[This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated]
I have two to three statements to make. First is about an issue you are very curious about, the visit of Saudi Crown Prince. (The Spokesperson readout a detailed press release on the subject which can be accessed on the Ministry’s Website).
Second issue I want to talk about is the issue of a Pakistani student in the US who met an accident and there has been lot of speculation in the media about what exactly was happening.
Mr. Shahzaib Bajwa a Pakistani student participating in the State Department’s Undergraduate Exchange Programme was involved in a serious road side accident in Minnesota, US on November 13,2013. Shahzaib sustained life threatening injuries and was immediately transferred to St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth, Minnesota. Our Consulate General in Chicago immediately contacted the hospital and Shahzaib’s family in Pakistan. Visas for Shahzaib’s brother and cousin on most urgent basis were arranged. The State Department and the US Embassy in Pakistan extended full cooperation and issued visas on one days notice despite it being a holiday in Pakistan. Later on visa was also arranged for Shahzaib’s mother.
The Consulate arranged free accommodation for two months for Shahzaib’s family through IREX, the organization that runs the exchange programme. The Consulate General also mobilized the local Pakistani community to arrange accommodation for Shahzaib’s family for last one month.
Shahzaib’s condition is still serious and doctors are not optimistic about his complete recovery. Since his visa is expiring on February 28th, 2014, the hospital is considering sending him back to Pakistan.
Since Shahzaib’s hospitalization, the US State Department and IREX have extended full cooperation in facilitating Shahzaib’s treatment and his family’s travel to the US on most urgent basis. So far, an amount of around US$ 350,000 has been incurred on his treatment against his insurance cover of US$ 100,000. The hospital, however, has not only waived this amount but has also conveyed that an amount of US$ 90,000 will be provided to Shahzaib’s family for his transfer and medical care in Pakistan.
Initially, our Embassy and Consulate were given the impression that Shahzaib’s family was willing to take him back to Pakistan but now they have indicated their preference to continue Shahzaib’s treatment in the US. The matter has been taken up with the State Department. Essentially, visa extension is not a problem, we have been informed but if the family decides to continue the treatment in the US it is important to note that when the visa is extended, the payment for shahzaib’s future treatment as well as expenditure on his family’s stay will have to borne by the family itself. The family has been informed and the final decision will be taken by them.
Now the floor is open for Questions
When Prince Salman of Saudi Arabia last came to Pakistan in 1998, what were the exact dates? Was it immediately after Pakistan conducted the nuclear tests?
Secondly, during his visit to Pakistan will the Prince visit Lahore?
Thirdly, there were reports about Defense cooperation and arms sale between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for example sale of JF-17 Thunder aircraft and stationing of Pakistani troops in Saudi Arabia. Can you tell us more about that?
I don’t have the exact dates for the visit that he undertook last time. As regards his programme, I don’t see anything in the programme that indicates that he would go to Lahore but there is a possibility, he might go.
As regards your other question, the Crown Prince is coming here in his capacity as the Crown Prince, then he is also the Deputy Prime Minister and he also has the portfolio of Defence Minister. You may have noted the delegation accompanying him has people who deal with trade issues and economic relations. Certainly, the defence cooperation would figure in the talks as we have already said that our Army Chief would be calling on him.There is no specific reference to stationing of Pakistani troops in Saudi Arabia. You know that we have been providing training to the Saudi Armed Forces. We would also be interested in sale of arms to Saudi Arabia like JF-17 Thunder and Mushshaq aircraft and other equipment. I think that’s about it.
There have been frequent whispers and certain reports in western media that perhaps Saudi Arabia wants nuclear cooperation with Pakistan. There were also reports on safety of Pakistan’s nuclear installations. Will there be discussions on the nuclear issue during the visit of the Saudi Crown Prince?
Yes, there is a whispering campaign but there are sometimes also reports based on leaks or background briefings. We have talked about some aspect of that in the past also. They are baseless. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are not discussing nuclear cooperation. As for the security of our installations, you know that there is going to be a summit at The Hague next month, known as National Security Summit. This is one of the series of summits, last one was held in South Korea. We participated in it very constructively and we intend to participate in the forthcoming one as well. We have been dealing with nuclear technology for more than 40 years; we have a number of nuclear power plants in the civilian domain. We have a nuclear weapons program which is a declared one. We have extensive security regimes for both. Our civilian nuclear program is under IAEA safeguards and it is meant to provide energy and it is also used in agriculture and medical fields. IAEA and other organizations have listed Pakistan as a model country with regard to the security mechanisms that we have in place. This campaign is motivated and baseless and we reject it.
