[This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated]
Assalam-o-Alaikum and good morning, Thank you for joining us for the Weekly Press Briefing. Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif is traveling to Türkiye today for a 2-day visit in a special gesture of solidarity and support with the people of Türkiye in the wake of the massive earthquake on 6 February 2023. In Ankara, the Prime Minister will meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to personally convey heartfelt condolences on behalf of the entire Pakistani nation over the loss of precious lives and the widespread damage caused by the earthquake. He will also reaffirm Pakistan’s solidarity with our Turkish brothers and sisters during these difficult times and to continue all possible support to the ongoing relief efforts. The Prime Minister will also visit earthquake affected areas in Southern Türkiye, and interact with Pakistani search and rescue teams deployed in the area as well as the survivors of the earthquake. Following the deadly earthquake, Pakistan has mobilized relief assistance for both Türkiye and Syria. Our humanitarian assistance until 15 February includes 12 flights to Türkiye; 21 NLC trucks dispatched by road to Türkiye; 2 flights to Syria and 12 trucks dispatched by road to Syria. An 85-member Urban Search and Rescue team is currently operating in Türkiye while a 10-member Search and Rescue Team and a 10-member medical team are operating in Syria to support the relief efforts. Additional assistance is being sent through train and sea. These efforts are only a part of overall support being provided by several private and charitable organizations and individuals who are contributing to relief efforts for the brotherly people of Türkiye and Syria. We are particularly grateful to the anonymous Pakistani who has contributed US$30 million for relief assistance in Türkiye. Pakistan will continue to work with Türkiye and Syria in the post-disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction phases. Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is travelling today to Germany to attend the Munich Security Conference from 16-20 February. At the Conference, he will participate in multiple events including round table discussions. He will hold bilateral meetings with his counterparts and leaders participating in the Conference. Minister of State will also attend the Munich Security Conference. Foreign Minister will then travel to Lithuania for an official visit at the invitation of the Lithuanian Foreign Minister. In Vilnius from 20-21 February, he will hold extensive talks with Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis and call on the Speaker of the Lithuanian Parliament. The two sides will sign an MoU on the establishment of Bilateral Political Consultations. In the last leg of his tour, Foreign Minister will visit Hungary from 21-22 February. In official talks with his Hungarian counterpart H.E. Peter Szijjarto, the two sides will deliberate upon the entire spectrum of bilateral relations and exchange views on regional and international issues. The Foreign Ministers will also sign two MoUs on bilateral cooperation – on cooperation between diplomatic academies and another on sports and sports education between the two countries. Director General International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi, is in Pakistan for a two-day visit. He has held meetings with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Pakistan. During these meetings, cooperation between IAEA and Pakistan in the areas of health, agriculture, industry, nuclear medicine and power generation were discussed. Pakistan expressed full support for various projects and programmes of the Agency and conveyed our desire to expand cooperation and support for the Agency’s work. DG IAEA Rafael Mariano Grossi has visited Pakistan Nuclear Medicine Oncology and Radiotherapy Institution (NORI) and Chashma Nuclear Power Plant where he inaugurated its spent fuel dry storage facility, highlighting the importance of managing spent fuel safely and securely. He also visited the Pakistan Centre of Excellence in Nuclear Security. Pakistan and IAEA will enhance cooperation in terms of research on new high-yield and drought resistant varieties of crops. Pakistan will support neighbouring countries as a regional Center in the Rays of Hope programme of IAEA. Yesterday Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr. Erling Rimestad, who is currently on a visit to Pakistan, met with Foreign Secretary Dr. Asad Majeed Khan, as part of regular bilateral interactions. During the meeting, the two sides discussed diverse areas of bilateral cooperation particularly trade and investment, maritime, climate change and higher education. It was agreed to strengthen high level exchanges and further expand mutually beneficial collaboration. The Second round of Pakistan-US Mid-Level Defence Dialogue is currently underway in Washington DC. Pakistan’s delegation is led by the Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Muhammad Saeed while the US side is led by the US Acting Assistant Secretary of Defence for Indo Pacific Security Affairs (IPSA), Dr. Ely Ratneu. A range of issues including defence and security cooperation, and discussion on broader regional and global issues are on the agenda of the talks. The two sides reviewed the progress in bilateral defence and security cooperation since the first round of the Dialogue, which was held in Pakistan in January 2021. In depth discussions were held on further strengthening defence and security cooperation. The