Media Briefing, Press Releases|

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

Assalam-o-Alaikum and a good morning. Thank you for joining us for the Weekly Briefing.

Let me begin with the on-going visit of Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to Davos, Switzerland to attend the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) being held under the theme, “Cooperation in a Fragmented World” from 16-20 January 2023.

The Foreign Minister participated in a number of WEF events including an event on the theme “We come in Peace: The Role of Business in Times of War” and a Panel discussion hosted by Google. At WEF, the Foreign Minister has presented Pakistan’s perspective on economic and social impact of the evolving geopolitical realities, and challenges for international peace and security. He has also highlighted the concerns of the developing countries on issues of climate change, food and energy security, and social vulnerabilities in times of high inflation, and slowing economic activity.

On the sidelines of the Forum, the Foreign Minister has held meetings with the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo; Vice Premier of China, Liu He; and Foreign Ministers of Spain, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, Finland, and The Netherlands. During these meetings, bilateral and global issues of mutual interest were discussed. The Foreign Minister has also interacted with corporate executives, heads of international organizations and leading media and civil society personalities.

A parliamentary delegation from Belgium led by Senator Allessia Claes, Chairperson of Pakistan-Belgium Parliamentary Friendship Group, is currently on a visit to Pakistan from 16 to 21 January 2023.The National Assembly of Pakistan is hosting the delegation. This is the first parliamentary delegation of Belgium to Pakistan.

During the visit, the delegation will hold meetings with members of the Senate and the National Assembly of Pakistan. It will travel to Lahore and Karachi, and call on Governor Punjab and Chief Minister Sindh. The delegation will also visit flood affected areas in the Sindh province.

Federal Minister for Power, Engr. Khurram Dastgir Khan, visited Belarus last week from 12-13 January 2023 for the Sixth Session of Pakistan-Belarus Joint Economic Commission (JEC) held in Minsk. The Belarusian side was led by Minister of Energy Viktor Mikhailovich Karankevich. The two sides reviewed the ongoing bilateral cooperation in trade, industry, agriculture, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, science & technology, education and culture. It was agreed to further enhance bilateral cooperation in diverse sectors, including textiles, auto sector, agricultural equipment and mining. The two sides signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) on Cooperation in Tourism Promotion and on cooperation between Museums of Pakistan and Belarus. On 13 January, the Minister of Power held a meeting with Foreign Minister of Belarus, Sergei Aleinik.

Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, Dr. Asad Majeed Khan is currently in Brussels on an official visit. The visit is a capstone to his tenure as Ambassador to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg. During the last few days, the Foreign Secretary has met with leaders and high-level officials of the European Union, Belgium, and Luxembourg to bid them farewell and discuss issues of bilateral significance.

The Foreign Secretary has held meetings with Senator Allessia Claes, Chair of Pakistan-Belgium Parliamentary Friendship Group and with Minister Jan Jambon, President of the Flanders Region of Belgium. He met with Secretary General Sannino of the European External Action Service; Secretary General Gentzis of Belgium; and Secretary General Olinger at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg.

The Foreign Secretaryhas also held meetings with senior European Union officials including Simon Mordue, Chief Foreign Policy Advisor to President of European Council; and Fernando Guimaraes, Diplomatic Advisor to the President of the European Commission.

The meetings of the 8th session of Pakistan-Russia Intergovernmental Commission (IGC) on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation are underway in Islamabad since yesterday. From the Pakistan side, the IGC is Co-Chairedby Minister for Economic Affairs, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, while the Russian delegation is led by Energy Minister, Nicolai Shulginov.

IGC is a comprehensive bilateral mechanism that provides a platform for meaningful dialogue on substantive issues of mutual cooperation, including trade, investment, industry, railways, and energy. The IGC was last held in Russia in November 2021. The ongoing session of IGC will conclude on 20th January 2023.

