Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Sorry, I've gotten a bit behind while attempting to keep the filing of columns up. This News story ran on Monday 28th March . . .


ISLAMABAD, SUNDAY. Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary has used an exclusive briefing for the Canberra Times to send a stinging message to Australia over what he described as a failure to engage constructively with regional issues. Specifically and repeatedly Salman Bashir insisted the attempt to impose a “no fly” zone over Libya is both a “mistake and un-achievable”. 

“The UN must respect the sovereignty of states and abide by the principle of non-interference and non-intervention”, said Mr Bashir. “Domestic issues [in Libya] cannot be solved by imposing a military solution using force.”

Pakistan’s cooperation will be critical in achieving a lasting peace in Afghanistan, a factor that gives added weight to Mr Bashir’s warnings against any attempt to escalate military intervention in the middle-east. The Secretary questioned Australia’s motives in becoming so involved in the attempt to drum-up an international coalition against Muammar Gaddafi.

“Has [Australian Foreign Minister] Kevin Rudd ever been to Libya?”, Mr Bashir asked rhetorically. “It’s one thing to pontificate from afar and quite another to actually understand a society you’re trying to change. Pakistan will react very strongly against any attempt to intervene in the internal events of a sovereign nation.”

These sharp words represent an extraordinary escalation of rhetoric by the Muslim nation’s chief diplomat. His words were carefully chosen to pointedly signal that any move to widen the intervention will be bitterly opposed within the Islamic world.

Chuckling quietly to himself the Foreign Secretary insisted a couple of times that “you can take the no fly zone to the UN Security Council, but it won’t fly”, implying there was no international desire to further extend the intervention. He emphasised that military action would fail to resolve anything on the ground, a statement that demonstrates increasing concern that the current attacks on Libya are seen being fuelled by anti-Islamic sentiment and not designed to address concerns about democracy.

In a signal that confirms Australia’s bid for a position on the UN Security Council is effectively dead, Mr Bashir warned that serious work would be needed to revive the bi-lateral relationship. Australian diplomats have been working hard on developing the relationship with Islamabad. The Foreign Secretary emphasised his comments were directed at policy issues, rather than individual, person-to-person relationships.

A general briefing from Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry was suddenly upgraded to a one-on-one meeting with the Foreign Secretary to allow the salvo to be delivered to the Canberra Times.

Mr Bashir also specifically brought up the issue of uranium, warning of “widespread anger and disappointment” if Australia failed to recognise the gravity of the situation and overturn the current ban on uranium sales to India. New Delhi has, like Islamabad, refused to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The Secretary’s words imply Pakistan believes it would be unacceptable for Australia to change the blanket ban on selling uranium to countries unless they’ve signed the NPT.

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