ISLAMABAD - Pakistan on Thursday said it was part of the Saudi Arabia-led military alliance to counter terrorism.

Addressing a weekly media briefing here, Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakaria said that the basic purpose of the force was to counter terrorism. “Terms of reference of counter-terrorism operations were finalised. We are already part of it (the alliance),” he said.

On former army chief Raheel Sharif’s appointment as the commander of the Saudi-led military alliance, the spokesperson said: “I have seen the statement made by the Minister of Defence (Khawaja Mohammed Asif). I don’t think after what has been said by him and the things which have been discussed in the Parliament, I have anything to add.” Asked, if the Saudis had contacted Pakistan diplomatically on Raheel Sharif’s job, he replied: “I am not aware.”

Earlier, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif had said that the decision to appoint Raheel Sharif as head of the 39-nation coalition was an administrative decision, not linked to Yemen crisis.

He maintained the alliance was purely against terrorism saying the government will defend it in the parliament if the opposition raised the issue.

To a question on tension with Afghanistan, Zakaria said Kabul must know that the blame game will not serve any purpose. “Pakistan has continued to emphasise that effective border management is important for combating terrorism and preventing cross-border movement of terrorists. The blame game will not help peace efforts,” he said.

He said the London meeting between the Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and Afghan National Security Advisor Hanif Atmer, underscored the importance for a bilateral cooperation mechanism to address counter-terrorism and border management issues in an amicable manner.

“I think both the sides have realised that terrorism is a common threat and that we need to take necessary measures to check terrorism as it is affecting people of both the countries. For this to happen, effective border control management is an imperative,” he added.

Regarding the process of talks right now, “we avail all opportunities to engage with each other and have a clearer understanding of each other concerns as happened in London when Adviser met Afghan NSA, an occasion afforded by CMAG (Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group) as well as on a number of other occasions.”

About Russia’s efforts to curb the increasing threat of Daesh and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan, he said the Quadrilateral Coordination Group was set up in light of the meetings on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia Conference in Islamabad in December 2015 to make concerted efforts for peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

“The 3 facilitating countries in QCG; viz. China, the US and Pakistan made efforts towards encouraging Taliban to come to the negotiating table. In our view, QCG remains an effective forum. A number of other processes also exist for promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan. Recently, Russia took an initiative of organising six-party regional consultations that were held on February 15. Now it has planned to convene, 12 party talks in Moscow in mid-April where the Central Asian countries and the US have also been invited. Pakistan will participate in the forthcoming Moscow meeting in accordance with our policy of constructive engagement at all forums relating to Afghan peace,” he said.

Zakaria said a meeting between the Indian coast guards and Pakistan maritime agency will be held from April 16-19 in New Delhi. “This is a yearly meeting. The last meeting was held in July 2016 in Islamabad, when the delegation of Indian coast guards visited Pakistan,” he added.

He condemned the Indian treatment of its Christians, Muslims and other minorities. “It is happening as the Indian Government in New Delhi stands back and watches. The international community needs to take notice of extremely vitriolic statements by those in power in India, like Chief Minister Yogi Aditynath,” he said. The genocide of Muslims in Gujarat during 2002, he said, was still fresh in people’s minds.

To a question, he said Jinnah House in Mumbai was the residence with ownership of the father of the nation, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. “Pakistan has repeatedly expressed its desire to take possession of the property. India should respect the ownership rights of Pakistan in this regard. We also expect that Indian Government will fulfil its obligation of protecting that property and its upkeep,” he contended.

As regards taking up this issue with India, “we have already taken it up with Indian authorities, and it is an ongoing matter.”

He said Pakistan continued to suffer from Indian-sponsored and financed terrorism. Kulbhushan Yadav’s arrest and public confession of Indian state agencies’ involvement in subversive activities and terror financing is a case in point.

“Let us not forget that the Samjhauta Express terrorist attack of Feb. 2007 was planned and carried out by Swami Assemanand, RSS activist, who confessed and also admitted that Col. Purohit, then a serving Indian Army officer, was also involved,” he said.

To a question about former ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani’s diplomatic immunity, the spokesperson said it was important to understand what diplomatic immunity meant. “Any diplomat, serving or non-serving, has no diplomatic immunity within his or her country,” he explained.

He said visa policies are made by Ministry of Interior, after taking a number of aspects into consideration.

Regarding a question on Indian atrocities in Kashmir, Zakaria said much had already been said in this regard. “We are also hearing saner voices from within India, raising serious concerns of Indian Government’s maltreatment of defenceless Kashmiris, and calling for a just resolution of the Kashmir dispute,” he said, adding the world must take notice of the human rights violations in held Kashmir.

Zakaria said Kashmir remained the most militarised area in the world, with a ratio of civilians to uniformed personnel 17:1. He said the deployment of additional 20,000 paramilitary personnel to the already present 700,000 fully equipped Indian occupation forces will not solve the problem.

“The only solution to the Kashmir dispute remains the implementation of the UNSC resolutions for the realisation of Kashmiris’ right to self-determination,” he added.

About India’s refusal to play cricket series with Pakistan, he said: “I have said earlier that they have referred to some issues, which are impeding their decision. We have said very clearly that we need to talk to each other because the dialogue is the only way to resolve issues between the two countries.”

Zakaria said the bilateral relationship with China was diverse and wide-ranging, and encompassed the areas of cooperation in defence, cultural, economic and education, to name a few.

“Our bilateral trade has exceeded $19 billion last year. This relationship has been transformed, and taken to another level by CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor), which is considered a game changer in terms of economic development for not only Pakistan and China but also the entire region,” he said.

To a question, he said Pakistan Bureau of Statistics was inviting national and international teams for to observe Census - 2017 operation. “Under this arrangement, UNFPA has been invited by Pakistan Bureau of Statistics to observe the census field operation,” he said.

Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua held an introductory meeting with the journalists prior to the weekly media briefing by the spokesperson. The Secretary said she expected cooperation by the media.