ISLAMABAD -  Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif will embark on a tour of regional countries – beginning with China – after the three-day envoys’ conference that will start here on September 5 (today) to discuss Pakistan’s foreign policy and future strategy.

The tour of important regional countries comes after the US President Donald Trump’s anti-Pakistan speech last month.

Asif will fly to China on September 8th to discuss the US’ new South Asia policy amid Trump’s allegations of “safe havens” for terrorists in Pakistan, officials at the foreign ministry told The Nation.

The foreign minister, who only recently took over the office, will then visit Russia, Iran and Turkey to discuss the “regional and the international” situation, the officials said.

Later this month, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi will fly to the US to address the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on September 21st or 23rd.

Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif will accompany the premier to the UNGA.  The speech of the premier has been prepared by the foreign ministry.

The government had summoned the envoys’ conference before Eidul Azha to discuss the regional and global issues amid tension with the US. A senior official at the foreign ministry said the Pakistani ambassadors from important cities in the world would attend the conference to discuss the foreign policy.  The official said the envoys’ conference would also discuss Trump’s anti-Pakistan speech, while other regional and global issues would also be on the agenda.

Last week, Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakaria said that the envoys’ conference would discuss foreign policy issues.  “Selected ambassadors of Pakistan will participate in the conference. The concluding session of the conference will be chaired by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. Some important foreign policy issues will be brainstormed in the conference,” he had said.

The spokesperson had said the foreign minister soon after assuming charge had decided to hold envoys’ conference to evaluate Pakistan’s potential strengths and to examine policy choices in view of the evolving geopolitical and regional situation.  “This is one of the regular envoys’ conferences that are traditionally held at the foreign ministry,” he had maintained.

Donald Trump, in his first formal address to the nation as commander-in-chief last month had warned Pakistan: “We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations. Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbour criminals and terrorists.”

Pakistan reacted sharply to Trump’s scathing criticism and rejected his claims that Islamabad was sheltering terrorists.

Pakistan’s civil and military leadership reminded Trump of the sacrifices rendered by Pakistan in the war on terror.

China and Russia had come forward in support of Pakistan after President Trump’s accusations.

The parliament also unanimously passed a resolution denouncing President Trump’s allegations.

“American President Donald Trump and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statements are threatening, we reject America’s new Afghan policy,” the summary of the resolution read.

Despite the tension with the US, Islamabad has been striving to save its relationship with Washington.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry said that Pakistan wanted the US to “accept its mistake” but was not aiming to severe the ties further.

One official said: “Pakistan is hoping that September will bring some good news on Pak-US ties. We are working to remove the misunderstandings.”

Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif had earlier told the National Assembly that the government had postponed exchange of visits between Pakistan and the US.

He said that closing off “ground and air lines of communication through Pakistan” would also be considered.

Last month, Pakistan postponed a visit by US acting Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells to discuss Washington’s new Afghan policy.

Lisa Curtis, who heads the South Asia policy wing at the National Security Council of the White House, was also scheduled to visit with Wells.

A meeting of Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was also cancelled.

Pakistan diplomats are however, engaged in back-channel talks to defuse the tension, while the civil and military leadership keeps the pressure on Washington on Trump’s controversial speech.

As a result of Pakistan’s strong reaction, US ambassador in Islamabad David Hale called on National Security Adviser Nasser Khan Janjua before Eidul Azha to “discuss the new US strategy on Afghanistan and South Asia, announced by President Trump on August 20th.”

Ambassador Hale clarified that the media had generally taken the policy piece by piece instead of interpreting it as a whole.

He maintained that President Trump did not blame Pakistan for failure in Afghanistan.

“It is wrong to assume that the policy recommended a purely military solution or that engagement with Pakistan had been ruled out,” Ambassador Hale was quoted as saying in an official statement issued after the meeting.

The military strategy, he said, was just one piece of the policy, which espoused a political solution.

“The US ambassador displayed a cooperative outlook and expressed his desire to work closely with Pakistan to find solutions,” the official statement said.

 

 

 

Shafqat Ali