Media Briefing|

[This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated]


Assalaam-o-Alaikum and Welcome to the Weekly Press Briefing of the Foreign Office

Let me begin with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent visit to Sri Lanka (23-24 February 2021) at the invitation of his Sri Lankan counterpart, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

This was the first visit by Prime Minister Imran since the formation of the new governments in both the countries.

This was also the first visit to Sri Lanka by any foreign head of government under the COVID-19 related health safety protocols, after the outbreak of the pandemic.

The visit was marked by exceptional warmth and cordiality.

On arrival at Bandaranaike International Airport, Colombo, the Prime Minister was received by the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka along with members of the Cabinet and senior officials.

A 19 gun salute was given to the Prime Minister, followed by guard of honour.

During the visit, the Prime Minister held one-on-one meetings and delegation-level talks with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The two sides held wide-ranging discussions with focus on reinforcing a broad-based and enduring bilateral partnership to advance the shared objectives of peace, stability and economic prosperity in South Asia.

The two sides agreed on deeper collaboration in diverse fields, particularly agriculture, tourism, science & technology, sports, education, culture, defense and security.

Highlighting the need to broaden the existing Free Trade Agreement, the two sides stressed the need for achieving US$ 1 billion bilateral trade target.

A high-level Pakistan-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Conference was also held to explore new avenues for enhancing trade and investment between the two countries.

The Conference was co-chaired by the Prime Ministers of Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Pakistan reaffirmed its support to Sri Lanka in the field of defence by providing training and equipment.

A new US $50 million defence credit line facility to Sri Lanka was also announced.

The Prime Minister also announced 100 scholarships in the field of medicine (MBBS and BDS) as part of the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Higher Education Cooperation Programme (PSLHECP).

The Speaker of the Sri Lankan Parliament and the Minister of Youth and Sports hosted a high profile event to pay tribute to Prime Minister Imran Khan as a Cricket legend.

On the occasion, the Prime Minister commissioned a High Performance Sports Centre in Colombo.

He offered PKR 52 million for promotion of sports in Sri Lanka.

To further strengthen parliamentary cooperation between the two sides, the Sri Lanka-Pakistan Parliamentary Friendship Group was also reconstituted.

Appreciating the rich Buddhist heritage of Pakistan, the two sides agreed to enhance cooperation in the field of tourism.

The Pakistan side also announced its initiative of establishing Asian Civilization and Culture Centre at the University of Peradeniya, in Kandy, Sri Lanka.

Underscoring the need to enhance regional cooperation, the two sides reiterated their commitment to the principles and objectives of the SAARC Charter.

Prime Minister Imran Khan also emphasized the importance of resolving disputes through dialogue and promoting the vision of peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia and beyond.

In the context of regional connectivity, Prime Minister Imran Khan highlighted the opportunities presented by China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of BRI, for regional economic growth and prosperity.

The visit will help further strengthen ties between Pakistan and Sri Lanka as special friends and strong partners.

During the week, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi held important meetings regarding the Afghan Peace Process in Islamabad.

The Foreign Minister received Russian President’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Ambassador Zamir Kabulov, Special Envoy of the Foreign Minister of the State of Qatar, Dr. Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani and Afghan President’s Special envoy, Mohammad Omar Daudzai.

During these meetings, matters of mutual interest with special focus on the Afghan peace process were discussed.

In his meeting with Ambassador Zamir Kabulov, Foreign Qureshi underscored that both Pakistan and Russia have convergence of views on an inclusive political settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan.

Talking to Special Envoy of the Foreign Minister of the State of Qatar, the Foreign Minister appreciated Qatar’s positive and constructive efforts as the host of the U.S.-Taliban talks that culminated in the Peace Agreement and the subsequent Intra-Afghan Negotiations.

In his meeting with the Afghan President’s Special envoy, the Foreign Minister noted the recent high-level visits between the two sides and hoped that these exchanges would help strengthen bilateral cooperation.

