Transcript of the Press Briefing by Spokesperson on Thursday, 23 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
Today is the 263rd day of the continued oppression and communication blackout faced by the people in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir since India’s illegal and unilateral action on 5 August 2019.
In the past few days, Indian occupation forces carried out cordon and search operations in civilian areas of IOJ&K, and used excessive force against unarmed innocent civilians which resulted in martyrdom of 8 Kashmiri civilians. These included Rahil Magray, Asif Ahmad Dar, Muhammad Akbar Shah, 18-year-old Wakeel Ahmad Dar, Tariq Ahmad Bhat, Uzair Amin Bhat, Basharat Hussain and Ashiq Hussain in Shopian and Kishtwar areas.
It needs to be reminded once again, that IOJK is an internationally disputed territory and any violations of international laws, killing, use of brute force, arresting people and blocking of communication services and internet constitutes violation of international law.
Pakistan is also concerned at the increasing persecution of journalists in IOJ&K, including Masarrat Zahra, Peerzada Ashiq and renowned journalist and political commentator, Gowhar Geelani on concocted and baseless charges. In this context, the Executive Director of Amnesty International India recently stated that “harassment and intimidation of journalists through draconian laws such as UAPA threaten efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic and creates an atmosphere of fear and reprisal. This severely undermines the human rights guarantees of the people of Kashmir and denies the people in India and around the world’s right to know”.
It is deeply disconcerting that the discriminatory and anti-Muslim policies and practices of the RSS-inspired BJP Government persist even as the Covid-19 pandemic unfolds. A systematic campaign is unfortunately underway to demonize Muslims, who face increased exclusion as well as the threat of mob violence. The OIC in its recent statement expressed deep concern following the media accounts of rising anti-Muslim sentiments and Islamophobia within political and media circles as well as on social media platforms, where Indian Muslim minority community is being blamed for the spread of the corona virus in India.
The OIC’s Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission IPHRC has also condemned the unrelenting vicious Islamophobic campaign in India maligning Muslims for spread of COVID-19 as well as their negative profiling in media subjecting them to discrimination and violence with impunity.
Separately as you are aware, the Prime Minister had a telephone conversation with the President of the United States yesterday where Prime Minister Khan extended our sympathies and condolences on the loss of precious lives in the US as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic. The two leaders exchanged views on the implications of the pandemic on global economy as well as discussed regional issues and ways to further strengthen cooperation between our two countries. The Prime Minister also highlighted Pakistan’s efforts to contain the spread of the virus and the efforts to provide relief to the vulnerable segments of the society. The Prime Minister also thanked President Trump on the US support in the IMF and other multilateral fora that would assist Pakistan in mitigating the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic.
Subsequent to Pakistan’s proposal, a Video Conference of SAARC Member States is being held today to discuss the COVID-19 Pandemic. Special Assistant to the Prime Minister for Health Dr. Zafar Mirza will lead the Pakistan delegation. Besides Ministers/ Senior Officials, the meeting will be attended by Secretary General of SAARC, His Excellency Esala Ruwan Weerakon.
The virtual meeting takes forward Pakistan’s earlier initiative to host the SAARC Health Ministers meeting, which has assumed urgency in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to exchanging updates on the status of national containment efforts, the Conference will also deliberate on ways to promote deeper cooperation to combat the crisis, including inter alia through strengthening disease surveillance, sharing best practices, building national capacities, coordinating research efforts and promoting regional and international linkages. The Video Conference is part of Pakistan’s efforts to foster greater cooperation at the regional level to effectively overcome the public health crisis, and mitigate its socio-economic impact.
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 our Missions abroad continue to provide our overseas communities with relief and assistance wherever required. Food rations are being provided by all Missions abroad to those in need as well as any financial assistance where needed. Repatriation of our nationals back home also continues as per the comprehensive and phased plan developed in coordination with all stakeholders.
In the past few days as part of the third phase of repatriation plan, that commenced from 20-28 April, 81 nationals were repatriated from South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Lesotho, this also included 31 Tablighi members. From UAE, 1453 nationals have been repatriated through 6 flights on 20th April including 100 prisoners. From Maldives, 9 stranded Pakistani nationals were brought home safely on 22 April. So far the total number of our nationals brought back home in the current third phase of the plan stands at 5079.
In addition to this, in the last few days 41 stranded Pakistanis were brought back from India through the Wagha border; 195 truck drivers came through Afghanistan on 17 April, as well as over 1000 other stranded Pakistanis came home through the Pakistan Afghanistan border. That brings a total of 1254 nationals that came home through our land borders in the last few days.
Question: The Foreign Minister discussed the recommencement of the APAPPS talks with Afghanistan in his conversation with his Afghan counterpart on Monday. When will the talks resume, and what issues will be top of the agenda? Will these talks be conducted through video link, or in person? (Asad Hashim, Al Jazeera English)
Answer: The Foreign minister had called H.E. Hanif AtmarActing Foreign Minister of Afghanistan on 20 April 2020 and congratulated on his recent appointment. Both sides discussed a number of issues including APAPPS. The dates are being worked out. Once these details are finalized they will be shared.
