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(2018-03-22) [This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.]

Opening Remarks

Bismillah IrRehman NirRahim Assalaam Alaikum

First, let me give a brief round-up of the activities on the foreign policy front:

Pakistan notes with deep disappointment the non-issuance of visas by India for the visit of the 503 Pakistani Zaireen to participate in the Urs of Hazrat Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti (RA) at Ajmer Sharif, from 19-29 March 2018. The visit was to take place under the 1974 Pakistan-India Protocol on visits to Religious Shrines and is a regular annual feature. Earlier, 192 Pakistani Zaireen could not participate in the Urs of Hazrat Khawaja NizamuddinAulia (RA) in Delhi from 1-8 January 2018, due to the non-issuance of visas by India.

During 2017, despite Pakistan’s offer to send a special train, Indian delays had resulted in Sikh yatrees from India being unable to participate in the Martyrdom Anniversary of Guru Arjan Dev and the death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Similarly, in February 2018, the Government of Pakistan had made all the arrangements for the visit of 173 Katas Raj Pilgrims, who, regrettably, were forced to withdraw their applications from the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi due to non-issuance of necessary clearance by the Ministry of External Affairs of India. Besides being violative of the Bilateral Protocol of 1974 and the basic human right to religious freedom, such measures also undermine the efforts aimed at improving the environment, increasing people-to-people contacts and normalizing relations between the two countries. It is again ironic that this was done on the occasion of Urs of Hazrat Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti (RA) who has for centuries been the symbol of bringing communities closer to each other.

The Indian occupation forces martyred five Kashmiris including Raja Begum, 63, in Pulwama, Srinagar and Kupwara areas. Miseries of people in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir have increased every day, as the Indian occupation forces continue to terrorize the innocent civilians. We condemn the Indian excesses and call upon world human rights defenders to stand up for the Kashmiris in IOK.

Pakistan strongly condemns yesterday’s reprehensible suicide attack close to Ali Abad hospital and Kabul University. We are grieved at the loss of precious and innocent lives in this brutal attack of terrorism. We express our deepest sympathies and condolences to the bereaved families and pray for the speedy recovery of the injured. Pakistan reiterates its unequivocal condemnation of terrorism in all forms and manifestations and expresses solidarity with the government and people of Afghanistan in their fight against the menace of terrorism.

As you are aware the Prime Minister was on a private visit to USA. Taking advantage of his presence in Washington, a meeting with the US Vice President Mike Pence was held. This was his second interaction with the US Vice President since the unveiling of the US policy on South Asia in August 2017. The meeting provided an opportunity to exchange views on bilateral relations, the regional situation and Afghanistan and is part of the regular interactions between the two countries. These conversations are important to build trust & cooperation and to strengthen bilateral relations.

Pakistan has been consistently reminding its US interlocutors about series of successful military operations undertaken by the Armed Forces of Pakistan in the border areas with Afghanistan. These operation are based on intelligence. Pakistan’s unflinching resolve to fight this menace till its logical conclusion is recognized, as it is in Pakistan’s interest as much as that of the others. It is a matter of satisfaction that US is taking actions against the terrorists hiding inside Afghanistan including Fazlullah, who have committed acts of terrorism across Pakistan. More needs to be done. On our part, Pakistan will continue to support efforts for bringing peace in Afghanistan.

President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi have conveyed their felicitations to President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang of the People’s Republic of China on their re-election to their respective offices. Both the President and Prime Minister of Pakistan appreciated the visionary leadership of China for steering the remarkable growth and development of their country in last five years. They expressed their desire to continue to work closely with China for further strengthening Pakistan-China relationship in all areas for the mutual benefit of the peoples of the two countries.

President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi conveyed their heartiest felicitations to President Vladimir Putin on his re-election in the Presidential Election held on 18 March 2018. Pakistan and Russia enjoy close, friendly and cooperative relations. Our relations are characterized by mutual trust and convergence of views on important international and regional issues. The leadership of Pakistan looks forward to working closely with the leadership of the Russian Federation to further strengthen cooperation in all fields of mutual interest.

