Turkey's role in Pakistan-Afghanistan ties appreciated

- Pakistani Defense Minister Asif believes Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu's upcoming visit to Pakistan will boost bilateral relations.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AA) - Turkey is playing a critical role in normalizing relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif told The Anadolu Agency on Monday.

In an exclusive interview in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, Khawaja discussed Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's upcoming visit to Pakistan and evaluated the latest developments in the region.

He hoped Davutoglu's visit would give a new boost to bilateral relations.

Davutoglu will visit Islamabad between Feb. 17 and 18, where the fourth meeting of the Pakistan-Turkey High Level Strategic Cooperation Council will also take place. This will be Turkish premier's first visit to Pakistan since assuming his post in August, 2014. The council meeting is expected to focus on trade, energy, communications, transport, education and culture.

- Defense ties

The Pakistani defense minister expressed satisfaction at the close defense ties between the two countries.

"The cooperation in the defense sector is at a high level between Turkey and Pakistan; we share everything. Pakistan buys military equipment from Turkey and there are also joint workshops between the two countries. Davutoglu's visit will make bilateral cooperation even better," he said.

In Sept. 2014, Turkish Aerospace Industries delivered the last four out of the 41 upgraded F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan as part of the "Peace Drive" program between the two countries.

In Dec 2014, Turkey participated in a mega defense exhibition in Pakistan’s port city of Karachi, with the largest number of companies after China. Turkey’s state-controlled military software company, Havelsan, then also offered Pakistan its latest electronic voting technology.

- Relations with Afghanistan

The Pakistani minister said that the recent massacre of children at a school in Pakistan’s northern city of Peshawar had brought a sense of urgency in the country to deal with the menace of terrorism.

"We are pursuing the same doctrine but it has definitely added a sense of urgency, a sense of shock that something has to be done at a national level… we have also a long term plan that will change the ecology of terrorism in our region," he said.

He said Pakistan and Afghanistan had cooperated before too, but the Peshawar tragedy had now increased the level of cooperation.

Pakistani Taliban’s deadly school siege in Peshawar in December had killed more than 140 people, mostly children.

Khawaja said Pakistan was ready to help Afghanistan’s military. "It will be a breakthrough if we provide technical help to our Afghan brothers to cope with the vacuum after the withdrawal of international forces."

He acknowledged the trust deficit with Afghanistan in the past, but said there was now a headway after the 2014 presidential elections in Afghanistan that made Ashraf Ghani the new Afghan president.

"The level of trust has increased tremendously in the last four to five months. Frequent exchanges between heads of states and the top military bodies have helped the peace initiative in the region," he said.

The minister also highlighted Turkey’s role in breaking the ice between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and appreciated its positive role.

Turkey has played a key role in Afghanistan and is expected to continue its peacekeeping mission. In Jan 2015, the Turkish parliament authorized the government to continue posting Turkish troops in Afghanistan for two more years under a new NATO mission called Resolute Support. Turkish defense minister had said then that around 900 Turkish personnel would serve in Afghanistan as part of this mission.

- ISIL presence

About the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, Khawaja said the terrorist group was not visible in Pakistan, but the "ecology of the terrorism is always there."

Responding to criticism that Pakistan was not doing enough against terrorism, he refuted the allegations and said, "Pakistan's commitment to war against terrorism is at 100 percent."

"Our sacrifices are second to no other country in the world. We have suffered in so many ways; 50,000 of our armed forces have lost their lives, civilians have suffered, cities, villages have suffered. It seems that our friends in the west are not satisfied, which is something very sad. Since we started the operations (in Pakistan’s northern tribal region), the tension on our eastern board has increased," he said.

- India’s role

Khawaja also alleged that India wanted Pakistan to get caught up in both of its eastern and western fronts. He went on to claim that India was "directly or indirectly" helping the terrorists.

"But our neighbors should be supporting us and should be helping us. They are directly or indirectly aiding terrorism on our western front. But, terrorism is something which has no borders, they are threatening everybody," he added.

- Role of U.S., China

The defense minister also said that the U.S. "should not cast roles" in the region.

"This region should be Afghanistan's, Iran's, Pakistan's and China's responsibility," Khawaja said. "China is a big economic power, its responsibility is important. The U.S. should not just pick which it likes; it should leave the decisions to countries in the region," he added.

While Pakistan's pursues its energy pact with China, the defense minister also said Pakistan would like to see a civilian nuclear deal with the U.S. 

The Pakistani minister also mentioned Russia’s offer to provide equipment and training to Pakistani forces. "China is okay with it; we gave the green light to Russia," he added.


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