[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 by sharing that the year 2021 marks the completion of 70 years of diplomatic relations between Pakistan and the People’s Republic of China, established on 21 May 1951.

In a joint ceremony held virtually, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi formally commenced the 70th anniversary celebrations.

The yearlong celebrations will include seminars, cultural exchanges, high-level visits and people-to-people linkages.

Speaking on the commencement ceremony, Foreign Minister Qureshi underscored that in the past seventy years, Pakistan-China relationship has turned into an “All Weather Strategic Cooperative Partnership” which is an anchor for peace, stability, and development in the region.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi emphasized that due to “commitment of generations of our leaders and our peoples, China-Pakistan friendship has grown into a towering tree with deep roots in the hearts of the two peoples.”

Foreign Minister Wang Yi also stated that Pakistan-China friendship has a time-honored history and in the seven decades the two countries have stood together in rain or shine, and built an exceptional and ironclad friendship.

The 14th Summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) is being held virtually, today.

The theme of the Summit is “Regional Economic Cooperation in the Aftermath of Covid-19.”

Prime Minister Imran Khan will open the Summit in Pakistan’s capacity as the Chair of the 13th Summit, held in Islamabad in March 2017.

President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan will Chair the 14th Summit.

While sharing Pakistan’s perspective on COVID-19 challenges, the Prime Minister will outline his vision for regional economic development in line with ECO’s founding principles of promotion of trade and connectivity.

Pakistan has been actively contributing towards advancement of the goals and objectives of ECO, including regional economic integration.

The Defence Minister of the Republic of Iraq, Jumaah Enad Saadoon, met Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

The two Ministers reaffirmed mutual desire of both the sides to further promote and solidify existing bilateral relations, particularly in the areas of defence and defence production.

The two Ministers also exchanged views on the regional situation.

Foreign Minister Qureshi reiterated Pakistan’s support for the sovereignty, political unity and territorial integrity of Iraq.

Stressing the need for frequent high-level exchanges between the two countries, Foreign Minister Qureshi hoped that the visit of the Iraqi Defence Minister would help diversify and deepen collaboration between the two countries.

As part of his regular high-level exchanges, Foreign Minister Qureshi had a telephone call with the Foreign Minister of Norway.

Matters relating to bilateral, regional and international importance, including peace in Afghanistan and the Covid-19 situation were discussed.

The two Foreign Ministers also exchanged views on enhancing cooperation in diverse sectors such as trade, investment and clean energy.

The Foreign Minister of Norway appreciated the role played by the Norwegians of Pakistani origin in the economic development of Norway.

In line with the Government’s economic outreach initiative, Foreign Minister Qureshi chaired the 5th virtual meeting on Economic Diplomacy.

Pakistan’s Envoys to France, Italy, Norway, Poland, Romania and Russia participated in the meeting.

Highlighting the shifting focus from geo-strategic to geo-economics, the Foreign Minister underscored the centrality of Economic Diplomacy in the Government’s diplomatic outreach efforts.

The Foreign Minister reviewed Pakistan’s economic relations with the six European countries and emphasized the need to explore new opportunities to enhance bilateral trade and investment with these countries.

As part of its regular outreach to the people of Nepal, the Embassy of Pakistan in Kathmandu, organized a Free Medical Camp in collaboration with the Nepal Pakistan Friendship and Cultural Association (NPFCA).

At the camp, Pakistan trained Nepali Consultants provided free medical consultation, laboratory services, and medicines to over 400 patients.

On 27 February, the entire Pakistani nation remembered with great pride Pakistan’s befitting response to India’s irresponsible military misadventure two years ago.

India violated Pakistani airspace and conducted air strike inside Pakistan in complete violation of the United Nations Charter and international law on 26 February 2019.

The valiant Armed Forces of Pakistan swiftly responded and displayed exemplary courage and professionalism.

On 27 February 2019, Pakistan Air Force shot down two Indian fighter jets and captured an Indian pilot.

The captured Indian pilot was returned as a gesture of peace.

Pakistan, once again, not only resolutely safeguarded its territorial sovereignty, but also acted with tremendous restraint and responsibility.

