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


Assalam-o-Alaikum and welcome to the Weekly Press Briefing of the Foreign Office.

Let me begin with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s virtual address to the opening segment of the 77th Session of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP).

The theme of the segment was “Building back better from crises through regional cooperation in Asia and the Pacific.”

The event:

Analyzed the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region;
Took stock of the actions taken thus far; and
Set out a policy agenda for building back better.
Speaking on the occasion, the Prime Minister underscored the need for pursuing the right mix of national actions, regional collaboration, and multilateral cooperation to ensure that “no one is left behind” during the response and recovery efforts.

He underscored the need for mobilizing adequate financing to meet development needs of the developing countries.

The Prime Minister also emphasized that peace and development must be anchored in human rights and that the international community should pay special attention to the situations of those under foreign occupation.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi received the German Foreign Minister, today, during his brief visit to Islamabad.

The two Foreign Ministers reviewed bilateral cooperation in a range of areas and the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic.

Underscoring the importance of enhancing mutual cooperation and collaboration to combat the pandemic in a holistic manner, the Foreign Minister thanked his German counterpart for their efforts in ensuring earliest possible provision of vaccine through the COVAX initiative.

Foreign Minister Qureshi also apprised his German counterpart on Pakistan’s steadfast support for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan and positive contributions to the Afghan peace process.

He underlined the importance of regular high-level exchanges between the two countries and maintaining a steady upward trajectory in the relationship.

On the invitation of his Turkish counterpart, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi undertook a two-day visit to Turkey.

During the visit, a trilateral meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Pakistan, Turkey and Afghanistan was held.

The three sides exchanged views on achieving the shared objectives of a ‘peaceful’ and ‘stable’ Afghanistan through an ‘Afghan-led and Afghan-owned’ political process.

Besides participating in the trilateral meeting, Foreign Minister Qureshi also held bilateral talks with the Foreign Ministers of Turkey and Afghanistan.

During the meeting between Foreign Minister Qureshi and the Turkish Foreign Minister, the two leaders reviewed the entire spectrum of bilateral relations.

They also exchanged views on the regional situation.

Foreign Minister Qureshi appreciated Turkey’s steadfast support on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.

In his meeting with the Afghan Foreign Minister, the two sides discussed the entire gamut of bilateral relations and the latest developments in the Afghan peace process.

Foreign Minister Qureshi emphasized the need for concerted efforts for a meaningful engagement among the Afghan stakeholders for a negotiated political settlement.

He also reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to strengthen bilateral relations with Afghanistan in all fields.

The Foreign Minister underlined the need for effectively utilizing Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) to further strengthen institutional engagement between the two countries.

Foreign Minister Qureshi received a telephone call from his Canadian counterpart on 27th April 2021.

During the call, matters pertaining to COVID-19 pandemic, bilateral ties and regional situation were discussed.

Both leaders exchanged views on the bilateral relations in political, economic, security and cultural fields.

The Canadian Foreign Minister offered condolences on the loss of precious lives in the recent attack on Serena hotel in Quetta.

Foreign Minister Qureshi appreciated the inclusion of Pakistan in Students Direct Stream (SDS).

He hoped that the decision would help augment access of more Pakistani students to the educational institutions of Canada.

The Foreign Minister participated in the Six-country Foreign Ministers’ Video Conference on Joint Response to COVID-19.

The Conference was hosted by the State Councilor and Foreign Minister of China.

The Foreign Ministers of Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka and the Acting Foreign Minister of Afghanistan participated in the Conference.

Welcoming the initiative, the Foreign Minister said that it was important for all participating countries to enhance cooperation in mitigating common challenges like COVID-19 pandemic, poverty alleviation and disaster relief.

The Foreign Minister appreciated the key deliverables of the Conference including:

China-South Asia Emergency Supplies Reserve;
China-South Asia Poverty Alleviation Cooperative Development Center; and
China-South Asia E-Commerce Cooperation Forum on Poverty Alleviation in Rural Areas.
The Foreign Minister underlined that China-Pakistan Economic corridor (CPEC), and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) would emerge as the regional hub of trade, connectivity and economic activity.

