ISLAMABAD, Sept 10: The Foreign Office on Monday distanced itself from the controversial episode of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s forced exile to Saudi Arabia and declared that it had no role in the matter.“Well, the Foreign Office was not involved,” spokesperson Tasnim Aslam stated when asked at a weekly news briefing how it was involved with the arrival or deportation of Mr Sharif and what its stance was on the matter.

When asked whether it was not paradoxical that on one hand the government criticised statements from foreign capitals on Pakistan’s domestic affairs and on the other hand it solicited intervention of other countries in its internal political issues, the spokesperson said: “We do not accept foreign interference in our internal affairs as we do not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. This is an accepted, recognised international norm. As regards the ongoing events, well this is not in my domain. I would suggest you seek comments from other government spokespersons.”

US DIALOGUE: The spokesperson announced the visit of United States Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte to Pakistan for the second round of the ‘strategic dialogue’ that begins here on Wednesday.

“We would like to have updates on the status of legislation about the reconstruction opportunity zones which we have been told is to be placed before the US Congress very soon, development plans for Fata, strengthening of the FC and this would also be an opportunity to discuss other issues like cooperation in counter-terrorism, social sector and education.”

She maintained that under the dialogue progress had been made in the area of education but Pakistan would also like to see increased cooperation in the energy sector and in the field of science and technology.

INDIAN CLAIM: Rejecting the Indian defence minister’s claim that US arms sales to Pakistan would create a military imbalance in the area and that they would be used against India, the spokesperson asserted: “Our defence policy and procurements are of a defencive nature. We have no aggressive designs and the claim that it would tilt the conventional balance is again not very credible.”

Referring to Indian defence budget of $24 billion and purchase plans of $30 billion over 10 years, she stated: “These figures make it very clear that there cannot be any asymmetry introduced by Pakistan.”

Ms Aslam disclosed that Islamabad had proposed to New Delhi dates for the first meeting of the committee of retired judges to address the issue of prisoners in both the countries but they were not acceptable to the Indian side. She said India had informed Pakistan that it was reconstituting the committee but had not given any reason for it. “We hope and expect that India will expedite the reconstitution of the committee so that we can get on with this issue.”

She termed ‘ridiculous’ a claim about Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden’s presence in Chitral.

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