Coming to the situation in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), in complete disregard of its international legal and moral obligations, India has continuously subjected the innocent Kashmiri people to a brutal military siege since its illegal and unilateral actions of 5th August 2019.

During the month of February alone, the Indian occupation forces martyred six more Kashmiris in so-called ‘cordon-and-search operations.

Pakistan strongly condemns the unabated extra-judicial killings of innocent Kashmiris in fake encounters and staged ‘cordon-and-search’ operations.

Pakistan is deeply concerned over the continued incarceration of Kashmiri leaders, including Asiya Andrabi, Shabbir Ahmed Shah, Yasin Malik; Masarat Alam Bhat, Mohammad Ashraf Sehraie and others.

The Indian Government has illegally arrested these Kashmiri leaders over false and made-up charges to muzzle the Kashmiri voices.

The international community must urge the Indian government to immediately release incarcerated Kashmiri leadership and political prisoners; end restrictions on fundamental freedoms of the Kashmiri people; remove draconian laws such as Public Safety Act (PSA), Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSA) and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA); and allow unhindered access to the UN and OIC observer missions, international human rights and humanitarian organizations, and global media to assess the ground situation in IIOJK.

It is collective responsibility of the world community, including the United Nations, to work for peaceful and permanent resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with the relevant Security Council Resolutions for durable peace and stability in South Asia.

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

Question: The international community is criticizing India for its oppression against minorities not only in IIOJK but also inside the country. How do you comment on this? (Khawaja Nayyar Iqbal, Media Today)

Supplementary Question: Syed Ali Shah Geelani has opposed the recent understanding on LoC between DG MOs of Pakistan and India. In a statement Pakistan has said that anyone dubbing the Understanding as a sell-out would only serve the cause of Hindutva regime. What is your comment on this? Does it indicate trust deficit between the Kashmiri leadership and Pakistan? (Rashida Sial, Abb Takk TV)

Supplementary Question: The United Nations Secretary General has once again talked about mediation between Pakistan and India regarding the resolution of Jammu & Kashmir dispute. Isn’t it against the essence of the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council? (Asghar Ali Mubarak, The Daily Mail International)

Supplementary Question: Following the LoC Understanding between DG MOs of Pakistan and India, Syed Ali Geelani stated that the Understanding does not reflect the desires and concerns of people of IIOJK. Some Pakistani politicians have responded that that anyone criticizing the Understanding would only serve the cause of Hindutva regime. What is the stance of the Foreign on this? Does the recently concluded LoC Understanding indicate the policy position of Pakistan?

Secondly, in a speech at Kotli, the Prime Minister had said that he would give the Kashmiris right to independence. Do you think that it is the policy of Pakistan on Jammu and Kashmir? (Adeel Bashir, Roze News)

Supplementary Question: Did the agreement between the Director Generals MOs of India and Pakistan on LoC conclude any procedure or protocol to avoid any future ceasefire violations? (Kousar Lodhi, Prime News)

Answer: The Directors General Military Operations of India and Pakistan recently held discussions over the established mechanism of hotline contact. Reviewing the situation along the Line of Control (LOC) and all other sectors, the two sides agreed to strictly observe all agreements, understandings and ceasefire.

The agreement will help save Kashmiri lives and alleviate the suffering of the Kashmiris living along the LOC.

Pakistan has consistently underscored the need for implementation of the 2003 ceasefire understanding in letter and spirit for maintenance of peace along the Line of Control and for saving the precious lives of innocent Kashmiris.

We have also maintained that escalation along the LOC is a threat to regional peace and security. The recent development is very much in line with Pakistan’s consistent position.

As for the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, let me reiterate that, there is no change in Pakistan’s principled position on the issue that remains anchored in the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. These Resolutions recognize the Kashmiris’ inalienable right to self-determination and unambiguously call for a free and impartial plebiscite under the UN auspices.

As for Syed Ali Geelani Saheb, his sacrifices and contribution to the Jammu and Kashmir cause are well known. He is one of the most respected Kashmiri leaders. He has dedicated his entire life for the Jammu and Kashmir cause. In recognition of his contribution and sacrifices for the cause of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan has recently conferred upon him the highest civilian award, Nishan-i-Pakistan.

