Transcript of the Press Briefing by Spokesperson on Thursday, 02 April, 2020
[This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated]
Bismillah Ir Rehman Nir Rahim,
It has been 242 days since the lockdown and communication blackout of the people in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Voices from around the world continue to condemn the inhuman oppression of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. In its recent statement, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) called upon India to lift internet restrictions in IOJK, while underscoring that restricting access to the internet violates multiple rights and can be deadly during a health crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Amnesty International India has also urged the Government of India to release all those arbitrarily detained and restore full internet access.
Foreign Minister Qureshi in his most recent letter to the President of the United Nations Security Council and the United Nations Secretary General, highlighted the danger to the health and safety of hundreds of Kashmiri leaders, youth and civil society members incarcerated by India in crowded prisons, and the urgent need for India to lift all restrictions, allow unfettered supply of goods and medicine, and release all prisoners.
Pakistan strongly condemns and rejects the latest Indian action aimed at illegally changing the demographic structure of IOJK. The so-called “Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Order 2020” is another illegal step by India to settle non-Kashmiris in IOJK by changing the domicile laws. This is a clear violation of international law including the 4th Geneva Convention. The Kashmiris in IOJK have out-rightly rejected the new law as ‘unacceptable.” It is indeed, a blatant usurpation of their fundamental rights and an attempt to change the demography and their identity. Pakistan has consistently sensitized the international community about the BJP government’s designs for demographic change in IOJK to perpetuate India’s illegal occupation of the disputed territory against the wishes and the aspirations of the Kashmiri people. The United Nations and the International Community must take immediate cognizance of this illegal Indian action and prevent India from changing the demography of the occupied territory and hold it accountable for its persistent violation of international law.
In recent days, the Prime Minister has called for debt relief for developing countries to enable them to direct resources to saving precious human lives and shoring up economies against the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Foreign Minister Qureshi also wrote to his European counterparts and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, underscoring the need to relieve the debt burden of developing countries to enable them to stem the economic decline.
In recent days, the Foreign Minister exchanged views on the Prime Minister’s initiative with his counterparts from Canada, Spain, France, Italy, UK, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Nepal, Maldives, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan, as well as Secretary General of OIC and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The initiative has resonated globally. The EU Foreign Affairs Ministers’ Video-Conference of 23 March 2020 “discussed how to step up international cooperation and solidarity in order to support the most fragile countries”.
IMF and World Bank issued a joint statement on 25 March 2020 concerning debt relief. The Virtual G-20 Summit hosted by Saudi Arabia held on 26 March 2020, reaffirmed G-20 commitment to address debt vulnerabilities. UN Secretary General, also called for “maximum financial and technical support for the most vulnerable people and countries”.
Pakistan welcomes these endorsements as steps in the right direction and hopes that these would culminate in concrete steps at the earliest possible.
In the wake of Covid-19 outbreak, and as part of the national effort under the leadership of the Prime Minister, and the direction of the Foreign Minister, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its Missions abroad have reached out to our overseas communities, providing them with relief and assistance wherever required.
In order to develop a comprehensive and uniform strategy for a phased repatriation of stranded Pakistanis, three high level meetings have been held in the Foreign Office under the chairmanship of the Foreign Minister, and attended by Federal Minister for Aviation, SAPM’s for Health, National Security and Overseas Pakistanis, as well as representatives from NDMA, NIH, PIA, CAA and other relevant stakeholders.
So far, the Government has repatriated our stranded nationals from Qatar, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Thailand. Plans for repatriation from Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Tashkent, Baku, Baghdad, London and Toronto have been finalized. Details of their flight schedule will be announced by PIA, while plans for repatriation of our nationals from other destinations is also under active consideration. As this is a dynamic and evolving situation, these plans will be reviewed regularly.
In response to the launch of the Prime Minister’s Covid-19 Pandemic Relief Fund-2020 all Pakistan Missions have been advised to sensitize and encourage our overseas communities as well as donors and philanthropic organizations towards this relief effort.
Regular and real time exchange of information, coordination of relief assistance from abroad as well as with line Ministries in Pakistan is being carried out round the clock through our Crisis Management Unit team in the Foreign office and our focal persons across over 100 Missions abroad.