Has a draft for the defense-cum-security pact between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia been prepared which will be signed during the visit of the Saudi Crown Prince?
Well, number of proposals are under consideration. Probably, they will be finalized over the next two or three days.
Why is the Indian Trade Minister not coming to Pakistan?
Secondly, what is the update on the cross LoC issue?
We have already decided to restore trade because it is for the Kashmiris and for their interaction and benefit. We decided that Pakistan should not be the one creating any impediments. We do hope that similar gestures would be visible from the other side. Now it is up to the local authorities to decide how they want to proceed with this. Simultaneously, you know that India had proposed that we should hold the meeting of the Joint Working Group on Cross LoC CBMs. This meeting is likely to take place in Delhi during this month probably after the 22nd or 23rd of February. We hope that during this meeting, we will be able to work out and agree on some arrangements to improve the systems on the line of control (LoC) and monitoring of the cargo that goes both ways so that any incident of this nature does not happen in future.
As for your first question, I think it should be addressed to the Indian Commerce Minister.
Is there any update on the repatriation of the two Indian fishermen who died in Landhi Jail Karachi?
Secondly, is the decision of opening cross LoC trade taken by Pakistan unilaterally or India has also reciprocated?
For your first question, I will have to check it and get back to you.
For the second one, I saw a statement from my Indian counterpart and he also talked about the need for resumption of cross-LoC trade and referred to it as a humanitarian issue. So, I think there is willingness to facilitate the resumption of cross LoC trade on both sides and also there is willingness to work out systems that in future would ensure that it moves along smoothly and that we have a proper system to prevent such events in future.
It seems that there is a stalemate between President Karzai and President Obama on signing the BSA. Do we have any apprehensions about the zero option?
I think from this forum I have said repeatedly that BSA or whatever arrangement Afghanistan and the US work out is their bilateral matter. Our stake in this process is stability and peace in Afghanistan because Pakistan is the first country that is affected by instability or conflict inside Afghanistan. So, we are very clear that we want peace and stability and we are willing to help in whatever way we can. When and how the US and Afghanistan sort out whatever differences they have, is their business.
There were reports that the US might delay their withdrawal from Afghanistan and Pakistani Defence Secretary General Asif Yaseen Malik has also said publically that Pakistan wants the US drawdown to be delayed by at least 6 months. Is the foreign office in the loop?
Secondly, we understand that two senior NATO officials are visiting Islamabad and they are talking about another agreement namely SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement). Do we have any reservations on the above stated?
Why would we have any reservations about this agreement or that agreement? Afghanistan is a sovereign country and it has every right to conclude agreements with other countries. Our take on it is that Afghan soil should not be used against Pakistani interest or to create instability in Pakistan. As regards the statement of the Defense Secretary, I have not seen the statement. Again, whether the US, NATO and ISAF troops withdraw from Afghanistan or they are asked to stay there is for the Afghans to decide because it is Afghan territory.
Drone strikes in Pakistan are directly related to BSA because there are four air bases in Afghanistan from where drones are operated. Also if BSA is not signed, there might be a spillover effect touching border areas of Pakistan. How concerned are we regarding the signing of the BSA?
When we say that Afghan territory should not be used against Pakistan, it covers drone attacks as well. About the spillover effect, yes, we are aware of that. There is a question of Afghan refugees as well. Return of those who are already here and apprehensions that if the security situation is not stable, more refugees may pour in. So we have these concerns and that is why we have very high stakes in peace and stability in Afghanistan. We are working with the Afghan government and other international partners. The Prime Minister, as you know, is in Ankara for Trilateral Summit between Pakistan, Turkey and Afghanistan. The purpose is to look at the ways and means how Pakistan can help and how Turkey can help in bringing about peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. This is a very important summit because it is taking place just before two landmark events. One has political dimension i.e. Afghan elections and other has the security dimension i.e. the drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan after which Afghan troops would take over their responsibilities for maintaining peace and security in Afghanistan, so these issues are being considered.
During Saudi Crown Prince’s visit to Pakistan, will the regional security situation be discussed with him? Do they have a role in the Afghan peace process? We have observed frequent visits between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia during last few months. What is cooking behind?
Secondly, the Indian Commerce Minister had said that there was still no clarity on Pakistan side regarding granting MFN status to India. What is the current status?
