[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 participation in the 14th Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) Summit held in a virtual mode.

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

Prime Minister Imran Khan opened the Summit in Pakistan’s capacity as Chair of the 13th ECO Summit held in Islamabad in 2017.

In his wide-ranging opening address, the Prime Minister highlighted the regional and global health and economic consequences of Covid-19.

Sharing Pakistan’s experience, the Prime Minister dilated upon the Government’s ‘people and poor-centric approach’ to tackle the pandemic.

Talking about the regional integration, the Prime Minister underlined the importance of peace and stability in Afghanistan for integration of the ECO region.

Welcoming the ECO rail connectivity projects, such as Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad (ITI) commercial cargo train, the Prime Minister stressed timely completion of cross-border energy projects including TAPI gas pipeline and CASA-1000 electricity grid.

The Prime Minister made six specific proposals for enhanced regional economic cooperation in the aftermath of COVID-19:

  • One, mobilization of national and international resources to recover from the pandemic;
  • Two, building of resilient health care systems to respond to such crisis in future;
  • Three, development of integrated transport network to facilitate both intra-ECO trade and to serve as pathway for trade with other global economies;
  • Four, establishment of ECO Investment Agency along with organization of Annual ECO Investment Fair;
  • Five, pursuit of trade promotion measures such as simplification of border procedures, establishment of intra-regional institutional linkages, reinforcement of existing regional mechanisms, and implementation of Economic Cooperation Organization Trade Agreement (ECOTA);
  • Six, promotion of knowledge-based economies, increased expenditure on research and development, and focus on rapid digitalization, especially extension of broadband to all parts of the ECO countries.

The Foreign Minister of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Dr. Abdulaziz Kamilov visited Pakistan on 9-10 March 2021.

During the visit, Foreign Minister Kamilov held bilateral talks with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and called on the Prime Minister and the Chief of Army Staff.

In his call on the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister Kamilov conveyed cordial greetings from the President of Uzbekistan and reiterated the commitment to expand bilateral cooperation with Pakistan in diverse fields.

Expressing satisfaction over excellent bilateral relations between Pakistan and Uzbekistan, the Prime Minister emphasized the need to further expand economic cooperation between the two countries.

The Prime Minister emphasized that enhanced trade and regional connectivity were the cornerstones of economic growth and development.

Expressing appreciation for the proposed Trans-Afghan railway project between Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, the Prime Minister underscored Pakistan’s commitment to support all efforts for the earliest realization of this important connectivity project.

The Prime Minister highlighted that Pakistan offered the shortest route to international seas to all Central Asian Republics through Karachi and Gwadar ports and could be the gateway to landlocked Central Asia.

Stressing the imperative of negotiated political solution, the Prime Minister reaffirmed Pakistan’s steadfast support to the Afghan peace process.

In the context of South Asia, the Prime Minister underscored that durable peace and economic development in the region hinged on peaceful resolution of long-standing unresolved disputes.

Foreign Minister Kamilov also extended an invitation to the Prime Minister to participate in the Central Asia – South Asia Connectivity Conference scheduled to be held in Tashkent in July 2021.

During the delegation level talks between Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Dr. Kamilov, views were exchanged on enhancement of economic cooperation, mutual support at international fora, regional connectivity and tourism promotion.

Both sides expressed their firm resolve to enhance high-level interactions to give boost to the existing positive momentum in bilateral relations.

As part of the Government’s efforts to promote Economic Diplomacy, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi met with the European Envoys based in Islamabad.

The meeting was aimed at reviewing Pakistan’s economic engagement with the European countries, identifying the impediments and charting the way forward.

Highlighting Europe’s position as Pakistan’s largest trading partner, the Foreign Minister underscored the importance of consolidating and expanding Pakistan’s economic outreach with Europe.

The Foreign Minister apprised the Envoys of the various reforms introduced by the Government to improve business and investment climate in Pakistan.

He particularly highlighted the impressive improvement in Pakistan’s Ease of Doing Business ranking.

Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood held a roundtable discussion with the resident ASEAN Heads of Missions.

Consistent with the “Vision East Asia” policy, the Foreign Secretary reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to strengthen Pakistan-ASEAN partnership in all domains.

The Foreign Secretary specifically underscored the importance of forging closer cooperation in political, economic, security, tourism, education and cultural domains.

Recounting the steps taken by Pakistan to enhance engagement with ASEAN, the Foreign Secretary underscored the need to optimally utilize the available bilateral and ASEAN-wide institutional mechanisms.

