[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. As you would be following, the Secretary General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Ambassador Zhang Ming, is currently visiting Pakistan from 21-24 July. The Secretary General has a busy schedule. He has had meetings with the Ministers of Commerce, Climate Change, Information Technology and Maritime Affairs. The Secretary General called on the Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari earlier today and they had an extensive exchange of views. This included discussion on the strategic direction of the organization in future as well as Pakistan's areas of priority in the context of SCO specifically the socio-economic interests of Pakistan. The Foreign Minister discussed comprehensively key areas of Pakistan's interests including inter-alia:
***Question: My question is related to Cypher, A number of statements were made following the clarification issued by the Foreign Office. How would you comment on the ongoing discussion on this issue? Certain sectors still believe that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs tried to hide cypher and it was shared with the Prime Minister Office on the instruction of the former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. How would you comment? (Sumaira Khan, SAMAA News) Answer: Thank you for the question. Let me recall that this issue and some related questions I addressed them comprehensively in one of our briefings, and that was on 25th of April, if I recall correctly, so I think you can go back and consult that transcript also. So this matter was responded to and clarified previously. And while we don't think that there was a need for further clarification, the statement that we issued recently, we felt was necessary because somehow the issue was being raised again. So we have once again clarified, I think very clearly that, you know, the assumptions that are being made and some of the statements that have been made, they are removed from reality. They are baseless. As we said, such a question does not arise. Foreign Office is a professional state institution, and we work according to professional norms and ethos, and I think it was appropriate for us to make that clarification. Question: What is your opinion on the 2022 Global Gender Gap Report by World Economic Forum (WEF) which has placed Pakistan as second from bottom? (Sohail Majeed Butt, Asian Telegraph) Answer: This report has been recently released. We have taken note of the WEF Gender Gap Report 2022, and we do not agree with its findings regarding Pakistan. We consider that the Report has flaws with respect to its reporting methodology including data collection, data interpretation, indicator selection, definitions, and standards, etc. Pakistan has previously highlighted the gaps in the Report to WEF, to make it better reflective of the ground realities and factual position. To serve the women rights’ agenda better, WEF must engage with States from different regions to understand and showcase diversity of religious, historical, developmental and cultural backgrounds, and improve its reporting methodology on the basis of the feedback. On its part, Pakistan has made steady progress in strengthening the legal and administrative mechanisms for the promotion and protection of rights of women and girls. Efforts are being made for social, economic and political empowerment of women and gender equality in line with SDG 5. Some of the measures include passage of laws; gender responsive policies and budgeting; gender-sensitive social protection social safety-net (BISP); introduction of 30% reserved seats for women representatives at all three tiers of local government; reservation of 60 seats in the National Assembly as well as in Senate and Provincial Assemblies; and 10% reserved quota for employment for women in the Central Superior Services. A brief overview of various data collection mechanisms in Pakistan, including the Economic Survey would demonstrate that women’s equal participation has been steadily increasing in all sectors, from labour to industry, education to arms forces, media to Government employment. Women play an active role in the Pakistani society and polity. We are well cognizant of the challenges and are making constant efforts to further improve the legislative framework and affirmative measures in that regard. Moreover, at the UN and other international forums, Pakistan is one of the leading voices in support of the women rights’ agenda. We would continue to work for women empowerment and gender equality in line with our domestic legal framework, national ethos and international obligations. Question: Mr. Spokesperson, The US Department on 19 July, released its 2022 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. It has removed Pakistan from a list of countries that allow the recruitment of child soldiers. Pakistan’s ranking for trafficking in persons has also been upgraded. Your comments please. (Zeeshan Bhatti, PTV) Answer: We welcome these developments. Pakistan has been placed in Tier 2 category instead of Tier 2 Watch List in the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report. Pakistan was also not listed in Child Soldiers Prevention Act CSPA designation. We consider it a positive step taken by the US to remove Pakistan from the said list, as it represents the ground realities and also acknowledges the efforts of Pakistan in this domain. The report recognizes Pakistan's documented efforts to combat trafficking and labour related issues. And I think it will lead to better understanding of issues