ISLAMABAD: Defending the government’s decision to close the country’s border with Afghanistan, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif on Monday lashed out at the authorities in Kabul over their failure to take action against the terrorists using Afghan soil against Pakistan.
Delivering a fiery speech in the National Assembly on the opening day of its spring session, the minister declared that closing the border was Pakistan’s sovereign right and the government would take every step necessary to defend the “country’s interests”.
The minister took the floor when some opposition members, while speaking on matters of public importance, criticised the government for its decision to close the border with Afghanistan and termed it an act of victimisation against Pakhtuns.
Mocking the Afghan government’s claim that it did not have control over the areas being used by the terrorists, he said: “If you have no control over the territories, stop calling them part of Afghanistan.”
Defence minister says Afghan border can’t be used as ‘thoroughfare’
Mr Asif said that previously Pakistan used to face criticism over the use of North Waziristan’s territory by terrorists, but the government spent Rs2 billion to clear the area of terrorists.
Pointing out a nexus between India and Afghanistan, he alleged that India had outsourced the task of carrying out terrorist activities in Pakistan to Afghanistan. He informed the house that five soldiers had lost their lives early Monday morning due to an attack from Afghanistan’s side. “What else can we do other than closing down the border?” he asked.
“Our murderers are sitting on their border and you are pleading us not to close down the borders. We want to have a proper border management with Afghanistan like all the countries have with their neighbouring countries. We will not allow it (border) to be used as a thoroughfare. Closing the border is our right,” the minister declared in categorical terms.
He said there were nearly 200 entry and exit points along the country’s border with Afghanistan, of which 16 were active and nine most active. He said Afghanistan was “resisting” the efforts to implement a proper management system.
Mr Asif said Pakistan allowed entry to thousands of people from Afghanistan requiring minimum documents, whereas those who travelled from Pakistan to Afghanistan required proper documentation and the “whole process is not even-handed”.
The minister asked the opposition parties not to do politics on the issue since “it is a national security matter”. He said the government believed that the peace in Pakistan and Afghanistan was interlinked, adding that Pakistan was still ready to cooperate with Afghanistan in the war against terrorism.
Imran under attack
The minister indirectly criticised Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan for opposing the idea of holding the final of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) in Lahore. Without naming Mr Khan, he said the people turned out in a large number to witness the match and thus sent a clear message to the terrorists and those who had been terming the decision of holding the match in Pakistan “foolishness”.
Mr Asif’s remarks agitated the otherwise peaceful opposition members, particularly those belonging to the PTI as a number of party members sought the floor to respond to the minister’s remarks.
Sensing the sensitivity of the matter, Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi gave the floor to Leader of the Opposition Syed Khurshid Shah, instead of any PTI lawmaker.
The deputy speaker later allowed PTI’s parliamentary leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi to speak after Mr Shah in a bid to avert what could have become a confrontation.
The opposition leader said a cold war being fought between Afghanistan and Pakistan and the current situation warranted convening of an in-camera session of parliament. He said the country was facing serious challenges on the diplomatic front, but the government had not so far appointed a foreign minister.
Mr Shah regretted that the government wanted to revive the military courts due to the ongoing “insurgency” in the country and a new operation with the name Raddul Fasaad had already been launched, but parliament was being kept in the dark.
The PPP leader said that by organising the PSL final in a peaceful manner, the government had not done any favour because it was its fundamental duty to provide a peaceful environment to its citizens for sports.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the opposition acknowledged the defence minister’s viewpoint about the involvement of India in Afghanistan, but it believed that “confrontation” with Kabul would not resolve the issue. Mr Qureshi, who had served as foreign minister during the previous PPP regime, advised the government to engage Afghanistan.
Earlier, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) lawmakers staged a token walkout in protest against the alleged victimisation of the party in Karachi.