two sides reaffirmed the significance of defence and security cooperation as an important pillar of bilateral relations. Counselor of the U.S. Department of State Derek Chollet is visiting Pakistan with an interagency delegation from 16-18 February. In Islamabad, Counselor Chollet will meet with the Foreign Secretary and other senior officials. The discussions will focus on the bilateral engagement process which has been institutionalized in trade and investment, climate change, clean energy, health, security, education, and other shared priorities. Long-term cooperation with the U.S. on flood rehabilitation and recovery will also be discussed. You may have noted that on 8 February 2023, the Chinese side handed over certain seeds of Pakistani origin to the Ministry of Science and Technology after six months aboard China’s Tiangong manned space station. The project featured seven varieties of Pakistani seeds – mainly medicinal plants and herbs. The plants were selected based on pharmacological properties and uses in traditional Greek (Yunani) and Chinese medicines by the International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences, University of Karachi. They were taken into space by the China Manned Space Agency’s (CMSA) Shenzhou 14 manned space mission last year and returned in December 2022 on the same Mission’s return flight. The trips to space would help scientists develop new varieties that can thrive amidst changing climatic and environmental conditions, develop high yield and diseases resistant varieties which are essential for food security of Pakistan. This is the latest achievement in longstanding and mutually beneficial space cooperation between Pakistan and China. Pakistan has strongly condemned Israel’s recent decision to legalize nine settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. We believe this action is a clear and flagrant violation of international law and relevant United Nations resolutions and an encroachment upon the rights of the people of Palestine. We call upon the international community to make greater efforts to stop Israel from creating conditions which hinder the achievement of the two-state solution. On 18th of February, we will mark the 16th anniversary of the tragic Samjhauta Express terror attack of 2007 that resulted in the death of over 40 Pakistani nationals on Indian soil. The families of these victims are still awaiting justice and the culprits to be held to account despite irrefutable evidence, including personal confessions of a number of Hindutva extremists. It is a travesty of justice that the mastermind behind the blast, Swami Aseemanand, has been exonerated of these charges. Pakistan reiterates its demand for justice in this case and calls on India to fulfil its legal obligations, find the perpetrators and punish them for this reprehensible act. The human rights violations in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) continue unabated. According to the reports, a young Kashmiri, Shamsuddin son of Jamaluddin, died at an interrogation center in Udhampur after he was subjected to torture that he had to endure since his arrest from his house about a month ago. Shamsuddin is neither the first nor the only incident of Kashmiri youth who have gone missing and are believed to have been killed in custody or fake encounters. We have been raising our concerns about the custodial deaths in IIOJK. Those responsible for such inhumane acts and human rights violations must be held to account. Pakistan will 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. I thank you ** Question: Please elaborate that during DG IAEA visit to Pakistan, which important points are being discussed about Pakistan’s nuclear program? (Adeel Bashir, Roze News) Answer: I think that your question is rooted in some misperception in the media. We must realize that IAEA deals with civilian nuclear technology and that is the mandate of IAEA. Director General of IAEA is on a visit to Pakistan to discuss cooperation on civil uses of nuclear technology. In my statement, I have highlighted the areas of cooperation being discussed during this visit. This includes cooperation in areas of health, agriculture, industry, nuclear medicine, and power generation. In meetings with DG IAEA, we have also discussed collaboration between Pakistan and IAEA on new high yield and drought resistant varieties of crops and Pakistan’s support for neighboring countries as a regional center in the Rays of Hope program of IAEA. Question:It’s being reported in Indian media that Pakistan is providing defence products to Ukraine. What are your comments on this? (Siyar Ali Shah, Khyber News) Answer: The reporting about supply of defense items by Pakistan to Ukraine is not accurate. Pakistan maintains a policy of non-interference in military conflicts. Pakistan only exports defense stores to other states based on strong End Use and none re-transfer assurances. And this is the case of Pakistan's position in the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Question: I remember asking from your predecessor Ambassador Asim Iftikhar and he had pleaded that the cipher controversy was bent upon damaging our diplomacy and had contended that the then Ambassador to the United States had done a professional job by sending a note. Now that the former Prime Minister Imran Khan, has publicly stated that the conspiracy was not imported from the United States but was exported from here I have a few questions. Number one, whether Cypher conspiracy question is over once and for all. Secondly, whether the US has sent any message of