The need for exploring new opportunities of cooperation in line with the ASEAN`s Master Plan for Connectivity (MPAC-2025) and Pakistan`s China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), initiative was also highlighted.

Pakistan and Thailand signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Defence Cooperation on 5 March 2021.

The MoU, inter alia, envisions cooperation in the fields of defence and security policy, exchange of information, training, joint exercises, and research and development in defence technology.

The MoU would provide a sound overall framework for consolidating and further enhancing bilateral defence and security cooperation between Pakistan and Thailand.

Coming to the situation in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK).

The Indian occupation forces martyred one more innocent Kashmiri youth last week, in staged “cordon-and-search” operation in Sopore town of Baramulla district in IIOJK.

Pakistan condemns the continuing extra-judicial killings by the Indian occupation forces in IIOJK.

The independent voices continue to raise concerns on the gross human rights violations in IIOJK.

The European Parliament’s Sub-Committee on Human Rights has discussed the serious human rights situation and continued crackdown on civil society and human rights activists in IIOJK and India.

The UK Parliamentarians have once again condemned human and civil rights abuses of Kashmiri people through military occupation of the region.

They have also demanded the UK Government to take action against the human rights violations in IIOJK.

The Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir has published a report, covering human rights violations in IIOJK from August 2020 to January 2021.

The Editors Guild of India (EGI) has once again expressed its shock on regular detention of editors of Kashmir based publications by the Indian security forces.

The EGI has underscored that “there are scores of journalists who are experiencing this new normal where they can be hauled up by the security forces for writing anything that goes contrary to the government narrative that peace has returned to the valley”.

We again call upon the Government of India to rescind all its illegal actions and take measures for resolutions of the Jammu & Kashmir dispute in line with the relevant United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions.

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

Question: According to media reports, Pakistan will be receiving 45 million doses of Indian made Covishield in March. Could you please confirm?

Secondly, following the ceasefire understanding between the Directors General (Military Operations) of India and Pakistan, now both countries are engaged in procurement of the Covid-19 vaccine. Don’t you think that it is time to restore bilateral dialogue between the two countries? (Rashida Sial, Abb Takk TV)

Supplementary Question: Is the recent contact and agreement between the Directors General (MOs) of India and Pakistan result of any backdoor diplomacy? Will this development not weaken Pakistan position on Jammu and Kashmir dispute, especially in the wake of continued of human rights violations in IIOJK? (Asghar Ali Mubarak, the Daily Mail International)

Supplementary Question: Would you please inform us that when will Pakistan be receiving 45 million or more doses of the vaccine from India? Is GAVI helping Pakistan to buy the vaccine or the government of Pakistan is paying for the vaccine doses? (Naveed Siddique, Dawn)

Answer: Regarding the contact between the Directors General Military Operations of India and Pakistan, we discussed it in detail during my last weekly press briefing.

The Directors General Military Operations of India and Pakistan held discussions under 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, understanding 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.

As for the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, 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 talks with India, 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.

Regarding the procurement of Covid-19 vaccine, Pakistan has not entered into any bilateral procurement agreement for COVID-19 vaccine from India.

GAVI, the international vaccine alliance, has offered to provide vaccine doses to several countries, including Pakistan under its COVAX Facility.

The procurement and supply mechanism of the vaccine doses are undertaken by GAVI and not the recipient countries.

As for the exact details of the doses of the vaccine, I would request you to approach the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination.

Question: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a letter to President Ashraf Ghani, had underscored the urgency for a political settlement of the Afghan dispute, while warning that Taliban could make rapid territorial gains in the eventuality of a U.S. withdrawal. Further, the U.S. Special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad also recently visited Pakistan and Afghanistan to discuss the current situation regarding the Afghan Peace Process. What is Pakistan’s official take on it?

Secondly, the Indian government is expelling approximately six thousand Rohingya Muslims from Jammu, saying that they are illegally settled there. How do you comment on this? (Khawaja Nayyar Iqbal, Media Today)

Question: The United States has proposed the UN-sponsored meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Pakistan, Iran, Russia, US, China and India to adopt a ‘unified approach on Afghanistan. How do you see the inclusion of India in the Afghan Peace Process? (Rabia Pir, VOA)

Supplementary Question: Chief of Army Staff and Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan attended an important meeting on the Afghan Peace Process in Bahrain on 9th March. The meeting was also attended by the chiefs of Afghan Army and Afghan Intelligence and Britain Chief of Defence. Would you please share the details of the meeting?

Secondly, what are the updates regarding the Afghan Peace Process? And what is Pakistan’s role in this regard? (Naveed Akber, Aaj News)

Answer: Pakistan had consistently supported the Afghan Peace Process. Our positive contribution facilitated the U.S.-Taliban Peace Agreement and the subsequent Intra-Afghan Negotiations.

