[This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated]
Assalam-o-Alaikum, Thanks for joining us for the Weekly Briefing. Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has just concluded his visit to Mauritania where he was leading the Pakistan delegation to the 49th Session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM). After Pakistan’s successful tenure as the Chair of 48th OIC CFM, the Foreign Minister handed over the Chairmanship to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, the incoming Chair of the 49th OIC CFM. In his statement, Foreign Minister underscored the importance of the unity of Islamic Ummah and the role of OIC in overcoming regional and global challenges to peace, security and development. He called for peaceful resolution of lingering disputes and highlighted the case of Palestine and Kashmir as common causes of the OIC. Foreign Minister also drew attention to the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and called for OIC action against Islamophobia and climate change. He proposed that the OIC create a “Committee for the Future” to chart a long-term strategy for sustainable growth and development of OIC members. Foreign Minister also attended the OIC Contact Group on Kashmir where he called for an end to human rights violations in IIOJK and underlined OIC’s important role in resolution of the dispute in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people and the relevant resolutions of OIC and UN Security Council. In another important development at the OIC CFM, a senior Pakistani diplomat Ambassador Aftab Ahmad Khokher has been elected as OIC’s Assistant Secretary General for Science and Technology for 2024-2029. Ambassador Khokher is currently serving as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Austria and Permanent Representative of Pakistan to Vienna based international organizations. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar led the Pakistan delegation to 22nd Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Ministers’ Meeting (CFAMM) held on 15 March 2023 in London. The Minister of State presented Pakistan’s perspective on global and regional developments and their implications for developing countries including Pakistan. She called on the Commonwealth to take the lead in developing a new fiscally responsible model for sustainable growth that addresses the issues of debt burden on developing countries. The Minister of State outlined the importance of international collaboration on climate change and availability of significant, additional and predictable financial resources for climate adaptation and mitigation. She also called for early operationalization of the ‘Loss and Damage Fund’ and associated arrangements. The Commonwealth Ministerial Meeting endorsed establishment of three working groups on reforms to modernize the Commonwealth, with Pakistan leading the working group on administration and programme. Pakistan-US Energy Security Dialogue was held on 15 March 2023 in Islamabad. Minister for Energy, Engr. Khurram Dastgir Khan, and the US Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Geoffery Pyatt co-chaired the dialogue. The two sides discussed bilateral energy cooperation especially in advancing renewable energy transition, including through the US-Pakistan “Green Alliance” framework. Pakistan-US Climate and Environment Working Group also met on 16 March 2023 in Islamabad. Minister for Climate Change, Senator Sherry Rehman led the Pakistan delegation while the US delegation was led by Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environment and Scientific Affairs (OEC) Monica Madina. Agenda included discussions on climate matters and energy transition, water management and efficiency, agriculture, air quality, and solid waste management including plastics recycling. The two sides agreed to continue deepening their bilateral partnership through the “Green Alliance” framework. The two delegations also called on the Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, who encouraged investment in energy sector and welcomed the ongoing dialogue and cooperation between Pakistan and the United States. Yesterday, Pakistan and Australia held 8th Session of Pakistan-Australia Senior Officials Talks (SOTs) in Islamabad. Additional Foreign Secretary (Asia-Pacific) Mumtaz Zahra Baloch led the Pakistan side, while the Australian side was led by First Assistant Secretary for North and South Asia, Gary Cowan. The two sides had a comprehensive exchange of views on bilateral cooperation, including high level exchanges, cooperation in political, economic, development, science & technology, education, defence, security and counter-terrorism, migration and climate change. The two sides also briefed each other on their respective foreign policy priorities and discussed cooperation in multilateral settings. Additional Secretary briefed the Australian side on the regional situation in South Asia including the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and the grave and systematic violations of human rights in IIOJK. Yesterday, Australia and Pakistan also held Trade Talks in Islamabad. The two sides discussed bilateral trade and investment matters with special focus on cooperation in agriculture and information and communication technology. Enhanced trade access and issues