During all these meetings, the Foreign Minister reiterated Pakistan’s long-standing commitment to peace in Afghanistan.

He reaffirmed Pakistan’s continued support for the Intra-Afghan Negotiations, which provide a historic opportunity for establishment of durable peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region.

Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood addressed the High-Level segment of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva in a virtual format.

In his address, the Foreign Secretary reaffirmed the significance attached by Pakistan to the Conference on Disarmament as a vital organ of the multilateral security architecture.

Voicing concern on the negative developments in the international security landscape, which were also casting their shadows in South Asia, the Foreign Secretary called upon outside players to be mindful of their responsibility not to accentuate military imbalance in the region through policies of waivers and exceptions to rules governing transfers of advance technologies.

The Foreign Secretary underscored the need for the UN disarmament forums to be alive to the prevailing global realities and adapt their agendas to deal with the threats posed to global and regional stability by new and emerging technologies.

We have yet another positive development in our fraternal cooperation with Niger.

In keeping with its long held and proud tradition of providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, a Pakistan Navy Ship (PNS Nasr), arrived at Cotonou port of Benin, today, traversing over 8000 nautical miles.

The ship has carried one thousand metric tons of rice as relief assistance for the brotherly people of Niger.

This “gunboat philanthropy” initiative of Pakistan Navy will help further strengthen the long-standing bonds of friendship between Pakistan and Niger.

Coming to the situation in Indian illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), the flagrant human rights violations in IIOJK once again resonated at the 46th Session of United Nations Human Rights Council.

In her address at the Human Rights Council, Minister for Human Rights Dr. Shireen Mazari highlighted the unprecedented military siege, gross human rights violations and systematic use of arbitrary imprisonment.

The Minister also highlighted the BJP government’s efforts to change the demographic structure of the occupied territory, aimed at converting the Kashmiris into a minority in their own land, in violation of the 4th Geneva Convention.

In his address at Human Rights Council, the Foreign Minister of Turkey, called upon India to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir dispute as per the UN resolutions and wishes of the Kashmiri people.

The Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) also highlighted the human rights situations in IIOJK, and urged the international community to upscale its efforts towards settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.

The resonance of egregious human rights violations in IIOJK at the UN Human Rights Council shall serve as another reminder to India of its international obligations.

I thank you and am happy to take questions on these or other foreign policy related developments.

Question: The United Nations and the United States of Americas have welcomed the recent announcement made by the Director Generals (Military Operations) of India and Pakistan regarding the ceasefire understanding. The Prime Minister during his recent visit to Sri Lanka also talked about peace and dialogue. Have there been backdoor talks/ diplomacy/ between Pakistan and India. What is the stance of Foreign Office in this regard?

Secondly: The Human Rights Watch in its recent report has strongly condemned Indian’s atrocities being perpetrated in connivance with states institutions against minorities, especially Muslims. How do you comment on this? (Khwaja Nayyer Iqbal, Media Today)

Supplementary Question: It has been reported by the Indian media that there has been back door contacts/ talks between the National Security Advisor of India and the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Security Division and Strategic Policy Planning of Pakistan before the announcement the Director Generals’ (Military Operations) discussions regarding agreement on the ceasefire violation.

Secondly: Would you please let us know whether Pakistan or India initiated the contact between the Director Generals (MO) of the two countries that led to the recent agreement? (Zulqarnain Haider, ARY News)

Answer: I would like to refer to the statement by DG ISPR following the discussions between the Directors General of Military Operations of Pakistan and India.

In the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace both sides agreed to strictly observe all agreements, understandings and ceasefire along the Line of Control and other sectors.

Both sides agreed to the need to utilize the existing mechanisms of hotline contacts and border flag meetings.

Pakistan has consistently underscored the need to observe the 2003 ceasefire understanding in letter and spirit for maintenance of peace along the Line of Control.

We have also maintained that escalation along the Line of Control is a threat to regional peace and security.