The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), during its sixty-first regular session, which convened in Vienna from 12-16 March 2018 adopted, by consensus, the resolution tabled by Pakistan on the theme of “Strengthening efforts to prevent drug abuse in educational settings.” The resolution draws the attention of the Commission to the common challenges of drug use among children and youth in schools, colleges and universities settings. It underscores the need for enhanced efforts, including policy interventions and comprehensive drug prevention programmes, to protect children and youth from the scourge of illicit drugs and to make educational settings free from drug abuse. Pakistan’s initiative to table this resolution was widely appreciated. Pakistan is an elected member of the Commission for the four-year term of 2016-2019.

Now the Floor is open for Questions

Question

Is there any update on the harassment incidents being carried out against the Pakistani diplomats in India? You also mentioned that our High Commissioner to India was called back for consultations last week. Any update on the outcome of these consultations? Is he still here or going back?

Second, Indian media has reported that India issued a 13th Note Verbale to Pakistan to protest ‘intimidation’ of High Commission officials. What are your comments on the Indian complaints of harassment of its officials? Has Pakistan initiated any inquiry about Indian complaints? (Mateen Haider – Freelance Journalist)

Supplementary Question

Apparently, the consultations process was hidden from Pakistani public and media. In this regard, I want to ask as to what specific decisions have been taken in this regard?

Second, has it been decided whether India would be declared a non-family station or otherwise? (Shaukat Paracha – Aaj TV)

India has already declared Pakistan a non-family and non-school going station. Will Pakistan declare the same about India or not, keeping in mind the current deterioration in our bilateral relationship? (Faisal Raza Khan – 92 News)

Answer

Pakistan is a responsible member of the international community and we make all possible efforts to ensure the safety and security of the diplomats stationed in Islamabad. We don’t want to enter into a numbers game of Notes Verbale, with India, regardless of the fact that the numbers on our side are much more.

India has not shared any evidence with us about their complaints. On the other hand, Pakistan is seriously concerned over the treatment being meted out to the diplomats, officials and families, including small children, at the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi. We have lodged strong protests with the Indian Government over these unfortunate incidents of harassment and intimidation, evidence of which is widely available on social media. We have also stressed that the safety and security of the diplomats, officials and their families is the sole responsibility of the Government of India, under the Vienna Convention.

Our High Commissioner was in Pakistan for consultations for some days. He also called on the Prime Minister. His presence here was useful and many important issues in addition to the harassment of officials in New Delhi were discussed. He is returning to India today.

Question

You said in your opening remarks that Prime Minister was on a private visit to the US. However, he met Vice President Mike Pence and the details of the meeting were kept secret. I want to ask the purpose for which this secrecy was observed. Also, there are reports that the Foreign Office was not on board during Prime Minister’s current visit to the US. Is it true?

Second, reportedly, Afghan Taliban have not been invited to the upcoming peace conference in Uzbekistan that will mainly focus on the prospects of reconciliation in Afghanistan. How does Pakistan see this development and how do you see the prospects of positive outcome of the Conference?

Third, reportedly, a leader of Afghan Taliban, Mullah Nanah, has recently been released from captivity by Pakistan, as recently revealed by Afghan media and confirmed by Afghan Taliban leadership. Any news on whether we will hand over Mullah Nanah to Afghan authorities? (Rashida Sial – Abb Tak)

Supplementary Questions

Regarding Prime Minister’s meeting with Vice President Mike Pence, there are reports that Foreign Office and our Embassy in Washington were not taken on board and that there was no note-taker with the Prime Minister. What are the SOPs regarding this?