relating to mutual protection of intellectual property rights especially Geographical Indicators for basmati rice were also discussed. Pakistan has participated recently in SCO meetings – some in person and some virtually. Justice Munib Akhtar of the Supreme Court of Pakistan represented Pakistan virtually at the SCO Meeting of the Chief Justices of the Supreme Courts held from 10-12 March 2023 in New Delhi. In his statement, he expressed support for the rule of law and for promoting accessibility of legal systems in SCO member states. He shared national experiences and discussed best practices to address the contemporary legal challenges in access to justice. On 14 March, Minister for Energy Khurram Dastgir Khan virtually participated in the Third SCO Ministers of Energy meeting hosted by India. In his remarks, he expressed Pakistan's desire to cooperate closely with SCO states in the energy sector especially in clean and renewable energy. And today, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Tourism & Sports Aun Chaudhry is virtually representing Pakistan in the SCO Meeting of the Heads of Tourism Administration. As an active member of the SCO, Pakistan will continue to participate in SCO activities and constructively contribute to their outcomes. Pakistan has welcomed the normalization of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran and commends China’s visionary leadership in coordinating this historic agreement. We believe that this diplomatic breakthrough will contribute to peace and stability in the region and beyond. We hope this normalization would define a template for regional cooperation and harmony. The first International Day to Combat Islamophobia was commemorated in Pakistan and around the world on 15th March. Last year, at Pakistan’s initiative on behalf of OIC, the UN General Assembly unanimously designated 15th March as the “International Day to Combat Islamophobia”. Pakistan is deeply concerned at the world-wide increase in racism, xenophobia and violence motivated by Islamophobia, which is manifesting itself in the negative profiling and stigmatization of Muslims, vandalization of Islamic symbols and holy sites, discriminatory laws and policies, ban on Hijab, and attacks on mosques. We are also concerned about rising hate crime against Muslims including Quran burnings in Europe. We call for fostering global dialogue to promote a culture of peace and tolerance and to raise awareness to combat Islamophobia. In this context, we condemn the recent remarks made by a BJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister in Karnataka, K S Eshwarappa. These remarks are yet another manifestation of the rising Islamophobia in India. Pakistan is deeply concerned at the alarming rise in communal violence and hatred directed against Muslims in India, who are being systematically stigmatized and marginalized on account of their faith. We call on India to take immediate steps to ensure safety, security, and well-being of minorities and allow them to profess and practice their faith in peace. Meanwhile, human rights abuses in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) continue unabated. Last week, in their so-called ‘cordon-and-search’ operations in Baramulla district in IIOJK, the Indian forces arbitrarily arrested two Kashmiri youth, Khurshid Ahmad Khan and Reyaz Ahmad Khan. They also raided the houses of All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leader Muhammad Iqbal Mir, religious leader Qazi Yasir, and jailed Jammu and Kashmir Salvation Movement Chairman, Zaffar Akber Butt. This intimidation and harassment of Kashmiris and their leadership must end. Pakistan will continue to raise its voice against the grave human rights violations in IIOJK. 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. Lastly, I have an important announcement. Foreign Secretary, Dr. Asad Majeed Khan is currently in Beijing to lead the Pakistan delegation for the Bilateral Political Consultations (BPC) with China. The Chinese side is led by Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong. The two sides will have an in-depth exchange of views on the entire spectrum of bilateral ties and on important regional and global developments. Foreign Secretary will call on State Councillor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang, meet CIDCA Chairman, Lou Zhaouhui and engage with Chinese academia and think tanks. I thank you all and am ready to take your questions. * Question: As you mentioned about SCO meetings in your opening statement that Justice Munib Akhtar represented Pakistan virtually via video link. In the coming days, India will be assuming the chairmanship of SCO and there will be meetings of SCO Heads of States and Foreign Ministers. Will Pakistan attend these sessions via video link or is there any chance of Prime Minister and Foreign Minister physically attending the meetings? (Salman Ali Awan, Public News) Supplementary Question:Reportedly India has invited our Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif to the SCO Defence Ministers’ Conference and there are reports that he has accepted this invite and he will attend in person. Could you confirm that? (Jaleel Akhtar, VOA) Answer: As an active member of SCO, Pakistan regularly participates in all SCO activities and constructively contributes to their