns" about India's ability to manage and operate high-end weapons systems, Gen Bajwa said, adding that the neighbouring country's "indifferent attitude in not informing Pakistan immediately about the inadvertent launch" was equally concerning.
The missile incident first came to light on March 10 when Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar shared details of an Indian "high-speed flying object" that fell in Mian Channu, Khanewal district.
India issued a statement on March 11, two days after the actual launch of the missile, saying it was an accident.
"We hope the international community will realise that this incident could have resulted in a loss of life in Pakistan or an accidental shooting down of a passenger plane flying along the path of the cruise missile," Gen Bajwa said today.
He noted that Pakistan had called for a thorough probe into the incident, iterating that Pakistan had shown maturity and responsibility on its part.
'Ready to move forward on Kashmir if India agrees'
"Pakistan continues to believe in using dialogue and diplomacy to resolve all outstanding issues, including the Kashmir dispute and is ready to move forward on this front if India also agrees to do so," the COAS said.
He had made similar comments at the Islamabad Security Dialogue last year when he had said it was time for both countries to "bury the past and move forward".
Gen Bajwa highlighted the importance of keeping conflict away from the region, he said Pakistan wanted the Sino-India border to be resolved soon through diplomacy and dialogue as well.
"I believe it is time for the political leadership of the region to rise above their emotional and perceptional biases and break the shackles of history to bring peace and prosperity to almost three billion people of the region."
"Pakistan recognises that it is the regions and not countries that grow. This is why we believe that peace and stability in our wider region are prerequisites for achieving shared regional prosperity and development. In this regard, our doors are open for all our neighbours," the COAS said.
He noted that Pakistan continued to work with the international community for peace and stability in Afghanistan but sanctions and lack of financial flows were creating a humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country.
While the world, especially the West, was preoccupied with the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine, it must ensure that 40m Afghans who faced terrible conditions were not forgotten, he said.
The army chief cautioned that an inability to address the issues would "not only lead to a refugee crisis but will again make Afghanistan an epicentre of terrorism where [the Islamic State] with its global agenda flourishes [and] may result in more than one 9/11".
He stressed the need for the international community to support the Afghan government. "The performance of present Afghan government is not satisfactory, to say the least, but we have to be patient and accommodative."
Instead of imposing sanctions — that never worked — the global community should incentivise positive behavioural changes, he said.
"While Pakistan shares some of the concerns of the international community, we believe disengagement with Afghanistan is not an option," he stressed.
'Toxic mix in India'
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also spoke at the event and said Pakistan was ready to consider "east-west" connectivity to help address challenges of poverty and underdevelopment in South Asia.
He said a "willing partner" was needed for that endeavour. "Unfortunately, we face a toxic mix in India. An extremist ideological regime that thrives on anti-Muslim hate and hostility for Pakistan," Qureshi added.
FM Qureshi said the missile incident reflected India's disregard for aviation safety and regional peace and stability.
"This incident is consistent with India's irresponsible conduct. It must be addressed by the international community including the UN Security Council.
"Pakistan continues to act with maximum restraint and responsibility despite [Indian] provocations," the foreign minister said.