On Saturday, a special aircraft from China brought relief assistance to Pakistan including 12,000 test kits, 300,000 masks, 10,000 protective suits. In addition to this, an 8 member medical expert team also arrived in Pakistan from China. The medical team will be in Pakistan for 2 weeks and will visit Karachi and Lahore also. Moreover, the Chinese government has also provided support worth $ 4 million for a separate hospital for Coronavirus patients.
Private organizations in China such as the Alibaba Foundation and Jack Ma foundation have also donated 50 thousand test kits and 50 million face masks. Another special flight reached Islamabad early this morning from Beijing, and brought in relief assistance worth 3 Million USD from various Chinese organizations which was coordinated by our Missions in China. This included PPE, ventilators, face masks and essential testing kits.
We deeply appreciate the help and support of our neighbor and “Iron brother” in this critical time. Our continued collaboration to fight this pandemic is once again a testimony to our All-weather Strategic Cooperative Partnership.
Thank you very much.
Question: Afghan Government has announced a 21-member team for Intra-Afghan Dialogue. Taliban have rejected it as they think it lacks representation of all sides, but the US and NATO have welcomed it. What is Pakistan’s position? (Tahir Khan NNI News Agency)
Supplementary Question: Release of Taliban could not start on 31 March as was announced earlier by Kabul. Do you think such approach could harm the Intra-Afghan Dialogue because Taliban have refused to take part unless 5000 prisoners are freed? (Tahir Khan NNI News Agency)
Answer: Pakistan has welcomed the recent announcement by Afghan leadership on the formation of the negotiation team, which should pave the way towards the commencement of intra-Afghan negotiations process. Pakistan believes it is an important step, reflecting the commitment of the leadership to according priority to peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. The U.S.-Taliban Peace Agreement has provided a historic opportunity to establish durable peace and stability in Afghanistan, which can be realized by resolving differences, eschewing recrimination, working constructively together, and cooperating in the supreme interest of the country. We hope that all concerned parties will pursue reduction in violence as a common cause in its earnest. Pakistan will continue to support a peaceful, stable, united, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan, at peace with itself and with its neighbors.
Question: Afghan Envoy Atif Mashal demands temporary opening of borders for Afghans stuck in Pakistan. Any plan to open borders? (Tahir Khan NNI News Agency)
Answer: The proposal is under consideration.
Question: After confirmed report that borders are still open for pilgrims (despite earlier government announcement that they were closed), have you asked the Iranian authorities to manage the movement? (Saima Shabbir Correspondent, Arab News.)
Answer: Like other countries both Pakistan and Iran are also making efforts to control the global pandemic Covid-19. Relevant authorities of both countries are in constant touch on issues pertaining to Zaireen.
Question: As we know the Covid-19 has hit the entire world badly, and in this situation the United States has added Pakistan to the countries most vulnerable to the Coronavirus outbreak. Your comments? (Ishtiaq Ahmed, News One TV)
Answer: These are extra-ordinary times and all countries are taking steps to contain and mitigate the spread of Covid-19, including through restricting international travel. The US Government has identified Pakistan as a priority country for its international assistance efforts to deal with the Covid-19 challenges. The US has earmarked $1 million for capacity building of health sector staff of Pakistan as well as for better identification and investigation of Covid-19 cases. Another $1 million from existing funds of USAID have been redirected to help Pakistan fight against Covid-19 pandemic.
Question: There are reports that about 10,000 Chinese workers came back from China after the Chinese New Year. Since then there is no news about their existence or their medical reports. My question is whether they were infected by the Coronavirus or not, and where they are now? (Mr. Shamim Mehmood, Journalist, Blogger)
Answer: Since the outbreak of Covid-19, we are in close coordination with the Chinese government. The Chinese government is following a “double-quarantine” policy for the officials of Chinese companies working on CPEC projects in Pakistan. Those officials traveling to Pakistan spend fourteen days in quarantine in China before travelling to Pakistan and after reaching Pakistan, they remain in quarantine for fourteen more days. Established medical procedures are also followed during the process.
Question: Has Pakistan assessed the impact of Coronavirus on CPEC? (Tahir Khan NNI News Agency)
Answer: Coronavirus has now become a pandemic and international community is taking swift and aggressive measures to contain its spread. CPEC comprises long-term projects whose completion, in many a cases, is spread over many years. We are quite confident that we will be able to complete CPEC projects in time and, going forward, the short-term impact of coronavirus will be counterbalanced by effective and swift mobilization of resources for timely completion of CPEC.