outcomes. We will make announcements about our future participation when the time is right. At this stage, I am not in a position to confirm participation of our senior officials in the upcoming SCO meetings. Question: It is being reported in the media that China has demanded payments from Pakistan overdue on the Chinese independent power plants installed under the CPEC. Is this not indicative of failure of tall claims of Pakistan China friendship particularly in view of the financial situation in the country? Secondly, UAE has handed over the responsibilities of Afghan Embassy to the de-facto Afghan government of Taliban and Taliban have also deputed their Consul General there? What is your comment on this development? (Siyar Ali Shah, Khyber News) Answer: Pakistan and China are All Weather Strategic Cooperative partners. China is a consistent, generous and steadfast friend of Pakistan that has stood by Pakistan for the last several decades. China came and invested in Pakistan’s power sector under CPEC when no foreign investor was ready to invest in Pakistan. This investment contributed to economic development of the country and helped us in overcoming energy shortage and blackouts. We are grateful to our Chinese friends for their consistent commitment to Pakistan, to CPEC and for investments in Pakistan. The claims that you have mentioned being made in the media have taken an inter-governmental conversation completely out of context by adding sensationalist jargon to it. Let me underline that Pakistan and China consult closely on all matters and find optimal win-win outcomes and we will continue to do that. The people of Pakistan are proud of our friendship with China, which has always come to Pakistan’s assistance when most needed including in this difficult economic situation. On your second question, I would like to say that Pakistan always welcomes when countries engage with each other, pursue dialogue and cooperate with each other – and that is the our outlook in this as well. Question: Recently Australian Prime Minister visited India. After that a very junior level Australian delegation also visited Pakistan. Do you think that this is weakness of our foreign policy or is it because Australia naturally has higher level of engagement with India and that is the reason that Australian Prime Minister could not be invited to Pakistan? (Azaz Syed, Geo News) Answer: Firstly we do not comment on bilateral relations of other countries. Secondly, right now we have just hosted a senior level delegation for the talks which are actually called Senior Official Talks. This is a regular dialogue mechanism between Pakistan and Australia. Pakistan hosted the Australian delegation in Islamabad for the 8th round of these Talks and potential areas of cooperation were identified. Question: Yesterday, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar mentioned an alarming thing in his speech that Pakistan is being pressurized to compromise on its nuclear program. Is IMF arm twisting Pakistan? Is Pakistan’s economic diplomacy not working? Please elaborate that how much pressure is there on us actually and what are we doing regarding this? (Sohail Akhtar Chaudhry, Daily Pakistan) Answer: First of all, I would not like to comment on a debate that is taking place in the Parliament. Secondly, I have said earlier and I would like to reiterate that the issues that you have mentioned about Pakistan's nuclear program, are not on the agenda with any government, any financial institution or any international organization. This debate is just speculative and I would not like to add to the speculation. Question: First, we saw hostility or an escalation when a US drone was downed by Russia, which it says was “accidental”. What is Pakistan's take on the matter because it can escalate into a full-blown situation? Secondly, we've seen that under the August deal Australia is acquiring a nuclear powered and fully armed submarine through the US and UK. So, would it not create an imbalance in the balance of power in the region, specifically in the Indo-Pacific against Pakistan’s strategic ally China? (Anas Mallick, Capital TV) Answer: We have seen the reports. Yesterday in the Senior Official Talks we had detailed conversations with the Australian side, and our position on developments in the region was clearly articulated. It was also an opportunity to understand their perspective. We believe all regional mechanisms must be inclusive and promote peace and dialogue and aim for mutual welfare and prosperity. On your second question – Pakistan has time and again called for peace and dialogue to resolve the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. We believe diplomacy needs to be prioritized so that we have peace in the region and there is no room for accidental escalation. Question: An austerity campaign was launched by the government few weeks back. Historically, on 23rd March activities and events are held in the Pakistan Missions Abroad. This year, will there be limited functions because of austerity measures or they will be held as per the routine? (Mohsin ul Mulk, 24 News) Answer: I have already commented on this before as well. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will fully implement and is implementing the directions of the government in controlling our expenditure. We have identified certain areas where such budgetary controls are being exercised. As far as Pakistan Day celebrations are concerned, Pakistan Missions abroad will definitely commemorate the Pakistan Day as per practice within the budgetary allocations that they have. Question: For the past few decades Pakistan has been raising Kashmir issue at various International forums, various resolutions are also present in UN on this. What’s the progress and what is the possible solution of this issue? Secondly, my question is regarding the new condition imposed by IMF that the countries which have promised financial support to Pakistan are being asked to give it in writing. Does this tough behavior of IMF shows any discrimination in IMFs approach towards Pakistan? (Khawaja Nayyar Iqbal, Media Today) Answer: First, I would like to say that reports that we see in the media may not always be accurate reflection of the discussions that may be taking place. So, I would not like to speculate on the ongoing negotiations with IMF. Secondly, on the situation in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir and Human Rights violations there, Pakistan, will continue to raise its voice, as it has always been doing, for the people of Jammu and Kashmir for their human rights and for their right to self-determination according to their wishes and according to the UN Security Council Resolutions. Question: Right before the visit of Foreign Secretary Asad Majeed Khan to China, various speculations about Pak – China relations are being made, especially by the former Federal Minister Human Rights. In a tweet, she equated the Zaman Park scenario with Tiananmen Square and then later on she deleted it. How much damage has it done to the higher than Himalaya’s friendship? Secondly, you repeatedly told us at this podium that there is no final decision of Foreign Minister’s visit to Goa to attend the SCO ministerial. I just want to know what factors are being considered to decide that whether he will go or not. On the basis of what factor the final decision will be made?(Shaukat Piracha, AAJ News) Answer: First, I would like to reiterate that Pakistan – China relationship is decades old. It is a relationship that has continued to grow in strength over the last several decades. We have been friends through good times and tough times, despite changing situation around us, international developments, and any domestic developments in Pakistan or in China. Both sides are committed to this relationship. One statement by some individual cannot in any way damage this relationship, because it is based on mutual trust, on mutual confidence and the support of the peoples of Pakistan and China, who have for generations supported Pakistan – China friendship. Regarding your other question, Pakistan examines all invitations for upcoming meetings and takes decisions on case-by-case and in light of Pakistan’s interests. For the particular meeting you are referring to, we believe that it is premature to take a decision on a conference that will take place in a few months time. Question: Reports are coming in from South Waziristan of a drone attack or something else. Would you like to comment on that, whether it was a drone attack or anything else?(Ali Hussain, Business Recorder) Answer: In this context, I would like to invite your attention to a statement made by ISPR on 16th of March, where it shared the information about an operation in South Waziristan and intense exchange of fire between security forces and terrorists. Question: Almost 1 billion 700 million rupees have been spent on the visits of Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Till date, you have not shared any outcome of these visits. We are facing a difficult situation economically and from the aspect of security? Can you please share details about the beneficial outcomes of the visits which have been undertaken by the Foreign Minister after spending so much on these visits? (Sardar Amir, Daily Maddar) Answer: ou have asked this question in the past and I have responded repeatedly about the outcomes of Foreign Minister’s visits. I would invite you to follow our previous statements. Foreign Minister is the representative of a country at the international stage. He just attended the Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Mauritania, where he presented Pakistan's viewpoint, where he spoke about the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, about Islamophobia and the challenges faced by the Islamic world including Pakistan. He also attended the Contact Group on Kashmir that discussed in detail the situation in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir and the rights of Kashmiri people to self-determination. I do not understand why this question keeps coming up because it is very clear that the role of the Foreign Minister is to represent Pakistan and he has been doing that. It is his job to engage with world leaders and international community and represent Pakistan in international conferences and events. Question: Will Pakistan attend the upcoming Democracy Summit to be hosted by the United States? (Raja Kamran, Huashang China) Answer: At this stage no decision has been taken. Question:I have an academic question related to Foreign Office. Is Foreign Office responsible to defend interests of the State, the Ministry or the