[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.
  The highlights of last week include the incoming visits of Turkish Vice President H.E. Cevdet Yilmaz, Vice Premier of China, H.E. He Lifeng and Iranian Foreign Minister H.E. Hossein Amir Abdollahian; Foreign Minister’s visit to the United Arab Emirates and his participation in a Special Session of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
  Vice Premier of the State Council of China, H.E. He Lifeng, visited Pakistan as Special Representative of President Xi Jinping in connection with the 10th anniversary of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
The visit was an opportunity for the two sides to discuss bilateral relations and explore new horizons of collaboration in trade and investment. The two sides reaffirmed their continued commitment to CPEC, expressed their firm resolve to build upon the achievements of the last decade, and to continue cooperation for further developing it as a high-quality demonstrable project of BRI.
CPEC has brought huge dividends to Pakistan as manifested in the creation of over 200,000 jobs; addition of 8000 MW power to national grid; building of 510 kilometers of highways and 932 kilometers of road network; and a 820-kilometer long optical fiber line.
Areas of cooperation under Phase-II of CPEC include rural revitalization; agricultural development; industrialization; green development and science and technology. The two countries remain committed to enhance cooperation under CPEC and develop it as a connectivity project for the region.
  During the visit of Vice President of the Republic of Türkiye, H.E. Cevdet Yilmaz, the two sides jointly inaugurated the fourth MILGEM Class Corvette – PNS Tariq at the Karachi Shipyard. The project to construct four corvettes for the Pakistan Navy was initiated in 2018. The project symbolizes close partnership between Pakistan and Türkiye in defence production.
During his visit to Islamabad, Iranian Foreign Minister, H.E. Hossein Amir Abdollahian, held wide-ranging talks with Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and called on Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, Chairman Senate Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani and Speaker of National Assembly Raja Pervez Ashraf.
 The two sides agreed to further strengthen multidimensional cooperation in trade and economy, energy, and culture and arts. There were major convergences on a range of issues including regional connectivity and Islamophobia.
  Three key documents of understanding were signed during the visit. These include the Five-Year Trade Cooperation Plan (2023-28), which sets a bilateral trade target of US$ 5 billion; prioritizes removing impediments on bilateral trade, finalization of the FTA, and establishment of institutional linkages between respective private sectors. The two sides came to an understanding on repatriation of ‘sentenced’ persons in respective jails; to release all fishermen in custody, to waive-off any fines imposed on them; and to release their vessels. A document of economic and trade cooperation was also signed between the Chambers of Commerce of Tehran and Karachi.
 During his one-day visit to the UAE on 30th July 2023, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari conveyed heartfelt condolences to His Highness Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan on the sad demise of the His Highness Sheikh Saeed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The two Foreign Ministers discussed bilateral relations between Pakistan and the UAE and exchanged views on regional and global developments in the region.
  On 31st July 2023, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari attended the 18th Extraordinary Meeting of the OIC CFM convened to debate the recurring incidents of the desecration of the Holy Quran. The Foreign Minister condemned the Islamophobic and hateful acts of desecration of the Holy Quran and underscored the need for shunning religious hatred and for promoting inter-faith harmony and peaceful co-existence. He reiterated the call for appointment of a UN Special Envoy to combat Islamophobia.
  We are pleased with the outcome of the Extraordinary CFM that adopted a comprehensive resolution endorsing the 8-point action plan unanimously agreed upon by UN Human Rights Council to counter incitement to hatred, discrimination, stigmatization and violence based on religion and belief.
  Pakistan’s Cricket Team will participate in the ICC Cricket World Cup to be held in India. Our decision to participate reflects Pakistan’s consistent position that sports cannot not be mixed with politics. Pakistan’s constructive and responsible approach contrasts with that of India which has repeatedly politicized sports by refusing to send its Cricket Team to Pakistan for the Asia Cup or denying visas for Pakistan’s Blind Cricket Team.
  During its visit to India, we expect the Pakistan Cricket Team to receive the requisite courtesies and full safety and security. Our deep concerns about the security of Pakistan’s Cricket Team are being conveyed to the International Cricket Council and the Indian authorities.
  On 5th of August, the Pakistani nation expressed complete solidarity with their Kashmiri brothers and sisters on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of India’s illegal and unilateral actions of 5 August 2019 in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK).