Second, the US authorities remained unconvinced of Pakistan’s counter-terrorism gains in its fight against terrorism. In your view, what was the purpose of this meeting? (Abid Khursheed – ATV)

Reportedly, there was no note-taker with the Prime Minister during his meeting with Vice President Mike Pence. Is this not a contravention of the standard protocol? Do you think that because of lack of knowledge about what transpired in the meeting, the Foreign Office was unable to issue any statement regarding the meeting, while US continued to urge Pakistan to ”do more”? Moreover, the reply from Pakistani side, if at all, was given by ISPR and not Foreign Office. (Naveed Saddique – Dawn News)

Normally, high profile meetings of political nature are arranged well in advance in any part of the world. Did Foreign Office arrange Prime Minister’s meeting with the Vice President? In your view, was this meeting held to uphold national interest or personal gains? (Auon Sherazi – Such TV)

There are reports that the Foreign Office was not kept in the loop while arranging Prime Minister’s visit to the US and that the Prime Minister himself made the request to Vice President’s Office for the meeting. Also, was the issue of agre’ment of Ambassador designate to US also discussed during the meeting? Do you confirm these reports? (Bashir Chaudhry – Channel 24)

In the recent past, our former Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali was dismissed from the Office of the Prime Minister, because he held some secret meetings with the US officials. Is any such thing on the cards this time also? (Abbas Jaffar – District News)

Was it a private visit of the Prime Minister, or a hidden agenda was being played out? (Khawaja Nayaar Iqbal – Kashmir Post)

US media has given encouraging remarks about Prime Minister’s recent visit to the US, calling the visit fruitful, and stating that Pentagon is satisfied with Pakistan’s efforts in counter-terrorism. Will Foreign Office say something about this? (Asghar Ali Mubarak – Daily Mail Islamabad)

Answer

On Mullah Nanah, I will check details and revert.

On the issue of Afghan Taliban’s participation in a conference in Tashkent, it is a regional conference among countries. It is not a forum of peace talks with Taliban.

Regarding Prime Minister’s visit to the US, I have already shared details in my opening remarks. Let me add that our Defence Advisor, posted in the Pakistan Embassy, accompanied the Prime Minister. It was the second interaction between the Prime Minister and US Vice President since unveiling of the US policy on Afghanistan and South Asia in August 2017.

In addition to the meeting with the US Vice President, Congressman Ted Yoho, Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific; accompanied by Subcommittee’s Democrat Ranking Member Congressman Brad Sherman called on the Prime Minister and discussed matters related to Pakistan-US bilateral relations and regional developments.

Question

First, what is Pakistan’s stance on the recent re-election of President Putin in Russia and President Xi Jinping in China?

Second, in a recent report by Justice Project Pakistan, the authors have alleged that Pakistanis account for the highest number of foreign nationals jailed and executed in Saudi Arabia. The report also claims that Pakistani officials seldom, if ever, visit Pakistani citizens in Saudi jails. What are your comments on this report? Is it an attempt on the part of certain elements to erode Pakistan-Saudi Arabia relations? (Salman Hashmi – Forensic Eye)

Answer

I have already responded to your first question in my opening remarks.

Regarding your second question, while we do not comment on news reports, we feel that we must inform you about the factual position to remove any misconceptions that are reflected in your questions. As you are aware, we enjoy close and cordial relations with the brotherly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi authorities have always extended their full cooperation to us on the question of our detained citizens or prisoners. Rights of all prisoners are secured, and the Government of Saudi Arabia ensures facilitation of inmates as per international law regarding living facilities, quality food, consular assistance and presence in court on dates of hearing. Our Embassy in Riyadh and our Consulate General in Jeddah, working with the Saudi authorities, extend all possible assistance to them. These include:

i) Consular access to the detainees, to inquire about their welfare and extend all possible assistance to them.

ii) Visits to deportation centers to issue Emergency Travel Documents to those who do not possess passports for travelling to Pakistan.

iii) Clemency request from the relatives of the prisoners are forwarded to Royal Court.

iv) Facilitate the departure of those awaiting deportation.

v) Working with the authorities to waive off penalties.

vi) Providing Arabic-Urdu translation facility during court hearings.

vii) Visiting courts and meeting with authorities to expedite cases and facilitating repatriation of prisoners who have completed their sentences.

Therefore, any reports to the contrary are not based on facts.

Question

What was the outcome of Prime Minister’s meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence?