Question: Any estimates about how many Pakistani citizens who want to return home are stranded abroad and what steps are being taken to take care of their safety and well-being and bring them back? (Naveed Akbar, Aaj News Islamabad)
Answer: The Government is fully aware of the situation faced by our nationals as a result of travel bans imposed in different countries, including Pakistan, following the outbreak of Covid-19. PIA has operated special flights to bring back stranded Pakistanis from Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Qatar and Thailand. Plans for repatriation from Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Tashkent, Baku, Baghdad, London and Toronto have been finalized, while plans for repatriation of our nationals from other destinations is also under active consideration. As this is a dynamic and evolving situation, these plans will be reviewed regularly.
All our Missions have been instructed to provide assistance to our nationals abroad in these difficult times. This includes food, medicines, accommodation and extension of visas, in case of expiry of short-term visas.
Question: Could you please update us on the total assistance and the medical equipment that Pakistan has received so far from different countries to fight the Coronavirus? (Ali Hussain, Business Recorder)
Supplementary Question: Will you give details about the relief goods and donations from abroad for Pakistan’s Coronavirus patients? (Khawaja Nayyar, Media Today)
Answer: China has extended significant relief assistance to Pakistan to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. On 28 March, a special aircraft from China brought relief assistance to Pakistan including 12,000 test kits, 300,000 masks and 10,000 protective suits. In addition to this, an 8 member medical expert team also arrived in Pakistan from China. The medical team will be in Pakistan for 2 weeks and will also visit Karachi and Lahore. Moreover, the Chinese government has also provided support worth $ 4 million for a separate hospital for Coronavirus patients.
Private organizations in China such as the Alibaba Foundation and Jack Ma foundation have donated 50 thousand test kits and 50 million face masks. Another special flight reached Islamabad on 2 April from Beijing, and brought in relief assistance worth $ 3 million from various Chinese organizations, which was coordinated by our Missions in China. This included PPE, ventilators, face masks and essential testing kits.
In addition to the assistance received from China, private donors in Singapore, Japan, and UAE have also sent relief assistance. The US has also earmarked $1 million for capacity building of health sector staff of Pakistan as well as for better identification and investigation of Covid-19 cases. Another US $1 million from existing funds of USAID has been redirected to help Pakistan fight against Covid-19 pandemic.
Question: I understand the Foreign Office and our Missions abroad are trying their level best to facilitate Pakistanis stranded abroad due to Covid-19 pandemic. I would divert your attention towards the humanitarian issue at Taftan border, where many Zaireen complained about unavailability of food and drinking water at the quarantine facilities. Your comment on this please? (Ali Hussain,Business Recorder)
Answer: Relevant authorities are constantly reviewing and upgrading facilities for screening and quarantine across the country including at all airports and land borders.
Question: Based on FM Qureshi's conversation with OIC Secretary General, what does Pakistan expect from the OIC to fight the pandemic in Pakistan? (Saima Shabbir Correspondent, Arab News.)
Answer: As you know, Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi had a telephone conversation with OIC Secretary General, Dr. Yousef A. Al-Othaimeen, to discuss the situation arising out of Covid-19 pandemic, OIC’s responses, and developments in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K).
In his discussions, the Foreign Minister stressed that the pandemic posed a grave challenge to the entire humanity, including OIC member States, and endorsed the Secretary General’s call on member states to bring together governments, scientists and research institutions to contribute to efforts for finding solutions.
Reiterating Prime Minister Imran Khan’s call, the FM highlighted the need for debt relief and restructuring for Developing Countries, as a means to enable them to divert resources to save lives and shore up economies. The OIC, together with the Islamic Development Bank (ISDB), needed to play an effective role in helping members cope with the challenges.
Question: What has been the international response in Kashmir amid the coronavirus outbreak? (Shafqat Ali, The Nation)
Supplementary Question: How would you comment on the lockdown being faced by the people in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir? (Khawaja Hamza, Media Today)
Answer: As you know 55 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in Indian occupied Jammu & Kashmir so far. It is one of the highest risk zones.
The Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi had a detailed telephone conversation with Secretary General OIC, Dr. Yousef A. Al-Othaimeen, on this subject in which the Foreign Minister highlighted that continued restrictions on communication and movement in IOJ&K were preventing unfettered supply of medicines and other essentials, as well as dissemination of information needed to combat the disease. He also highlighted concerns regarding the possibility of spread of Covid-19 among the large number of Kashmiri youth incarcerated by India.