ISLAMABAD: The foreign office on Thursday rejected the notion that the stalled Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline will be affected by its recent border issue with its south western neighbour.
Addressing the weekly briefing in Islamabad on Thursday, the spokesperson said that there were other issues which had stalled the pipeline, while a joint Pakistan-Iran action committee is meeting in Quetta.
“You cannot look at the relationship between Pakistan and Iran through the prism of one small issue or some event at the border. As the Iranian president had said, this relationship is much deeper, much broader, it is between two peoples, it has social, religious, cultural and economic aspects.
“We don’t see these incidents can derail our relationship. The pipeline issue is separate. There was a timeline but there were also some other commitments and agreements regarding financing. They have fallen apart therefore; perhaps we need to renegotiate the timeline as well.”
In response to a question on Iran firing mortar shells in the Turbat area of Balochistan on November 25 last year, resulting in death of a three years old child, and another firing incident in Panjgur area on February 16, the spokesperson said the border commission is having meeting on Thursday, continuing their session from on Wednesday.
“All these matters are being discussed (in these meetings). I may add here that Pakistan-Iran and Afghanistan have a joint border and sometimes some activities happen in this area from all sides,” she said.
Elaborating on this, she added, “It is in the common interest of all to curb the activities of the criminals, drug traffickers, smugglers, human-smugglers and terrorists. I am not aware of this particular incident but if it happened, it would certainly be discussed today.”
She explained that this meeting is taking place on the Pakistani side. “The Chief Secretary Balochistan and Deputy Governor of Sistan are leading their respective sides. Security agencies from both sides are also participating. These meetings are essentially to thrash out such issues on the borders.”
Separately, the Senate chairman was in Iran and has held meetings with the Iranian leadership. “These meetings went very well. Obviously, the issue of abduction of guards was raised,” the spokesperson said.
She said this was also discussed with the Pakistan ambassador and in the spirit of cooperation. There was reference to the historical and religious ties between our two countries by the Iranian President.”
She further said, “There was also a desire that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should visit Tehran and that the Joint Economic Commission should also meet. There was an understanding that some elements may be trying to create problems between Pakistan and Iran and they should be dealt with in a coordinated manner.”
FC personnel killed in Afghanistan
When asked that in view of defence secretary’s recent statement that FC personnel killed by Taliban were actually murdered on the Afghan territory, the FO spokesperson replied that, in the first place, the question should have been applied to the defence secrertary himself as he would have provided all the details.
“As far as our information is concerned, we are in the process of verifying where exactly the FC people were martyred and where their bodies are. If confirmed that this had happened in Afghanistan, we would definitely contact the Afghan government and take appropriate measures.”
About cross-LoC trade, she explained, “As far as Pakistani and Indian governments are concerned, there was an agreement that trade should resume and we look forward to the extraordinary meeting of the Joint Working Group on cross-LoC CBM where the remaining issues like the detention of the driver, and how to make the system more transparent will be discussed. We look forward to that meeting.”
To a question as to how the foreign office would deal with the dilemma that on the one hand Pakistan wants better relations with India and yet Moulana Azhar was allowed to say to a rally that they have X number of suicide bombers ready to act, the spokesperson replied, “Yes, we have seen media reports that he has addressed a public meeting but probably, this is one time event. He escaped the scrutiny and he did it but I am sure you are aware that his organisation is banned in Pakistan and their activities are monitored.”
“I think you have missed one part of the question – that is how Pakistan feels about the provocative statements made by the Indian Army Chief which are coming quite regularly. We would have a position on that but what an individual who belongs to a proscribed entity says should not concern India so much.”
About Mast Gul who had escaped during the Chirrar Sharif incident in Kashmir and is now part of Taliban and has claimed responsibility for the recent attacks in Peshawar, she said, “If this guy has claimed responsibility for the Peshawar attacks then he is a threat to Pakistan and Pakistani people.
“There are many people from proscribed entities who may have escaped to the area of Afghanistan and Pakistan border to avoid action against them. They keep moving here and there. Many of these individuals and organisations are proscribed and obviously whenever they are in the range, action will be taken. However, many of these people somehow keep popping up in other countries also, so there is a need for more cooperation in that respect.”
