In a reflection of growing civil-military disconnect on crucial foreign policy and security matters, two key government ministers expressed ignorance in the Senate on Tuesday over the outcome of the army chief’s weekend visit to Afghanistan.
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, who had specially been called to the Senate for the purpose, made a statement on the Indian prime minister’s surprise visit to Lahore, but passed the responsibility of briefing the senators on the visit of Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif to Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, who was not present in the house. It was during an exchange of remarks between Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani and Mr Aziz on the matter when Defence Minister Khawaja Asif entered the house, but only to seek some time for the briefing. The defence minister said he would speak on Gen Sharif’s visit only after getting some input from his ministry for which he required at least one day. The chairman directed him to brief the house on Thursday. Interestingly, when Mr Rabbani inquired from Khawaja Asif if he wanted to have an in camera session on the issue, the minister said he would let the Senate secretariat know, if needed. Opposition senators expressed dissatisfaction over the adviser’s statement on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Lahore. The house witnessed an exchange of some interesting remarks between Mr Aziz and the chairman when the former took the seat after stating that the ISPR had already issued a statement on the army chief’s visit and that further information could be provided by the defence minister. “If the foreign ministry has abdicated the talks with Kabul to the Ministry of Defence, then I will talk to the defence minister,” Mr Rabbani said.
The Senate chairman also told Mr Aziz that it was not appropriate for him to quote the ISPR statement, saying that the press releases were meant for newspapers and the house wanted to seek more information than that. He said the whole house supported Pakistan-India talks, but it wanted to know their details and impact. Earlier, Mr Aziz in his statement informed the house about the background of the meeting between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart in Lahore, saying the process was initiated by the Indian prime minister when he had an informal brief chat with Mr Sharif recently in Paris during a conference on the climate change. Terming Mr Modi’s visit a good development, the adviser said the meetings between the leadership of the two countries had brought a positive impact on their formal talks. The adviser said it was not a “state visit” but an informal and goodwill visit, and was aimed at further developing the existing relationship between the two countries. He, however, said that no-one should have “unrealistic expectations” from these meetings as there could be progress on some issues soon, while it could take time for progress on others. He said as per a decision of the two prime ministers, foreign secretaries of the two countries would meet in the second week of January in which a roadmap for the future talks on agreed 10 identified points for the next six months would be drawn up. Mr Aziz was of the view that except reaction from some quarters in India, the visit of Mr Modi had been welcomed by majority of people in the two countries and the international community.
He said security advisers and foreign secretaries of the two countries met in Kathmandu on Dec 6 and discussed wide-ranging issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, counter-terrorism, and peace along the Line of Control. The adviser refuted media reports that the visa requirements were not fulfilled during the Dec 25 visit of the Indian delegation. He said 11 people had accompanied Mr Modi to the residence of Mr Sharif in Raiwind and they all passed through the immigration process. Even the entry and exit stamps had been put on their passports, he said. He said more than 100 other members of Mr Modi’s delegation had stayed at the airport and there was no need of immigration for them. Mr Aziz said no secret meeting was held between Mr Sharif and Mr Modi in Nepal as reported in some sections of the press, saying the two prime ministers had had five meetings since the BJP’s taking over the government in India. Meanwhile, during a debate on an adjournment motion on the imposition of Rs40 billion additional taxes, opposition members lashed out at the government for its “poor economic policies”. Minister for Climate Change Zahid Hamid, in his winding up debate on behalf of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, informed the house about the reasons for the decision to impose new taxes. He said the decision would not have any impact on the common man.