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


Thank you for joining us for the Weekly Briefing.

Let me begin with the visit of Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to Europe.

Foreign Minister has just completed a 2-day visit to Hungary from 21-22 February, where he held detailed talks with his counterpart Peter Szijjarto. The two Foreign Ministers discussed the entire spectrum of bilateral relations and exchanged views on important regional and global issues. They agreed to further strengthen bilateral ties and explore new avenues of cooperation.

Three MoUs were signed during the visit: on Cooperation between the Foreign Service Academies of the two countries; on Sports & Sports Education; and on Enhancing scholarship program for Pakistani students in Hungarian universities. With this MoU, the number of annual scholarships for Pakistani students in universities in Hungary will be doubled from 200 to 400.

At the special invitation of the Foreign Minister of Hungary, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari addressed the Annual Conference of the Heads of Missions of Hungary’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade. In his speech, the Foreign Minister highlighted the historical ties between the two countries and shared Pakistan’s perspective on key regional and global issues. This was the first ever Foreign Minister-level visit from Pakistan to Hungary.

The Foreign Minister also undertook a visit to Germany and Lithuania. In Germany, he attended the Munich Security Dialogue-2023 from 16-20 February. He participated in several sessions and round table discussions including a panel discussion on Afghanistan. In these interactions, the Foreign Minister presented Pakistan’s perspective on a range of global and regional security challenges.

On the sidelines of the Munich Security Dialogue, the Foreign Minister held bilateral meetings with his counterparts from Finland, Germany, Jordan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Malta, Norway, Saudi Arabia and Ukraine. He held important consultations with Politburo Member of the CPC Central Committee & Director of Central Foreign Affairs Commission of China, Mr. Wang Yi, and Vice-President of the EU Commission Josep Borell.

The Foreign Minister also visited Lithuania from 20-21 February. He held meetings with Foreign Minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis and Minister of Transport and Communications, Marius Skuodis. He visited the Parliament of Lithuania and called on Speaker, ViktorijaČmilytė-Nielsen. During the visit, MoU on establishment of Bilateral Political Consultations between the governments of Pakistan and Lithuania was signed. This was the first ever Foreign Minister-level visit from Pakistan to Lithuania.

Yesterday, Minister for Defence, Khawaja Muhammad Asif led a high-level delegation to Kabul. The delegation held meetings with the senior leadership of the Afghan Interim Government including Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Beradar Akhund, Defence Minister Mawlavi Mohammad Yaqoob Mujahid, Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani and Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi. The growing threat of terrorism in the region, particularly by TTP and ISKP were discussed. The two sides agreed to collaborate to effectively address the threat of terrorism posed by terrorist entities and organizations. It was also agreed to strengthen multifaceted bilateral cooperation between the two countries.

The 9th Pakistan-US Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) Council meeting is currently underway in Washington D.C. The TIFA Council is co-chaired by Minister of Commerce, Syed Naveed Qamar, and U.S. Trade Representative, Katherine Tai.

TIFA provides a forum for the two countries to discuss bilateral trade and investment including exploring access for Pakistani exports to the US market. In today’s meeting, the two sides will review the progress in trade, investment, agriculture, food security and IT cooperation since the TIFA inter-sessional meeting held last year. They will also discuss modalities to further strengthen trade ties in a mutually beneficial manner.

Today’s TIFA Council meeting is another important milestone in the series of high-level bilateral engagements with the U.S. this year. It signifies the importance attached by both sides to add positive momentum in pursuing a broad-based bilateral agenda of cooperation. Last US-Pakistan TIFA Council meeting was held in Islamabad in 2016.

The Finance Minister Mohammad Ishaq Dar will lead the Pakistan delegation to the 8th meeting of the Uzbek-Pakistan Intergovernmental Commission on Trade-Economic and Scientific-Technical Cooperation (IGC) being held in Tashkent today. The Uzbek side will be led by Minister for Investment, Industry and Trade, Laziz Kudratov. The meeting will focus on bilateral economic cooperation in various sectors including trade and investment, agriculture, education, science & technology, tourism, transport & communication.

Pakistan remains concerned at the ongoing human rights violations in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Today marked the 32nd anniversary of the despicable acts of mass rape of Kashmiri women carried out by the Indian occupation forces in Kunan and Poshpora villages of Kupwara in 1991. The lack of accountability over the last 32 years for this shameful episode is a frightening example of the impunity that defines India’s human rights violations in the IIOJK. It continues to be a scar on the collective conscience of the international community.

Pakistan will continue to raise our voice against such grave human rights violations in Kashmir. We will also continue to extend political, diplomatic and moral support to our Kashmiri brothers and sisters for the just and peaceful settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolutions.

