New York: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi while speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) think tank on Wednesday has said that Pak –US relationship is 70 years strong and it is not defined by the conflict in Afghanistan alone.
PM Abbasi’s visit to New York to attend the 72nd session of United Nations General Assembly comes at a time when tensions between US and Pakistan are running high in the wake of Trump’s Afghan and South Asia policy.
During an hour-long session at CFR with David Sanger, the national security correspondent for ‘The New York Times’, Abbasi said that Pakistan intends to remain engaged and partner with the US in order to defeat terror in the region and find lasting peace in Afghanistan. “We have engaged with the US. We continue to engage with them to resolve any differences that come up and move forward,” he said.
Once again denying President Donald Trump’s assertion that Pakistan provides sanctuaries to terrorists, the prime minister said, “nobody wants peace in Afghanistan more than Pakistan”.
He said that Pakistan has asked Afghanistan to provide coordinates for any terrorist sanctuary that it alleges exists in Pakistan and “we will take action against that sanctuary”.
Pakistan has suffered $120 billion worth of economic losses due to the “vicious” war the country has been involved in to rout the militants, said the PM, adding that the impression that Pakistan is fighting the war against terrorism with foreign resources is wrong. “We fought the war with our own resources and we defeated the terrorists,” he said.
Abbasi claimed that Pakistan has never billed the US forces for ground or air logistics across its territory. In response to a question, he said Pakistan is currently not hosting any American bases on its soil.
Answering a question about the presence of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed on political campaign posters during recently held by-election in Lahore, the prime minister said the Election Commission of Pakistan will take action against the independent candidate who used Saeed’s photo during his campaign, “which is illegal to do”.
Noting that the candidate had polled about four per cent of the vote, Abbasi said: “We do not condone such activity, and we will take action where it’s required.”
Asked by a Human Rights Watch official whether he would speak out against Pakistan’s blasphemy law, Abbasi said it is “only up to the parliament to amend or change the laws”.
Answering another question, the prime minister said Pakistan wants normalised relations with India but the “basic core issue” of Kashmir has to be resolved before the two sides can engage. He said Pakistan sees “zero” political or military role for India in Afghanistan as it is likely to complicate the situation in the region.
Addressing US concerns over the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, the prime minister said the country has a “robust and very secure” command-and-control system for its strategic nuclear assets with civilian oversight.
Stressing that Pakistan does not have any “fielded tactical nuclear weapons”, Abbasi said Pakistan has developed short-range nuclear weapons in response to India’s Cold Start doctrine. “It’s a very secure environment in which our strategic weapons are controlled and held,” he said.
Abbasi had met US Vice President Mike Pence on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday afternoon, launching a process that both hoped would help rebuild ties between the two nations, once close allies in the war against terror.
As the first step, the US expressed its desire to send a delegation to Pakistan for talks on bilateral relations while Pakistan vowed to stay engaged with the US despite differences. Both sides also hoped that the process initiated on Tuesday would halt the downward trajectory that followed the Aug 21 launching of the new US policy for Afghanistan and South Asia.
At a news briefing for the Pakistani media, Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua said the Pence-Abbasi meeting was “an ice-breaker.”