Regarding the situation of minorities in India, the serious human rights violations and treatment of minorities in India have been comprehensively reported and documented by the international community, including the UN human rights machinery, the human rights and humanitarian organizations, the international civil society and the global media.

The RSS-BJP regime’s record is replete with instances of gross and systemic violations of the rights of minorities, in particular Muslims.

Pakistan continues to call upon the International community to take note of the growing gross human rights violations against minorities, especially Muslims in India.

Regarding the Prime Minister’s statement in Kotli, we have already issued a Press Release in this regard. I would like to refer you to that.

Question: The US State Department has once again referred to Jammu and Kashmir as “the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir”. Would you please comment? (Khawaja Nayyer Iqbal, Media Today)

Answer: As stated earlier and also conveyed to the US side, we believe the reference is inconsistent with disputed status of Jammu and Kashmir as recognized by numerous United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions and the international community.

Jammu and Kashmir is one of the oldest items on the agenda of the UNSC, which remains unresolved because of India’s intransigence and unwillingness to implement the relevant UNSC resolutions and its own solemn commitments made to Pakistan, the Kashmiris and the international community.

Political and economic progress of the people of Jammu and Kashmir is linked to realization of their desire for exercising right to self-determination.

By denying the Kashmiris their inherent and inalienable right to self-determination as enshrined in UNSC resolution, India is in continued violation of its international obligations.

The International community, including the United States, must urge India to stop its consistent & systematic human rights violations in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir and take genuine steps to resolve the dispute in a peaceful manner in accordance with the relevant UNSC resolutions.

Question: The recent agreement between the Director General of MOs of Pakistan and India on LoC has been welcomed by the international community, including the United Nations and the United States. Is there any possibility of restoration of the full normalization of relations between Pakistan and India following this development? (Jalil Akhtar, VOA Urdu)

Supplementary Question: Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi had stated that Pakistan would not start negotiations unless India rescinds its illegal and unilateral actions of 5th August of 2019. Despite this, talks and negotiations have commenced between India and Pakistan. How do you comment on this? (Anwar Abbas, Bol News)

Answer: Let me reiterate that there is no change in Pakistan’s principled position on the Jammu & Kashmir dispute. Jammu & Kashmir is an internationally recognised dispute and needs to be resolved in accordance with the relevant UNSC resolutions that call for a free and impartial plebiscite under the UN auspices.

Pakistan has never shied away from talks and has always called for peaceful resolution of all outstanding disputes, including the internationally recognized dispute of Jammu and Kashmir.

Question: The French Foreign Ministry had summoned Pakistan’s envoy after the statement by President Arif Alvi that a new law cracking down on radical Islam stigmatizes Muslims. In this background, reportedly in last meeting of the FATF, France had opposed Pakistan’s position more aggressively than India. Pakistan has remains in grey list of the FATF till June 2021 because of France’s strict position. Would you please comment? (Usama Khawaja, Bol News)

Answer: President Arif Alvi, while addressing the International Conference on Religious Freedom and Minorities Rights on 20th February 2021, stressed the importance of inter-faith harmony. His remarks were in broader context of freedom of speech and combating defamation of religions.

He also emphasized that new laws everywhere should strengthen these virtues.

The President also positively appraised the progress made by Europe in furthering religious harmony.

Pakistan remains engaged with the international community to build bridges and forge cooperation and understanding.

As for your question on the FATF, I have already made a detailed statement on this in my last weekly press briefing. I would request you to refer the same.

Question: I have two questions; firstly, there have been media reports about ten people being killed at our border with Iran. Are we undergoing any border agreement with Iran to avoid such deaths?

Secondly, what is the status of the Afghan Peace Process now given the possible delay in withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by the new US Administration? (Abbas Jaffer, Daily District News)

Supplementary Question: Reportedly, Pakistan and Iran had agreed to complete pilot projects for establishing joint markets in border areas of the two counties. Would you please update us in this regard? (Mateen Syed, Parliament Times)

Answer: Regarding the incident on the Pakistan-Iran border, I have already made a detailed statement during the last weekly press briefing that clarified that the incident occurred on the Iranian side of the 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. I would request you to refer to the same statement.