Earlier, Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood represented Pakistan in the Six-country Vice foreign Minister’s Video Conference on Covid-19, hosted by China.

In his remarks, the Foreign Secretary highlighted the huge human and economic losses incurred by the pandemic and underscored the need for regional and international cooperation to fight this pandemic.

The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and the US Secretary of Defence, General Lloyd J. Austin (Retired) held a telephone conversation, yesterday.

During the call, matters of mutual interest, regional security situation including latest developments in the Afghan Peace Process, draw down and bilateral cooperation in various fields were discussed.

The COAS reiterated Pakistan’s support for an “Afghan- led and Afghan-owned” Peace Process, based on mutual consensus of all stakeholders.

The US Defense Secretary acknowledged Pakistan’s continuous efforts for peace and stability in the region and pledged to further enhance bilateral relations between both the countries.

In a recently held meeting of the UN Security Council (UNSC), Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations called upon the UNSC to “act boldly” in protecting civilians and critical infrastructure during conflict.

He underscored that “the attacks on cultural and religious sites, military siege and collective punishment have often been used to advance military or political objectives in situations of foreign occupation and suppression of the right of peoples to self-determination.”

As an outcome of the meeting, the UNSC unanimously adopted a resolution on protection of civilians in armed conflict, which was co-sponsored by Pakistan along with many other countries.

Pakistan views the recent developments in the Occupied Palestinian Territories with serious concern.

These include harassment of people coming for prayers, arrests of innocent Palestinians and other arbitrary restrictions in violation of fundamental human rights.

These illegal measures have seen an upsurge since the onset of the holy month of Ramadan.

Pakistan condemns these violent acts carried out by the Israeli Occupation forces and urges the international community for prompt action to protect the Palestinians.

We also reiterate our steadfast support to the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination.

We believe that for a just and lasting peace, it is imperative to have a two-state solution in accordance with the relevant United Nations and OIC resolutions, with the pre-1967 borders, and Al-Quds Al-Sharif as the capital of a viable, independent and contiguous Palestinian State.

Coming over to the region, I wish to reiterate our expression of solidarity with the people of India in the wake of the current wave of COVID-19 that has hit our region hard.

As a gesture of solidarity, Pakistan has also offered relief support to India.

We are ready to immediately provide ventilators, Bi PAP, digital X ray machines, PPEs and related items.

The concerned authorities of Pakistan and India may also explore possible ways of further cooperation to mitigate the challenge posed by the pandemic.

We wish the Indian people early relief and recovery.

As the COVID situation in India deteriorates, we also remain deeply concerned over the health and safety of the incarcerated Kashmiri leaders as well as other innocent Kashmiris, languishing in jails across India on trumped up charges.

Most of these jails are overcrowded and don’t have any provision for precautions against the COVID-19.

The incarcerated Kashmiri leaders include, Aasiya Andrabi, Muhammad Yasin Malik, Shabir Ahmed Shah, Ashraf Sehrai, Advocate Shahid-ul-Islam, Altaf Ahmed Shah, Nayeem Ahmed Khan, Ayaz Akbar, Peer Saifullah, Raja Merajuddin Kalwal, Syed Shahid Yousuf, Shakeel Ahmed, Farooq Ahmed Dar, Fehmeeda Sofi, Nahida Nasreen, Zahoor Ahmed and others.

Reportedly, some of the Kashmiri leaders in Indian jails have already contracted Corona virus. Unfortunately, they are not even provided any medical treatment.

Given the worst pandemic situation in India, the Indian Government must immediately release the incarcerated Kashmiri leadership and all innocent Kashmiris.

We once again call upon the international community, particularly the United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and human rights organizations to take cognizance of this dire humanitarian situation.