Pakistan has continued to emphasize that there is no military solution to the Afghan conflict and the only way forward is through a political process.

It is important for Afghan parties to continue negotiations and pursue an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. All sides must work together for an inclusive, broad-based and comprehensive political settlement.

We welcome the U.S. efforts to re-energize the peace process and expedite the final political settlement.

Further details regarding the proposed meeting on Afghanistan under the U.N. will be shared once the official invitation is received.

As for India’s inclusion in the Afghan peace process, Pakistan supports regional approaches to solving the conflict in Afghanistan.

At the same time, we need to remain cognizant of the role of spoilers. Unfortunately, India has not been a constructive partner for peace in Afghanistan.

It is important to guard against the detrimental role of ‘spoilers’, both within and outside Afghanistan, who do not wish to see return of peace in the region.

Regarding expulsion of Muslims from Jammu, we have consistently been highlighting that India is violating every possible human right and is using every available tool of oppression in IIOJK. The most worrying development is the ongoing demographic restructuring in IIOJK in violation of relevant UNSC resolutions and the international law, including the 4th Geneva Convention.

India has issued over 3 million fake domicile certificates to non Kashmiris in IIOJK. By changing the demographic structure of IIOJK, the Government of India intends to undermine the exercise by the Kashmiri people of their right to self-determination through a free and impartial plebiscite under the auspices of the United Nation as per the relevant UNSC Resolutions.

We believe that the United Nations and the international community must intervene to stop India from changing the demographic structure of IIOJK by settling people from India in the illegally occupied territory.

Question: Please update us on the current status of the case of Lt. Col (Retd) Muhammad Habib Zahir and what efforts have been undertaken by the Government of Pakistan for his recovery? (Naveed Siddique, Dawn)

Answer: Muhammad Habib Zahir is a retired officer of Pakistan army who was abducted in 2017 from Lumbini, Nepal which is 5 kilometers from the Indian border.

At our request, the Government of Nepal constituted a special team to look into the incident but there has been no progress in the matter so far.

There is strong evidence pointing towards the involvement of Indian hostile agencies in the abduction of Habib Zahir, including involvement of Indian nationals who reportedly received him at Lumbini, made his hotel reservations and booked his tickets.

The website that Habib Zahir was contacted from was also operated from India.

Moreover, the Indian media reports and tweets from Indian personnel corroborate the evidence that he was in their custody.

Pakistan has repeatedly called upon the Government of India to cooperate and assist in locating Habib Zahir, but unfortunately we have not received any positive response as yet.

The abduction of Habib Zahir is a serious transnational crime which is in sharp contravention to the international law, especially human rights and humanitarian law.

Moreover, it is also in grave violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Access as well as 2008 bilateral agreement on consular access between Pakistan and India.

The grave human rights violation of the abductee and his family due to illegal actions of the abductors in a third state, speak of the gravity of the matter.

The international community, especially the human rights organizations must take serious notice of the matter and raise their voice for the release of an innocent individual.

The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has registered the case of Mr. Habib Zahir, on the request of his family.

The relevant must respect the UN and constructively engage with the UN Working Group and take necessary steps to enable Mr. Habib Zahir’s immediate release.

Pakistan will continue to make all out efforts to locate and bring back Mr. Habib Zahir.

Question: Earlier, the government of Pakistan had announced that the process of repatriation of Afghan refugees was initiated and the visas were being issued to the Afghan nationals for visiting Pakistan. Would you please share that what is the total number of Afghan nationals and how many Afghan refugees have been repatriated and how many Afghan refugees are remaining? (Changez Khan Jadoon, Khyber News)

Answer: We have a consistent position that there should be a time-bound and well-resourced road map for the repatriation of Afghan refugees. Pakistan is committed to safe and dignified return of Afghan refugees to their homeland. In this regard, we also have a working group on the Afghan refugees under the Afghanistan Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) to discuss the issue of repatriation of Afghan refugees.

Moreover, in order to facilitate movement of Afghan nationals to Pakistan, the Government of Pakistan has further taken several measures to ease the visa system and introduced new liberal visa policy.

As for specific numbers and details, I will get back to you.

Question: My question is regarding Pakistan’s procurement of helicopters, which was blocked by the United States; while on the other hand, India has been procuring defense equipment from various countries including the US. What are your comments please? (Saima Shabir, Arab News )

Answer: Regarding India’s acquisition of arms, we have repeatedly said that India continues to amass military capabilities and arms beyond it genuine security requirement, which is adversely affecting strategic stability, peace and security in the region.