  Since 2019, India has taken a series of measures to alter the demographic makeup of IIOJK, and intensified its suppression of the Kashmiri people. India has carried out a selective delimitation of electoral constituencies, issued fake domiciles to millions of non-Kashmiris, and added hundreds of thousands of temporary residents to alter the existing voter rolls. These measures are aimed at disenfranchising the people of Kashmir and converting them into a disempowered minority in their own land in gross violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
  Pakistan believes that the people of Jammu and Kashmir have the right to determine their own future in a UN-supervised plebiscite as enshrined in the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
 Pakistan will 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.
I thank you.
Question: Prime Minister of Pakistan has made a statement on India relations that peace or normal relations could be possible if there would be some talks. So, my question is there any sort of backdoor diplomacy between Pakistan & India? (Adeel Bashir, Roze News)
Answer: I have responded to this question in the past as well. First of all, Pakistan believes in a peaceful neighborhood. We want peace with all our neighbours on the basis of mutual respect, and in the conformity with international law. We also believe that for peaceful neighborhood Pakistan and India should engage in a constructive dialogue. The responsibility of creating an environment for such a dialogue and for peace in the region lies with India which has followed a policy of belligerence towards its neighbors, including Pakistan and which continues to suppress the people of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. The comments of the Prime Minister reaffirm this position.
Question: People and cricket World are very much happy with decision, regarding the participation of Pakistan cricket team in ICC World Cup. Yet another issue is haunting, that is the issue of tickets the Pakistani spectators is are unlikely to watch their favorite matches or attend the matches in India. Is there any plan to take up this issue with India? (Naveed Siddiqui, Dateline Islamabad)
Answer: As I said in my opening statement, we hope that our cricket team when it visits India for the Cricket World Cup will be extended the requisite courtesies and will be provided full safety and security. We also expect the hosts of the Cricket World Cup to fulfill their responsibilities in terms of the participation of spectators and facilitate the participation of the various teams.
Question: First, you mentioned that Pakistan, has deep concerns about the security of its cricket team, we are conveying the concerns to the National Cricket Council and India. What are these concerns and how do you plan on conveying them through diplomatic channels or bilateral diplomatic channels or through the PCB. Number two, have you agreed on playing on all the venues that have been proposed? Because previously we’ve been seeing a lot of back and forth.
And number three, switching to Afghanistan. We saw a news item attributed to the Foreign Office that three attackers involved in the Zhob attack were allegedly Afghan nationals and that their bodies were being refused by the Afghan Embassy. Afghan Taliban Spokesperson said Zabiullah Mujahid in a public tweet stated that Pakistan should avert this policy of going to media and rather should talk through diplomatic channels. Would you want to comment and confirm these reports? (Anas Mallick, Capital TV)
Answer: Regarding Afghanistan, yes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been in contact with the Embassy of Afghanistan and with the Afghan authorities. We have shared with them the discovery that we have made with regard to the identity of terrorists who were involved in attack on personnel of the Pakistan army in the attack in the Zhob garrison in Balochistan. We have reiterated on several occasions that the Afghan soil should not be used to foment terrorism against Pakistan.
With regards to the question on the Cricket World Cup, as I said we are in the process of conveying our concerns about security. At this point these concerns are being conveyed through our cricket authorities. We will continue to monitor the situation and would determine if some other channels of communication are also in order. You may have seen our press release that clearly articulates that the core of our concerns remain to be security related matters.
Question: As you have seen, I’m sure that you have witnessed that Saudi Arabia has hosted peace talks for Ukraine Russia war and also presented 10 Point agenda for it. So how Pakistan sees this effort of Saudi Arabia because the whole world has been affected due to this war.(Saima Shabbir Arab news)
Answer: Pakistan has always called for peace between the warring parties. We believe that peace between Ukraine and Russia is key for the stability and peace in the region and beyond and for arresting inflation in energy and challenges in food supplies. Pakistan, therefore, supports all efforts that aim at finding a negotiated peaceful end to this conflict.