Therefore, this development is very much in line with Pakistan’s consistent position.

I would also like to share that there have been over 13,600 ceasefire violations by India since 2003. In the year 2020 alone, there were 3,097 ceasefire violations resulting in 28 shahdats and 257 injuries to the civilian population.

As for the outstanding issues, including the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, there is no change in Pakistan’s long held principled position.

Regarding the backdoor talks with India, you must have seen the tweets by the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Security Division and Strategic Policy Planning following the news item you are referring to. I do not want to add anything further.

Regarding Human Rights Watch report, we have repeatedly been saying that gross human rights violations in India and IIOJK are a matter of deep concern.

The International community, including the UN human rights machinery, humanitarian organizations, the parliamentarians and the media has been consistently raising the issue of egregious human rights violations in IIOJK and in India. I have already talked in my opening statement about the resonance of human rights violations in IIOJK at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Question: It has been reported that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s scheduled address to the Sri Lankan Parliament was cancelled. Would you please share the reason? (Fida Hussain, Radio News Network)

I have already spoken in details about the Prime Minister’s successful visit to Sri Lanka. The visit was marked by exceptional warmth and cordiality. On arrival at Bandaranaike International Airport, Colombo, the Prime Minister was received by the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka along with members of the Cabinet and senior officials. A 19 gun salute was given to the Prime Minister, followed by guard of honour.

The substantive program and meetings of the Prime Minister during the visit reflect the close cordial relations that the two countries enjoy.

Pakistan and Sri Lanka consider each other special friends and strong partners, the spirit of which was clearly reflected in the outcome document of the visit.

Question: Iran said that Pakistan has fired on Panjgur’s demonstrators. Deputy Governor of the Sistan and Baluchestan province told Iranian state TV on Tuesday that the outrage at the governors’ office stemmed from the shooting of several fuel smugglers on the Pakistani side of the border near Saravan the day before. He pointed a finger at Pakistan, saying its forces had opened fire on a gathering of fuel smugglers that had been trying to cross back into Iran, killing one and wounding four. Would you please comment on this? (Saima Shabbir, Arab News)

Answer: We are aware of the statement you have referred to.

The incident occurred on the Iranian side of border. We have taken up the matter with the Iranian Embassy on the statement made by the Deputy Governor of Sistan-o-Baluchistan.

Pakistan views its border with Iran as one of peace and friendship.

We remain engaged with Iranian officials to discuss ways and means to not only facilitate cross-border commerce for local people living on both sides of the border but to also ensure the security of the common border.

Such unfortunate incidents validate the need to have more formal ways to increase the trading opportunities for local people.

Question: Was the issue of convening the SAARC summit discussed during the recent visit of Prime Minister to Sri Lanka. What are the expectations regarding the SAARC summit. Secondly, following the discussions between DGs (MO) of India and Pakistan, is there any chance of bilateral dialogue happening between Pakistan and India in this year leading to peace for the people of both sides of the LoC? Thirdly, would you please comment regarding the upcoming 27th February event Pakistan Air Force strike down Indian jets. (Naveed Akbar, Aaj News)

Answer: Regarding the SAARC, we believe that SAARC provides an important platform for regional cooperation and all member states must utilize it to enhance cooperation for the betterment of the people. During the visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to Sri Lanka, both sides reaffirmed their commitment to the principles and objectives of the SAARC charter.

In the joint communiqué of the visit, both sides stressed the need to convene the charter based bodies and agreed to take forward the SAARC process for further strengthening regional cooperation to achieve prosperity in the region.

Regarding discussions between Director Generals (MO), I have already responded to this in detail.

As for your question regarding 27th February, the Pakistan nation remembers the day with pride as the valiant armed forces of Pakistan responded to the Indian misadventure in a befitting manner.

The armed forces of Pakistan, as is their tradition and hallmark, demonstrated full combat readiness and high degree of inter-service harmony

Pakistan’s response was firm, mature and responsible. Tomorrow, the nation will once again pay tribute to their nation heroes for their exemplary courage and professionalism.