thankfulness after having a clean chit from Imran Khan, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan; and third is, as you stated that the US delegation is here and our delegation is there. What is our expectation given the grave financial situation that we live in nowadays? (Shaukat Piracha, AAJ News) Answer: First of all, not just my predecessor Ambassador Asim Iftikhar, I have also addressed this question from this podium. We believe that, that controversy is in the past, it has been discussed and debated and settled and we do not wish to address it any further. Regarding Pakistan-US relations, I would like to state that Pakistan is encouraged with the positive momentum in our relations with the United States and the engagement that is taking place both here and in Washington DC. We believe that the ongoing visits will contribute to further strengthening of bilateral relations between Pakistan and the United States. Question: Spokesperson of State Department has stated that Pakistan and America are trusted allies and the dangers faced by Pakistan are also dangerous for America. What are your comments on this? (Allah Noor, Mashriq TV) Answer: I would just like to reiterate what I just said a moment ago that Pakistan is very pleased with the progress in our engagement with the United States. There is a positive momentum in this relationship and we believe that with continuous engagement and dialogue we can further strengthen our bilateral relations. In our various meetings and interactions, the two sides continue to discuss all matters of mutual interest and concern. Question: On Aug 5, 2019, after revoking the special status of the State of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of Constitution by India, land is being provided to different people in Pulwama like Israel is also doing. What is the stance of OIC on this? Secondly, after the change of government, the issue of Kashmir is not being highlighted as it should have been by the current government. What are your comments on this? (Sardar Amir Hussain, Daily Maddar/Royal News) Answer: First of all, I would like to say that the issue of illegal settlements in IIOJK and India’s efforts to change the demographic structure of the occupied territory is an illegal act. We have reiterated this position time and again, including in my last briefing which focused on this particular aspect. We have said that these acts are a violation of international law, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention that interdicts the occupation forces to make any material change in the demographic structure of the occupied territory. I would also add that Pakistan has consistently raised the issue of Jammu & Kashmir dispute, human rights violations there and the issues of demographic changes at all relevant platforms including OIC. This has been raised in meetings of our leaders and officials with international stakeholders and global leaders. If you recall, as I briefed you in my last media briefing, the Foreign Minister has addressed letters to the Secretary General of OIC, the Secretary General of the United Nations, the President of the United Nations Security Council and the President of the United Nations General Assembly only in this month. In these letters, he has highlighted the grave violations of human rights in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir and the illegal and unilateral steps being taken by India since 5th August 2019. We also are encouraged with the recent statements and resolutions of the OIC including at the Council of Foreign Ministers and Senior officials. Question: BBC offices in India are being raided and their staff is being pressurized. As you know that in India, BBC is the only channel who is reporting on Modi. USA and UK have already shared their condemnation on this issue. What is Pakistan’s position on this matter? (Malik Mohsin Saleem, 24 News) Answer: We believe that the raids conducted on the BBC offices in India are yet another manifestation of the shrinking space for freedom of media in India. Such repressive measures are undoubtedly a reprisal after the release of the BBC documentary revealing the truth behind the Gujarat massacre of 2002 and illegal and unilateral steps of 5th August 2019. Having failed to hide the truth the Indian Government is now targeting an international media house. This, we believe is another stain on India's so-called democratic credentials. Question: What is the current status of Pak-Iran Gas Pipeline project? As the gas prices are hiking up in Pakistan, is there any difficulty in the completion of this project? Secondly, Pakistan-U.S. relations are on positive trajectory these days, but what is the role of U.S. regarding the current economic situation of Pakistan? Are there any discussion going on between Pakistan and U.S. to provide support to Pakistan in getting out of this difficult economic situation? (Khawaja Nayyar Iqbal, Media Today) Answer: As I said earlier, Pakistan and United States have a multifaceted dialogue. We are encouraged with the exchanges and dialogue taking place between Pakistan and the US administration and all issues of Pakistan's interest and mutual concern are being discussed. This includes cooperation in trade and investment as well. Regarding your question on the Iran - Pakistan pipeline, I have addressed this question in the past as well. I have said that Pakistan is in contact with the Iranian authorities to discuss all matters including issues relating to energy. The specific details of the pipeline would be available with the Ministry of Petroleum, which