Strategic dialogue with US to resume in Feb: Aziz


ISLAMABAD: The strategic dialogue between Pakistan and the United States, suspended in 2010, will resume by February in the perspective of post-2014 situation in the region after the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. This was stated by Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz who was winding up a debate in the Senate on Wednesday on foreign policy with particular reference to the prime minister’s visit to the US, drone attacks and repercussions of the expected reduction in the number of forces in Afghanistan next year. He said that four of the six working groups which were scheduled to meet before start of the strategic dialogue had already met.

The talks were suspended after the Raymond Davis episode, attack on Salala military post and the US raid in Abbottabad.

Mr Aziz claimed that the government had for the first time taken a clear stance on the issue of drone attacks and conveyed to the US the concern of the Pakistani nation.

He informed the house that the UN General Assembly was about to adopt a resolution regarding use of force during the war against terrorism that would strengthen Pakistan’s position on the drone attacks.

He said the first priority of foreign policy was to have a “peaceful neighbourhood”.

He claimed that there had been considerable reduction in anti-Pakistan sentiments in Afghanistan after three meetings between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Hamid Karzai, and a new border management system was being prepared to check movement on the Pakistan-Afghan border.

He said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had agreed that elections in his country should not be contested on anti-Pakistan rhetoric. He expressed the hope that the peace process with India would resume soon after the elections. Mr Aziz assured the house that the new national security policy would be placed before parliament.

He rejected a perception that five people, including Prime Minister Sharif, were running the foreign ministry and said he had all the powers of a federal minister.

About the US-Taliban talks in Doha, he said Pakistan had facilitated the process but, according to his information, the process had been disrupted and it would not go ahead. He did not say anything about the government’s policy for talks with Taliban which, according to him, concerned the interior ministry.

Earlier, giving a policy statement on the issue of circular debt and agreement with the International Monetary Fund, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar claimed that the government had saved 14 per cent interest amount being paid for delay in payment of Rs500 billion circular debt to independent power producers and others left by the previous government.

He said 1,700MW had been added to the national grid after the payment of circular debt. He criticised the opposition for its criticism of the government’s economic policies and claimed that things had started improving. He said details about the agreement with the IMF and circular debt payment were being placed on the ministry’s official website.

Mr Dar informed the house that the government had abolished the secret funds of 32 of the 34 departments. He said the PML-N government was clearing the mess left by the previous PPP government.

Responding to Mr Dar’s remarks, Leader of Opposition in the Senate Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan said the finance minister had ignored the prevailing price hike in his speech and challenged him to make the budget of a common man with a monthly salary of Rs10,000.

“How a person who cannot make the budget of a common man can make the budget for 180 million people,” he said while rejecting Mr Dar’s claim about the poor performance of the PPP government.

Speaking on a point of order, Tahir Mashhadi of the MQM drew the attention of the house to reports about two Chinese nuclear power plants being set up in Karachi. He said there were reports that these nuclear plants called “ASP 1000” were “untested and untried”.

He demanded that the plants be set up outside the city and far from population to avoid any mishap caused by radiation and contamination of water.