Second, reportedly, US Forces Commander in Afghanistan, General Nicholson has claimed that US held a series of private talks with Pakistani officials regarding elimination of alleged sanctuaries in Pakistan. Do you confirm this statement? What specific demands did US make in this regard, as General Nicholson claims in the interview? (Shaukat Paracha – Aaj TV)

Supplementary Question

Reportedly, the Pentagon has stated that the US has ruled out any plan to cross the international border in chasing the Taliban or any other terrorist groups who flee to Pakistan. Can this be understood as a ”deal” between Pakistan and the US, that from now on Pakistan would take actions on its side of the border against ”sanctuaries” and

”safe havens”? Can this also mean that the US would only act against terrorists within Afghanistan? Is this indicative of a prolonged US presence in Afghanistan? (Shabbir Waghara – PTV World)

Answer

On Prime Minister’s visit to the US, I have already given my response.

On Mr. Paracha’s second question, in the recent months, Pakistan and USA have held a series of interactions both in Islamabad & Washington. As always the objective of these conversations is to strengthen bilateral relations and exchange views on regional and international issues and to find common ground on all issues.

As regards the issue of alleged sanctuaries, our perspective is that Pakistan has cleared the entire border region and there is no organized presence of terrorists within our territory. Nevertheless, considering the porous nature of the border and the presence of over 2 million Afghan refugees, Pakistan has continued Intelligence Based Operations to deal with the remnants. At the same time, Pakistan has continuously highlighted its concerns over the presence of TTP sanctuaries inside Afghanistan. We are pleased that this issue is now being adressed by the US side, but more needs to be done.

Regarding Mr. Waghara’s question, Pakistan has always maintained that there is no presence of organized terrorist groups within its territory. We have been carrying out IBOs very successfully, as and when required. We have also repeatedly requested the US government to share intelligence, for us to take definitive action on our side. The Afghan government and the Resolute Support Mission need to ”do more” within Afghanistan to eliminate all safe havens and terrorist sanctuaries.

Question

Please share the outcome of the National Security Adviser’s visit to Afghanistan. Do you think that President Ashraf Ghani’s offer to invite our Prime Minister a takeaway of this visit?

Second, the Government has decided to extend Proof of Registration cards (PoR) to Afghan refugees until June 30 this year. UNHCR representative has lauded the decision and has also acknowledged Pakistan’s hosting of Afghan Refugees. In your view, how long will it be until all Afghan refugees are repatriated to Afghanistan? (Tariq Mahmood – SAMAA TV)

Answer

Regarding your first question, during National Security Adviser Lt. Gen (R) Nasser Khan Janjua’s visit to Kabul on 17th March, 2018 on the invitation of Afghan NSA, Hanif Atmar the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani extended an invitation to the Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to visit Kabul. It is a positive development and is under consideration. Our response would be conveyed to the Afghan side shortly.

On your second question, the Government of Pakistan is cognizant of humanitarian dimension of this issue. Our policy on Afghan Refugees is focused on dignified return of our Afghan brothers to their homeland. In this spirit, the Government extended the validity of PoR Cards until 30th June, 2018. At the same time, we would urge donor countries and aid agencies to make efforts for the resettlement of these returnees by building houses and initiating livelihood projects in Afghanistan. We hope that these efforts will make the process of their return sustainable and facilitate the smooth repatriation of our Afghan refugee brothers in coming days.

Question

You are well aware of India’s belligerence on LoC, and the resultant Shahadat of many civilians and military personnel in the area. There are reports that when some people, who wished to express their solidarity with the families of Shuhuda, tried to visit these areas, the Government of AJK stopped them from meeting the affected people. Don’t you think this is detrimental to the very cause we are fighting for? (Raziq Mahmood Bhatti – Kashmir Express)

Answer

I will give a response after ascertaining facts on the matter.

