US can’t ignore Pakistan: Kayani

By Muhammad Saleh Zaafir

KAMRA: Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has made it emphatically clear that Washington will have to keep Pakistan on board while reviewing its Afghan policy as Islamabad has a key role in ensuring and maintaining peace in the region.

The Army chief, who looked visibly jubilant over the achievements of his troops first in Swat-Malakand and now in South Waziristan, was informally talking to this scribe at the historic ceremony of the rolling out of the JF-17 Thunder multi-role fighter plane of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF).

Gen Kayani, who visited the conflict zone about half a dozen times in recent weeks, was confident about a final victory over the terrorists who are now on the run.

The COAS insisted that the Americans could not afford to ignore Pakistan while formulating a policy about the region as they had been consulting Pakistan on important occasions in the past.

The Army chief’s statement has come in the wake of a major policy review in Washington and the new US strategy about the region. Kayani recalled that the operation was launched the day the decision was taken in a high-level meeting in Islamabad. The terrorist leaders were expecting it a couple of days later. Answering a question, Kayani said the Army will keep on tracking the terrorists in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and the operation to hunt them down will continue till the peace and tranquillity return to the area.

He dispelled the impression that most of the terrorist leaders had fled to Afghanistan. The Army will continue to chase them and the operation could be expanded for the purpose. “Eventually, we will totally smash Baitullah’s terror network and with the cooperation of the people the whole area would be transformed into a peace zone,” he said.

The sophisticated JF-17 Thunder, painted green and white in the colour scheme of the national flag, appeared with grandeur amid thundering sound and colour display as Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani unveiled the fighter jet before the cheering audience.

The event has been termed the beginning of a new era of Pak-China friendship and cooperation. Naval chief Admiral Noman Bashir has gone for Hajj and the Navy was represented by acting naval chief Admiral Asif Humayun. General Kayani felicitated Chief the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman on the auspicious occasion. He lauded the role of the PAF in actions against the terrorists in Swat-Malakand and South Waziristan.

Meanwhile, addressing the ceremony, Gilani reiterated his government’s firm resolve to eradicate ignorance, illiteracy and backwardness to carve a respectable niche for the country in the comity of nations.

Senate Chairman Farooq H Naek, Federal Ministers Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar, Qamar Zaman Kaira, Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Luo Zhaohui, Pakistan’s Ambassador to China Masood Khan and the three services chiefs attended the ceremony.

With this Pakistan has joined the international community of fighter aircraft manufacturers as JF-17 Thunder, the first ever multi-role state-of-the-art plane rolled out of the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex here and was included in the fleet of the Pakistan Air Force.

Addressing a select gathering of local and foreign dignitaries and PAF officials, the prime minister said progress and prosperity could not be achieved without achieving self-reliance in defence production.

He termed the manufacturing of JF-17 Thunder aircraft the “achievement of an important milestone” in the government’s ongoing efforts to attain self-reliance.

The prime minister assured full cooperation, support and patronage to the PAF in its projects, adding the national project would be remembered as a landmark in the country’s history.

Referring to the present challenges, Gilani said the fast changing technology intensive battle arena required intense involvement of air power which had emerged as a major player in conflict scenarios.

He said the role of air force also becomes vital in tackling the threat posed by the forces of extremism and militancy. Under these circumstances, he said, a modern air force was a national requirement adding the government was making sincere efforts for a strong and well-equipped Pakistan Air Force.

He said that the JF-17 programme had provided employment to about 5,000 people. Referring to long and trustworthy relations between Pakistan and China, the prime minister said: “It is not trade or economics that we collaborate and cooperate in, but our association and fraternal ties bind us in the everlasting embrace of friendship.” Gilani thanked the Chinese friends for providing the PAF the required technical assistance for the programme.

Chief of the Air Staff Rao Qamar Suleman highlighted the efforts of the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex Kamra in establishing itself as a hub of aviation industry. Luo Zhaohui, on behalf of the Chinese government, appreciated the technical acumen of the PAC Kamra in acquiring complex skills and expertise in fighter aircraft manufacturing. He said the collaboration between the two peace loving countries in air defence was a major step for the region’s peace.

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