Question: How many visits did Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had during his tenure and please briefly tell Pakistan’s major diplomatic achievements during his tenure. (Ghazala Noreen, SUNO TV)
Answer: Regarding the visits of the Foreign Minister, we are hoping that Foreign Minister will speak to you at length on his tenure before the conclusion of his term. He has a very busy schedule but we are trying to find a window where we can have this interaction, but I can share some basics with you. The number of foreign visits that the Foreign Minister has undertaken during his tenure as Foreign Minister is 36. These include his visits to attend international conferences and visits to countries in Europe, Africa, East Asia and the Middle East, Central Asia, and the United States.  During this period, we have focused on rebuilding of ties and restoring trust with key capitals and reinvigorating substantive engagement with traditional partners. There has been an effort to expand our diplomatic footprint, retake our space in the global discourse on important issues and reassert Pakistan’s presence at the multilateral stage. We have also focused on enhancing our partnerships and dialogues with all partners through high-level engagements and regular bilateral political consultations which allowed institutionalization of relationships. We have also focused on projecting the Kashmir cause as the core of our diplomacy. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has spearheaded the campaign to project the Kashmir cause at the international level. We were extensively involved in raising global awareness to the catastrophic floods that took place last year, in coordinating international response and in organizing the international conference on climate resilient Pakistan held in Geneva. One of our major successes last year was Pakistan’s exit from the FATF grey list and the establishment of the Loss and Damage Fund at COP 27. Pakistan also took a leadership position on issues pertaining to the Islamic world, including Islamophobia and on women empowerment in Islam. It also led efforts for cooperation between developing countries on sustainable development and on a range of other issues that are important for the developing countries including climate change.
Question: You spoke in detail about Pakistan India relations. There was also comprehensive statement on 05th August, rejecting India’s occupation on Jammu and Kashmir. So, question is what are the options available with Pakistan? Every year we hold large rallies. What are the options available with Pakistan to put more pressure on India so that the 5th August 2019 actions could be reversed? Are we going to take up this issue again when UN Human Rights Council is meeting second week of this month? And what are the other international forums available where Pakistan could take up this matter? (Mateen Haider, G News)
Answer: I think there are two aspects to your question. First, we must realize that the 5thAugust is commemorated by the people of Pakistan in solidarity with the people of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. A number of activities are held throughout the country by the people of Pakistan which demonstrate our continued commitment to the Kashmir cause and our sympathy for our Kashmiri brothers and sisters. This does not mean that we are not playing a role in raising the Kashmir issue at the international level. Pakistan continues to highlight the human rights abuses and illegal occupation of India and illegal measures that it has taken in IIOJK at all important international forums, including the United Nations, including the OIC. It was a matter of discussion just last week when the Iranian Foreign Minister was visiting Pakistan. If you have seen our press release, you would have seen that Foreign Minister has written letters to the UN Secretary General, the Secretary General of OIC, the President of the UN Security Council, and President of the UN General Assembly, inviting their attention to the grave situation in IIOJK, to the continued oppression of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and to the continued efforts by India to convert Kashmiris into a disempowered minority in their own land.
Question:  Pakistani Cricket team is visiting India to participate in Cricket World Cup. Is it the final decision or will this decision be subject to ICC security clearance because the Bengal Cricket authority has refused to provide security. My second question is regarding human rights violation in India, mosques are also being burnt; one Imam is also burnt alive. Muslim minority is facing issues related to Islamophobia. Will Pakistan raise this issue on international forums like OIC? (Asghar Ali Mubarak, The Daily Mail International/ World Echo News)
Answer: First about the situation of minorities in India. We have observed that there is an alarming increase in targeting of minorities in India. We are concerned about the recent developments and communal and ethnic violence in Manipur. And recently there was a burning of mosque in Gurugram which also resulted in the killing of the Imam. This is a matter of serious concern that Hindu supremacist organizations like Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal are engaged in violent acts against Indian Muslims with a view to terrorizing them. The reprehensible killings of three innocent Muslims in a running train by a railway police official is indicative of increasing anti-Muslim hatred in India’s law enforcement agencies. We urge the Government of India to take all necessary steps to ensure safety, security and dignity of Indian Muslims and other minorities.
Question: As Pakistan has decided to send its Cricket team to India. Two months are remaining in the World Cup and no schedule has been announced yet besides Pakistan is also showing security concerns. Has this decision been taken in haste by Pakistan’s coalition government? (Khawaja Nayyar Iqbal, Media Today)
Supplementary Question: As you said that Pakistan has security concerns on sending its cricket team to India. Will Pakistan send a security team before sending its cricket team or is it possible to send Pakistan’s security team along with its cricket team? Is it being considered?   (Naveed Siddique, Dateline Islamabad)
Answer: At this point I can only share with you that what we have already said in our press release. We expect India as the host to provide full and complete security to our team.
