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Dr Aafia's issue not raised with US, says FO

03 August, 2013

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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday said the issue of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist imprisoned in the US, had not been raised with the US. "There are some multilateral arrangements which, if acceded to, can provide a basis for discussions on this matter. The Ministry of Interior is currently examining this aspect," said the Foreign Office spokesman.

He said Pakistan was considering the possibility of prisoners extradition treaty with the US.On the question of Composite Dialogue with India, the spokesman said Pakistan had proposed the dates for talks with the neighbouring country.

Meanwhile, within hours of comments made by US Secretary of State John Kerry in Islamabad, Washington sent a correction through the spokesperson of the State Department clarifying his remarks. These remarks were made in an interview on the state channel that the US drone attacks would end 'very soon'.

Kerry is too senior and mature politician to have made a non-serious remark or made a slip. He said what he did on the state media, to hint at the things to come, which many say will commence from the summer of 2014, exactly one year after President Obama announced the new policy guidelines.

A senior Pakistani diplomat told that Kerry did not 'slip' over his measured remarks. "It was not a slip, these drone attacks will end."Initially, even the Foreign Office here had formally welcomed these remarks, short of admitting that they had finally convinced the United States on its position on drone attacks inside Pakistan.

A spokesman said that the US side had noted Pakistan's viewpoint while also hoping that these drone strikes will be stopped."I think the (drone) programme will end as we have eliminated most of the threats and continue to eliminate it. Well, I do (will end soon). And I think the (US) president has a very real timeline and we hope it's going to be very, very soon," were the exact comments of Kerry not denied by Washington.

Three hours later, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki clarified and not denied that the number of drone strikes had declined owing to the drawdown of American troops from Afghanistan and because of the progress in curtailing the al-Qaeda threat. "Today, the secretary referenced the changes that we expect to take place in that programme over the course of time, but there is no exact timeline to provide," she said in a statement.

Another comment from the State Department was: "In no way would we ever deprive ourselves of a tool to fight a threat 'if' it arises."Kerry indicated in his interview that he was basing his remarks also on a statement by President Obama, in which he had said in May: "Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organisations must continue." While unveiling a new policy guidance that tightened standards for drone strikes, Obama said: "But this war, like all wars, must end. That's what history advises. That's what our democracy demands."Later, on Friday, at a regular media briefing, spokesman at the Foreign Office said Pakistan has conveyed its principled stance on drone strikes to the US delegation.

"The US side has noted our viewpoint. We hope that these drone strikes will be stopped. Drone strikes kill combatants but also non-combatants. We have taken the position that the civilian impact of drone strikes has human rights and humanitarian implications. As for the details of those killed by drone strikes, I would refer you to Ministry of Interior," the spokesman remarked while refusing to name the terrorists taken out so far. He also qualified this by adding that Pakistan's law enforcement authorities take swift action against any individual or group committing acts of terrorism.

"On drone strikes, our position has been conveyed to the US side in clear terms. These drone strikes violate our sovereignty, violate international law, and are counterproductive as they undermine the collective efforts of the two countries to counter extremism and terrorism," he said.

While initially Washington was allergic to any form of discussion on cooperation on civil nuclear energy, a close aide of John Kerry, speaking to the media accompanying him, admitted that this was an issue of discussions and Pakistan agreed that this issue would be part of the ongoing discussions."One of the working groups deals with the strategic stability issues. That is where this subject will be discussed," he clarified.

When questioned on the Iran Pakistan pipeline project, the spokesman replied, "In the context of acute energy requirements of Pakistan, projects related to pipelines including IP pipeline assume high importance. This perspective of Pakistan was conveyed to the US side in the form of a non paper. No further discussions were held on this matter. Our energy requirements warrant that we explore all possible options, including the IP pipeline project. The rationale for giving a non paper to the US side was to convey our perspective, with particular reference to whether or not this project would attract US sanctions. In our legal assessment, the US sanctions do not apply on this project. Our side has shared our perspective and understanding of these issues with the US side."Again the US has already committed to contribute $200 million for Bhasha Dam.

"This and all other economic, investment, and trade related proposals will be discussed in the working groups that would be convening in the coming months. We do hope that there will be progress on these important issues as you rightly remarked that economic cooperation is the priority of the present government. The US side too has indicated interest in promoting tangible cooperation in these fields," said the spokesman.

To a query on the US demand on militants, the spokesman said Pakistan has been waging a valiant struggle against the forces of terrorism and extremism. "Our law enforcement authorities and the people of Pakistan have made huge sacrifices. We have also achieved significant successes against the terrorists. It has been our policy not to allow the territory of Pakistan to be used against any other country. Whenever our law enforcement authorities come across terrorists, action is taken," he replied.

But he added a rider that at the same time, Pakistan has been emphasising the need to have effective border management on the border with Afghanistan in order to check crossborder movement of militants.

"We believe that all concerned need to join hands and cooperate in order to deal with the challenges of militancy, extremism, and terrorism, which is our common enemy," he said.Overall, Pakistan says that the visit of the US Secretary of State has contributed to strengthening the Pakistan-US bilateral relationship.

"The strategic dialogue has been resumed. The five working groups under the ambit of the strategic dialogue will meet in the coming months culminating with the ministerial level strategic dialogue within six months. The working groups will discuss proposals and projects in energy, economic and finance, counter terrorism and other areas. We thus have a solid framework in place now to pursue tangible cooperation between the two countries," said the spokesman.

End.

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