Government? (Anwar Abbas, Bol News) Answer: We represent the State; we protect the interests of the State of Pakistan and we implement the policies set by the Government. In the process, we also want to defend ourselves whenever we are under undue criticism. We believe that we have a right to defend ourselves whenever there is an undue criticism, but our objective is to protect and promote and defend the interests of Pakistan. Question: It has been reported that during the recent visit of Minister of Defence and DG ISI to Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban have demanded 30 billion rupees from Pakistan government to unarm and resettle TTP in Afghanistan. Is there any engagement of Foreign Office with Afghan side regarding the payment of this amount and fulfilling their demands? Secondly, it was said that Afghan Taliban will visit Pakistan in view of the above-mentioned issue. So, has the government of Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan been recognized as a legitimate Government by Pakistan? (Abdullah Momand, Dawn TV) Answer: I would like to reiterate what I have said before that the delegation that visited Afghanistan and was led by Minister for Defense, focused on security and counterterrorism related matters. I have not, from this podium, shared any such information that you are referring to. So, I do not know from where these reports have reached you. Perhaps you could ask those who have shared this information with you. We would not like to comment on a visit which was very sensitive in nature because it dealt with security and counterterrorism matters. Once we have a final outcome of the negotiations and discussions, we will make public comments. Question: A TPS status is given by United States to the countries affected by climate change and floods. Have any request been put up by Pakistan to US? Recently, in my conversation with the US Ambassador, he shared that it has been conveyed to the Government of Pakistan but till now the case has not been initiated by Government of Pakistan. What are your comments?(Adil Nizami, Hum News) Answer: Pakistan does not have any plans at this stage to make that request. Question:Diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran have normalized, in which China has played a very positive role. How Pakistan views this development and what are the positive implications for Pakistan due to this? (Khawaja Hamza Iqbal, Media Today) Answer: I can just reiterate what I said my opening statement. Pakistan welcomes normalization of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Both are our close friends and partners. We are also very appreciative of the facilitative role that that China played. We welcome normalization of relations and hope that their cooperation will continue for the welfare of the peoples of Iran and Saudi Arabia and will have peace dividends for the entire region. Question: People of Waziristan have been sharing that it was a drone attack and the pictures and videos of missile used in that attack are also available now. “W- 0500-18” was written on it. As you have also shared the statement issued by ISPR on this, what details have been gathered by Foreign Office about this incident and what actions have been taken regarding it? People of Waziristan are scared once again of the drone attacks and they do not feel safe. What is the position of Pakistan on this? (Allah Noor, Mashriq TV) Answer: I will reiterate what I said in the past as well. Internal Security matters are not the domain of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In this context ISPR has made a statement. If you wish to seek further information you can consult them or the Ministry of Interior. Question:With the Iran – Saudi Arabia peace deal, would Pakistan be changing its policy position on the matter of Yemen? (Anas Mallick, Capital TV) Answer: Pakistan has continued to call for peace in the region and security for all our friends, including Saudi Arabia. We hope that with this agreement and the normalization of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, there will be progress on outstanding issues including any differences that they have on Yemen. We hope this would have peace dividends for the region including in Yemen. Question: Many Pakistani Prime Ministers have tried to take credit for facilitating mediations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Recently, the news arrived as a surprise about this development with facilitation of China. Was Pakistan also on board or played a role of facilitator in this major development? (Ali Hussain, Business Recorder) Answer: It is obvious that this agreement is a result of the meditation efforts of China and the constructive talks that took it facilitated and the two sides were able to resolve their differences. We welcome this development. Pakistan like several other countries and friends of both Iran and Saudi Arabia played their part in facilitating dialogue. In this context, I would also like to recall that the first meeting of the two Foreign Ministers took place in Islamabad on the sidelines of OIC meeting. But we do not wish to take away credit from China in this latest agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia on normalization of relations and congratulate them for their successful diplomatic efforts. Thank you.