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

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

Let me begin with the recent visit of Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to Tashkent, Uzbekistan on 23-24 January 2023 to attend the 26th meeting of the Council of Ministers (COM) of Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO).

In his address at the Council, the Foreign Minister highlighted the importance of integrated regional cooperation among Member States for enhanced trade, investment, connectivity, tourism, and economic development. He called for harmonizing trade policies, establishing robust infrastructure and facilitating free movement of goods and services to enhance intra-regional cooperation. The Foreign Minister spoke about the challenges of climate change induced natural disasters proposed a time-tested, well-funded and strategically robust emergency response mechanism in the region.

The Council of Ministers reviewed the activities of ECO and set the agenda for the future. The Meeting adopted a “Tashkent Communique”, that focuses on enhanced regional cooperation and collaboration among the Member States. The document outlines ECO activities to increase global visibility of the Organization and its working partnerships with other regional and international organizations and institutions. An important outcome of the Ministerial Meeting was the agreement on the Charter of ECO Research Centre at Baku, Azerbaijan. The Centre will promote and provide avenues for sharing of expertise and research on economic issues among ECO member states.

On the sidelines of the Council of Ministers, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari held meetings with Foreign Ministers of Iran, Tajikistan, Turkiye, and Acting Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan. He also met the Secretaries-General of ECO, D-8 and CICA.

As a founding member of the organization, Pakistan wishes to see a strong ECO to further effective regional cooperation and special focus on intra-regional trade; strengthening regional connectivity; promoting tourism; operationalizing the major ECO transport corridors; and coordinating efforts to achieve energy security and sustainability.

His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates arrived in Rahim Yar Khan yesterday on a private visit to Pakistan. He was welcomed at the airport by Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif. During their meeting, the two leaders expressed their resolve to further strengthen brotherly ties; promote mutually beneficial cooperation; and to move forward on their understanding reached during the recent visit of the Prime Minister to the UAE.

Russia’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Ambassador Zamir Kabulov visited Pakistan this week as part of his tour to the region. He held meetings with Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar and Special Representative for Afghanistan Ambassador Muhammad Sadiq.

In these meetings, the situation in Afghanistan and recent developments in the region were discussed. Pakistan stressed the importance of peace and stability in our neighborhood. We underscored our desire to work closely with regional countries to pursue continuous and practical engagement with the Interim Afghan Government on countering terrorism and to help avert humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

Both sides reiterated their commitment to work closely to further strengthen coordination and cooperation in promoting peace, stability and economic development in Afghanistan. They also agreed to continue engagement both bilaterally and in the context of regional forums such as the Moscow Format and the Neighbouring Countries of Afghanistan platform.

As you are aware, the Eighth Session of the Pakistan-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation (IGC) was held from 18-20 January 2023 in Islamabad. It was led by Mr. Ayaz Sadiq, Federal Minister for Economic Affairs of Pakistan and Mr. Nikolay Shulginov, Minister of Energy of the Russian Federation. Mr. Shulginov also called on the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

The meetings were held in a positive and constructive atmosphere. The two sides discussed enhanced bilateral cooperation in trade and investment; energy; communication and transport; agriculture; industry; finance, customs and banking sector; higher education, science and technology; and information technology.

A joint statement was issued at the end of the session. The two sides also signed a number of documents including an Agreement on Cooperation and Mutual assistance in Customs matters; and a working agreement on Airworthiness of Aeronautical products.

You may have seen that Pakistan has strongly condemned the recent acts of desecration of the Holy Quran in Sweden and the Netherlands. We see these acts as racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic. Far from being a symbol of the freedom of expression and opinion, these acts are provocative and hurtful for the religious sensitivities of over 1.5 billion Muslims around the world. Their sole aim is to incite violence against Muslim minorities. We have conveyed our concerns to Sweden and the Netherlands and urged these governments to take concrete steps against Islamophobic acts.