Pakistan and China have agreed to temporarily reopen the Khunjerab Border in two phases. In the first phase, the Khunjerab Border will open today for two days (19-20 January 2023) and again from end-January 2023 to early February 2023, after the Chinese Spring Festival.

The Khunjerab Border between Pakistan and China remains closed annually during the winter months. The Chinese side has agreed to Pakistani request for temporary re-opening of the border to facilitate local traders. We appreciate the special efforts of border officials on both sides to ensure smooth border operations despite inclement weather conditions.

During the last week, Indian oppression in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) continued unabated. The Indian forces continued to carry out cordon and search operations in different parts of Rajouri, Poonch and Reasi districts, harassing the local population.

In a disturbing event, two Kashmiri youth were killed in a fake encounter in Budgam district after they were dislodged by the Indian troops from a vehicle and shot dead on spot. A 75-year-old under-trial prisoner, Mohammed Maqbool Khan, died in custody after he was tortured in Kupwara jail. He and his three sons were detained in August last year on trumped up charges.

For the last one month, a family in Kunan village of Kupwara has been desperately looking for the whereabouts of their son and brother Abdul Rashid Dar. A mini truck driver, Dar went missing on 15 December after he was whisked away by Army soldiers from 41 Rashtriya Rifles unit. His mother, Khera Begum, has demanded knowledge on Rashid’s whereabouts or at least a proof of life.

The case of Rashid Dar, though tragic, is not unique. Over the last three decades, hundreds have gone missing while in the custody of Indian security forces. According to credible counts, some 8000 persons have gone missing in IIOJK since 1989.

Pakistan will continue to raise its voice on the continuing grave human rights abuses in IIOJK. It will also continue to extend unstinted moral, political and diplomatic support to the people of Jammu and Kashmir in their quest for self-determination in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

I will conclude with an upcoming visit-announcement. Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will undertake an official visit to Tashkent, Uzbekistan on 23-24 January, 2023 to attend the 26th meeting of Council of Ministers (COM) of Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO). The theme of the event is “Year of Strengthening Connectivity”, an area of special interest and significance for Pakistan.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs will address the Council of Ministers and hold bilateral meetings with participating Ministers and other dignitaries on the sidelines of the event.

As the policy making forum of ECO, the Council of Ministers approves the annual workplan of the Organization. As a founding member, Pakistan remains strongly committed to the objectives of ECO which aims to promote effective regional cooperation, with focus on communications, trade, culture and connectivity.

I thank you all.
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Question:​In a recent interview with Al Arabiya TV channel, the Prime Minister of Pakistan offered his Indian counterpart talks to resolve Pak – India dispute. Later on, a clarification was also issued by the Spokesperson of the Prime Minister’s office on the views expressed by the Prime Minister. Now, could you please elaborate what is the exact position of Pakistan with regards to dialogue with India?

Secondly, son of Sheikh Abdullah of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir and brother of former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah has made a very stunning statement that the Indian Central Government was directly involved in Pulwama and Uri attacks. How do you view the disclosure from within Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir? (Shoukat Piracha, AAJ News)

Answer:​I think the Prime Minister’s remarks are very clear. He clearly articulated his perspective and referred to India’s illegal and unilateral actions in IIOJK since 5th August 2019 as well as the persecution of Muslim minorities which have created an environment which is not conducive for meaningful engagement.

Pakistan’s position on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute and India’s illegal occupation of IIOJK are very clear. Pakistan has always desired cooperative relations with all its neighbors, including India. We have consistently advocated constructive engagement and result oriented dialogue to resolve all outstanding issues, including the core dispute of Jammu and Kashmir. However, India’s unabated hostility and retrogressive actions have vitiated the environment and impeded the prospects for peace and cooperation. We believe the onus remains on India to take the necessary steps to create an enabling environment conducive for meaningful and result oriented dialogue. In that context, the reversal of India’s illegal and unilateral actions of 5th August 2019 in the Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir are of critical importance. We will appreciate if the international community, especially friendly countries would convince India to take such steps.