and enhance mutual trust between our two countries. Pakistan is committed to fighting the scourge of trafficking in persons both at the national and regional and international levels. We have taken a range of legislative and administrative actions in that regard. The report also notes Pakistan's overall increasing efforts on its anti-trafficking capacity, including increasing investigations, prosecutions and convictions. We would continue to engage with all partners and stakeholders, both nationally and internationally to strengthen our efforts to combat trafficking in persons and enhance the child rights agenda globally. Question: Thank you so much spokesperson. One question given that SAPM Fatemi is currently in Washington DC, and there are conflicting reports some say that he's there in DC to lobby for the IMF funding. The tribune today reported that he is there to lobby for a meeting between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and President Biden on the sidelines. Can you please shed some light on the agenda of SAPM Visit? Is this visit in any way reflective of the lack of confidence that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif shows in the foreign office’s working capacity? The reason he's sending his special assistant to DC to lobby such meetings? (Anas Mallick, Capital TV ) Answer: I don't have much to share on this actually. It seems there is too much reading into it, which I understand is a visit in private capacity. Question: Thank you, sir. Referring back to the question about the cypher. And I do recall the minutes of your briefing on 25th April, where you had stated that such public rhetoric will be detrimental to the discourse of foreign policy, but that rhetoric still stands and widely perceived that the people of Pakistan are owning this rhetoric. So how to quantify the damage done to the discourse of foreign policy, if it continues unabated? Thank you, sir. (Shaukat Piracha, AAJ News) Answer: I think this question better be addressed to those who are making statements and continue to bring up such issues. As I said at that time also, I think once the National Security Committee having met twice and pronounced on this issue, we thought that it was time to move on and to engage in constructive diplomacy and, to continue to do our work, what we are supposed to do, and I think as far as the Foreign Ministry and our Missions are concerned, we are doing exactly just that. So, we are shouldering our responsibility and I can say that, you know, there is this expectation that this responsibility towards the national interest of Pakistan is shared by all concerned. Question: The United Nations in their periodic report has named three terrorist groups that are TTP, IS-K and Al Qaeda and have noted that these three organizations have gained strength in Afghanistan and pose serious security threat to the region. They specifically mentioned about the TTP that the number of their foot soldiers has increased, it is about 3-4 thousands. What are your comments on this? (Siyar Ali shah, Khyber News) Answer: I think you are referring to the report of the Monitoring Group. This is a periodic report and it informs about the presence and activities of various terrorist entities and their affiliates including in Afghanistan, and I think it corroborates what the international community has been saying about, and expressing their concerns, continuing concerns about Afghanistan as a space from where terrorist activity can originate and can pose a danger to regional and international peace and security. So, I think in that context, as you are aware, one of the expectations that are there from the international community, vis-à-vis the interim authorities in Afghanistan is that the territory of Afghanistan should not be allowed to be used for terrorism against any one. This expectation remains there. I think this is a collective responsibility, because this is not a new problem. Some of these groups have been there for a long time, and this problem has existed and lingered on. I think one of the ways to address this problem is also to engage with the Afghan authorities to help them in different ways - in capacity building and other assistance that would enable them to effectively tackle some of these groups because as we have said, on many occasions, this is a threat that is common to all. I mean, this is a threat to the stability of Afghanistan itself, this is a threat to Pakistan, other countries in the region and globally. So it needs to be addressed in a cooperative manner. Question: Because we've been hearing that Kabul is supporting or assisting or they are rendering their assistance in negotiations between TTP & Pakistan. So at any point in time, did we feel that the IEA in Afghanistan, they may ask TTP to leave their soil, to leave their ground and Afghanistan just to bring the balance to negotiations? Do you think if the Afghan authorities resort to such measures, then it will be possible to improve the situation on our borders? (Sumaira Khan, SAMAA News) Answer: This is not the forum to discuss some of those issues. There is a process that is underway, and what we need to recall is that the basic objective of this process is to restore peace and stability. And there are obviously many ways in which this can be done. This process should come up with a way forward, that would be acceptable, that would be, from Pakistan's perspective in conformity with our position and within the constitutional framework, and would lead to peace and stability. Question: One year is about to be completed since the Interim Afghan