Coming to the upcoming events, Pakistan in its capacity as the chair of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) is hosting a one-day conference on “Women in Islam: Understanding the Rights and Identity of Women in the Islamic World” on 8th March 2023 at the UN Headquarters on the sidelines of the 67th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

The objective of the Conference is to bridge the perception-reality gap on the rights of women in Islam and celebrate the experiences and successes of iconic Muslim women. The forum will aim to establish an Annual Policy Dialogue on the margins of CSW to address challenges and explore opportunities to advance the role of women role in OIC countries.

Thank you.

Question:​ My question is regarding Arshad Shareef Shaheed, what has been done by Foreign Office regarding this case? In last hearing of this case, Foreign Office said that they will contact Kenyan officials and Prime Minister also had a telephone call with Kenyan President. What is the update on this? Are Kenyan officials cooperating on this matter, as it was said that they are not allowing visit to the crime scene and they did not cooperate as they have committed. (Raja Mohsin Ijaz, ARY News)

Answer: You have rightly pointed out that a telephone conversation took place yesterday between the Prime Minister and the President of Kenya. In the telephone conversation, the two leaders discussed important aspects of bilateral relations. The Prime Minister also raised the case of Pakistani journalist, the late Arshad Sharif, who was murdered in Kenya. The Prime Minister thanked the President of Kenya for cooperation extended thus far to the Pakistani investigation team. He emphasized that Pakistan attached great importance to this case and requested further cooperation from the Kenyan authorities during the course of investigations, so as to bring the matter to a closure for the family and the people of Pakistan. The Kenyan president was forthcoming and he assured the Prime Minister of full support and cooperation in the matter.

Question:​ What is the impact of 15% budgetary cut under the austerity measures taken by Prime Minister and how will this impact the Missions abroad? How many Missions will be closed and how many staff members of Foreign Missions will be affected by this budgetary cut? (Shabir Wahgra, PTV World)

Answer: I would like to state that instead of relying on speculating media reporting, we should focus on the media briefing that took place yesterday after the Cabinet meeting. In the media briefing, the Prime Minister himself outlined a range of proposals regarding austerity and budget control that will apply to all government departments and entities. In that context, various austerity proposals are under consideration of this Ministry as well.

Question: ​My question is regarding yesterday’s visit by Pakistani delegation to Afghanistan led by Mr. Khawaja Asif, Pakistani Defense Minister. I just wanted to know that whether the Afghan authorities accept that the leadership of TTP is active in Afghanistan? What is the exact point of view of the Taliban government there in Kabul? Did Pakistani authorities deliver or hand over any evidence implying TTP’s involvement in the attacks in Peshawar and Karachi and that they have connections in Afghanistan? (Azaz Syed, GEO News)

Supplementary Question: This is not the first time we have visited Afghanistan and made these efforts. I know that there were some unannounced visits in the past. If we analyze all these efforts and visits, the main issue of Pakistan is TTP. What are the chances that Afghan government will address our concerns? (Ali Hussain, Business Recorder)

Answer:​ Okay, let’s first answer these two questions. Mr. Azaz Syed, I think your question pertains to what happened in meetings during the visit yesterday. As we have said in our media briefing, the talks yesterday were focused on security and counterterrorism matters and all aspects of this issue were discussed between the two sides. Since it is a very sensitive matter relating to security and counterterrorism, we are not in a position to share the details with the media about what was agreed and how the discussions went. As we have said in our opening statement the two sides have agreed that they would collaborate to effectively address the threat of terrorism posed by terrorist entities and organizations, including the two entities that were mentioned. It was also agreed to strengthen multifaceted bilateral cooperation between the two countries. Mr. Ali Hussain, as far as your question is concerned, I think it is speculative in nature because it is a bit early to cast judgment on a visit that just happened yesterday.

Question:​ State Department counselor Derek Chollet during a recent visit to Islamabad said that US is concerned about debts owed to China by Pakistan. He also said that Washington is talking to Islamabad about the perils of a closer relationship with Beijing. What is your viewpoint about this statement? (Mansoor Sadiq, INP)

Answer: ​I would like to first say that Pakistan being a sovereign state exercises the right to choose economic partners from around the globe on mutually beneficial basis. We consider China as our All Weather Strategic Cooperative partner. China has been a consistent, generous and steadfast friend that has stood by Pakistan for the last several decades and the Pakistani nation is proud of our friendship with China, which has always come to Pakistan’s assistance when most needed.

Question:​ How much relief assistance has been sent to Türkiye by Government of Pakistan and from the people of Pakistan? Secondly, it has been reported in media that there some packages were sent to Türkiye from Sindh Government and when those packets were opened there in front of the High Commissioner they were the same packets sent to Pakistan from Türkiye for flood affectees. Is it true? What are your comments? (Sardar Awais, Daily Haqeeqat)

Answer:​ These reports are absolutely false. They have been discredited, and I think we should not be propagating fake news. The Government and people of Türkiye have expressed deep appreciation on the prompt provision of relief support and the immediate mobilization of search and rescue teams from Pakistan and we will continue to support the relief efforts. Pakistan stands in complete solidarity with its Turkish brothers & sisters and will continue to support them in this difficult time. Our missions abroad have been instructed to fully engage with our diaspora to generously contribute to the earthquake relief efforts. The Missions remain in active touch with the respective Turkish embassies on the specific needs and requirements of the Turkish government in the worst affected areas.