On your second question, generally we do not comment on statements made by people who do not hold official positions. However, I would like to underline here that the statement in question reinforces the apprehensions that false flag operations are staged to malign Pakistan and stoke hyper-nationalism in India.

Question:​One can easily understand the reasons when fire is coming from India. Since long we are facing such situations from Afghanistan, and recently there was such an incident from Iran. Where Pakistan’s Foreign Policy stands on this? Don’t you think that this is the right time for Pakistan to start talking with the Iranians? If you have already started talking with Iranians could you kindly take us into confidence about what is going on? (Mazhar Iqbal, PNN)

Supplementary Question: Yesterday, Iranian soil was used against Pakistan and ISPR has clearly stated that the terrorists have attacked the convoy of Pakistani military forces from there. Has this matter been taken up by Foreign Office with the Iranian side? Has the Iranian envoy been summoned to Foreign Office to officially lodge a protest regarding this incident? (Naveed Siddiqui, Dawn TV)

Supplementary Question:​In the statement issued by ISPR regarding this incident it was mentioned that Iran has been asked to hunt down terrorists on their side. Has ISPR contacted military to military or has it been taken up diplomatically as well? (Adeel Bashir, Roze News)

Supplementary Question:​We have had the same concern from Iran always and Iran always asked Pakistan to hunt down the terrorists on its side. So, whether we have any contact between the top diplomatic leadership on this issue, please? (Afzal Reza, IRNA)

Answer:​Let me first reiterate what has been said earlier by the Prime Minister and by ISPR. Pakistan strongly condemns the cross-border terrorist incident that took place yesterday, 18th January, in Chukab Sector, District Panjgur, Balochistan, resulting in martyrdom of 4 of our security forces personnel. The terrorists used Iranian soil to target a convoy of security forces patrolling along the Pakistan-Iran border. We expect Iran to ensure that its territory is not used for cross-border attacks in Pakistan. We call upon the Iranian authorities to ensure a thorough investigation of the matter and hold the perpetrators accountable. Pakistan denounces terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. We have strongly committed that our territory will nor be used for cross-border attacks in Iran and expect the same from Iran.

Lastly, Pakistan and Iran are close neighbours. We have channels of communication and these channels of communication are active and our concerns regarding this incident are being shared with Iran.

Question: The question I also asked in the last briefing that Saudi Arabia has decided to hire some 400,000 workers from six different countries, but Pakistan’s name is not included in the list of these countries. As you said earlier that you have contacted Jeddah, what is the update on this? (Mazhar Iqbal, PNN)

Answer: Many private Saudi companies are engaged in hiring labour and skilled human resource for import into Saudi Arabia for various projects and contracts. Saudi Arabia has been Pakistan’s largest export destination for human resource. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment, the number of Pakistani workers going to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2022 was over 500,000, which is 61% of the total manpower exports from Pakistan. We have seen that compared to the previous year, there was a threefold increase in the number of workers going to Saudi Arabia from Pakistan. We are working closely with the Kingdom to increase this number by working on skills development programmes in the country. Pakistan is also the first country that implemented that Saudi skills verification programme to further streamline manpower exports to the Kingdom. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will continue to work with the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis to ensure that skilled work force from Pakistan gets adequate employment opportunities abroad.

Question:​A high-level Russian delegation is on a visit to Pakistan. As per expectations will Pakistan be able to sign contracts for purchase of oil and gas from Russia on lower prices compared to India?

My secondly question is regarding the terrorist attack on the Pakistan-Iran border. Does Pakistan believe that any network like that of Kulbhushan Jadhav is still operating from the Iranian territory? Are there any talks going on with Iran in this regard? What is the update on this issue? (Khawaja Nayyar Iqbal, Media Today)

Answer: On the recent incident on Pakistan-Iran border, I have already responded about the latest incident. Other part of your question is technical and security related in nature, so I would advise you to contact the relevant authorities for these details.

