Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has rejected US President Joe Biden’s comments on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons as “factually incorrect and misleading”, according to a press release from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on Saturday.
At a Democratic congressional campaign committee reception on Thursday, Biden said Pakistan may be “one of the most dangerous nations in the world” as the country has “nuclear weapons without any cohesion”.
A transcript of the address, published on the White House’s website, quoted Biden as saying: “… And what I think is maybe one of the most dangerous nations in the world: Pakistan. Nuclear weapons without any cohesion.”
Hours after Foreign Minister announced that an official demarche will be issued to the US envoy, Prime Minister Shehbaz issued a detailed statement in response to Biden’s remarks.
He said that Pakistan had proven to be a “most responsible nuclear state” over the past decades whose nuclear programme was managed through a “technically sound and foolproof command and control system”.
“Pakistan has also consistently demonstrated responsible stewardship of its nuclear-weapons capability, marked by a very strong commitment to global standards, including those of IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) on non-proliferation, safety, and security.”
The press release said that the real threat to international peace and security was posed by “ultra-nationalism, violation of human rights in regions that are struggling against illegal occupation, violation of global norms by some states, repeated nuclear security incidents, arms race among leading nuclear weapon states and introduction of new security constructs that disturb the regional balance”.
It added that Pakistan and the US had a long history of a “friendly and mutually beneficial relationship”, further saying that it was “critically important that genuine and durable efforts are made to recognise the real potential of Pakistan-US relationship” at a time when the world was confronted by huge global challenges.
The press release said “unnecessary comments” should be avoided and it was Pakistan’s “sincere desire” to cooperate with the US to promote regional peace and security.
On Twitter, PM Shehbaz said Pakistan was unequivocally a responsible nuclear state which took the matter of nuclear safety with the “utmost seriousness”.
“Let no one have any doubts,” he tweeted, adding that he was proud that the country’s nuclear assets had the “best” safeguards as per the IAEA’s requirements.
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif also issued a strong response to Biden’s comments, saying that Pakistan’s record as a responsible nuclear power was “unimpeachable, and internationally attested to, unlike the existence of WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) in Iraq” — referring to US claims about the presence of WMDs in Iraq which were later debunked.
“We have also historically provided military assistance to the very armed forces whose commander in chief erroneously questions our ‘cohesion’,” the defence minister pointed out.
Official demarche issued to US envoy
Later in the day, a press release from the Foreign Office said that Acting Foreign Secretary Jauhar Saleem called in US Ambassador Donald Blome to deliver a “strong demarche” for Biden’s comments.
“Pakistan’s disappointment and concern were conveyed to the US envoy on the unwarranted remarks, which were not based on ground reality or facts.
“It was made clear that Pakistan was a responsible nuclear state and its impeccable stewardship of the nuclear programme and adherence to global standards and international best practices was well acknowledged, including by the IAEA,” the press release reads.
It said it was essential to maintain the positive trajectory of Pakistan-US relations and the close cooperation between the two sides to build regional and global peace.
Any questions should be directed to India: FM Bilawal
Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said the government had decided to summon Blome for an official demarche on Biden’s remarks.
In a press conference at the Bilawal House in Karachi today, the foreign minister said that Pakistan’s nuclear assets “meet each and every international standard in accordance with the IAEA as far as security and safety is concerned”.
“If there is any question as to nuclear safety, then they should be directed to our neighbour India, who very recently accidentally fired a missile into Pakistani territory.
“This is not only irresponsible and unsafe but raises genuine and serious concerns about the safety of nuclear-capable countries,” he pointed out.
“I am surprised by the remarks of President Biden […] I believe this is exactly the sort of misunderstanding that is created when there is a lack of engagement.”
Bilawal said that Pakistan had embarked on a “journey of engagement” and just marked the 75th anniversary of bilateral engagements with the US.
“If this was such a concern, I imagine it would’ve been raised in that meeting with me, I believe that we have just started our journey of engagement and we will have many more opportunities to engage with the US and address any concerns and misconceptions they might have to this specific question.”
We have called the ambassador for a demarche, he had said, adding that an opportunity should be allowed to the US to explain the position.
“I don’t believe it negatively impacts the relations between Pakistan and the US. We will continue on the positive trajectory of engagements we are having so far,” Bilawal highlighted.
He went on to say that Pakistan had nothing to do with Biden’s statement. “We will call their ambassador and issue a demarche, but I don’t think this was an official function […] it wasn’t an address to the parliament or an interview.
“It was a fundraiser […] it was an untraditional conversation in which this sentence was used so it should be [looked at] in this manner, I think we will look at this statement in this way,” he elaborated.
However, at the same time, Bilawal said that the nation should desist from “going into conspiracy theories”.
He clarified that had the government felt any pressure, it would have been brought before the public. “But there is no such issue, we have varying stances on different issues, but when you’re responsible and mature states, you engage.”
There are a lot of opportunities for Pakistan to positively engage with the rest of the world, he added.
‘Imran gave irresponsible statements on atomic bombs’
Responding to a question, Bilawal said that PTI chief Imran Khan was a liar and it was the government’s responsibility to expose his reality in front of the nation.
He claimed that during his tenure as the prime minister, Imran failed to fulfil any of the promises he made to the people.
Bilawal criticised the PTI chief’s foreign policy, claiming that it created huge losses to the country and compromised Pakistan’s bilateral ties with friendly countries.
“Today, we are trying to correct that loss […] we will have to work hard but I’m satisfied that the direction of our foreign policy is right now.”
Going on, he recalled that Imran has passed “irresponsible statements” on the country’s nuclear assets in the past. “When he had to leave the prime minister’s seat, he publicly said that it was better that an atomic bomb was dropped on Pakistan.
“Find me one example in world history, where a person who is a former premier, says such things about his own country.”
Bilawal went on to say that Imran was given authority that no one other prime minister was given in the country’s history. “The amount of handholding and nappy changing that happened with Imran didn’t happen with any other PM.”
Imran, the minister further alleged, desired to be selected again today.
“But we believe that the right to rule over this country is of the people. Experiments where the fate of the nation is played with have, every time, had the opposite effect, so we should trust the result of trusting people,” he added.
Pakistan’s stance on Ukraine
Talking about Pakistan’s position on Ukraine, Bilawal clarified why the country abstained from voting on a resolution passed in the United Nations General Assembly earlier this week.
The resolution called on countries not to recognise the four regions of Ukraine that Russia has claimed through referendums held under its occupation.
At the press conference today, the minister said there were two reasons why Pakistan abstained to vote. “The resolution contained language of other past resolutions from which Pakistan had already abstained.
“And there was no call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and pursuit of diplomacy in pursuit of peace,” he explained and then proceeded to read out portions of the explanatory note submitted by Pakistan.
Bilawal also said that he looked forward to seeing similar concern about India’s action to annex the internationally disputed territory of Kashmir which, according to him, was a complete violation of international law and relevant UN resolutions.