Question:  There is a matter of civilian prisoners of both countries which is pending. A federal review board is present for the prisoners on both sides whose members regularly visited both sides but now owing to the present situation the prisoners of both countries are languishing in jails. How much time has passed that these meeting have not taken place probably the last time this meeting was held in 2021, please correct me if I’m wrong. Is there any update on prisoners? After your gesture, will the Foreign Office say something about the prisoners? (Azaz Syed, Geo News)
Answer: Pakistan and India exchange lists of prisoners twice a year and we exchanged the latest list of prisoners on the First of July. We expect India to release Pakistani civilians and prisoners who have completed their sentences and are still languishing in Indian jails. Pakistan, for its part released a large number of prisoners who have completed their terms. As far as the Commission on the Judicial Commission is concerned we consider it as an important mechanism between the two countries. We hope that the next visit will be finalized soon so that the two countries may bring relief to the prisoners.
Question: You said that we don’t want politics on sports and Pakistani Cricket Team is going to India which is a very good gesture. In this context, you may also consider lifting ban IPL as it is also a game.  What are your comments on this.(Mohsin ul mulk, 24 News HD)
Answer: I do not wish to comment on a question that does not pertain to us right now. As I said earlier, Pakistan is participating in the Cricket World Cup because it is an international tournament. Pakistan is a full member of ICC and in that capacity, we believe we have a rightful place to participate in the World Cup. Pakistani cricket team is not visiting India for a bilateral series.
Question: Recently there had been an incident in Bajaur, will the government close the Afghan border or not because we have seen incidents in which there have been reports that Afghan Taliban or the other terrorists are involved in these activities. So, will the border be closed or not? (Iqra Liaqat, daily Payam E Khyber)
Answer: We remain in contact with Afghan authorities on all aspects of security. Pakistan has said that it is ready to support Afghanistan in developing its capacity to fight terrorism. For us, it is critical that the territory of Afghanistan does not become a source of terrorism to Pakistan.
Question: As Iran’s Foreign Minister visited Pakistan so, was there any dialogue regarding enemies at the border of Iran? Or both countries are taking positive steps regarding this issue? Secondly, as many representatives of Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have been killed in Afghanistan and the recent incident in Zhob Cantt. Were these incidents related to Tehreek e Taliban or Afghan Taliban? Regarding this issue, is there any dialogue held with Afghanistan?  (Allah Noor, Mashriq TV)
Answer: First regarding the talks with the Iranian foreign minister, I would like to reiterate that Pakistan and Iran had very good and fruitful conversations during the visit of the Foreign Minister of Iran to Pakistan. All aspects of our bilateral relations were discussed at length and we found consensus on almost all areas that were discussed. The issue of our mutual concern about security has been on the agenda of the two sides, and we have found convergences on the matters.
For the other question, I would advise you to get more details from the Ministry of Interior about the identity of these terrorists. But I would reiterate what I said earlier, that we have identified the individuals who are involved in the Zhob terror attack. These were Afghan nationals and our concern in this respect has been conveyed to the Afghan authorities.
Question:  The Indian Supreme Court has started to hear petitions challenging the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India. How does Pakistan see this? Secondly, both China and India were invited in the peace talks hosted by Saudi Arabia. Was Pakistan invited? If not then why? And what is Pakistan’s opinion on this? (Syed Faisal Ali, Daily State Views)
Answer: Pakistan supports all efforts aimed at bringing peace and dialogue between Russia and Ukraine. In this respect, we welcome the effort by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to help find some common ground leading to constructive dialogue.
With respect to the Indian Supreme Court hearing, this is a question that I have answered in the past as well and I would like to reiterate that Jammu and Kashmir is an internationally recognized disputed territory, whose final disposition is to be made in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolutions and as per the aspirations of the Kashmiri people. Any other process cannot serve as a substitute to the grant of the right of self-determination to the Kashmiri people. Pakistan has never recognized India’s control or occupation of Kashmir. So, article 370, or any provision of the Indian constitution that perpetuates Indian illegal occupation has never been accepted by Pakistan. India’s unilateral and illegal measures since 2019, to change demographic and political landscape in  IIOJK, are a grave concern for Pakistan as . As these steps aim to convert the Kashmiris into a disempowered minority in their own land. These measures are unacceptable to Pakistan and must be rescinded to create an environment for peace and dialogue.
Question: Following the teachings of the Sunnah, Pakistani nations feels the pain whenever there is an act of violence with any Muslim in the world. My question is related to other neighboring countries of Afghanistan like Iran, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan that these countries don’t put the blame on Afghanistan on any such terror incidents. Why is it that always Pakistan connects all terror activities with Afghanistan. Why the government does not engage with result-oriented dialogues with Afghanistan?  (Czechangez Khan Jadoon, Daily Payam-e-Khyber)
Answer: I would advise you to perhaps look at some further reporting about incidents that take place on borders with other countries of Afghanistan.