The last ten days of January carry painful memories of three massacres committed by the Indian Occupation Forces in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) in the 1990s. On 21 January 1990, in Gawa Kadal area of Srinagar, the Indian troops opened fire on peaceful protesters killing at least 50 civilians and injuring dozens. A few days later, on 25th January 1990, another 21 unarmed Kashmiris were killed by the Indian troops in Handwara town in northern IIOJK. And this very date, the 27th of January, is a reminder of another day of bloodshed in 1994 when Indian troops massacred 27 civilians in Kupwara town of IIOJK.

To this day, the victims and their families await justice and perpetrators of these heinous crimes have never been held to account. Today, we remember and celebrate the martyrs and pay rich tribute to their sacrifices.

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. The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar, will lead the Pakistan delegation to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. On 30th January 2023, the Minister of State will present Pakistan’s national progress report under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process at the Council. This will be Pakistan’s 4th review. Previously, Pakistan has been reviewed under this process in 2008, 2012 and 2017.

In her presentation, the Minister of State will outline the wide-ranging legal, policy, administrative and institutional steps taken by Pakistan to safeguard and advance human rights over the last five years. She will also highlight Pakistan’s important contributions towards global human rights discourse and norm-building.

Established in 2007, UPR is an important mechanism of Human Rights Council. Under this peer-driven review mechanism, human rights record of all UN Member States is reviewed every four to five years. Pakistan will continue its constructive engagement with the Human Rights Council and the UN Human Rights Machinery.

I thank you.

Question:​ My question is regarding the reported invitation extended to Foreign Minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to participate in SCO ministerial meeting in India. Please share an update and the response from Pakistan side? Thank you (Ali Hussain, Business Recorder)

Answer: Both Pakistan and India are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. SCO is an important transregional organization that aims to strengthen economic linkages and cooperation among its Member States in different fields. India is holding the rotating chairmanship of the SCO Council of Heads of State for the year 2022-2023. Every year, SCO develops a calendar of activities, which include the Meeting of the Foreign Ministers. In that capacity the chair extends invitation to all Member States. As in the past, these invitations are being processed as per standard procedures and a decision will be taken in due course.

Question:​ My question relates to the recent claim by the former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that he revealed in his book published on Tuesday, in which he claimed that Pakistan and India were close to a nuclear war in February 2019, and the US intervention prevented escalation after the alleged militant attack in Pulwama when India launched an airstrike in Balakot against alleged militant training camp. Later, Pakistan also launched a counter strike in Indian administered Kashmir and shot down Indian airplane and captured one Indian pilot. What are your comments on the former US Secretary of State claims regarding America’s intervention in de-escalating tensions between Pakistan and India? (Jaleel Akhtar, VOA Urdu)

Answer: This is the personal account of one individual. The international community knows fully well who was the belligerent party during the events of February 2019. The international community is fully aware of the restraint and responsibility displayed by Pakistan and the steps we took to de-escalate the situation in contrast to the highly irresponsible posturing and war hysteria by India. At the same time, we demonstrated our firm resolve to take action to safeguard our territorial integrity and security against any form of aggression.

Question: A couple of months ago, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari branded Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the “Butcher of Gujrat” and the BBC’s story a few days back has authenticated the foreign minister’s viewpoint. What are your comments? (Naveed Siddiqui, Dawn TV)

Answer: The contents of the BBC documentary, we believe, are neither new nor surprising. It corroborates what Pakistan and the international human rights community has said for years about the 2002 Gujarat massacre and the shrinking space for minorities, especially Muslims in India. It also depicts the sad reality in India where senior political leaders operate in a climate of impunity, and incite hateful and violent acts for political gains. Lives, property and places of worship of religious minorities are under constant threat.

This climate is perpetuated by curbs on flow of information and freedom of expression. The Indian reaction to the BBC documentary, including restrictions on its circulation has once again highlighted the shrinking space for freedom of media in India. The second part of the documentary, which was released yesterday, justifiably gives an account of India’s illegal and unilateral actions of 5th August 2019 in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir as part of a series of anti-Muslim measures being taken by India’s ruling dispensation. It particularly highlights the environment of fear in IIOJK, created inter alia, through arbitrary detentions and torture. It also talks about the ongoing efforts for “Indianization” in IIOJK and actions to change the demography of occupied territory to convert Kashmiris into a minority in their own land. All these assertions are yet another endorsement of what we have been saying during the last three years and a half.