Regarding the helicopter deal, this matter pertains to the Ministry of Defence.

Question: As you mentioned in your opening statement regarding discussion in European Parliament’s Sub-committee on Human Rights on the serious human rights situation and continued crackdown on civil society and human rights activists in IIOJK in India. How do you comment on this development? (Amjad Ali, PTV)

Answer: India’s international scrutiny and censure continues to grow. The UN human rights machinery, humanitarian and civil society organizations, international media and Parliamentarians, especially the European Parliament have meticulously documented India’s disregard of human dignity and fundamental rights.

These international organizations and bodies have consistently spotlighted India’s non-compliance with its international human rights obligations.

As for the recent debate, we welcome the discussion in the European Parliament’s Sub-Committee on Human Rights on violations in IIOJK.

The Sub-Committee expressed its deep concerns at the grave human rights situation in India and IIOJK.

It may be recalled that last year in May, the Chair of the European Parliament’s Sub Committee on Human Rights had addressed a letter to Home Minister of India, expressing serious concerns at the arrest of human rights activists and protesters against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

India’s willful defiance of international law, democratic norms and its human rights obligations necessitates continued accountability and opprobrium, as underlined in the UN Human Rights Commissioner’s Kashmir Reports of 2018 and 2019.

Pakistan reiterates its call for enhanced international scrutiny of the human rights situation in IIOJK.

Question: I have two questions. Firstly, today we saw a press conference of counter terrorism officials in Karachi where they played a clip of a US national named Kehkashan Haider. She has been alleged as being actively involved in terror financing in Karachi. It was said that they have raised us a similar matter with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which involved a British national. What is the progress on that?

Secondly, on Sunday 7 March, a Chinese diplomat based in Pakistan Zhang Heqing posted a derogatory tweet that objectified Hijab. Has the Ministry of Foreign Affairs taken up this matter with the Chinese side as the concerned diplomat is based in Pakistan? (Anas Mallick, The Correspondent)

Answer: Regarding your first question, I did see the press briefing and we will revert to you on specific details of any contacts made in this regard.

Regarding your second question, since the tweet was immediately deleted, I don’t want to comment on it now.

Question: Regarding the ATAK helicopters, what are your comments on the CAATSA sanctions, on Turkey? We have seen the similar deal between Russia and India as well. However, we have seen repeatedly that India is exonerated for different reasons from the CAATSA, USCIRF sanctions etc. How do you see these double standards from the US?

Secondly, first ever QUAD summit is taking place on Friday 12 March with a clear intention to counter China’s influence in Indo-Pacific region. In other words, it is against the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which Pakistan is also a part of. So how do you see summit taking place? (Essa Naqvi)

Answer: Regarding your second question, Pakistan believes it is important to pursue processes that serve to foster cooperation and mutual confidence.

Pakistan stresses the importance of initiatives that promote peace, development and security through constructive engagement and cooperation.

As for procurement of ATAK helicopters, I have already responded to that.

Question: Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) has been repeatedly demanding the complete integration of GB with Pakistan. Then why is Pakistan considering giving provisional status to GB? (Fida Hussain, Radio News Network)

Answer: Regarding the grant of provisional status to Gilgit Baltistan (GB), we have repeatedly maintained that these reforms are an ongoing process that includes political, administrative and economic reforms. It has been a long-standing demand of the people of GB. These reforms, aimed at further empowering the people of GB, will continue in line with their needs and demands.

Question: In the past we saw that India became concerned over a pigeon from Pakistan. More recently, a balloon is becoming the cause of India’s anxiety. How do you comment on it? (Khawaja Nayyer Iqbal, Media Today)

Answer: I don’t think this merits a response.

Question: I have two questions. Firstly is SAARC Summit going to take place and are we inviting India for it? Secondly, there is a case regarding hunting of Houbara bustard in the Islamabad High Court. A report was submitted by the Foreign Office; however the Court was not satisfied. And the court has ordered re-submission of the report. Can you please share details? (Anwar Abbas, Bol News)

Answer: On your first question, being a founding member, Pakistan considers SAARC an important platform for regional cooperation. Pakistan remains committed to the principles and charter of SAARC. We will continue working with the member states to build convergences and take forward the SAARC process for strengthening regional cooperation to achieve prosperity in the region.

As for the convening of SAARC summit in Islamabad, we hope that artificial hurdles created in its way by a member state will be removed and the process will be allowed to move forward.

On your second question, since the matter is sub-judice, I cannot offer any comments.

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