ISLAMABAD:US President Joe Biden’s statement questioning the security of Pakistan’s nuclear programme stirred a diplomatic row between the two countries on Saturday with Islamabad summoning the US envoy over the controversy.
“What I think is maybe one of the most dangerous nations in the world: Pakistan. Nuclear weapons without any cohesion,” remarked President Biden at Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Reception on Thursday.
The story came to light when the White House released the transcript on Saturday. Though the White House spokesperson later played down Biden’s remarks insisting the US president wanted stable and prosperous Pakistan, but the damage had already been done.
The remarks triggered an immediate backlash from Pakistan, which summoned the US envoy in Islamabad to explain Biden’s uncalled for remarks. “I am surprised at President Biden’s statement,” Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari reacted at a news conference in Karachi hours after the White House released Biden’s transcript.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, in a tweet, dismissed concerns over Pakistan’s nuclear programme. “Let me reiterate unequivocally: Pakistan is a responsible nuclear state and we are proud that our nuclear assets have the best safeguards as per IAEA requirements. We take these safety measures with the utmost seriousness. Let no one have any doubts,” he wrote.
In a separate statement, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said that Pakistan rejected the remarks reportedly made by the US President, which were “factually incorrect and misleading”.
“Over the past decades, Pakistan has proven to be a most responsible nuclear state, wherein its nuclear programme is managed through a technically sound and foolproof command and control system,” the statement said.
It noted that Pakistan had also consistently demonstrated responsible stewardship of its nuclear-weapons capability, marked by a very strong commitment to global standards, including those of IAEA on non-proliferation, safety, and security.
“The real threat to international peace and security is posed by ultra-nationalism, violation of human rights in regions that are struggling against illegal occupation, violation of global norms by some states, repeated nuclear security incidents and arms race among leading nuclear weapon states and introduction of new security constructs that disturb regional balance,” according to the readout.
But the statement also emphasised Pakistan’s desire to seek “friendly and mutually beneficial” relationship with the United States.
“Pakistan and the US have a long history of friendly and mutually beneficial relationship. At a time, when the world is confronted by huge global challenges, it is critically important that genuine and durable efforts are made to recognise the real potential of the Pakistan-US relationship, while avoiding unnecessary comments. It is our sincere desire to cooperate with the US to promote regional peace and security.”
“If there is any question as to nuclear safety, then they should be directed to our neighbour India, who very recently accidentally fired a missile into Pakistani territory,” Bilawal told reporters in Karachi.
“This is not only irresponsible and unsafe but raises genuine and serious concerns about the safety of nuclear-capable countries,” he pointed out.
“I am surprised by the remarks of President Biden. I believe this is exactly the sort of misunderstanding that is created when there is a lack of engagement.”
Bilawal said that Pakistan had embarked on a “journey of engagement” and just marked the 75th anniversary of bilateral engagements with the US.
“If this was such a concern, I imagine it would’ve been raised in that meeting with me, I believe that we have just started our journey of engagement and we will have many more opportunities to engage with the US and address any concerns and misconceptions they might have to this specific question.”
But Bilawal was confident this would not sour relationship between the two countries.