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Friday July 19, 2024

Donald Lu’s some remarks about ECP ‘intrusive’: FO

FO says 'several misunderstandings' on polls in Congressional panel

By Mariana Baabar
March 22, 2024
Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch speaks during a press briefing. — Radio Pakistan/File
Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch speaks during a press briefing. — Radio Pakistan/File

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Thursday said some remarks made by the US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu during the Congressional hearing on Wednesday reflected a misunderstanding of Pakistan’s electoral laws and at the same time were “intrusive”. As the Foreign Office spokeswoman Mumtaz Zahra Baloch addressed the weekly media briefing here, she was flooded with questions about Donald Lu’s remarks. “In yesterday’s hearing, some statements were made, which were intrusive and reflected a misunderstanding of Pakistan’s domestic situation and electoral laws. We hope to engage in meaningful discussions with the United States to address these misunderstandings. We also hope that the US Congress will play a positive and constructive role in strengthening Pakistan-US ties and developing avenues of mutually beneficial cooperation,” the spokeswoman said.

Testifying before the Congressional committee, Donald Lu said if the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) failed to investigate allegations of irregularities in the Feb 8 elections, it will “retard” America’s relationship with Pakistan. He added that if the ECP did not investigate these “irregularities”, it would impede the 76-year relationship and if Pakistan did not have a democratic process that upholds its own Constitution. He also told the hearing that the US had never used the term ‘free and fair’ in characterising these elections. “It will retard our ability to have the type of relationship we want, in security matters, on the business front and people to people. All that suffers if Pakistan is not a full democracy,” he said.

The spokeswoman, meanwhile, did not appear perturbed by Lu’s comments and replied, “We have taken note of the hearing held by the US Congress yesterday. It was an internal debate between the US Congress and the administration. As we said last week, Pakistan values its close relationship with the United States and believes in constructive engagement. We believe that the deliberations of legislative bodies should contribute to promoting positive dynamics in bilateral ties and should be based on mutual respect and understanding”.

When asked about Lu’s comments that the US monitors weapons it provides to Pakistan, especially F-16s, to ensure their correct use and that the US is not considering any substantial military assistance to Pakistan, the spokeswoman said it should be underlined that yesterday’s hearing was an internal event of the United States where the Congress and the administration were engaged in a conversation. “As far as Pakistan is concerned, Pakistan remains in dialogue with the United States on all aspects of our mutual interest and that includes cooperation in the realm of security and defence, and we will continue to engage with them with respect to our defence needs and the regional situation that Pakistan faces. And we hope they will understand our concerns and requirements,” she added.

To a query that Donald Lu had stated that the topic of Dr Aafia Siddiqui had not been raised with him by any Pakistani official, the spokeswoman disagreed and said that Pakistan had remained in contact with the State Department, the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Prisons to extend all possible support to Dr Aafia Siddiqui for her welfare and to explore all options about her continued stay in the United States. “Our Missions in Washington and Houston have also remained in continuous contact with the family of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and her legal team,” she said.

To a query about any chances of a swap between Aafia Siddiqui and Shakeel Afridi, who is jailed in Pakistan, the spokeswoman underlined that Pakistan’s priority was that of relief for Aafia Siddiqui and this was a subject of great concern to Pakistanis everywhere. “As regard any swap ideas, these issues are discussed through bilateral channels and not through the media. At this point, I would like to reiterate what I said about the case of Shakeel Afridi, that there is no change in Pakistan’s position. Shakeel Afridi is in prison as a result of a court decision which determined that he violated the Pakistani law,” she pointed out.

In another comment from Donald Lu in which he spoke about the Iran-Pakistan Gas pipeline, the spokeswoman said taking “permission” from the US to continue this project was premature. “Our first priority is to build the pipeline to which Pakistan is committed and has decided to build the pipeline. Pakistan has time and again reaffirmed its commitment to the Iran-Pakistan pipeline and the bilateral understanding between Pakistan and Iran. We recognize its significance for Pakistan’s energy security. It is important to note that the decision by the Government of Pakistan to move forward on the Iran-Pakistan pipeline is within Pakistan’s sovereign decision to construct a pipeline within its own territory,” she said.

She pointed out that since the segment of the pipeline was being built inside Pakistani territory, so at this point there was no room for any discussion or waiver from a third party. “However, we have remained in contact with our American partners, and we have conveyed to them the importance of energy security for Pakistan’s future and the important role that Pakistan-Iran pipeline plays in the overall context of Pakistan’s energy security,” she added.

On Afghanistan, the spokeswoman clarified that before Pakistan attacked a terrorist camp inside Afghanistan, there had been communication between the two sides. “After the 16th of March terrorist attack in Pakistan, there was communication between the two countries and a demarche was made with the Afghan authorities conveying our serious concern about the involvement of terrorists from the Gul Bahadur group, which was the prime target of our operation of the 18th of March. The same concern was also conveyed by our foreign minister in his telephone conversation with the Interim Afghan foreign minister,” she said.

To a query, Baloch said Pakistan had repeatedly called for and conveyed to Afghanistan its desire to have joint solutions to fight the terrorist threat that emanates from Afghanistan and targets Pakistan. “This has been on the table with Afghanistan for a while and we hope going forward, the two countries can work together to find joint solutions to combat terrorism.”

When asked about threats from Afghanistan after Pakistan attacked terrorist camps inside Afghanistan, she replied, “First of all, Pakistan has not invaded Afghanistan. We have no designs against the territory of Afghanistan. We respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Afghanistan. And we are also interested in having good neighborly friendly ties with Afghanistan for the mutual benefit of our peoples.”

In this regard, she said it was therefore important that the two countries work together to remove the one major issue that impeded the smooth functioning of bilateral relations and that’s the presence of these terror groups which were threatening Pakistan’s security. “And we hope that going forward, the two countries can find joint solutions in addressing this terror concern,” she said.