[This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated]
Good afternoon and welcome to our Weekly Press Briefing.
Let me begin by the State Visit of President of Uzbekistan H.E. Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev from 3-4 March at the invitation of Prime Minister Imran Khan. The Uzbek President was accompanied by a high-level delegation, comprising the Foreign Minister and other members of the Cabinet, senior government officials, along with business and media personnel.
One-on-one meeting of the Prime Minister and the Uzbek President was followed by delegation-level talks and Joint Media Stakeout. President Mirziyoyev also held a separate meeting with the President of Pakistan.
During the visit, the entire gamut of bilateral relations including cooperation in political, trade and economic, connectivity, education, culture, security and defence domains were reviewed. Several bilateral Agreements/MoUs were signed.
2nd Round of Bilateral Political Consultations (BPC), 7th Session of Joint Ministerial Commission and 2nd Joint Business Forum were also held in Islamabad on the eve of the visit.
The visit is demonstrative of Pakistan’s enhanced engagement with Central Asian countries as part of the “Vision Central Asia” policy with political and diplomatic, trade and investment, energy and connectivity, security and defence, and people-to- people relations, as key strands.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have been closely following the situation in Ukraine, and have remained proactively engaged with members of the international community.
Pakistan is committed to the fundamental principles of the UN Charter: self-determination of peoples, non-use or threat of use of force, sovereignty and territorial integrity of States, and pacific settlement of disputes. Equally, Pakistan upholds the principle of equal security for all. These principles must be consistently and universally respected.
Pakistan remains deeply concerned at the recent turn of events. This reflects a failure of diplomacy. Prime Minister Imran Khan regretted the latest situation between Russia and Ukraine, and said that Pakistan had hoped that diplomacy could avert military conflict.
We have since repeatedly stressed the need for de-escalation, renewed negotiations, sustained dialogue, and continuous diplomacy.
All efforts must be made to avoid further escalation of violence and loss of life as well as military, political and economic tensions which can pose an unprecedented threat to international peace and security and global economic stability. As consistently underlined by Prime Minister Imran Khan, the developing countries are hit the hardest economically by conflict anywhere.
We hope the talks initiated between representatives of the Russian Federation and Ukraine will succeed in bringing about a cessation of hostilities and normalization of the situation. A diplomatic solution in accordance with relevant multilateral agreements, international law, and the provisions of the UN Charter is indispensable.
Pakistan also supports all efforts to provide humanitarian relief to civilians in the affected areas.
We are most concerned about the safety and welfare of Pakistani citizens and students in Ukraine. The majority of them have been evacuated through a concerted effort in coordination with our concerned Missions there who have been working round the clock. Those who remain will be evacuated soonest. We appreciate the cooperation of the Ukrainian authorities as well as the Polish, Romanian, Hungarian and other neighboring countries in this context.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
By way of quick roundup, at the invitation of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Russia for an official visit on 23-24 February 2022. The Prime Minister was accompanied by a high-level delegation including members of the Cabinet. The bilateral Summit between the Prime Minister and the Russian President was the highlight of the visit.
Prime Minister Imran Khan met with President Putin in the Kremlin on 24 February 2022. The two leaders held wide-ranging consultations on bilateral relations as well as regional and international issues of mutual interest. The Prime Minister reaffirmed the importance of Pakistan-Stream Gas Pipeline as a flagship economic project between Pakistan and Russia and discussed cooperation on prospective energy-related projects.
Foreign Minister Qureshi also held delegation level talks with FM Lavrov.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There has been a flurry of diplomatic activities in recent days.
The Foreign Minister received the Executive Director of United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), Ms. Catherine Russell, and Mr. Eamon Gilmore, European Union Special Representative for Human Rights on 21 February.
Same day, the Foreign Minister also received Ambassador Redwan Hussien, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia. The Foreign Minister highlighted the Government’s “Engage Africa” policy to deepen its across-the-board engagement with the African continent and the steps taken in this regard.
The Foreign Minister also held telephonic conversation with Annalena Baerbock, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany on 21 February. The two Ministers exchanged views on bilateral relations as well as important regional issues.
On 27 February, the Foreign Minister held a telephonic conversation with Foreign Minister of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba. Foreign Minister Qureshi shared Pakistan’s perspective, reiterating serious concern at the situation, underscoring the importance of de-escalation, and stressing the indispensability of diplomacy.
Also on 27 February, Foreign Minister Qureshi received a telephone call from Lord Tariq Ahmad (Minister for South Asia, North Africa, the United Nations and the Commonwealth at the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO). The two sides exchanged views on Pakistan-UK relations and regional and international issues of mutual interest.