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

Question: In view of the current COVID situation, Pakistan has offered COVID relief support to India. Could you please elaborate on Pakistan’s offer? (Zahid Farooq Malik, Daily Metro Watch)

Supplementary Question: Is Pakistan’s High Commission in New Delhi in touch with the relevant authorities in India regarding Pakistan’s offer for COVID related support? Has India responded to Pakistan’s offer?

Despite alarming COVID situation in India, Pakistan had allowed Sikh pilgrims to visit Pakistan to celebrate Baisakhi. The Indian media, however, has widely reported that over 100 pilgrims who were part of the Jatha have tested positive for Coronavirus. How do you comment? (Asghar Ali Mubarak, The Daily Mail International)

Answer: As I have already stated in my opening statement that as a gesture of solidarity, Pakistan has offered relief support to India.

We are ready to immediately provide ventilators, Bi PAP, digital X ray machines, PPEs and related items.

The offer was made to the Indian side through diplomatic channels and we await response from the Indian side.

We wish the Indian people early relief and recovery.

Regarding the visit by Sikh Yatrees from India, the visit took place under COVID related health safety protocols strictly in line with the guidelines provided by the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC).

Question: It is being reported that once US and its allied forces would withdraw from Afghanistan, there will be serious security concerns for Pakistan. What are your comments?

Could you please update us on the health and wellbeing of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui? (Khawaja Nayyer, Media Today)

Supplementary Question: It is being widely reported that after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, there will be a regrouping of terrorist organizations in Afghanistan such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda and others. How do you comment? (Amjad Ali, PTV)

Answer: It has been Pakistan’s consistent policy to support an ‘orderly’ and ‘responsible’ withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, leaving no security vacuum that could be exploited by spoilers.

It is, therefore, important that the withdrawal coincides with the progress in the overall peace process.

Pakistan has also emphasized the need for continued support by all international stakeholders and concerted efforts by Afghan parties for a negotiated settlement to bring an end to over four decades long conflict in Afghanistan. A peaceful and stable Afghanistan is in the larger interest of peace and stability in the region.

As for Pakistan’s role in the peace process, we will continue to play a constructive role in this regard. We believe that reduction of violence leading to ceasefire, reconstruction and economic development in the post-conflict Afghanistan is also important for ensuring sustainable peace and stability.

Regarding Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington DC and our Consulate-General in Houston remain in contact with Ms. Aafia Siddiqui and her Attorney.

Upon seeing media reports, our Mission has once again contacted the concerned US authorities. We have not received any such information as is being reported in the media.

Our Mission has made an urgent request for another consular access/visitation to Ms. Aafia Siddiqui. The Mission will remain in contact with the concerned US authorities regarding Ms. Siddiqui’s welfare.

We will keep you updated on any further developments in this regard.

I would like to add that under the Vienna Convention, the host authorities must share the news in case of death of an inmate with the accredited diplomatic/consular Mission immediately.

Question: The CIA Director made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan last week. There are speculations that he had visited Pakistan as well during the same trip to the region, would you like to confirm or deny these reports of his visit?

During his testimony, Ambassador Khalilzad stated it was imperative to engage Pakistan to achieve gains in Afghan peace talks so that Pakistan continues to exert its pressure on the Afghan Taliban given the leverage it enjoys. What is this pressure that is being referred to by Ambassador Khalilzad? (Anas Mallick, The Correspondent)

Answer: As for the visit of CIA Director, I do not want to comment on speculations.

Regarding Pakistan’s engagement in the peace talks, let me reiterate that Pakistan, in good faith, facilitated the Afghan peace process which culminated into the signing of US-Taliban Peace Agreement on 29 February 2020; the commencement of Intra-Afghan Negotiations on 12 September 2020; and the Agreement on Rules and Procedures between the Afghan parties in Doha on 2 December 2020.

Pakistan’s role in this regard has been widely acknowledged and appreciated by the international community.

