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June 14, 2016

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Balance of power in region getting disturbed

Balance of power in region getting disturbed

Joint sitting of Senate bodies on defence, foreign affairs told that purchase of F-16 jets from US a closed chapter; ties with US tense; Pakistan has good relations with China; US has tilt towards India

ISLAMABAD: The joint meeting of the Senate Standing Committees on Defence and Foreign Affairs was briefed on Monday that the growing proximity of the US and India in terms of America’s backing of New Delhi in getting the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership and on other issues was disturbing the balance of power in the region.

“The issue of F-16 planes is now a closed chapter as May 24 was the last date to accept the American financial terms, which had already been rejected,” Defence Secretary Lt General (retd) Muhammad Alam Khattak said.

He said that Pakistan was now looking for other options like buying the F-16 planes from Jordan.The meeting was briefed that Pakistan’s relations with the US were tense, particularly after the drone strike in Balochistan killing Mulla Mansour. It was briefed that Pakistan had good ties with China and these relations were further augmented with the launch of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

On the direction of the Senate chairman, a joint meeting of the Senate Committees of Defence and Foreign Affairs was held, which was co-chaired by Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed and Senator Nuzhat Sadiq.

The meeting had a comprehensive two-hour discussion in a candid atmosphere where the senators expressed their views on a variety of issues. The Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry and Defence Secretary Lt General (retd) Muhammad Alam Khattak responded to the queries. This was the first such joint meeting of the Senate committees.

Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz talked of a “major realignment in Pakistan’s policy” in the context of the strategic shift in American attitude.He termed relations with China and the initiation of CPEC the biggest achievement of Pakistan’s foreign policy since it would promote Asia, Central Asia and the entire region.

He said it was not about accepting American pressure on a particular policy but the issue was that Pakistan faced choices in keeping interest with its national priorities and Pakistan made choices that were in its national interest but which might not necessarily be congruent with US interest. For instance, he cited American pressure on Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programme which Pakistan had rejected since it was against Pakistan national security.

Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry made it clear that Pakistan’s policy was clear in not differentiating between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists and nor it allowed its territory to be used against any country.

Pakistan has categorically asked the United States (US) to make its objectives clear if it wants dialogue or war to achieve peace in Afghanistan, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry said on Monday.

At the joint meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Defence and Foreign Affairs at Parliament House the Foreign Secretary said the US representatives had been told that US drone strike killing Afghan Taliban leader Mulla Akhter Mansour was a hasty move.

The meeting took up the agendas of withdrawal of proposed subsidy on sale of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan by the United States and the situation arising out of the May 22 drone strike in Balochistan.

Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry said the United States was oblivious of Pakistan’s security concerns adding that drone strikes were on priority of the government’s agenda. He said with the United States there could be no compromise on certain issues.

He said the United States had exhausted 16 years in war in Afghanistan and had it be better if even six months for peace were given a chance. Aizaz Chaudhry mentioned that according to passport details Mulla Mansour was travelling from Iran and added that the record of Iranian city Taftan was available as well.

However, he said that Pakistan was investigating the veracity of the passport of Mulla Mansour focusing on the fact why the document remained intact inside the charred car following the drone strike.

The foreign secretary pointed that terrorists had their safe hideouts in Afghan refugee camps. He said Pakistan had hosted the Afghan refugees for 30 years and called upon India and Iran being the new friends of Afghanistan to come forward to share this burden.

On halt of subsidised sale of F-16 jets to Pakistan he said the US Congress played a major role in this regard. He said the foreign policy of Pakistan was in the right direction and was in best national interests.

Senator Mushahid Hussain urged the need to institutionally strengthen the Foreign Office so that institutional decision making by National Security Committee, Defence Committee of the Cabinet and the Defence Council be promoted instead of a reactive ad-hoc approach which drifted from crisis to crisis.

He also underlined the need for harmony between Khaki and Mufti on issues of foreign policy and national security so that all relevant stakeholders were on the same page. In this regard, he referred to embarrassments like the killing of Osama bin Laden in May 2011 and Mulla Akhtar Mansour in May 2016 and there was an inexplicable 24-hour official silence on both the occasions. The members of Parliament presented comprehensive suggestions on parliamentary diplomacy which could achieve better results by efficiently promoting the national interest.

All the members expressed their views and gave specific proposals regarding issues of foreign policy and national security. Senator Nuzhat Sadiq asked for diversification of foreign policy with reference to relations with Russia. Senator Mushahid Hussain urged that given the fact that in the past, Parliament had played a proactive role in resolving the Salala crisis in 2011-12 by preparing new terms of engagement with the United States and the time had come to re-visit this issue.

He proposed that a Committee of the Whole of the Senate under the leadership of Senate chairman could discuss vital issues of national security by inviting all the relevant stakeholders so that an effective and doable way forward could be formulated. The meeting ended with a vote of thanks to Sartaj Aziz for being punctual and in regular attendance for all sessions and committee meetings of Parliament.

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