Question

Reportedly, Indian Army Chief said that ceasefire violations along the LoC will cease on India’s terms. He further said that Pakistani forces have been feeling the “pain” of Indian Army’s offensive along the border. How do you respond to his statement? (Asghar Ali Mubarak – Daily Mail Islamabad)

Answer

It is regrettable that Indian Army chief has chosen to politicize this sensitive issue, which is directly affecting the lives of innocent civilians. We have consistently emphasized that Indian ceasefire violations at the LoC and the WB are a threat to regional peace and tranquility and can lead to a strategic miscalculation. Unprecedented Indian escalation since 2017 is a continuing trend and has already resulted in the deaths of 20 innocent civilians and injuries to 85 others in 2018 to date (more than 690 CFVs in 2018 to date).

India has deliberately escalated tensions at the LoC and the Working Boundary in order to try to divert the attention of the international community from the grave situation in the Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir, where the Indian occupation forces have unleashed a reign of terror committing brutalities against the innocent and defenseless people.

We always strongly underscore the need for India to permit UNMOGIP to play its role, in line with its mandate under the UNSC Resolutions. The UNMOGIP is allowed total freedom in Pakistan but has very limited movement in India. Instead of fabricated, baseless allegations India should allow the UNMOGIP to function so that facts can be ascertained.

Question

What is the status of 50 Chinese women of Xinjiang province, married to Pakistani men, whom Chinese authorities are not issuing visas? (Sajjad – AFP)

Answer

We are discussing this matter with the Chinese side.

Question

Many Afghans residing in Pakistan are well settled here, holding lots of properties, and running successful businesses. What mechanism will Pakistan adopt to send them back? Second, a lot of Chinese nationals are also purchasing numerous properties in Pakistan. What is Pakistan’s policy on this? (Sardar Amir – Daily Madaar)

Answer

The subject of dignified return of Afghan Refugees to their homeland is dealt by SAFRON Division. Foreign Office is involved in engaging UNHCR and the international community to ensure that the Afghan refugees return to their homeland in a dignified and permanent manner. Afghan authorities must create incentivized ”pull factors” for the sustainable absorption of these Afghan refugees into Afghan economy.

On Chinese nationals purchasing properties in Pakistan, although Foreign Office is not the dealing Ministry, so long as the transactions are being carried out under the laws of the land, there should be no problem.

Question

Only recently, National Security Adviser has said that Afghan President has shown a deep desire to have a comprehensive plan of action with Pakistan regarding connectivity and trade enhancement, particularly in the context of CPEC and CAREC. What plan of action has Pakistan to offer to Afghanistan? (Faisal Raza Khan – 92 News)

Answer

You may refer your query to the Office of NSA.

Question

A new movie on Navy SEALS regarding the capture of Osama Bin Laden uses derogatory language about Pakistan’s armed forces. Is there any plan to ban this movie from Pakistan?

Second, any update on when the FATF team will Pakistan? (Anwar Abbas – Waqt News)

Answer

On FATF, please consult Ministry of Finance.

Regarding your first question, I will get back to you after getting the relevant details.

Question

Reportedly, relatives of 24 detained Pakistanis in Afghanistan, have accused the Afghan Government of blocking the release of their family members despite the order of the Afghan Supreme Court. They have demanded that the Government of Pakistan may take up the issue with the Afghan President for their early release. Are you aware of the matter? On what charges were the Pakistanis detained in Afghanistan, and when? (Saima Shabbir – Bol News)

Answer

Pakistan and Afghanistan do not have an agreement on exchange of prisoners. Despite our Mission in Kabul’s several requests, both written and verbal, the Afghan government is not sharing the lists and other details of Pakistani prisoners in Afghan jails. The family members of the prisoners and humanitarian workers are our sources to collect information about such Pakistanis. Nonetheless, we are engaged with Afghan government to seek the release of our nationals.

Question

Reportely, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh has said that no power in the world can take Kashmir away from India and if need be the Indian army can cross the border to protect India’s territorial integrity. Your comments please! (Khawaja Nayaar Iqbal – Daily Kashmir Post)

Answer

Such irresponsible belligerent statements reflect the jingoistic mindset prevailing in India which can further exacerbate the already vitiated environment. As a responsible member of the international community, Pakistan refrains from such aggressive statements but our armed forces are fully capable of giving a befitting response in case of any misadventure.