The visit of the Saudi high-powered delegation to Pakistan did not bring about any change in the policy vis-à-vis Syria, as a section of media has suggested, the foreign office affirmed during the question hour on Feb 20.
At the routine question-answer session at the foreign office (FO) on Thursday, a media person asked whether it was true that there have been some media reports that Pakistan has taken a u-turn on the Syrian situation after the visit of Saudi Crown Prince.
Responding to the question, the FO Spokesperson Tasnim Aslam Khan said, “There is no change in our position in the sense that since the first Geneva Conference on Syria in June 2012, Syria’s own position has also evolved.”
This process, which is under the UN auspices, was initially rejected by Syria but later on the country agreed on that. “There have been two rounds of discussions between the representatives of Syrian government and the opposition,” the spokesperson said.
She added, “They (Syrian government and the opposition) have been discussing a transitional government. Probably, the sticking point on which the second round broke down was whether President Bashar ul Asad will be in that setup or not.”
Elaborating further, she said, “The UN has again appealed yesterday (Wednesday) for the resumption of talks. We would like to see an end to violence in Syria. We do not subscribe to the theory of regime change in any country.”
She affirmed, “Essentially, the people of Syria will talk to each other and work out what kind of setup they will have in future. The language in the joint Statement between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia is from Geneva-I Communiqué. This is something, which is accepted by Syria as well. So, there is no need for undue concern.”
Soldiers for Saudi Arabia
About the Saudi delegation discussing possibility of Pakistan army units serving in Saudi Arabia, she said, “There was a very outlandish suggestion that Pakistan is sending one hundred thousand troops to Saudi Arabia. This is not true. This is factually incorrect. You know that the total size of our armed forces is close to six hundred thousand.
“We have eastern border to take care of, then we have a situation on the western border and terrorists attacks as well. Pakistan cannot spare to send troops in such large numbers. Secondly, there is no need. This issue was never discussed. This was never raised.”
US commander visit
During the visit of the Commander of the US Central Command to Islamabad the previous day and his meetings with top military leadership, it was reported that Pakistan had desired that the withdrawal of Nato and ISAF forces may be delayed by a couple of months due to certain reasons.
Responding to whether the foreign office was aware that Pakistan expressed desire to delay withdrawal of the Nato and ISAF forces from Afghanistan by a couple of months, during the meetings between the commander of the US Central Command and the top military leadership, the previous day (Wednesday), the FO spokesperson said, “ISPR has already issued a press release on the meetings. I am not aware of any such discussions in which we have asked the US to delay troops withdrawal.”
In the context of a meeting held in Washington DC between Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan for an agreement on terms and conditions of power purchase under the CASA 1000 project, she was asked, “What are Pakistan’s expectations from this project? Do you see a potential to improve relations between Pakistan and the Central Asian Republics?”
She replied, “Yes. CASA-1000 is a project that these countries have already approved. There have been some pre-feasibility studies. Probably, it is not a project that would come up immediately because we need to have a stable situation in Afghanistan for the construction of the pipeline. It is one of those projects that we hope would become a reality and it would contribute to meeting our energy requirements.”
T-20 World Cup
On a question on Pakistan government giving a go-ahead to the Pakistani Cricket Team’s participation in T-20 World Cup due to be held in Bangladesh, and about MOFA’s assessment of the law-and-order situation in Bangladesh, the spokesperson responded, “Yes, the Bangladeshi government has assured us of full security and our team, as the defending champions, is proceeding to Bangladesh. The captain of T-20 team, Muhammad Hafeez has said that they are confident and that they would not be distracted by any issues regarding their security.”
On Dr Aafia
To a query about the US reportedly trying to get its sergeant who had been kidnapped in 2009 released from the Taliban, and whether Pakistan would also try for the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, the FO spokesperson said, “There is no comparison between the US sergeant and Dr Aafia Siddiqui. He was a combatant and she is a civilian. The issue of Dr Aafia Siddiqui is taken up with the US regularly. We have talked to them publically and privately on this matter.”
To another query, this one in the context of the recent visit of Pakistan’s interior secretary to Afghanistan, she replied, “Overall, it was a useful meeting in the sense that these ideas were crystallised. There was also some unanimity of views about certain actions to be taken on this border.”