Won’t go with unilateral action

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– FM reassures Senate of neutral stance in US-Iran conflict

By Ajmal Khan Yousafzai
ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Monday that Pakistan does not support any side and will not become a party to the the US-Iran crisis. While giving a policy statement in the Senate today, the foreign minister spoke regarding Pakistan’s role after the killing of top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani and other officials by a US drone strike on Friday in Baghdad. The foreign minister said that Pakistan will not become a part of the Iran and US crisis. “Our policy is not to add fuel to the fire, neither will we become a part of it,” said the foreign minister. He said that Pakistan works on its set of principles, adding that the region of Middle East cannot afford to have a new war. “If there is fire then even we cannot escape the farreaching effects,” he added. The foreign minister, in his address, said that Pakistan has cautioned Iran against any further escalation. A day earlier, the FM held telephonic conversations with counterparts from Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Turkey Sunday as rising tensions between Iran and the US continue to threaten peace in the Middle East. Qassem Soleimani was killed on Friday in a US drone strike on his convoy at Baghdad airport, an attack that took US-Iranian hostilities into uncharted waters and stoked concern about a major conflagration. Soleimani was the architect of Tehran’s overseas clandestine and military operations as head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promised on Friday that Iran would seek harsh revenge for his death. Trump responded to that and other strong words from Tehran with a series of tweets on Saturday, saying Iran “is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets”. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Monday briefed the Senate on tensions in the Middle East that arose after the killing of top Iran commander Qasem- Soleimani in a US air strike, making it clear that Pakistan will not become party to the regional conflict. The minister began his speech by recounting how the crisis-like situation in the region unfolded, starting with the killing of an American contractor in a rocket attack in Iraq that led the US to carry out strikes on an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia. The foreign minister was directed by the Senate chairman to brief the upper house on developments on the foreign policy front last week. Qureshi told the Senate that according to regional experts, the repercussions of the strike that killed Soleimani could be more severe than the 2011 raid that killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the 2019 killing of militant Islamic State group chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He said Iraq had decided to send its foreign minister to the United Nations to record protest because in their view the strike violated international law and UN charter. The Pakistani government presented its stance on the development on January 3. “I decided to contact the important foreign ministers of the region. Yesterday I talked in detail with the Iranian foreign minister and presented Pakistan’s stance on the incident and gained information from him,” he said, adding that he also spoke with the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. “The situation in the Middle East is very sensitive, fluid and concerning.” He recalled that the Iranain supreme leader has promised revenge over Soleimani’s killing while Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has termed this strike as “international terrorism”. Iran’s foreign minister, meanwhile, considers this act as dramatically escalating the regional situation. The Pentagon, on the other hand, acknowledged that the strike was carried out on the direction of US President Donald Trump, Qureshi said. He added that the US State Department had said it was primarily a preemptive action and that Washington had reports that Soleimani was planning to attack US soldiers and diplomats. “The White House stated that it was a ‘decisive defensive action’. These tensions have not arisen overnight but the situation has been intensifying over a period of time,” the foreign minister said, adding that this specific act by the US has aggravated the situation in the region. He noted that the US claims that their action was “preventive” in nature and was not meant to ignite a war, and now they say they are ready to deescalate the situation. “But at the same time they (Washington) have warned that if Iran retaliates, our response will be even stronger than before.” Foreign Minister Qureshi laid before the Senate 11 points which he said reflected why Pakistan is concerned about the US-Iran tensions: The incident will further destabilise the region, especially the situation in Iraq and Syria The crisis could have a negative impact on the Afghanistan peace process and Pakistan’s efforts in this regard could be undone The situation in Yemen could get out of hand and attacks by Houthis on Saudi Arabia could increase Hezbollah, which has in the past conducted rocket attacks, could go ahead and strike Israel.