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Pakistan to Play Peacemaker in Middle East: Asif Ghafoor

by Newsweek Pakistan

Armed forces’ spokesman says Islamabad will not join either side in the simmering conflict between Iran and the U.S.

Pakistan’s armed forces on Sunday said the country would not take any sides in the simmering conflict between the United States and Iran, adding that Islamabad would prefer to play the role of peacemaker.

During an interview broadcast on ARY News, Inter-Services Public Relations Director-General Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor said that Pakistan had expended much effort to stamp out terrorism on its soil and would not allow anyone to use it’s territory to target other states. He slammed as “propaganda” and “fake news” reports that Islamabad might be aligning toward the U.S. in light of Washington resuming military training for Pakistan’s soldiers.

“Islamabad and Washington were in talks for the last four or five months over the issue and linking it as Pakistan aligning with U.S. is Indian propaganda,” he said. “[The] Pakistan Army is a responsible and professional force and has exercised restraint despite provocative statements from Indian leadership,” he added.

The ISPR spokesman’s statement followed a U.S. strike in Baghdad on Friday that targeted top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani. Tehran has declared the assassination an act of war and vowed retaliation. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa after the attack, informing him that the strike was undertaken to protect U.S. personnel and property.

In his conversation with ARY, Ghafoor reiterated that the Army chief had urged the U.S. official to cease actions that would distract from the ongoing Afghanistan peace process. “The region is making progress toward peace from a very bad situation and the Baghdad incident is detrimental to the peace efforts in the region,” he quoted the COAS as telling Pompeo. “General Bajwa has an important role with regards to regional security and Afghanistan peace process and Pakistan doesn’t want to see another conflict in this region,” the spokesman added.

Also on Sunday, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi echoed the Army spokesman, saying Pakistan would not let its soil be used against any other state, nor would it become part of any regional conflict.

During telephonic conversations with his counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Iran, the U.A.E. and Turkey, Qureshi highlighted Pakistan’s deep concern over recent developments in the Middle East in light of the American assassination of Iran’s Soleimani. He underscored the need to avoid conflict, exercise maximum restraint, and de-escalate tensions.

The foreign minister reiterated the Foreign Office’s call for all parties involved to abide by the U.N. Charter and principles of international law to settle differences through peaceful means. Reiterating Pakistan’s readiness to continue to play a role in maintaining regional peace and stability, he said Islamabad hoped that the conflict between Tehran and Washington would not impact the ongoing Afghanistan peace process.

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