Tells NA number to be enhanced; Indian lobby,
Haqqani working against F-16 deal with US; Sartaj says Pakistan adopted balanced policy towards Saudi Arabia, Iran
ISLAMABAD: The government informed the National Assembly (NA) on Tuesday that Pakistan was following a balanced policy towards Saudi Arabia, Iran and all the other Muslim countries.
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz gave separate statements with regard to Pakistan’s role in the ongoing tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Khawaja Asif said at present, 1,180 Pakistan Army personnel of different ranks are in Saudi Arabia for the purpose of instruction and training, adding that the number will be enhanced.
He said a deal with the United States for the procurement of eight F-16 fighter jets was facing delays due to "some lobbyists working against us there". He said an Indian lobby, as well as Pakistan's former ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani, were "working against us" and had approached the US House of Representatives to lobby against the sale. "Some lobbyists there are working against us. They have approached the House of Representatives. The Indian lobby is there too and the former envoy to the US from the PPP government is also working against us, saying that these F-16s should not be given to us," he said.
Asif said that despite the lobbies' efforts, "as of today, the US is committed to providing us eight F-16 fighter jets", adding that the jets were instrumental during the Operation Zarb-i-Azb alongside the JF-17 Thunders.
The jets have a two-year lead time, he said, which means "if we start a contract today, they will give it in two years."
“It will be more appropriate to use the word ‘balanced’ than ‘neutral’ for our policy towards Saudi Arabia, Iran and other Muslim countries,” Sartaj Aziz, while giving a policy statement on the issue, said.
He pointed out that Iran’s response to the visit of Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif to Tehran was very positive. “The foreign minister of Iran immediately welcomed our prime minister's visit when I approached him to inform him that Pakistan’s premier wanted to come to Tehran,” he said.
The adviser on foreign affairs said it was wrong to say that the Foreign Office (FO) was not aware of the coalition announced by Saudi Arabia. Otherwise, why did the government immediately announce its support to the Saudi announcement?
He said it was not an alliance but a coalition and participation in it by any country would be voluntary. “It is a counter-terrorism coalition and the decision to take anti-terrorism measures was taken at the Kuwait conference,” Sartaj Aziz said.
Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif maintained that the 34-country alliance neither had any military objectives nor it was directed against any particular country. “The objective of the coalition is not of military nature and it is aimed at adopting a joint counter terrorism narrative,” he said.
He said it would be premature to say anything about the coalition which was in the process of evolution. “The scope of participation in the coalition and its working is yet to be determined,” he said.
However, he maintained that Pakistan would defend Saudi Arabia in case of any external or internal threat to the country. “We will be standing with our Saudi brothers if there is any external or internal threat to the country,” he said.
He said that Pakistan enjoys the closest cooperation and relations with Saudi Arabia in the field of defence than any other country and in this connection the two countries had signed five agreements on different occasions. The agreements pertain to export of defence equipment to Saudi Arabia, defence training, counter terrorism training, etc.
About the ongoing mission of mediation between the two countries, the defence minister said the meetings of the prime minister in Saudi Arabia have been very encouraging. “Now Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has reached Iran with the same spirit of seeing unity in the Muslim Ummah,” he said.
In response to concerns raised by Naveed Qamar of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the defence minister maintained it was not an anti-Shia alliance. “Iran has welcomed us in Tehran, therefore, our role in the whole issue should not be pre-judged,” he said.
He was hopeful that the mission of Pakistan for mediation between the two countries would be successful. “We will not hide anything from parliament and there will be complete transparency,” he maintained. Naveed Qamar had asked if Pakistan was a party to the 34-member alliance, how it was acting as an honest broker.