We need to put our house in order: Asif

KARACHI: Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said on Tuesday that the military and civil leadership are on the same page that Pakistan has to make a clean break from its past.

“We need to tell our friends that we have improved our house. We need to bring our house in order to prevent facing embarrassment on the international level,” the minister said while speaking on Geo News programme Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Kay Sath. Khawaja Asif remarked that countries shouldn’t put pressure on countries they share a close relationship with.

He accepted that Pakistan had made some mistakes in the past, adding that the country should not have participated in the proxy war in Afghanistan during Ziaul Haq’s tenure as well as the war on terror.“We need to break our false image. We have no stake but there is baggage. We need to accept the history and correct ourselves,” he said.

The minister also said that he doesn’t get why people are so surprised over the terrorist names included by the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in the list. Those organisations are also banned in Pakistan. During Eidul Azha, specific instructions were issued that no hides would be given to these banned organisations, he added.

Earlier, Khawaja Asif had said the BRICS declaration, which named terrorist groups in the South Asia region, cannot be termed as a failure of the country’s foreign policy.Speaking on Geo News programme Capital Talk, Khawaja Asif said the declaration was not against Pakistan. However, he added that a new foreign policy will have to be formed with regards to the regional situation. Asif further said the policy should only be meant to safeguard the interests of the nation and its dignity.

Leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa condemned “terrorism in all its forms and manifestations” at the 9th BRICS Summit in China on Monday. The member states released the Xiamen declaration expressing concern over the security situation in the region.

“We strongly condemn terrorist attacks resulting in death to innocent Afghan nationals….We, in this regard, express concern on the security situation in the region and violence caused by the Taliban, ISIL/Daesh, al-Qaeda and its affiliates including East Turkistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, TTP and Hizbut Tahrir,” said the declaration.

Asif also denied reports of China backing India’s stance at the BRICS Summit on Monday, reiterating that China was a trustworthy friend of Pakistan.Separately, the Foreign Office, while rejecting the observations of BRICS joint statement, stated that that Pakistan is “seriously concerned” about the threat posed by terrorism and extremism in the South Asian region.

“Many terrorist groups based in the region — including in Afghanistan — such as the (banned) Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and its associates like Jamaatul Ahrar (JuA) have been responsible for extreme acts of violence against Pakistani people,” the spokesman said.

“We are deeply concerned at the presence of (banned) groups like Daesh, East Turkestan Islamic Movement and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, in the ungoverned spaces in Afghanistan as they pose a threat to peace and security in the region.”

He further said that Pakistan was concerned about the rise of extremist ideologies and intolerance in the region, which have been “encouraging social stratification and systematic targeting of minorities”.

Meanwhile, a three-day envoys conference commenced at the Foreign Office on Tuesday with Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif addressing the inaugural session and setting the tone while brainstorming to find answers to the multiple challenges in fast-changing geo-political realities of the region and the world at large that Pakistan faces.

While these envoys conferences are a normal feature at the Foreign Office, this time around there is added urgency with President Donald Trump’s new policy for the region on top of the agenda, putting Pakistan on the defensive. Added to this is the recently held BRICS leaders summit which named militant groups allegedly based in Pakistan and said that this was a regional security concern.

Ambassadors from United States, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Afghanistan, Iran and India are attending the conference.Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi will chair the concluding session and offer guidelines to the senior diplomats. No dramatic changes are expected but it will certainly be a test of the government how it steers itself through multiple challenges, especially in the region.

However, the Foreign Office for reasons known best to it is keeping the opening statement of the Foreign Office a closely guarded secret and refusing to release his remarks to the media. This is certainly a departure from the past. Some reports reaching The News speak of the foreign minister reiterating the government’s stated policy that there was no military solution of the Afghan conflict.

“Pakistan is a peace loving country and wants improved tries with neighbouring countries on equivalent basis. Peace in Afghanistan is in the interest of Pakistan,” reports quoted him as telling his envoys.

However, when the spokesman at the Foreign Office was approached to comment on these reports, he dismissed them as speculation. The foreign minister also, while speaking about the government’s Kashmir policy, said that Pakistan would continue moral, political and diplomatic support for Kashmiri brethren, adding that there is a need to raise the issue of human rights violations in the Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) at all international forums.

Envoys on the first day discussed options that the government had while voicing their concerns and offered suggestions on how to move ahead as Pakistan nevertheless also enjoys certain strengths in its foreign policy.

Meanwhile, Minister for Defence Khurram Dastagir, while rejecting a declaration of BRICS summit, said that Pakistan has no ‘safe havens’ for terrorists on its soil and the world community has not recognised Pakistan’s successes in the war against terrorism. “We reject the declaration at the BRICS Summit,” he said during a meeting of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Defence.

The meeting of the standing committee also passed a resolution to condemn the new US policy against Pakistan.The minister told newsmen afterwards that 40 percent of Afghanistan was a safe haven for terrorists, adding that Pakistan has taken action against all groups on its soil and only the remnants of some were left.

Quoting a report by the US inspector general for Afghan reconstruction, Dastagir said of the 407 Afghan districts, only 57 percent were under their control.“Our foreign minister will consult regional partners and then proceed to the US,” he said when asked to comment on Pakistan’s plan following President Trump’s recent anti-Pakistan tirade. “This will result in better engagement as we want to resolve all matters peacefully since any American action in Pakistan will cause instability,” he added.

To a question, the minister said strict surveillance was being conducted of Pakistan’s ground, aerial and naval borders, adding that the country faces no danger of foreign aggression.On the humanitarian crisis facing the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Dastagir said the issue was being reviewed and a policy will soon be announced on the matter.

The committee passed a resolution strongly condemning the hostile and threatening statement against Pakistan made by President Trump and Gen John W Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan.

The resolution rejected the claim of the US president regarding Pakistan’s safe haven for terrorists. “Why should they go far away to Pakistan as it would be far easier to set up safe havens in the 40 percent area of Afghanistan not under the control of the Afghan government,” he said.The committee further rejected Trump’s claim that billions of dollars in aid had been spent on Pakistan, stating that Pakistan’s economy had suffered a loss of more than $123 billion.

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