Question: Has Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi called for extradition of Daesh leader Farooqi in his telephonic conversation with acting Afghan Foreign Minister Haneef Atmar? (Tahir Khan, NNI News Agency)
Supplementary Question: Afghan Ministry says acting Afghan Foreign Minister Hanif Atmar promised to share information extracted from the Daesh leader. Has Kabul shared anything in this regard? (Tahir Khan, NNI News Agency)
Answer: The matter was raised on the same lines as conveyed in our earlier Press Release on the subject. We hope the two sides coordinate actions against the menace of terrorism, including through established mechanism.
Question: India is sending troops to Afghanistan to help in fight against COVID-19; how does Pakistan view this? (Saima Shabbir, Arab News)
Answer: These are media reports which we would not like to comment on.
Question: Has Pakistan maintained a list of deaths due to Coronavirus of migrant workers and labourers working abroad specifically in Gulf Countries or abroad? This is with regards to a recent appearance of a doctor on a Pakistani TV Channel Samaa, where he said that the numbers of deaths in migrants living abroad has reached 150-200. My specific concern is with regards to the migrant labors. And if Pakistan has maintained a list what is the actual number of persons who died? (Saher Baloch, BBC)
Supplementary Question: How many Pakistanis have lost their lives due to Covid-19 in different countries? Please share country wise break down of available data. (Shabbir Wahgra, PTV World).
Answer: Most countries do not give ethnicities of those who succumbed to Coronavirus. Most figures shared are informal and anecdotal as to how many Pakistanis or Pakistani origin people have died. According to one unofficial estimate a total of 138 Pakistanis or Pakistani origin people in different countries of the world have died due to Covid 19.
Question: What steps have been taken to repatriate Pakistanis affected by corona virus in other European countries and how many Pakistani families approached to foreign office and Pakistani missions for evacuation of dead bodies who died due to corona virus? Could you please share details with us? (Asghar Ali Mubarak the Daily Mail International Islamabad /PPA News Agency Islamabad)
Answer: SOPs have been established by NIH for the repatriation of dead bodies affected by coronavirus. These details are available on the dedicated website of Covid 19.
Question: Which country has helped Pakistan the most in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic? - Shafqat Ali - The Nation
Answer: The coronavirus pandemic has engulfed all nations of the world. Pakistan has been assisted by several countries in different ways.
Question: Would you please tell us about the financial aid details by the international organizations like World Bank, G-20 countries and IMF etc in connection with COVID 19 effects on Pakistan’s economy? (Asghar Ali Mubarak the Daily Mail International Islamabad /PPA News Agency Islamabad)
Supplementary Question: Prime Minister Imran Khan has appealed to international community, the UNSG & international financial institutions to respond positively to the dilemma confronting developing countries in the face of the COVID19 Pandemic. Would you like to update us or any details? What is the response? (Khawaja Nayar, Media Today)
Answer: Ministry of Finance and the Economic Affairs Division is best placed to respond to this.
Question: Any assistance from Arab countries special from Saudi Arab, Qatar and UAE? (Khalid Mehmood, Express News)
Answer: Ministry of Finance and the Economic Affairs Division is best placed to respond to this.
Question: The SAARC mechanism has been activated for cooperation on regionally fighting COVID-19. Aside from the formation of a common fund for relief items, what tangible steps have been taken under the aegis of this framework? Are governments sharing data and best practices with one another? (Asad Hashim, Al Jazeera English)
Supplementary Question: What is the progress regarding steps taken under the umbrella of SAARC platform to combat COVID-19? (Ishtiaq Ahmed, News One TV)
Answer: Pakistan participated in Video Conference organized on 15 March 2020 as a gesture of solidarity with other SAARC Member States and commitment to SAARC which provides important platform for regional cooperation. Pakistan also participated in an expert level meeting on 26 March 2020.
We, however, did not attend trade officials’ meeting on 08 April 2020 as SAARC Secretariat was not part of the same.
Pakistan by utilizing the SAARC platform hosted a video conference of Health Ministers’ of SAARC Member States on 23 April 2020, where we proposed cooperation in multiple areas to control the pandemic.
Pakistan has also pledged US$ 3 million to SAARC COVID-19 Fund, while conveying that funds be administered by SAARC Secretariat.Being a founding member, Pakistan considers SAARC an important platform for regional cooperation. Pakistan remains committed to the SAARC process and will continue working with the Member States to strengthen regional cooperation.
