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Exclusive: Pakistan’s Defense Minister slams ‘internationalization’ of Hajj debate, reiterates Islamabad commitment to Riyadh

Pakistan’s Defense Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan speaks at the launch ceremony of the Arab News Pakistan edition at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on Thursday. (AN photo)
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Minister of Defense Khurram Dastgir Khan has slammed media reports calling for the “internationalization” of the Muslim holy pilgrimage (the Hajj).
Speaking exclusively to Arab News, Dastgir said: “We are determined not to be misled or waylaid by such stratagems. The custody of the Two Holy Mosques is a sacred trust that has been held by the Kingdom and we expect and hope that it shall continue to be,” he said.
Dastgir’s comments came on the sidelines of a keynote speech that he gave at the inauguration of the Pakistan edition of Arab News at the Islamabad Marriott on Thursday evening.
He said the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan has “turned a new page,” going beyond the “traditional friendship” both nations have enjoyed over several decades.
The Pakistani defense minister said the relationship had been “stuck in the eighties” but is now transforming “into a more serious and determined partnership not only (in the field of) defense but also in the realm of economics and trade” to enhance and expand bilateral ties.
“Pakistan intends to be an important part of the Vision 2030 of his Highness, the Crown Prince (which) he has (envisaged for) Saudi Arabia,” Dastgir said.
Part of the defense cooperation plan Pakistan wishes to have is to manufacture “some measure of defense equipment” in the Kingdom. He said it was imperative for Islamic countries to take concrete steps toward “self-reliance” for their own “security and defense.”
“Talks are proceeding very fruitfully and we expect to have very good results,” Dastgir said.
He added that Afaal Al-Sahil, the fourth joint exercise of Pakistan and Saudi Navy operation forces currently underway until Feb. 16, is just one of “many more exercises” to come. Pakistan expects to hold combined training with Saudi security forces alongside its army and air force to enhance operational skills against terrorism and to exchange professional capabilities.
“This cooperation has turned a new page,” said Dastgir, reiterating his country’s support for Saudi Arabia. “Pakistan has always been there for the Kingdom and we shall continue to be there.”
Speaking earlier to an audience of diplomats, foreign dignitaries, academics and journalists who attended the launch of arabnews.pk online edition, the Pakistani defense minister welcomed the arrival of the media outlet to Islamabad.
“I am delighted that the people of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who have been a steadfast partner of Pakistan throughout our existence, in a new and very interesting and exciting way through Arab News have decided to become part of this emerging, remerging, rebirth of the Pakistan story.”
“My congratulations to the Pakistan team, which is launching this new edition. I commend the editors — the rapidly graying editors as they say — of Arab News and its owners for taking this far-sighted decision to become part of the success of the Pakistan story. Congratulations and I wish you success,” he said.

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