Regarding the ongoing meeting with Russia, I have explained in detail in our opening statement that the agenda of 8th session of Pakistan-Russia Intergovernmental Commission (IGC) is wide ranging. It focuses on trade, investment, energy, agriculture and oil and gas sectors. So, all aspects of bilateral cooperation in these sectors are under discussion.

Question:​Speaking at Davos, one of the Saudi Prince and Minister made it clear in his statement that next time Saudi Arabia will be giving assistance to other countries with certain conditions and strings. So far whatever Pakistan has received from Saudi Arabia or from Washington, is it conditional or unconditional? Do you think that next time Pakistan will accept financial assistance with some conditions?

Secondly, there are reports that Pakistan is considering to appoint a new Ambassador in Washington. Also, the High Commissioner in United Kingdom has already completed his tenure. So can you share any update regarding the appointment of new Ambassador to Washington and High Commissioner to UK? (Mateen Haider, G News)

Answer:​I do not have information on any personnel appointments that I can share with you at this moment.

Regarding your first question, I would like to underline that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are close friends and brothers and we have for decades worked together to further strengthen this friendship and partnership. We have certain frameworks in which various areas of cooperation are discussed. These include the Economic Pillar of the Saudi-Pakistan Supreme Coordination Council, the meeting of which is chaired by the Finance Minister from our side. Attracting investments from Saudi Arabia has remained on the agenda of Pakistan and in this regard, we are in close contact with Saudi Arabia. Other aspects of your question are technical in nature and I would advise you to contact the Ministry of Finance for further details.

Question:​Thank you Spokesperson. My question relates to a Pakistani journalist, Syed Fawad Ali Shah. I also raised this question in the previous briefing. The Malaysian authorities claim that he was deported to Pakistan at the request of Pakistani High Commission and Pakistani intelligence agencies, claiming that he was a former police officer. Could you confirm his whereabouts? His wife claimed that he was a journalist who was living as a refugee in Malaysia for quite some time, but he was deported last August. She further claimed that she is being targeted and harassed to not raise any questions about his whereabouts. She also said that Mr. Fawad is not in Pakistan but in any third country. She also expressed her concerns that the families of the reporters and dissidents who are in exile from Pakistan, also face similar pressures from Pakistani authorities. What are your comments, please. (Jaleel Akhtar, VOA Urdu)

Answer:​First of all, I would say that issues relating to deportations are finalized after consultations between Governments through specific channels under certain legal provisions. Ministry of Interior in Pakistan is the focal point for engaging with foreign governments in this respect. Secondly, I would like to say that as far as the journalists in Pakistan is concerned, I would advise you to seek details from the Ministry of Information because they are the relevant ministry.

Question:​Thank you Ma’am, Asghar Ali Mubarak from Daily Mail Islamabad. Ma’am, as you shared in your opening statement regarding the current situation in IIOJK. We are seeing that Indian authorities are giving voting rights after the domicile rights to non-state citizens, they are also being encouraged by BJP to contest the elections. At one hand, we are witnessing the results of successful diplomatic efforts by Pakistan to internationalize the issue of Jammu and Kashmir but at the same time, nothing has changed after the illegal steps taken by Indian Government on 5th august 2019. What are your comments in this regard? (Asghar Ali Mubarak, Daily Mail International)

Answer:​Thank you. I think this is what we have been saying all along. Since 5th August 2019, India has been engaged in a campaign to change the demographic structure of the occupied territory. And for that, they have taken certain measures which include giving domiciles to non-Kashmiris, allowing sale of properties to non-Kashmiris and including the non-Kashmiris especially the military personnel of the Indian occupation forces in the electoral lists. Pakistan is very concerned about these illegal measures. And we have voiced this concern time and again, including in our previous briefings. Pakistan will continue to raise this issue at all possible forums, so that India is held to account and its unabated campaign of terror in IIOJK comes to an end.