Question: In a new wave to brutalize Kashmiris in IoK, India is harassing and booking journalists. On last Saturday a case against international award winning photojournalist Masrat Zahra was registered under some clauses link to terrorism act. Is it not another attempt of New Delhi's to snub media and should Pakistan not raising this issue at UN and other international forums? Every Kashmiri is our part and should Pakistan not to stand with Kashmiri journalists? (Agha IqrarHaroon, DND News Agency)
Supplementary Question: What are your Comments on the Crackdown on Media in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir? (Khwaja Hamza, Media Today)
Answer: We are deeply concerned at the increasing persecution of journalists in IOJ&K, including Masarrat Zahra, Peerzada Ashiq and renowned journalist and political commentator, Gowhar Geelani on concocted and baseless charges.. In this context, the Executive Director of Amnesty International India recently stated that “harassment and intimidation of journalists through draconian laws such as UAPA threaten efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic and creates an atmosphere of fear and reprisal. This severely undermines the human rights guarantees of the people of Kashmir and denies the people in India and around the world’s right to know”.
Question: Did the Indian Chargé d'affaires attend the briefing at Crisis Centre on Monday. If he attended it, what was his take about the situation in his host country? Has the situation in IOJ&K in the wake of corona spread was discussed on the occasion? (Muhammad Saleh Zaafir, The News)
Answer: The briefing was for a select group of Ambassadors and the Indian C’da was not one of them. We regularly raise the deteriorating situation and gross human rights violations in IOJ&K at all levels.
Question: Indian forces continue to violate LoC in various sectors of Azad Kashmir, causing injuries to many innocent civilians. On the other hand, they also made false allegation over Pakistan for violation,can you share the details with us how many civilians died and injured in this year. Moreover, how many times during the lockdown in Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir, Indian forces violated the LOC. (Asghar Ali Mubarak the Daily Mail International Islamabad /PPA News Agency Islamabad)
Supplementary Question:Indian Army troops in total disregard to ceasefire Agreement & international conventions initiated unprovoked ceasefire violations along LOC Deliberately targeting civilian population. What are your Comments on the Situation? (Khawaja Nayar, Media Today)
Answer: Despite the global emergency due to COVID-19, Indian forces have continued to violate Ceasefire Understanding (2003). Pakistan Army posts and innocent civilians are frequently being targeted by the Indian forces, on the Pakistani side of the LoC and the Working Boundary, resulting in significant number of civilian and military casualties and damage to properties.
As of now, there have been over 787 ceasefire violations during this year resulting in 3 deaths (shahadats) and 57 injuries to innocent civilians.
Pakistan responds to Indian ceasefire violations in a befitting manner and does not target civilians unlike India.
Question: Indian Army continues to violate human rights in occupied Kashmir, now the bodies of the deceased are not given and the sick people are not been provided treatment. The situation in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir has been made worse by the silence of the global community. Your Comments please.(Asghar Ali Mubarak the Daily Mail International Islamabad /PPA News Agency Islamabad)
Supplementary Question: Why the Pakistan's diplomatic efforts to lift the continued lockdown in occupied Kashmir and implementation of UNSC resolutions have not been successful? Infact, India is making demographic changes in Occupied Jammu & Kashmir. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation was scheduled to hold a meeting on the dispute of Jammu and Kashmir. Could you please update us on this? (Ishtiaq Ahmed, News One TV)
Answer: Following the unilateral and illegal action by India on 5th August, 2019, our leadership has not only amplified the voice of the suffering Kashmiri people but also raised the conscience of the international community to the atrocities perpetrated by the Indian government. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, through their extensive and sustained outreach to world leaders, have raised awareness of the Hindutva driven policies of the present government in India.
Jammu and Kashmir dispute is an internationally recognized disputed territory which has been reaffirmed repeatedly by the UN Security Council, the UN Secretary General and the OIC.
Pakistan has consistently been highlighting the deteriorating situation and gross human rights violations in IOJ&K at all levels. The international community, the human rights organizations, international media and the civil society have all called India out on its tyranny. The United Nations and major world leaders have stood by the Kashmiris in condemning Indian actions. Pakistan will continue to raise the dispute of Jammu and Kashmir at all relevant forums.
Question: Accusations of spreading the Corona Virus to Muslims and their role in the media continue to drive hate against Muslims in India, resulting in discrimination and violence against Muslims. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)'s Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) have also also reacted. What does Pakistan want to say? (Khwaja Hamza, Media Today)
Supplementary Question: How does Pakistan see the Muslim World's response to growing Islamophobia in India? (Saima Shabbir, Arab News)
Answer: The treatment of minorities in India is a matter of serious concern not only for Indian minorities and neighboring countries but also for the international community.
It is deeply disconcerting that the discriminatory and anti-Muslim policies and practices of the RSS-inspired BJP Government persist even as the Covid-19 pandemic unfolds. A systematic campaign remains underway to demonize Muslims, who face further exclusion as well as increasing threat of mob violence. These instances have been extensively documented in the Indian and international media and people of conscience worldwide are raising their voices.
The toxic display of Islamophobia in India has continued throughout this nationalist government’s tenure and has come in to sharper focus with the Covid-19 situation. The hatred being peddled against Muslims in India has real consequences and has already resulted in incidents such as hospitals refusing to treat Muslims.