Authorities came into power in Afghanistan, up till now no country has recognized Afghanistan. On what ground Pakistan has permitted Ambassador of Afghanistan to work here? In what capacity he is here? What are your comments? (Allah Noor, Mashriq TV) Answer: I think the question of recognition we have explained on many occasions. We thought that it would be best to do it through a regional, consensual approach. I think that objective is still there, and it is in that context that this discussion about recognition takes place. At the same time, we know that Afghanistan is facing a very difficult, complicated situation. From the security point of view, the situation is much improved, but from the humanitarian and economic perspective, the situation is quite grave. And there is increasing understanding that to address this situation, some kind of engagement with the interim Afghan authorities is essential. So it is in that context that different countries, at different levels, they are in touch or engaged with the Afghan interim authorities. So some are maintaining Embassies there, Pakistan is one, there are other countries who are maintaining Embassies in Afghanistan. So if you would like to link it to the question of recognition, it's not about that. So we are maintaining Embassies. Some countries are thinking of opening, and renewing contacts, including in our neighborhood. Some countries are having this engagement outside of Afghanistan. And you know that Afghanistan has had embassies in different countries before this situation evolved. So there has to be a way where, you know, some of those embassies would be sustained. And I explained in one of the briefings that putting the recognition question aside, allowing the embassy to be operational in some sense is for various reasons, such as consular and other functions, and that explains the situation here. Question: I was glad to hear word “economy” in your statement now. As Pakistan is facing very serious economic situation, don't you think that at this point in time there should be economic driven Pakistan foreign policy? Is Pakistan’s Foreign Policy an economic driven foreign policy? (Zaheer Abbasi, Business Recorder) Answer: You know that not just specifically at this point of time, where the economic situation, the inflation, other issues have been aggravated globally, but in recent years it is quite evident that we have brought some fundamental shifts in the priorities and conduct of our foreign policy and in that regard the emphasis on economic diplomacy, you know, the shift to geo-economics from the previous geo-political focus, has been there. So at the policy and operational level, much of what we discuss with our partners regionally and globally, is in the context of the economic and development domains and related cooperation. You would see, you know, just read our press releases, statements of leaders, and their interactions with world leaders, mostly, what we are discussing is about trade and economic cooperation, investment, connectivity, and all these areas. So, as far as your question is concerned, I think our focus is very much on the economic side. Question: As all the Ministries work for the implementation and success of government policies, the present government is determining their success in economic field through the increased exports figures. My question is as the commercial Attachés can play an important role in improving the exports. As we see there are routine interactions between the foreign ministers but the commercial Attaché can play a very crucial role in improving the trade relations. Does Pakistan has commercial Attachés in all the Missions abroad, and if not in how many Missions the commercial Attachés are posted? What is policy of Foreign Office regarding the role of commercial attachés in improving the exports of Pakistan? (Raheel Nawaz Sawati, Daily Mirror) Answer: I think this is a collective endeavor. The commercial officers posted in our missions, they are part of the system. They work under the overall guidance of the head of mission that is the Ambassador. And although they are, recruited and appointment through a process which is led by the Ministry of Commerce, once in the Mission, they are part of the team. And I think you are right that commercial officers, they play an important role in sending back information in promoting G2G and B2B and other kind of cooperation, in enhancing trade attracting investments. So it is an important aspect. Let me just say that, due to various reasons, not all of our Missions abroad have commercial wings. The number is somewhere around mid 40s, will check the exact number for you, the Missions where we have commercial officers posted. But let me clarify that where there are no commercial wings, it goes without saying that this work is not neglected, and it is our own offices from the Foreign Service who fill in and carry out you know, all those kinds of activities, reporting back, focus on economy and trade and investment, under the overall guidance of the Head of Mission. Question: First I will like to appreciate the efforts of the Foreign Office and Pakistan High commission in Nigeria for the safe return of Dr. Abuzar. Secondly, our neighbor India is consistently engaged in supporting TTP and BLA for carrying out terrorist activities in Pakistan. In a recent incident Colonel Laiq was martyred by BLA. Are there any negotiations or is there any mechanism through which these issues are being taken up with the Afghan authorities? What is the policy of government to resolve this issue? (Czechangez Khan