Talks with militants to continue: Mukhtar
* Defence minister says lack of suicide attacks proves talks policy successful
* Says economic crisis could prove worst threat to welfare
By Sajjad Malik
RAWALPINDI: Pakistan will continue in its efforts for a negotiated settlement in the Tribal Areas despite any ‘concerns’ expressed by the United States and the United Kingdom, Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar said on Tuesday.
“High-ranking officials and lawmakers of the US and UK have expressed concerns (over talks with the militants) during their recent visits, but we have to address our security concerns first,” he told Daily Times during an exclusive interview at the Ministry of Defence.
He said the threats of extremism and terrorism was decreasing and terrorists had conducted no major suicide attack since the new government came into power after February 18.
Successful: “This means that our policy of negotiation and talks with militants has been successful,” Mukhtar said, adding that Pakistan was involving local people to ensure that the agreements would be properly implemented. He said that current talks were being held with local Taliban and not ‘outsiders’ like Al Qaeda.
To questioning, he rejected the possible threat of coalition forces in Afghanistan taking unilateral action inside Pakistan. He said Pakistan would “not let militants cross into Afghanistan”.
Mukhtar also rejected news reports that Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was hiding in the mountains of Pakistan bordering China.
The minister said the country’s nuclear arsenal could not fall into the hands of terrorists, saying that there was a process to handle the weapons and ordinary people were not able to employ them. “We are responsible people and the world should not worry about the safety of our nuclear weapons,” he said.
Worst threat: He claimed that the prevailing economic crisis could pose the worst threat to Pakistan if proper steps were not taken to fix the situation. He urged people from all walks of life to unite and help the government bring the country out of its economic crisis.
Mukhtar said that there was no question of removing Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Kayani when asked to comment on recent media reports about the possible removal of the COAS.
The Defence minister spoke highly about the country’s armed forces, saying that the army was a bulwark against any external aggression and internal disorder posed by natural calamites and other unforeseen eventualities.