Pakistan has always maintained that it does not control Taliban. We will continue encouraging them to remain engaged in the peace process leading to an inclusive, broad-based and comprehensive political settlement in Afghanistan

On its part, Pakistan will continue to work together with the international community in the efforts for ensuring for durable and lasting peace in Afghanistan.

Question: In a recently issued report by the USCIRF, Pakistan has once again been recommended for CPC re-designation. The report has also recommended placing India on the CPC list. How do you comment?

In response to a media question during his visit to Pakistan, the German Foreign Heiko Maas has stated that both Pakistan and Germany were getting closer. Given the importance that Germany enjoys in European Union and in the backdrop of recent visits between the two sountries, how do you evaluate this statement? (Amjad Ali, PTV)

Answer: We have seen the annual report issued by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

We believe that the report’s findings on Pakistan lack objectivity besides making unsubstantiated assertions.

The report doesn’t acknowledge the Government of Pakistan’s efforts in promoting religious freedom and protecting the rights of religious minorities through legislative, policy and administrative measures.

Pakistani is a multi-religious and pluralistic society with a rich tradition of inter-faith harmony. Religious freedom and the protection of the rights of minorities are guaranteed by our Constitution and ensured through a range of legislative, policy and administrative measures.

The Government of Pakistan remains committed to protecting the rights of religious minorities. We will continue to remain constructively engaged on the subject with the U.S. Government.

Regarding German Foreign Minister’s statement on growing Pak-German relationship, the relationship is indeed on an upward trajectory.

Germany is one of the most important members of the European Union.

Pakistan and Germany enjoy cordial relations based on shared interests and common understanding on a number of issues including on the Afghan peace process.

We hope that the recent high level engagements would turn a new page in the relationship.

Question: Can you please confirm if any formal talks were taking place between Pakistan and India? (Khalid Mehmood, Express News)

Supplementary Question: Would you term the role of the UAE in Pakistan-India peace talks as of a facilitator or a mediator? (Anwer Abbas, Bol News)

Supplementary Question: There are different versions and stories circulating around Pakistan-India talks. While Pakistan has set the resending of India’s illegal, unilateral actions of 5th August 2019 as the pre-condition for talks, how are talks then underway? (Muhammad Imran, Dunya News)

Answer: Pakistan has never shied away from talks with India. We have consistently maintained that there is a need for a ‘meaning dialogue’ with India and peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues including the core issue of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.

However, for any ‘meaningful’ and ‘result oriented dialogue’ to take place, a ‘conducive’ and ‘enabling environment’ is of utmost importance. We believe that India, through its illegal and unilateral actions of august 5th 2019 has vitiated the environment, therefore, the onus is on India to create an enabling environment so that a ‘meaning’ and ‘result-oriented’ dialogue can take place.

As for the role of a third party, Pakistan has always highlighted the importance of the role by the international community in averting risks to the regional peace and stability and facilitating a lasting resolution to the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, in accordance with the UNSC resolutions which call for a free and impartial plebiscite under the UN auspices.

Question: Saudi Crown Prince recently talked about peace with Iran. We saw a tweet by Prime Minister on it as well. How do you comment? (Khwaja Nayyer, Media Today)

Answer: We welcome Saudi Arabia’s initiative for peace with Iran.

Pakistan enjoys good brotherly relations with both Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan has always stressed the imperative of avoiding any conflict, underscored the importance of defusing tensions and stressed the need for resolution of differences and disputes through political and diplomatic means.

We believe that the peace initiative announced by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will lead to unity among the Muslim World.

Question: When Russian forces left Afghanistan, their weapons and ammunition left behind were misused. Now that Allied Forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan and the route can be through Pakistan, do you think there can be repercussions for us?

Secondly, speculations are undergoing on how long Pakistan can hold on during a war. Does the Foreign Office have any idea? (Mateen Syed, Parliament Times)

Answer: As I already underlined, Pakistan has always maintained the need for a responsible and orderly withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. As for the transit of military equipment through Pakistan, any such movement can take place with mutual understanding and agreement.