Question:​ Earlier when Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was on a visit to United States said that Pakistan – US dialogue to discuss combating terrorism is likely to be held next month in March. Could you give us more details who will be leading this dialogue and whether this new threat of TTP and other militant groups which is emerging in the region will be the focus of the discussion and whether there will be any discussion about the possible cooperation between Islamabad and Washington that will be materialized during this discussion. (Jaleel Akhtar, VOA)

Answer: ​Pakistan and the United States have a wide-ranging dialogue on various aspects of bilateral relations including on trade, energy and security issues and on counterterrorism. Pakistan regularly holds dialogue on counterterrorism with different countries as part of our overarching discussions on peace and security matters. We will share information about this meeting at the right time. At this stage I’m not in a position to share details about this meeting.

Question: It has been one year since Russia – Ukraine war. Foreign Minister is on a very proactive diplomacy these days in Europe. So, is the stance of Pakistan still the same or there is some tilt towards West regarding the ongoing situation in Ukraine?​(Nuaman Ishfaq Mughal, Daily Parliament Times)

Answer:​ Pakistan has repeatedly made its position clear that we are very concerned about the ongoing military conflict between Russia and Ukraine and we see it as a reflection of the failure of diplomacy. We believe that conflict is not in the interest of anyone and especially the developing countries like Pakistan who have been worse affected because of the rising oil and food prices. We remain committed to the upholding of the UN Charter on territorial integrity of States and peaceful settlement of disputes. Since Pakistan has suffered itself from conflict in our region we have always advocated for peaceful settlement of disputes and believe that peace and dialogue are important in resolution of this conflict as well.

Question:​ Two days ago, President Putin in his nationwide speech talked about north south corridor in which Pakistan was also mentioned. Was any input taken from Pakistan on this? If yes then what is the policy of Pakistan about the possible measures from Washington? (Syed Faisal Ali, Daily State Views)

Answer: ​I think the statement that you’re referring to was an address of the Russian President to the Duma and address to Russian policymakers. So, I do not understand how would Pakistan’s input be relevant in this regard.

Question:​ Head of Pakistan’s Mission in Afghanistan Ubaid-ur-Rehman Nizamani was part of the Pakistani delegation which went to Afghanistan yesterday. Has he assumed his charge there or has he returned to Pakistan as well?

Secondly, Torkham border is closed since three days. Can you please share that when will it open? Are there any talks going on regarding this?​(Siyar Ali Shah, Khyber News)

Supplementary Question: Torkham Border is closed since three days but fence on Pakistan – Afghanistan border is being breached on regular basis and the process of illegal trade is still going on through this damaged fence. What has been discussed regarding this issue by the delegation which visited Afghanistan yesterday? (Changez Khan Jadoon, Daily Payam-e Khyber)

Answer: ​First of all, regarding the border, I would like to underline that it was not closed by Pakistan. Secondly, we have been in contact with our neighbours from Afghanistan and all matters relating to the border including on fencing remain under discussion between the two sides, including at local levels. Furthermore, the Head of Mission was part of the delegation that visited Kabul yesterday and all members of the delegation have returned to Pakistan.

Question: ​Yesterday Spokesperson of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s party, Mr. Faisal Kareem Kundi said that we must have to change Afghan policy and we must have to change the medicine for Afghan. What are your comments about this statement? (Mohsin ul Mulk, 24 News)

Answer: ​I would like to say that Pakistan is a free democratic country where there are different political voices and internal debate takes place on all aspects of foreign policy. So, I do not have a comment to offer on statements by political leaders.

Question:​ Yesterday, Israeli forces shot 11 Palestinians in Israel’s West Bank and they also injured many Palestinians. What is Pakistan’s take on this brutality by Israeli forces? (Shabbir Waghra, PTV World)

Answer:​ Pakistan strongly condemns these brutal attacks that have resulted in killing of innocent civilians in occupied Palestinian territories. Pakistan reiterates full support to the Palestinian people and call for a total withdrawal of Israel from the occupied Arab territories including Jerusalem. There should be a restitution of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to exercise self-determination and sovereignty in an independent and viable state of Palestine on the basis of pre-1967 borders with Al-Quds Al-Sharif, as its capital. We also call for a just resolution to the plight of Palestinian refugees in accordance with the General Assembly Resolution, 1943 of 11 December, 1948.

Thank you.

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