Question: Regarding Taliban, Minister of Defense’s condemned the recent incidents of terrorism. Ali Wazir said from the National Assembly’s forum that if Afghan Taliban from Afghan government does not take any action then is there any message been conveyed by Pakistan that Pakistanis likely to take the action?   (Mudassar Iqbal, The Destination)
Answer: We have said repeatedly that Pakistan believes that it is the responsibility of the interim government of Afghanistan to ensure that terrorism does not emanate from Afghanistan and target the people of Pakistan. In that context, we are ready to facilitate Afghanistan and to build their capacity to counter this joint threat of terrorism.
Question: Ma’am, would you mind sharing the number of the visits Foreign Minister carried out to the United States, Saudi Arabia these two countries in particular and UAE and besides this that this has also been reported that Foreign Minister pays the expense of his visit? Is it correct or what is the total number of amounts which has been spent by the Foreign Office with regard to these visits because the foreign office staff would also complain? (Azaz Syed, Geo News)
Answer: On Your question pertaining to the expenses, I can confirm that Foreign Minister when he travels abroad pays for his own expenses unless he is being hosted by the local government. I have shared the total number of visits he has undertaken abroad.  We can share with you subsequently the exact number of visits that he has undertaken to the UAE, KSA and the United States. But please note that some of these visits were in the context of multilateral conferences like UNGA and other UN related activities. Similarly, he has been part of the entourage of the prime minister in some of these visits, including to Saudi Arabia. So these numbers are not as clear cut as you would expect.
Question: Ma’am as this briefing could be the last briefing during the current government. There were some gaps in policies during the tenure of previous government. Do you think that after Foreign Minister’s 36 visits, this government has successfully filled those gaps? (Asghar Ali Mubarak, The Daily Mail International/ World Echo News)
Answer: You know very well that Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not engage in political issues and I would not respond to a question which I believe is politically motivated. We take pride in our institution being an apolitical institution, and any political questions that you have may be addressed to the Foreign Minister when he meets you.
Question: As you mentioned 36 foreign visits by Foreign Minister, most of the visits were also part of Pakistan in the context of fact US relations, and Mr. Bilawal had number of meetings with the Secretary of State Mr. Blinken, not only on the sidelines of the UN, but also in Washington. Would you kindly tell us where does Pakistan US relations stands now? Does Washington consider Pakistan as an ally as a strategic partner and the damage which was done to bilateral relations between Pakistan and United States in the previous government, has Pakistan recovered from that damage and ties between Islamabad and Washington as strong? Your comments? (Mateen Haider, G News)
Answer: Good effort to let me comment on some political question, but I will not respond to it but I can only speak about Pakistan-US relations. We believe that the momentum of bilateral ties has gone up and we have seen a momentum in Pakistan-United States relations. There are a large number of bilateral dialogue mechanisms that have taken place in recent months and we are very confident that this relationship will continue to flourish in coming months.
Question: Ma’am, there are some reports that a Russian cargo ship carrying oil to Pakistan has sinked. Has it really sinked or it’s just a rumor? (Allah Noor, Mashriq TV)
Answer: I do not know about this. This is speculative reporting. I can’t comment on that.
Question: We saw Pakistan’s stance that there will be no communication/engagement with India until India reverts its 5th August’s illegal act. Then Bilawal Bhutto Zardari visited India and at a conference recently, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif said that Pakistan is ready to engage in talks with its neighbors including India. Now it has been decided to send the cricket team to India for World Cup. So should we consider that Pakistan is backing off from its principled position on this?    (Ghazala Noreen, SUNO TV)
Answer: Actually I just answered a question regarding the statement of the Prime Minister and I would reiterate that Pakistan continues to believe that peace between Pakistan and India is critical for the future of our peoples and for the prosperity of our region. We also believe that dialogue is important between Pakistan and India in an environment which is free of coercion and free of belligerence that India continues to demonstrate in the region. We believe that the ball is in India’s court to create an environment for peace and dialogue. That is the answer to your question about dialogue between Pakistan and India. As far as cricket and sports are concerned Pakistan has a consistent position that sports and cricket should not be politicized. It is India which has been politicizing sports for the last several years as demonstrated recently by their decision not to participate in the Asia Cup hosted by Pakistan or their decision not to issue visas to the blind cricket team of Pakistan. Our decision to participate in the International Cricket World Cup is in the context of an international cricket tournament that is being hosted by India and not for a bilateral cricket series with India.
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