Regarding the Afghan Peace Process, there were three important developments during 2020, including: (a) U.S.-Taliban Peace Agreement of 29 February; (b) commencement of Intra-Afghan Negotiations on 12 September; and (c) agreement among Afghan parties on the Rules and Procedures on 2 December 2020.

We believe there is a need to build on the important milestones achieved in the Afghan Peace Process. It is now up to the Afghan leaders to seize this historic opportunity and workout an inclusive, broad based and comprehensive political settlement for durable peace and stability in Afghanistan. Pakistan also hopes to see a reduction in violence in Afghanistan, leading to the ceasefire.

Regarding the border trade with Iran, it has always been Pakistan’s policy to strengthen bilateral relations and enhance cooperation with Iran. As part of the Government’s special initiative to enhance economic activity and people-to-people contacts with Iran, Pakistan had proposed establishment of Joint Border Markets to Iran which was accepted by Iran.

Both the sides are currently working out the modalities on the establishment of joint border markets.

Question: Indian occupation forces in IIOJK have been involved in extra judicial killings and kidnappings. Are we taking up these human rights violations with the relevant UN bodies? (Zaheer, Samaa TV)

Answer: We have been repeatedly saying that India is using every possible tool of oppression and violating every single human right of the Kashmiri people to break their will. However, no amount of Indian brutalization has been able to subjugate the Kashmiris. We will continue engaging all relevant international fora to keep them apprised of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in IIOJK.

Question: We are moving towards ‘train diplomacy,’ and the freight train connecting Pakistan and Turkey through Iran is starting today. Do you see the possibility of other countries joining later? Also, is there the possibility of passenger trains in future? (Zulqarnain Haider, ARY)

Supplementary Question: The railway tracks in Pakistan including ML-1 have broad gauge, whereas those in Iran have standard gauge. This train project was discontinued in the past as well due to these feasibility issues. Do you think it is feasible now? (Usama Khawaja, Bol News)

Answer: The train project is one component of the Pakistan’s economic and trade diplomacy and regional connectivity initiatives. China – Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is the most significant project of regional connectivity project.

For technical details of the Rail project, I would refer you to the concerned departments.

Question: I have two questions. Firstly, is Pakistan backing Russia’s calls to hold a crucial meeting on Afghanistan, along with US, China and Russia? Will Pakistan be participating?

Secondly, on 11th February 2021, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement, which said that the Foreign Minister held a virtual envoys conference with Pakistani envoys in European countries. The picture released on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs official Facebook page shows a number of Ambassadors in it. Along with them, an individual namely Ms. Selina Rashid can also be seen in the same frame. Can you please enlighten me that under what capacity was Ms. Rashid part of this meeting? (Anas Malik, Wion TV)

Answer: Pakistan has always supported regional approaches to solving the conflict in Afghanistan. Troika Plus is an important forum to coordinate positions on the Afghan peace process. The details will be shared if it is decided to hold any such meeting in due course of time.

For your second question, Ms Rashid was present in the meeting in her capacity as member of the Foreign Minister’s Public Diplomacy consultative group and the sub committees within this which focus on economic, digital and cultural diplomacy among other areas.

Question: International Cricket has recently returned to Pakistan because of sports diplomacy, but recently PSL has been delayed. Have other countries voiced their concern regarding this delay with the Foreign Office? (Asghar Ali Mubarak, The Daily Mail International)

Answer: Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and Pakistan Super League (PSL) have set mechanisms under which international players participate in the PSL matches.

The 6th PSL Edition matches were being played under strict COVID-19 related heath safety protocols. The decision to postpone the remaining matches has also been taken in view of the same. For further details, please approach the PCB.

Question: The recent report by Human Rights Watch also highlighted the role of RSS in India. Will Pakistan too take up this matter with any international court? (Khwaja Nayyer Iqbal, Media Today)

Answer: We have consistently raised the issue of human rights violations and the treatment of minorities in India, especially Muslims under the RSS-BJP regime. These violations have been comprehensively documented by the UN human rights machinery as well as international human rights and humanitarian organizations, including the Human Rights Watch.

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