Question:​First, we saw that a day before yesterday a bill was introduced in US Senate to terminate Pakistan’s designation as a non-NATO ally. So, what’s your take on that. Secondly, we saw a statement from the Ministry of Religious Affairs saying that India is not abiding by the 1974 agreement on religious pilgrimage and a lot of visas have been denied. What is Pakistan’s take on the matter? (Anas Mallick, Capital TV)

Answer:​Regarding your first question, the bill has been introduced by one congressman in the House of Representatives. If you understand the American system, it takes several steps in the legislative process before it reaches a final conclusion. I would also like to add here that Pakistan and the United States are in the process of robust re-engagement and dialogue. This process of re-engagement has been very productive, and we wish to further deepen our friendship and cooperation with the United States.

Your other question was about the visas. I have not seen this statement by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and would therefore comment later on this.

Question:​Yesterday, the Spokesperson of the State Department said that they want to see Pakistan with a good economy and are aware of its economic difficulties. Is support by United States limited to the good wishes or they are practically helping us to deal with the current economic situation?

Secondly, a media organization has reported that in the Joint Statement issued after Prime Minister’s recent visit to UAE, there was no mention about the USD 1 billion amount promised by UAE and this was just stated by PM Office. What are your comments? (Ghulam Abbas Jaffar, Daily District News)

Answer:​First of all, the Pakistan-UAE Joint Statement was agreed by both governments and it was released by the Prime Minister’s Office, because that is the procedure for visits of the Prime Minister. The joint statement shows the consensus between Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates on a range of issues. There are several strands of discussion and agreement that take place between Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. As a practice, not every understanding is reflected in the joint statement. Regarding the financial support and rollover, the Finance Minister has already announced how the understanding between Pakistan and UAE will materialize, I would refer you to the Ministry of Finance for details.

On our relations with the United States, I would reiterate that Pakistan and the United States are now in a robust process of reengagement. Our engagement has been very productive and cooperative. Pakistan and the United States are undertaking discussions to enhance cooperation in a range of areas including agriculture, climate change, trade, investment, energy and other sectors. We hope that as we move forward, this cooperation will further solidify.

Question:​American forces left large amounts of weapons in Afghanistan which includes 42000 positioning equipment and night vision surveillance equipment. Most of the weapons have been captured by terrorists which they use to target Pakistan from Afghanistan and Iran border, which not only fulfills their objectives but is also affecting Pakistan’s ties with its neighboring countries. America has helped Pakistan against terrorism and to overcome economic crisis especially in the era of President Ayub Khan, President Zia ul Haq and President Musharaf. Is America still committed to support a democratic Pakistani Government like it did in the previous military eras? (Syed Asif Ali, Din News)

Answer:​As I said earlier, Pakistan and United States are engaged in a productive and robust dialogue. Our cooperation is taking place in a very productive fashion and we are very hopeful that our relations will strengthen further.

Question:​Is there any possibility of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan in coming months or during this year? (Jaleel Akhtar, VOA Urdu)

Answer: You know very well, we do not announce any such visits in advance and our colleagues in the media know that the Foreign Ministry makes statements when both sides have agreed to announce a particular visit. So, at this point I have nothing to share with you on that particular visit.

Question:​After the US withdrawal from Afghanistan many people who worked with NATO shifted to Pakistan and they are still protesting in-front of National Press Club Islamabad in this cold weather. They are expecting support from Pakistan and the world for their relocation and resettlement. About those people who worked with NATO, can you share details that how many of them have already gone abroad and how many of them are still waiting? (Allah Noor, Mashriq TV)

Answer: ​I would like to say that right after the events of 15th August 2021; Pakistan has cooperated with its international partners and facilitated the evacuation of their nationals, embassy employees or visa holders of foreign countries. That process has gone very well. Our partners appear to be satisfied with Pakistan’s role. Any requests for further cooperation would be considered on merit, and decided in view of the prevailing laws in Pakistan and Pakistan’s generosity towards its friends, especially to facilitate our Afghan brothers and sisters.

Thank you very much.

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