Pakistan has consistently maintained that the only solution for the Jammu & Kashmir dispute is the realization of the right to self-determination of the Kashmiris through a free, fair, transparent plebiscite under the auspices of the UN, in accordance with the UNSC resolutions. The use of brute force and oppressive measures shall only fail to suppress the Kashmiris. India needs to realize that the Jammu & Kashmir dispute is a reality which can only be resolved in line with the UNSC resolutions rather than brute force.

Question

According to media reports, around 100 Pakistanis are currently detained in various jails in Libya, and our Embassy officials are not doing anything to support them. What are your comments on this?

Second, a US Representative has recently said that Pakistan has taken positive steps in the right direction. What steps are being referred to? (Abbas Jaffer – District News)

Answer

I will check the matter of Pakistanis in Libya, and get back to you. However, let me remind you of the recent boat capsizing incident off the coast of Libya, and the unfortunate illegal crossing of borders by Pakistanis, which causes pain and loss of lives to many of our citizens each year. I take it up as a personal campaign and urge the media to educate our masses about the ills and pitfalls of illegal border crossings.

Question

In your view, when will the Judicial Committee between Pakistan and India become active?

Second, what is the update on the exchange of doctors between both sides? (Naveed Akbar – Daily Dunya)

Answer

We are working on both the proposals.

Question

What is Foreign Office’s comment on Mr. Amar Baloch’s apprehension in Guantanamo Bay since 2006, as reports indicate that he is suffering due to racial discrimination and no charges of terrorism have been proved against him? (Kauser Lodhi – Prime News)

Answer

I will get back to you after ascertaining details.

Question

7th Meeting of Pakistan-Russia Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism was held yesterday. Is there any proposal to enhance defence ties, or exchange CT knowledge and training with Russia? (Zahid Khan – Frontier Post Lahore)

Answer

Pakistan is actively reaching out to Russia, and the gesture is being reciprocated. Pakistan hopes to strengthen and broadened its bilateral partnership with Russia. On your question, we have already issued a detailed press release.

Question

In your view, do the reports circulating in the media regarding Pakistanis’ maltreatment in Saudi Arabia, seek to damage our bilateral relationship with the Kingdom?

Second, you just mentioned that there is no agreement on exchange of prisoners between Pakistan and Afghanistan. My question is, with which countries of the world does Pakistan have such an agreement? (Fida Hussain – Radio News Network)

Answer

Your second question pertains to Ministry of Interior.

Regarding your first question, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy deep rooted historical, religious and cultural ties that are beyond such malafide attempts.

Question

Is there any US national imprisoned in Pakistan? Second, what is Pakistan’s stance on Aafia Siddiqui? (Sardar Amir – Daily Madaar)

Answer

Our stance on Aafia Siddique remains unchanged. On prisoners data, please refer to Ministry of Interior.

Question

Saner voices within India are holding Modi Government responsible for the deadlock in Pakistan and India dialogue, and are actively advising the Modi Government against it. Is Pakistan aware of this? (Khawaja Nayaar Iqbal – Daily Kashmir Post)

Today is International Water Day. In this context, would you apprise us of any update regarding contentious projects in Indus Water Treaty? (Rashida Sial -Abb Tak)

Answer

For the record, and at the cost of repetition, Indus Waters Treaty has been made dysfunctional by India. Its dispute resolution mechanism is currently not working, which includes the contentious Kishanganga and Ratle power projects. On our part, we have taken up this issue forcefully with the World Bank.

On Modi Government’s stance, you are right that the saner voices within India are now advising for a moment of introspection, to reflect on the purpose of this standoff and hiatus with Pakistan for so long. On our part, Pakistan has consistently maintained that a result oriented and meaningful dialogue, which is uninterrupted and uninterruptable, is the only viable solution to the problems facing Pakistan and India.

Question

Who will attend the upcoming Afghanistan Conference in Tashkent from Pakistan, scheduled to be held 26-28 March? (Nimra Sohail – PTV)

Answer

Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif will lead Pakistan’s delegation to the said Conference.

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