Question:​ My question is regarding the recent meeting of Mr. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari with his Iranian counterpart in Tashkent. Has any day been finalized for the opening of the new border crossing in Mand area of Balochistan and regarding the security of Iran-Pakistan border, have the foreign ministers reached an agreement on that? (Afzal Reza, IRNA)

Answer: I would like to say that the meeting between the two Foreign Ministers was held in a very positive and constructive environment. Both Foreign Ministers agreed to continue cooperation and dialogue to discuss all issues.

Question:​ The US State Department has stated that this is not time for Pakistan to purchase oil from Russia. What is the stance of Pakistan on this statement? Secondly, is there any progress on the instructions given by Honorable Judiciary to provide legal support regarding Dr. Aafia Siddiqui case? (Allah Noor, Mashriq TV)

Answer: On your second question, we respect all directives of the superior judiciary in Pakistan. The Foreign Office will continue to implement the directives that we receive from the higher judiciary.

Regarding your first question, I would like to say that we are in a process of re-engagement with the United States which is very productive and cooperative. We continue to discuss issues of mutual concern to both sides and issues that of concern to either country are also discussed.

Question: More than a month ago, Pakistan embassy was attacked in Afghanistan and Pakistani Head of Mission was recalled. It has been more than a month now that the Head of Mission has not returned to Afghanistan. What are the reasons? Are the consultations are still ongoing? (Siyar Ali Shah, Khyber News)

Answer: There is no change in the status Ambassador Nizamani is still in Pakistan, and consultations are ongoing. As you would recall, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had a very constructive telephone conversation with the Acting Foreign Minister of Afghanistan a few days ago wherein issues pertaining to security were also discussed. We are in consultation with the Afghan interim government on all security related matters including the security of our diplomats and premises of our diplomatic Missions.

Question:​ First a follow up to Siyar’s question that has the Afghan government shared anything tangible with regards to the investigation of the attack on the Pakistani Head of Mission in Kabul, because last time when we spoke to you, you said that you will check for updates while there was an attributed statement from the Afghan government.

Secondly, we saw that India has issued only 248 visas against the 409 which were sent for the Urs participation and it is an extension to what I asked last week as well when there was a statement by the Ministry of Religious Affairs which said that India continues to be in continuous violation of the 1974 bilateral agreement. What is your take on that? (Anas Mallick, Capital TV)

Answer:​ Regarding your second question, we were not able to find any statement made by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. I could only find some media reports. Secondly, I would like to say that the participation of Pakistani pilgrims in the Urs of Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer and other pilgrimages to religious sites is covered under the ‘Bilateral Protocol of the Visit to Religious Shrines of 1974’. We hope that the Indian side will allow maximum participation of devotees from Pakistan to such congregations. For its part, Pakistan remains committed to facilitating visits of Indian pilgrims to different shrines on its soil in accordance with the Protocol and other mutually agreed arrangements.

On your question on Afghanistan, I would like to reiterate that Pakistan and Afghanistan are in consultation on all security-related matters, including the security of our diplomats and our Head of Mission. Since these are security related matters, I am not at liberty to share any further details of discussions with the Afghan authorities.

Question:​ There are some reports that Pakistan has foiled another Indian plan to stage false flag operation in Pakistan. What are your comments on this?

Secondly, the Spokesperson of the US State Department has recently given a statement about Pakistan – India relations and other related matters. What is the stance of Pakistan regarding his statements? Thank you. (Khawaja Nayyar Iqbal, Media Today)

Answer: I will not go into any media reports that you have referred to but I will speak on the Indian practice of false flag operations. In the past, we have expressed concerns about India resorting to false flag operations and blaming Pakistan and using such events to target and malign Pakistan.

Question:​ My first question is with reference to an interview given by Honorable Prime Minister in the United Arab Emirates, in which he extended an invitation to the people who are inviting our Foreign Minister to participate in Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Can you please share that have you received any response from Indian side?