can give you exact details on the current status of this project. Question: Keeping in view the worst economic conditions in Pakistan. I would like to supplement a question asked by my colleague, Mr. Adeel Bashir. As you have just said that the mandate of IAEA is regarding civilian nuclear technology but the previous experience is not good, particularly with reference to Iraq, as they went there and destroyed Fallujah and said sorry. As you have just said that the media reports are not correct regarding this issue. Particularly there are some reports in media that there will be a deal on Pakistan's nuclear program particularly regarding this very visit so are you in position to say something clearly that there will be no deal on Pakistan's nuclear assets? (Mazhar Iqbal, PNN) Answer: I can categorically state here that this issue is not on the agenda of DG IAEA’s visit and will not be discussed and there will be no agreement in the context you are referring to. Question: During the last 2.5 years, some Pakistanis went to Kuwait for job on contract basis and they were facilitated for issuance of visas of their families. Since last five months, issues are being faced for issuance of visas for their families. What are your comments? (Syed Faisal Ali, Daily State Views) Answer: I would like to get some more details on it before I respond to this question. Question: Do you think that one year after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Pakistan – Afghanistan relations are better than the rest of the countries including U.S., Iran and others, because a lot of things have happened during the previous 18 months between the two countries? (Muhammad Asad, Frontier Post) Answer: I would like to say here that Pakistan has a consistent policy of developing good neighborly relations with its neighbours and with countries in our broader region and around the world. In that context, Pakistan has continued to engage with all countries on the basis of mutual respect and mutual trust. We do not want believe in assigning any hierarchy in our relationships. For us, every bilateral relationship is important and these relationships contribute to the strength of Pakistan's Foreign Policy. As far as Afghanistan is concerned, I would like to reiterate that Pakistan and Afghanistan are neighbours; we have historic and cultural ties and thousands of Afghans travel to Pakistan on a daily basis for trade and livelihood and for family visits. We would like to continue to engage with Afghanistan on all aspects of bilateral cooperation including trade and security issues. Question: Yesterday, Russian Ambassador to Pakistan Danila Ganich gave an interview in which he said that when former Prime Minister Imran Khan was on his visit to Russia, he was pressurized by America to cancel his visit immediately which he did not. Please confirm whether there was any pressure from America or Russian Ambassador is not telling the truth? (Anwar Abbas, Bol News) Supplementary Question: Is it okay for Ambassadors of various countries to give these kinds of political statements in TV interviews? Are they diplomatically allowed to give such statements? (Ali Hussain, Business Recorder) Answer: First of all regarding the visit of the former Prime Minister to Moscow – it is an old story on which the Foreign Ministry has made several statements. I have seen the transcripts and my predecessor made several statements in this matter. So, I would not like to rehash what happened at that time. Regarding the interview of the Russian Ambassador, I would only like to say that we have noted the interview; these are the personal remarks of the ambassador and represent the viewpoint of his country. Question: Any update regarding the President of the UAE’s visit to Pakistan which was postponed some time ago? (Sohail Majeed, Asian Telegraph) Answer: I don't have an update at this stage. Question: China has closed the consular section of its Embassy in Islamabad and called back its people and made them conscious about the security threats. What are your comments on this?(Sardar Amir Hussain, Daily Maddar/Royal News) Answer: I think on this, the Chinese Embassy has already made a statement. If you look at the website of the Chinese Embassy it says that it is a Consular Hall, which has been temporarily closed for technical reasons. A system upgrade is in process and will take a few days. The Chinese Embassy has also said publicly that its visa and attestation services for Pakistani nationals, which already take place through Gerry’s, will continue and will not be affected. I would like to underline that the Embassy’s Consular Hall was in any case mostly providing services to Chinese nationals only. Pakistanis will continue to get the services through Gerry's. Question: In the last meeting of National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Foreign Relations the Foreign Office was directed to share details of treaties of Pakistan with other countries regarding prisoners. Kindly inform us that with how many countries Pakistan currently have treaties and secondly if you can please share the total number of Pakistani prisoners country wise. (Rizwan Abbasi, Daily Jinnah) Answer: We will share the data at a later briefing. Question: Afghan prisoners in different jails of Pakistan were been released. Can you please confirm if they are still here in Pakistan or have they been sent back to Afghanistan? (Allah Noor, Mashriq TV) Answer: As I mentioned in my previous briefing, that process is underway. Many of them have been repatriated, others are in the process of being repatriated. Thank you.