Pakistan will support all initiatives that help bring about peace in the region, Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa said on Wednesday during a telephone conversation with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
In a series of tweets, the spokesman of the armed forces, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, said Bajwa and Esper had discussed the prevailing situation in the Middle East following the killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike and Tehran’s retaliation through bombing of U.S. military bases in Iraq. “The secretary expressed that U.S. doesn’t want to seek conflict, but will respond forcefully if necessary,” he said.
According to the statement, Gen. Bajwa said Islamabad would prefer the situation to de-escalate. “We call upon all concerned to avoid rhetoric in favor of diplomatic engagement. We all have worked a lot to bring peace in the region by fighting against terrorism,” the Army chief was quoted as telling the U.S. official.
Reiterating his view that the current situation in Iran should not be allowed to derail the ongoing Afghanistan peace process, Gen. Bajwa said Pakistan would continue to play its role in ensuring the initiative succeeds. “We will continue to play our constructive part towards success of Afghan reconciliation process so that it doesn’t get derailed and region goes towards conflict resolution instead of new conflicts,” he was quoted as saying.
Referring to the conversation on Twitter, Esper praised the Army chief’s “sound counsel” during their talk. “The United States does not seek conflict, but will respond forcefully if necessary. Afghan President @ashrafghani and Pakistani General Bajwa both offered sound counsel and advice in calls today,” he said.
In a separate message, also posted on Twitter, Prime Minister Imran Khan—who has been noticeably absent from any U.S. contacts on the Middle East conflict, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also called Gen. Bajwa to inform him of the Iran strike—said he had asked Pakistan’s foreign minister and the Army chief to inform authorities in Iran, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. that Islamabad would not join any external conflict. “I have asked FM Qureshi to visit Iran, KSA & USA to meet with respective foreign ministers, Secretary of State; & COAS Gen Bajwa to contact relevant military leaders to convey a clear message: Pakistan is ready to play it’s role for peace but it can never again be part of any war,” he said.