Secondly, Pakistan’s permanent representative to UN Munir Akram has given an interview to BBC and talked about a new strategy to convince Afghan authorities to resolve the issues of human rights violations, particularly women rights so that they can make themselves worthy enough for the world to walk along with them. What is that new strategy? Please share some details. ​(Mazhar Iqbal, PNN)

Answer: On your second question I have not seen that interview and can only respond after watching the interview.

Regarding your first question, I would just say that Pakistan has been very clear about its policy regarding dialogue and peaceful settlement of all outstanding issues with India. To answer especially to the question you have raised, as you know very well, no dialogue is taking place between Pakistan and India right now.

Question:​ As you know that today India is observing its Republic Day, while Kashmiris on both sides of Kashmir are observing Black Day. Some panaflexes are also being placed in front of Indian High commission. Is there any plan of Foreign office, Foreign Minister, Minister of State or Spokesperson to participate and express solidarity with them and to show it to Modi that we are with the Kashmiri people? ​(Changez Khan Jadoon, Daily Payam-e-Khyber)

Supplementary Question: With regards to India’s Republic Day, as far as I can remember the Indian Prime Minister had written a letter to our Prime Minister in March 2022 last year on Pakistan’s Republic Day, despite the turbulent political situation. So as a reciprocal measure, has the Pakistan Prime Minister written any letter of felicitation to his Indian counterpart on India’s Republic Day? Thank you. (Anas Mallick, Capital TV)​​

Answer: On the first question, no, we have no such plans.

With regards to the letter that you have mentioned, I need to check.

Question:​ Foreign office has placed restrictions on Abdul Rehman Makki while he is of the opinion that he was not listened to, and the Security Council has given one sided decision. My question is that, will Foreign Office help him by providing him an opportunity to explain himself or not?

Secondly, there are reports that the UAE is hosting backdoor talks between Pakistan and India. What is the status on this? Are any such talks possible in the presence of Article 370 or Pakistan is firm on its stance that there will be no talks with India until Article 370 is revoked? (Ghulam Abbas Jaffar, Daily District News)

Supplementary Question: If there is dialogue between Pakistan and India will the Kashmiri people who are real stakeholders in this matter be the part of the dialogue or not? (Raziq Mehmood Bhatti, Daily Kashmir Express)

Answer: So first of all, I would like to say that the decision regarding the listing of Abdul Rehman Makki was made by the United Nations Security Council under its listing procedures. As a responsible member of the international community Pakistan follows the decisions of the United Nations on listing issues.

In response to your second question, I would like to say that at this stage there is no dialogue taking place between Pakistan and India. Hence, the supplementary question is premature at this stage.

Question: My question relates to several thousand Pakistanis who are in America without any document. A US based organization is trying to seek the Temporary Protected Status for these undocumented Pakistanis and their efforts also led to some US Senators writing a letter to Joe Biden Administration, requesting that these Pakistani should be given Temporary Protected Status (TPS) status due to the devastating floods in Pakistan as they can’t go back to Pakistan. The organization which is fighting this case claims that if Pakistan sends a request to US administration, they may consider this request to give them TPS status. Is Pakistan considering writing such letter to US Administration? (Jaleel Akhtar, VOA Urdu)

Answer: At this stage there are no such plans. If things evolve, we will let you know.

Question:​ As you talked about Islamophobia and the recent act of desecration of the Holy Quran in Sweden, Netherlands and other countries. During the time of previous government, ex-Prime Minister Imran khan presented a very strong case for Pakistan in the United Nations. Has OIC as the organization of Islamic countries (OIC) taken any strong position on this issue? Is Foreign Office or Pakistani government planning to send back Ambassadors of these countries by boycotting their products? What is your response? (Sardar Awais Ashraf, Daily Haqeeqat)

Answer: Pakistan is in contact with these countries and we have condemned and conveyed our concerns about these acts of desecration of the Holy Quran. Pakistan is also an active member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and OIC, as you know, has already made a statement condemning the incident. We will continue to cooperate and coordinate our position with other Islamic countries.