On the second question, we agreed on certain things, certain timelines. There were Pakistan’s concerns that were presented when the two Commerce Ministers met and there were Indian concerns. They agreed on a number of measures and timelines to achieve those. Since the meeting was held in India, we expected the Indian side to provide the agreed points to us that we discussed. But when the communication arrived, it somehow skipped some parts that were of interest to Pakistan. We have sought a clarification that is where the matters are at the moment. I think, visit may have been cancelled because we still did not have the clarity on how to proceed forward.
As regards your first question, well, I don’t know if the bilateral interaction between two countries can cook something special .But traditionally, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have had very good and regular interactions and also frequent visits. And when the leaders meet, they, of course, review the regional situation. Afghanistan will be discussed because the gulf countries also have interest in stability in Afghanistan. As I said in the statement that I read, regional and international issues of mutual interests will be discussed
You pointed out in the beginning of the briefing that Ninety thousand dollars are being given to the injured Pakistani student Shahzaib for his treatment. Who is giving this amount, the US government or the Hospital?
The organization that sponsored the student exchange program had insured him for an amount of one hundred thousand dollars but up to now three hundred and fifty thousand dollars have been spent because he needs special kind of care .An additional 90 thousand dollar has been set aside in case his family decides to bring him to Pakistan. Unfortunately, there is little chance of his full recovery soon. Hence, he would need special care for a long time. It is up to the family if they want to stay in the hospital, the money spent on his treatment would be out of this amount. In case, his family decides to bring him back after two months, how will they pay?
Is Pakistan looking to expand its relations with NATO beyond 2014?
Secondly, thousands of Pakistanis have been affected after the introduction of new immigration laws in Saudi Arabia and according to reports Pakistani Embassy and Consulates are not helping the affected Pakistani citizens. Your comments please
Thirdly, how many Pakistanis have been detained and how many have been sent back to Pakistan to date?
On the question of NATO, we have ongoing engagement, we have regular dialogue at various levels, and there are also some mechanisms that are under consideration on how to formalize our dialogue and cooperation.
On the second question, I don’t know who are the people telling you that Pakistani embassy and consulates do not help? We have been sharing with you the information that our Ambassador and Consul General and every official of our missions have been making efforts since the time the Saudi Government decided to bring about a change in the foreign workers visa regime. Our missions worked day and night. They held job fairs, bringing together the organizations that were willing to hire workers and our nationals. They travelled through the length and breadth of Saudi Arabia to create awareness among the community members about the change and how they could legalize their status. We requested the Saudi Government to extend the deadline before starting detention and repatriation. As a result of this, nine hundred thousand Pakistanis were legalized, which is the largest number among the countries which were trying to legalize their nationals. At the moment, I have the details of Pakistanis in detention. These are those Pakistanis who were rendered illegal as a result of the change or who were already there illegally. They did not pay heed to what the mission was asking them to do. They were arrested from various parts of Saudi Arabia and brought to these detention centers. Our officials are regularly in touch with the Saudi authorities. They have been visiting the detention centers. They have been talking to Pakistanis and trying to help those nationals to come back to Pakistan. I do not know what else Pakistani missions are supposed to do.
As for your last question, there are four detention centers. In A, there are hundred and three Pakistanis who are reportedly established nationals. In B, there are 2,238 Pakistanis, in C, 1626, in D, 384 Pakistanis and lastly in H, 41. In this, women along with children born in KSA without any evidence of their parenthood are located. The system that is in place is: Travel Department hands over pictures to the Consulate after completion of investigation. The picture contains the prisoner number but not the barrack number. Consulate has established a permanent office at Tarheel Detention centre, which is staffed by 4-5 persons. After receiving the pictures, the Consulate officials visit each Barrack to identify a detainee and then get his form filled up along with their fingerprints for preparation of travel documents. These forms are sent to the Consulate where Emergency passports are prepared within 24—48 hours. In case, the detainee has a copy of his NIC or number of NIC, the case is sent to NADRA office, Jeddah for confirmation within 24 hours. The Consulate hands over travel documents to Travel Department at Tarheel which then plans travel of detainees on the Saudi Airlines. It is incorrect to say that the Consulate is not doing its job. As I said, it is our responsibility to look after Pakistanis abroad and we fulfill this responsibility to the best of our ability and resources. If sometimes there is delay, there are other factors that come into play as well.
Last modified: November 22, 2019
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