For your second question, Pakistan’s defense capability is accomplished and acknowledged.

We are fully cognizant of our security needs, and are prepared to respond to any misadventure.

Our response in Balakot incident was a manifestation of the capability and preparedness of our Armed forces and our national resolve to defeat ill designs of enemy.

Question: Since Taliban refused to participate in the Istanbul Talks, the quantum of telephone calls between US and Pakistan has increased, probably with expectations that Pakistan would play its due role. What is Pakistan’s position on this?

Secondly, in the aftermath of 5th August 2019, India has undertaken a number of steps such as granting domiciles to non-Kashmiris and allotting land for commercial purposes? Can you share numbers? (Aijaz Ahmed, GNN)

Supplementary Question: Will Pakistan participate in Istanbul talks in case India is invited as well? (Anwar Abbas, Bol News)

Answer: Regarding Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan, we have played an important role in the ongoing Afghan Peace Process.

As the result of our facilitating the efforts for achieving durable peace and security in Afghanistan, three major milestones were achieved in 2020,(a) the U.S. Taliban Peace Agreement signed on 29 February 2020; (b) the commencement of Intra-Afghan Negotiations on 12 September 2020; and (c) the agreement on Rules and Procedures between the Afghan parties in Doha on 2 December 2020.

On its part Pakistan will continue to work together with the international community in the efforts for ensuring peace in Afghanistan.

However, Pakistan firmly believes in a political settlement through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. We attach great value to Turkey’s efforts for peace and stability in Afghanistan. We believe that the meeting of Afghan leadership in Turkey, on the dates once finalized, would be an important opportunity for the Afghans to make progress towards a negotiated political settlement.

As for the demographic changes in IIOJK, we will revert to you with numbers.

Question: Prime Minister has taken serious notice of the dissatisfaction of Pakistani community with Pakistan’s Embassy in Riyadh. Such complaints have been registered in other parts of the world as well. How do you comment on this?

Secondly, according to media reports, Prime Minister is visiting Saudi Arabia on 7 May. Can you please confirm? What will be different engagements of the Prime Minister? (Naveed Siddiqui, Dawn TV)

Answer: As for your first question, the Government of Pakistan attaches high importance to the welfare of overseas Pakistanis.

Overseas Pakistanis are our greatest asset. Their role in national development is indispensable.

There is zero tolerance, whatsoever, for any lapse in the public service delivery.

The Foreign Minister, himself, oversees the working of all our diplomatic missions, particularly with regards to the services being provided to the Pakistani community.

In this regard, Pakistan’s Missions, all across the world, have standing instructions to extend maximum facilitation to the Pakistani community in their respective jurisdictions.

As for this particular case regarding the Embassy of Pakistan in Riyadh, the Prime Minister has directed to conduct an inquiry. The Prime Minister’s directions are being fully implemented.

A high-powered inquiry committee will look into the matter.

Our Ambassador of Pakistan to Saudi Arabia has already returned and orders have been issued for the recall of six more officers of the diplomatic, community welfare and consular wings of the Embassy.

As for your second question, I can confirm that Prime Minister Imran Khan will be undertaking an official visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the invitation of Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman, early next month. Further details of the visit will be shared in due course.

Question: Pakistan has been hosting Afghan refugees for four decades now. There is a probability that the number will increase after the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Are we equipped to manage the border effectively? Is the repatriation of refugees a part of the upcoming talks on Afghanistan? (Khalid Mehmood, Express News)

Answer: Pakistan’s position on Afghan refugees is very clear.

Pakistan believes that one of the key features in the efforts for lasting peace and security in Afghanistan should be time-bound and well-resourced plan for return of Afghan refugees to their homeland and their reintegration in Afghanistan.

We also believe that effective border management between the two countries is important in this regard.

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