Question: ​My question is regarding listing of Abdul Rehman Makki. For six months, China vetoed this listing at different occasions in United Nations. What was the reason that China changed its position regarding this listing and Abdul Rehman Makki got sanctioned? Is it Pakistan’s diplomatic failure or are there any issues in Pakistan – China relations so that China had to step back? (Syed Faisal Ali,Daily State Views)

Answer: I think this question is purely based on speculation because the proceedings of the Committee that deals with listings are restricted in nature. So, whatever we may read in the media is all based on speculation. Secondly, I would like to say that Pakistan and China are All-Weather Strategic Cooperative Partners and the two countries consult each others on all matters of mutual interest. Our relations have a bright future.

Question:​ A person has been arrested in India for bringing a Pakistani minor girl to India after trapping her through an online game and then marrying her. If you can share that how this girl went to India after getting trapped through an online game? Many incidents like this are being reported. What is your response regarding this issue? (Syed Asif Ali, Din News)

Answer: I have to check about this specific incident after getting details from our Mission in New Delhi.

Question:​ The US delegation was here yesterday and the report suggested that Pakistan once again asked them to prevail upon the IMF for revival of the program. Since, last time when the program was revived Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also played a part and the then Army Chief also held a telephone conversation with the Deputy Secretary of State. Is there any outcome of yesterday’s request? (Shoukat Piracha, AAJ News)

Answer: We are pleased with the ongoing visit of the US delegation and the meetings held have been quite constructive. As for the final outcome, this is an ongoing process and we will continue to discuss these matters with our friends and with IMF.

Question:​ My question is regarding the statement by ex-Prime Minister regarding Mr. Hussain Haqqani in which he also alleged that some matters of Foreign Office were not even in his knowledge. Will Foreign office like to say anything in its defence? (Khawaja Nayyar Iqbal, Media Today)

Answer: I do not know the specifics of this question and I don’t want to get into politics. But, I would only like to say that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs works under the guidance of its political leadership that includes, the Foreign Minister who heads the Ministry, and the overall leadership and guidance of the Prime Minister. We are a very professional department and have always prided ourselves in our professionalism.

Question:​ Towards the end of last year, there were reports that Crown prince Muhammad Bin Salman was to visit Pakistan. We have also seen that Foreign Minister and Prime Minister have invited various heads of countries to visit Pakistan like Turkey. Is there any chance of visit by any head of country to Pakistan during the current year? (Ghazala Noreen, Suno TV)

Answer: I have spoken about this previously as well and my answer hasn’t changed. Such visits are always under consideration. We make announcements closer to the visit. When the preparations are complete and both sides agree to announce a particular visit, we make the announcement.

Question:​ A woman was harassed in Pakistan High Commission New Delhi, who was a professor and wanted to attend a conference in Pakistan. she had alleged that she was asked some unreasonable questions. Has there been any inquiry on this matter? What is the outcome? (Naveed Siddiqui, Dawn TV)

Answer: As I said in the past, Pakistan is looking into the case and we take such allegations very seriously. For Pakistan, it is very important that our diplomats and diplomatic staff behave in a professional manner and any individual who visits our Missions is treated with utmost respect.

Question:​ Since last eight months, Foreign Minister has visited several countries around the world. There has been no outcome of these visits for Pakistani people and the country. We cannot even buy oil from Russia and Iran. So what is our foreign policy in this regard? (Sardar Amir Hussain, Daily Maddar/Royal News)

Answer: I think I have answered various presentations of this question. After every visit, we briefed you about the outcome of these visits, just like I briefed you on the recent visit of the Foreign Minister to Tashkent for the ECO Ministerial Meeting. As the Foreign Minister, it is his responsibility to represent Pakistan in international conferences including the ECO as he did earlier this week. He has undertaken bilateral visits to important countries in Europe, East Asia, the Middle East and to the United States.

With these engagements, Pakistan is well represented around the world and its viewpoint is clearly enunciated. It is, therefore, important for the Foreign Minister to represent Pakistan and undertake consultations with these countries and to participate in international conferences and multilateral forums.

You may have seen the important outcomes that have come about in our enhanced interaction with the United States, in our engagement with countries in Europe and the Middle East and the renewed focus on East Asia. For example, Foreign Minister level visit to Singapore in December took place after 12 years.

Thank you very much.

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