Jadoon, Daily Payam-e-Khyber) Answer: Well, thank you on your first observation. I am grateful that you have expressed appreciation for what the foreign office and our mission was able to do. I think a lot of work was carried out behind the scenes to secure the release of Dr. Abuzar and we are happy that we were successful in that. On your second observation, it is well known and we have been saying it for a long time that you know, the major source of terrorism in this region, is in our eastern neighborhood and they continue to utilize terrorism as an instrument of state policy, and mostly directed against Pakistan and some of the examples that you mentioned, we have been, you know, informing the international community for a long time that under the guise of their presence in Afghanistan, India has been exploiting that situation, to the detriment of Pakistan's security by financing, aiding and abetting, planning and executing terrorist and subversive activities in Pakistan. So, this is something that we have continued to inform the international community, as you are also aware of several dossiers that we have shared with key members of the international community, including the P-5, and in the UN system. And we continue to sensitize our friends, that this is a behavior which is totally counterproductive and India must do some introspection. You know, they continue to have this pretext that they cannot have a dialogue with Pakistan, they go around saying they have concerns about you know, the issue of terrorism, and level baseless allegations against Pakistan. I think to the contrary, we have bigger concerns with regard to India's terrorist activities directed against Pakistan, and whenever there is a dialogue, we will raise these issues, specifically and strongly and it is not that we shy away from this dialogue, because we think and it is the factual situation on ground that it is India, which is responsible for this kind of environment in our neighborhood, and we would very much take it up. As far as Afghanistan is concerned, we have always raised this with successive governments there, and continue to do that with the current administration as well. Question: Hurriayt leader Yasin Malik went on hunger strike unto death. What is Foreign Ministry doing in this regard? Secondly, there have been few emergency landings by Indian airlines at Karachi Airport. How are these landings permitted in view of the ongoing air space closures? (Naveed Ahmed Khan, Daily Spokesman) Supplementary Question: Chairman BCCI has stated that they will support Kashmir Premier League if it is held in Srinagar valley. Has foreign office been informed of this issue? What is the policy in this regard? ( Rizwan Abbaasi, Daily Chanab) Answer: I am not in a position to comment on the last one as some of this is not in official domains and is not in my direct knowledge. On the other question, on the situation that is faced by Mr. Yasin Malik, as you are aware, we have been consistently and very strongly agitating this matter. We have done that with our friends, with many countries, with international organizations and the UN. And this is something to which we attach a lot of importance and continuing emphasis. You have seen our recent statement after Mr. Malik announced to go on a hunger strike. I think this should be a wake-up call for the international community, if there were not enough wake-up calls already, you know given the level of atrocities in IIOJK, the kind of signals that are coming out of there, they are frightening. And I think this should move the international community into action, to rise to the occasion, to shoulder their responsibility, to uphold human rights and international law and international legitimacy. As far as Pakistan is concerned, we will continue to push this issue, we will continue to sensitize the members of the international community to play their role, to put enough pressure on India to desist from such actions against the Kashmiri people and against their true representatives. With regard to the emergency landings in Karachi, I understand that is in accordance with relevant civil aviation laws and obligations. Question: There is a lot of pressure on the bureaucracy, owing to the ongoing domestic situation. You received daily briefs from around the world. How is the ongoing situation being viewed internationally, if you can comment on this? Secondly, today during the Senate Standing Committee on Interior meeting an issue was raised that the member of the parliaments are being threatened and are asked for money. On one hand we are carrying out negotiations with TTP while on the other side they are involved in such issue. Was this issue taken up by the delegation that has recently visited Afghanistan for the peace talks? (Aijaz Ahmed, GNN) Answer: On your second statement or observation, I do not have that information, but on such issues, it would be appropriate to enquire from the relevant ministry who would be in a better position to respond. As far as taking up such issues with foreign government or authorities, we can do that when they are shared with us. About your first question, I think it is a general observation and not exactly for this forum, and for me to comment. It is normal diplomatic function for Embassies including ours to report on developments in host countries. As regards bureaucracy, including the Foreign Office, we continue to perform our duties diligently and with full commitment, and many things are happening, and the work being carried out, the way it should be in established and professional bureaucracies.