Question: In the backdrop of recent ceasefire between Pakistan and India, is there any possibility for Pak-India dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir dispute and other issues?

Secondly, there are speculations that Pakistan is going to allow export of Indian goods through its territory under the Afghan Transit Trade. Can you please confirm? (Muhammad Asad, Frontier Post)

Answer: Pakistan has always maintained that we want peaceful resolution of all outstanding disputes, including the internationally recognized dispute of Jammu and Kashmir. There is no change in our principled position.

Regarding the Afghan Transit Trade, we believe that Afghan economy needs support and in that spirit we allow the export of Afghan goods to India under the Afghan Transit Trade.

Question: In an interview with Karan Thapar in October last year, Dr. Moeed Yusuf presented five conditions to initiate dialogue with India. In subsequent statements by the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Dr. Moeed Yusuf and yourself repeatedly called upon India to rescind the illegal unilateral actions of 5th August 2019. However, we have not seen the Prime Minister of Pakistan calling upon Prime Minister of India on Twitter since 18 January. On 2 February, there was a statement by the Pakistani Army Chief calling for talks. Than the statement given by Prime Minister Imran Khan, on Kashmir Solidarity Day, did not include the usual rhetoric in the statements between Pakistan and India. Then there are certain statements of a similar nature by the Indian side.

So precisely, we can see that there have been some backchannel talks between Pakistan and India that were not in the public domain, which led to the understanding that was announced on 25th February.

In this backdrop I have two questions. Does that mean that Pakistan has backtracked from its position that India should reverse the actions taken on 5th August 2019, restore normalcy in the Occupied Valley, and release the incarcerated leadership? Secondly, is there possibility of talks and dialogue between Pakistan and India in future? (Essa Naqvi, Indus TV)

Answer: Regarding back channel diplomacy, you must have seen the tweets by the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Security Division and Strategic Policy Planning following the news item. I have nothing further to add to that.

As for Pakistan’s position on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, responding to an earlier question, I have clearly stated that there is no change in Pakistan’s principled and long held position on the Jammu & Kashmir dispute.

The focus of the talks of DGMOs was de-escalation along the Line of Control as per the agreed mechanisms and understandings.

Question: Regarding the list of individual and entities sanctioned by the UNSC and maintained by the Foreign Office, when was the list shared with FIA and other agencies? Is the list available for public consumption? (Ali Hussain, Business Recorder)

Answer: We will revert to you.

Question: Regarding the FATF, would you please comment and tell us which countries have appreciated Pakistan’s progress on FATF Action Plan? (Adeel Warriach, Foreign Affairs News Diplomacy)

Answer: As for your question regarding the names of the countries who appreciated Pakistan’s progress, since the FATF discussions are confidential, it will not be appropriate for me to comment on that.

As for the meetings, the plenary meetings of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) were held from 22-25 February 2021 in a virtual format where its members discussed a variety of topics, including Pakistan’s progress.

The Pakistan delegation was led by Mr. Hammad Azhar, Chairman FATF Coordination Committee and Minister for Industries and Production. The Minister for Industries and Production has also tweeted and held a press briefing on this.

The FATF appreciated Pakistan for the significant progress made on the entire action plan. In its plenary meeting held on 25th February, FATF has stated “To date, Pakistan has made progress across all action plan items and has now largely addressed 24 of the 27 action items.”

Pakistan has also made notable progress in the remaining 3 action items, which also stand partially addressed.

The FATF has acknowledged Pakistan`s continued high-level political commitment to combat terrorist financing that led to significant progress across a comprehensive Action Plan.

Pakistan reaffirms its commitment to continue strengthening the AML/CFT regime in line with the global standards.

Question: The Iranian Ambassador told me that they are having discussion with the Pakistani side regarding opening of two additional border crossing points. Can you share the timeline? (Amir Bhatti, Diplomatic Star)

Answer: We will revert to you.

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