The Foreign Minister had telephone conversations with his Polish and Romanian counterparts on 28 February and 1st March respectively. The Foreign Minister expressed appreciation to the two countries for warmly receiving Pakistani students and community being evacuated from Ukraine. On 2nd March, the Foreign Minister also spoke to Mr. Josep Borrell, Vice President of the European Commission and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Views were exchanged on the current situation in Ukraine and the Emergency Session of the UN General Assembly.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Pakistan and Ethiopia held the inaugural round of Bilateral Political Consultations (BPC) on 21 February 2022, led by Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood and Ambassador Redwan Hussien, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia.
On 28 February 2022, Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood addressed the High- Level Segment of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva in virtual format. In his statement, the Foreign Secretary underscored that adherence to international norms, without any distinction or discrimination, remained fundamental for sustainable global and regional peace and security. He urged the international community to ensure equitable and balanced approach towards issues of arms control and disarmament based on the principle of equal security for all states.
On 1 March, Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood received Australia’s Special Representative on Afghanistan, Daniel Sloper. Sharing Pakistan’s perspective, the Foreign Secretary reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to a peaceful, stable and connected Afghanistan and highlighted efforts in support of this goal.
I wish to inform you that Pakistan and the United States are scheduled to hold an Intersessional Meeting of Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) on 7 March. The US delegation for this meeting will be led by the Assistant United States Trade Representative for South and Central Asia, Christopher Wilson. The Meeting will focus on further enhancing trade and investment between Pakistan and United States and explore potential for growth in areas of mutual interest including agriculture, health, energy, IT and other sectors. Ladies and Gentlemen,
23rd February marked the second anniversary of the horrific Delhi Riots Pogrom of 2020 - a harrowing manifestation of India’s systematic campaign to discriminate against, dispossess and dehumanize the Muslim community and its worrying slide towards saffronization.
It also marked the 31st anniversary of the despicable mass rapes of Kashmiri women in Kunan and Poshpura villages of the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) in 1991. Despite lapse of 31 years, the perpetrators (including Colonel K.S. Dalal and his 125 associates of 4 Rajputana Rifle) of this heinous act are yet to be brought to justice. This lack of accountability is a frightening example of the brazen impunity which defines India’s gruesome human rights violations and reign of terror in IIOJK that continues unabated.
During the last month alone 8 Kashmiris have been martyred in IIOJK.
International community must compel India to halt its state-terrorism in IIOJK, immediately cease human rights violations, lift the inhumane military siege, and let the people of IIOJK exercise their just right to self-determination as enshrined in the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
27th February marked the third anniversary of Pakistan’s exemplary response to India’s illegitimate and ill-conceived military airstrikes inside Pakistani airspace, in utter violation of the United Nations Charter and International Law. The botched attempt at infringing Pakistan’s sovereignty was swiftly riposted by our valiant armed forces. Not only did Pakistan resolutely safeguard its sovereignty; it also displayed exemplary restraint.
Pakistan is a proponent for regional peace and stability. At the same time, our desire for peace is accompanied by a strong resolve and capability for self-defence, as was also demonstrated by the interception by Pak Navy of an Indian submarine, yet another time. India will be better served to remember this and avoid embarking on military adventurism.
Lastly, let me note that preparations are underway for the 48th Session of OIC Council of Foreign Minsters that Pakistan is going to host from 22-23 March. This important conference is coinciding with the 75th anniversary celebration of Pakistan’s independence. It will showcase Pakistan’s strong leadership in the Islamic World.
Just to recall, Pakistan has held several high-level meetings of OIC in the past. Beginning with 2nd OIC Summit in Lahore in 1974, the Extraordinary Summit of 1997, and four Council of Foreign Ministers Meetings with the last one in 2007, besides two Extraordinary Sessions on Afghanistan in 1980 and most recent one in December 2021.
I thank you and am ready to take questions on these or other foreign policy matters.
Question: As you have also highlighted during the briefing regarding the detection of Indian Submarine by Pakistan navy, likewise we have also apprehended Indian terrorist Kulbhushan Jadhav, has Pakistan taken up these issues with Indian side, or is there any ongoing back channel diplomacy like we have negotiations on Indus Water Treaty. (Asghar Ali Mubarak, the Daily Mail International)
Answer: Pakistan always wants to have friendly relations with all neighboring countries including India. We are committed to have friendly relations with India as well, but as I said on many occasions, it is the unfriendly and hostile behavior and attitude of India that has brought us to the situation where the dialogue is suspended – because of India, and the illegal and unilateral actions that they took in IIOJK in August 2019 and the persistent human rights violations at a very widespread scale in IIOJK are some of the serious developments which are impeding the resumption of normalization of ties with India. We have said that the onus for resumption of dialogue lies with India. They have to take steps to create an enabling environment for dialogue. You have also recalled that on 3rd of March, and it was 6 years ago that Kulbhushan Jadhav was apprehended. Now that is another problem that we face vis-à-vis India and that is Indian state-sponsored terrorism directed against Pakistan. Commander Jadhav as you know was a serving Indian Navy officer, working for the Indian intelligence agency, deployed specifically for espionage and undertaking sabotage and terrorist activities inside Pakistan. This is what he also confessed after his arrest, and I would say that the arrest of Kulbhushan Jadhav showed to the international community, the real face of our eastern neighbor. Kulbhushan Jadhav is indeed the poster boy of India’s terrorist activities in Pakistan. We are committed to continue to confront and fight and defeat this terrorism sponsored and perpetrated by India, which continues to employ terrorism as an instrument of state policy.
In the case of Jadhav, as you are aware, India is also refusing to cooperate with the Court for the review proceedings.
Question: How do you see the relation of Pakistan with the European countries and the United States? Are they moving towards improvement? Secondly has the focus of Pakistan’s foreign policy changed? (Khawaja Nayyar Iqbal, Media Today)
Answer: Pakistan’s foreign policy priorities are clear and consistent. It is a well thought through approach. We want friendly relations with all neighbours and beyond the region, especially with the big powers, the important countries and international community, we want balanced, productive and mutually beneficial broad-based relations and I think this is true for our relations, as you mentioned, with US and the European Union. We have excellent relations with them, we are committed to take this relationship forward in an objective, balanced and fair manner to further expand the scope of our bilateral cooperation. As you are aware of our various engagements with both the US and the European Union, particularly with the European Union, the Foreign Minister has been engaged very closely – the recent visit to Brussels and as I just mentioned to you the telephonic conversation with Mr. Josep Borrell the other night. So, this is all moving in a very positive way and we look forward to further strengthening these relations.
Question: The United States Senate has confirmed the nomination of the US Ambassador to Pakistan. How do you see this development?
Secondly, can you give up an update on the evacuation status of the Pakistani nationals from Ukraine? (Nimra Sohail, PTV)
Supplementary Question: How many students have been evacuated? How many are still in Ukraine? Secondly, Pakistan is maintaining neutrality in Russia-Ukraine conflict. Is there any pressure on Pakistan to condemn Russian actions? (Sardar Amir Hussain, Royal News)
Answer: I think on your first question about the nomination of US Ambassador to Pakistan, let me inform that the US has confirmed the nomination of Donald Blome, as the next US Ambassador to Pakistan and we basically look forward to his arrival and we wish to have cordial relations and work closely to further strengthen the bilateral relations with the US.
Regarding the situation of our community especially students in Ukraine, let me just encapsulate, there were about 7000 Pakistanis in Ukraine, 4000 community settled there and about 3000 students. This was before the crisis started. Based on the contacts and the advisories issued by our Embassy in Ukraine from time to time a large majority of this 7000 had already left Ukraine before 24th of February. So on 24th Feb when the crisis started there were still in Ukraine a couple of hundred students, who had not left, some wanted their temporary resident permits to be renewed and for other reasons and there were a couple of hundred other Pakistani community members. From that day, our Embassy in Ukraine has been working round the clock to assist in the evacuation efforts under the guidance of the Ministry and in close coordination with our Embassies in Poland, Hungry and Romania. Let me give you the figures till this morning - 1463 Pakistani citizens have been evacuated from Ukraine, there are about 8 persons who are on Ukraine-Hungry border and about 30 Pakistanis in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Mariupol, Sumy and Kherson and 6 students who are currently in Ivano-Fankivsk and Ternopil, who for their own reasons did not want to leave Ukraine, so this is the situation right now. We can say, as I also said in my opening remarks, we have been able to evacuate the majority of Pakistanis, who remained in Ukraine on 24 February, successfully and safely Alhamdulillah, and this operation is continuing and you would have followed the news our Ambassadors were on border continuously for days, overseeing these efforts, talking to the host authorities, coordinating visas and accommodations and other arrangements. I think this has been a very successful and exemplary operation that we have been able to carry out.
Question: Two Indians were among the eight arrested in Nepal for possessing uranium like-substance. How would you comment on these proliferation activities by India? (Sauud Ejaz, 24 News)
Answer: I think such incidents have been reported earlier as well and these are a cause of concern.
We are observing with concern the media reports of Indian nationals caught in trans-border smuggling of nuclear material.
The pattern of attempted sales of nuclear material in India is alarming and indicates presence of an illicit nuclear bazaar.
The nuclear security and border controls lapses in India should be thoroughly investigated.
Question: Pakistan is not supporting Ukraine the way they are expecting from Pakistan against Russian aggression. There is strong ongoing defense cooperation between Pakistan and Ukraine. You think as a result of Pakistan changed foreign policy there will be any impact on Pakistan-Ukraine defence cooperation?
Second about Afghanistan, yesterday while meeting the Uzbekistan President the Prime Minister Imran Khan said that Pakistan is going to launch an international lobbying for de-freezing Afghanistan’s financial assets. What is format of this lobbing, any friends have been contacted or Pakistan will be doing lobbying all alone? From when this lobbying will start? (Mateen Haider, G News)
Answer: On your first question, I think there is no change in Pakistan’s policy. By the way both Russia and Ukraine are our friendly countries, and we have close relations with them. The Foreign Minister has also spoken to the Ukrainian Foreign Minister. We hope to have continued good relations with Ukraine.
On your second question, although I do not have details but what I can say is that Pakistan has been in the lead regionally and globally on this question that Afghanistan’s assets in the US should be de-frozen, and there has been a lot of movement and progress on that. Many steps have been taken though not to the entire satisfaction, but I think appreciable efforts have been made, and we will continue to advocate strongly for that.
Question: India continues with its aggression in different forms along the LOC. During the past year 4-5 people were kidnapped from LOC and later on Indian forces claimed that they had crossed LOC. Yesterday a mentally challenged individual was arrested from LOC. Has the Foreign Office taken up this issue with the Indian side? (Saqib Rathore, Kashmir Times)
Answer: First of all on the LoC, I think you should note that it has been a period of relative calm with not that many violations since the understanding of February 2021. Secondly, about the incidents, where unintentionally some people cross over and are apprehended, we always take up these cases with the Indian side and we have also taken note of this incident and will raise this with the Indian side.
Question: Recently we have seen on twitter and other social media platform that few Ambassadors and Envoys stationed in Islamabad specially I am talking about the Denmark Ambassador to Pakistan urged Pakistan to condemn Russian aggression. Do they have any diplomatic bandwidth to urge Pakistan to join hands with the West in condemning Russian aggression? What do you think about it? (Sumaira Khan, Samaa News)
Answer: I think it is a tricky tool – the social media platforms and one has to be careful in using them. Our Ambassadors also use twitter abroad, but I think we use that in a responsible manner and the important thing is that there are always certain diplomatic norms and protocols that we understand are to be followed. It is not usual diplomatic practice to say such things through media, and we have made that clear.
Question: Have foreign office received any letter in this regards from Ambassador and Envoys in Islamabad? (Naveed Akbar, Aaj News)
Supplementary Question: When they wrote a letter in form of a press release, was this issue formally taken up with these ambassadors in a meeting or were they issued demarche? (Shaukat Piracha, Aaj News)
Answer: If you are referring to a press release that was issued, yes we took note of that and in a subsequent meeting with a group of Ambassadors, we expressed our concern about that, because as I said that is not the way diplomacy should be practiced, and I think they have realized.
Let me just note for your information that over the last days, when this crisis started on 24th February, there have been various engagements at different levels with various Ambassadors here at the Foreign Office, at the level of the Foreign Secretary, Additional Secretaries, Director Generals and others. The Foreign Secretary is meeting some Ambassadors today as well. And this is the normal way of conducting diplomatic activities and we have no issue with that as we ourselves are engaging very pro-actively and we have also been meeting on short notices even though we are in the middle of preparing for a major conference in two weeks times, the OIC-CFM. We have engaged and continue to engage on this issue. The press release was not the right way and it has been conveyed to them.
The Foreign Minister is also reaching out to his counterparts as I noted in my opening remarks. He spoke to the Hungarian Foreign Minister today and will be talking to other counterparts in coming days.
Question: There was an unfortunate an incident in Peshawar. Can it be linked with Australia-Pakistan cricket series? As India in the past had tried to disrupt Pakistan-New Zealand series? (Mudasir Chaudry, The Destination)
Answer: It is not for me to speculate, the point is that this is a most unfortunate incident – the terrorist act in Peshawar, which we strongly condemn, and we condole the loss of innocent lives, and this has happened at a time as you mentioned when the Australian team is here.
Question: There are ongoing cases of harassment and victimization of Muslims in India and human rights are being violated. The international community including the United Nations is silent over these incidents. What is Foreign Office stance on this? (Shakeel Ahmed Kalyana, Dunya Numa)
Supplementary Question: Are there any ongoing talks with India on trade? If yes then at what level? (Sophia Siddiqui, Pro Pakistan)
Answer: There are no talks on trade with India. I mentioned about the issue of the violations of human rights in India, and this is an ongoing problem in India. There is this continuous down-sliding with regard to the human rights record of India, where the minorities, not only Muslims but Christians and others are suffering massively from their policy of discrimination, victimization and violence. Islamophobia is a big problem that has emerged in India and we have been regularly highlighting that to draw the attention of the international community and they are taking notice increasingly as you are aware of the various reports of the international human rights organizations and others. The UN is also taking notice, as you have seen the reports and statements by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and there are many Special Rapporteurs/Procedures of the Human Rights Council who have sent joint communications to the government of India on different aspects of human rights violations there, apart from the gross and systematic violations of human rights in IIOJK.