Pakistan has secure nuclear programme, under civilian oversight: PM

NEW YORK: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi Wednesday said Pakistan had a fully secure, reliable and robust nuclear command and control system under a full civilian oversight.

He was responding to questions after a talk here at the prestigious Council for Foreign Relations, an event that the CFR streamed live on its website and on Facebook Live.

“Our command and control system is as secure as anyone else has,” he told the participants. “Let there be no doubt about that”.

It was Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s first such interaction at a think tank since he assumed his office last month. Abbasi is in New York to lead the Pakistan delegation at the United Nations General Assembly session.

He said Pakistan was a responsible nuclear state and had a track record of ensuring that its nuclear assets do not fall into wrong hands.

Responding to a question about the country’s civilian nuclear power programme, he said the government wanted to diversify and utilise all resources to meet the energy needs.

To another question, he said Pakistan had only short range nuclear weapons to counter any threat from India. Periodic meetings, he said,

were held and a regular review undertaken to ensure the safety and security of the country’s nuclear assets.

Prime Minister Abbasi said the issue of cross-border incursions from Afghanistan was very serious and recalled that five Afghans were arrested

in the recent past for launching attacks inside Pakistan territory. He said Pakistan had proposed to Afghanistan joint patrols along the border and pointed out that for almost a 350 km long stretch there was not even a single Afghan soldier to man it.

“These huge tracts of land are a haven for drug smugglers and terrorists,” he said and dismissed the Afghan allegations of any safe havens of terrorists within the Pakistan territory. He mentioned the

large scale military operation launched by the Pakistan Army against the terrorists and said over 200,000 of its troops were on the hunt for any miscreants.

He said without proper border management the issue of cross-border terrorism would be hard to control and that was why Pakistan had started fencing to protect its territory. He also mentioned the presence of over three million Afghan refugees in the country.

He said Pakistan had an abiding interest for peace in its neighbourhood. “We seriously want to see stability in Afghanistan and desire a negotiated Afghan-led solution.”

“We believe war is no solution,” Prime Minister Abbasi saidm and added that Pakistan was open to any suggestions that would bring peace to Afghanistan.

He said the Taliban were Afghan nationals and had nothing to do with Pakistan. “It is for the Afghans to find a way how to deal with them.”

When asked about relations with the United States of America, Prime Minister Abbasi said, “We do not want these to be Afghan-centric”.

“Pakistan wants to move forward and remain engaged with the United States,” he said about his meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence.

He, however, made it clear that there was a need to understand the sacrifices Pakistan had given to make the world a safer place to live in.

Prime Minister Abbasi had his first ever high level contact with the US leadership following the blunt allegations against Pakistan by President Donald Trump in his announcement of the new strategy on Afghanistan and the South Asia.

He mentioned the high death toll the country had to bear, besides the loss of 120 billion dollars due to its role in the fight against terrorism. He said Pakistan did not even bill the United States for the

use of its air and land routes, as it sincerely believed in defeating terrorism.

He said very little payments had been made to Pakistan in terms of military assistance. He, however, was appreciative of the role of the USAID in undertaking several projects in health and social sectors in Pakistan.

“The world needs to understand that it is the only country that is fighting terror on the ground,” he added.

When asked whether his country would allow US bases in Pakistan, Prime Minister Abbasi said all states should respect the sovereignty of others and added, “I believe there is no need for any bases anymore.”

He said Pakistan could not condone drone strikes to any targets on its soil.

To a question about the releaser of Dr Afridi, who was arrested after the US raid on a hideout to take out Osama bin Laden, he said he was in detention and under trial for violating the laws of the land. He denied that he had any health issues and said it was his duty that if he had some information, he should have shared it with Pakistani security forces.

The Prime Minister said Pakistan desired equal treatment by the United States of America towards it and India.

Responding to a question, he said the Indian aggression along the Line of Control was aimed at diverting attention from its atrocities against the civilian population of Jammu and Kashmir. He said the Indian occupation forces were engaged in “unbelievable atrocities” and “crimes against humanity”.

He said Pakistan desired to engage with India on the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir. “We want normal relations with India, on the basis of trust and respect with India,” Abbasi said.

To another question, he said, “Pakistan does not foresee any political or military role of India in Afghanistan.” He, however, added that India already had trade with Afghanistan.

When asked to compare his political party with that of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, he said the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) believed in the sanctity of ballot, and that a political change needed to be brought through ballot and not by street power. Only the people of Pakistan were to judge in next summers, what would be their choice, he added.

The talk was moderated by David E Sanger, a national security correspondent for the New York Times and one of its senior writers. With a team of his Times colleagues, he was the winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting.