Pakistan is committed to ensure the safety and security of Pakistanis and foreigners; Mumtaz

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Transcript of the Press Briefing by the Mumtaz Zahra Spokesperson ministry of foreign affairs

Islamabad, Secretary Commerce Khurrum Agha visited Afghanistan from 24-27 March 2024 to discuss bilateral and transit trade matters with Minister for Commerce of Afghanistan, Nooruddin Azizi. The two sides discussed bilateral Preferential Trade Agreement, implementation of Temporary Admission Document (TAD) for trade vehicle drivers, multimodal air transit and addressing issues related to transit trade. We are encouraged by the progress made on these issues and remain committed to promoting trade and people-to-people ties with Afghanistan.

The Government of Pakistan is in contact with the Chinese government following the heinous terrorist attack of 26 March 2024 near Besham that claimed the lives of five Chinese nationals.

We are fully committed to bringing the terrorists and their facilitators and abettors to justice. Such despicable acts further strengthen Pakistan’s resolve in combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

Pakistan and China are close friends and iron brothers. We have no doubt that the Besham terror attack was orchestrated by the enemies of Pakistan-China friendship. Together, we will resolutely act against all such forces and defeat them.

Pakistan will continue to work with our Chinese brothers in ensuring the safety and security of Chinese nationals, projects and institutions in Pakistan.

It has been three days since the adoption of the UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Palestine. However, the Israeli war on the people of Gaza continues unabated and the Palestinian people continue to face starvation and genocide. We call on the backers of Israel to urge Israel to bring to an end to the massacre of the Palestinian people, lift the inhumane siege and allow humanitarian assistance to all parts of Gaza.

The international community must also redouble its efforts for a just and durable solution to the Palestine question and for the creation of an independent, viable, sovereign and contiguous Palestinian State along pre-June 1967 borders with Al-Quds-Al-Sharif as its capital.

The Indian occupation authorities are reportedly set to auction some blocks of Lithium reserves, discovered in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK). There are concerns that corporations from outside the occupied region would be awarded the contracts to exploit this valuable resource that belongs to the Kashmiri people. These measures by the occupation authorities to deprive Kashmiris of their right to natural resources are illegal and exploitative. IIOJK must not be deprived of its natural resources. The people of Kashmir have the foremost right over the wealth of their homeland, including precious metals like Lithium. We call on India to abandon such exploitative plans and respect the right of Kashmiris to their own land and natural resources.

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.

Questions and Answers;

(Sara Zaman, VOA): So, you said that the attack was done by the enemies of Pakistan-China friendship. Can you specify who those enemies are?

Spokesperson: Any country, entity or individual which targets Chinese nationals, projects or institutions in Pakistan is an enemy of our friendship.

(Sara Zaman, VOA): Who are these enemies exactly?

Spokesperson: We are awaiting results of the ongoing investigation and the law enforcement agencies will be briefing the media on details.

(Mateen Haider, G News): Can you share the details of this particular incident? So far, no group has claimed any responsibility. Any idea which terror organization could be responsible? Second, has any high-level investigation team been constituted? If yes, any willingness from the Chinese authority to help Pakistan in completing investigation?

Spokesperson: First, as I said in my remarks earlier, Pakistan and China are in contact with regards to the investigations of this incident. Secondly, with regards to the investigations and any further details about this terror attack, the concerned authorities or law enforcement authorities will brief the media and share further information when available.

(Khawaja Nayyar Iqbal, Media Today): There are many incidents of terrorism taking place. In view of these security threats, will Pakistan make some arrangement regulate the Pakistan-Afghanistan border?

Spokesperson: Pakistan is committed to protect its people and take all measures necessary to ensure the safety and security of Pakistanis and foreigners who are in Pakistan. Separately, with regards to our border with Afghanistan, Pakistan-Afghanistan border is an important border and Pakistan has over time taken several measures to secure the border including erecting a fence along the border. We have also introduced measures to regulate movement across the border. This includes the One Document Regime under which individuals can travel to Pakistan on the basis of valid visas on their national passports.

(Naveed Siddiqui, Dateline Islamabad): Chinese companies are very much scared in Pakistan about their security. One of the companies executing Tarbela Extension Hydro Project has laid off its 3000 employees from the project and have announced to shut it down. Do you have any information and can share with us?

(Jaleel Akhtar, VOA Urdu): My question is that the attack on the Chinese engineers’ convoy took place at a time when Pakistani leadership expressed resolve to expedite the second phase of the CPEC projects. Such attacks, and last Tuesday attack was not first of its kind. Apprehensions are being expressed that if the situation does not improve in Pakistan it could have wider implications for the CPEC projects and Islamabad Beijing ties which could come under stress. Your comments please?

Spokesperson:​As you may have seen in our statement issued two days ago, Pakistan has said that we would not allow any force to sabotage Pakistan-China cooperation; such attempts will never succeed. Pakistan and China are close friends and brothers and we will continue to work together to develop CPEC and to promote our cooperation. You may have also seen the statement by the Spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They have also expressed similar sentiments and they have said that no attempts to sabotage Pakistan-China cooperation will ever succeed. This is a reflection of the depth of this relationship and the understanding both countries have that those entities which could be behind such a dastardly attack are attempting to sabotage CPEC and target the symbols of Pakistan-China cooperation. Our message to them is they will not succeed and we will work together to bring the culprits of this attack to justice and to ensure that CPEC and all projects of Pakistan-China cooperation, including the hydropower projects in Pakistan, will continue forward without hindrance.

(Shaukat Piracha, AAJ News): We got your statement. We also have a statement from the Prime Minister, and Presidency. When the President of Pakistan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, visited the Chinese Embassy, what were they told? What is the Chinese perspective? In their statements from the Embassy and from their Foreign Ministry, they demanded Pakistan to investigate the matter and share the investigations. There has been a proposal in the past that they also want high security of their personnel and installations. Whether this aspect is being stressed now by the Chinese?

Spokesperson:​It is natural for the Chinese government and people to be concerned about the safety of their nationals following the terror attack that took place two days ago and the Government of Pakistan fully understands their concerns. We are engaged with them at very senior levels to discuss the arrangements for safety of Chinese nationals and for the investigations of this particular terror incident.

(Anas Mallick, Capital TV): Three questions on China. Firstly, we’ve seen that this is the third terror attack in a week’s time on Pakistan-China interest. First one was on the Gwadar port authority on the 21st of this month, the second was on the 25th at the naval base in Turbat, this base was raised for providing security to CPEC, and then on 26th this dastardly attack. Is this a security failure or intelligence failure, where Pakistan has failed to provide security to its iron brother? That’s number one. Number two, after the Dasu attack in 2021, we saw that the Chinese side had halted work unilaterally, subject to compensation being paid to the victims of those who had lost their lives. Is there a demand right now? What is the status of the Dasu Hydropower Project? Is it continuing? Is it at a halt? Is it under a security review? Can you elaborate on that? And number three, and I think that is an extension of what Naveed just asked, regarding the Tarbela fifth extension power project as well. It’s not just this one project, we’re seeing that there are multiple projects under the CPEC that the Chinese government is undertaking, helping building Pakistan the infrastructure. What is the status of those projects with regards to the security?

Spokesperson: First, I would like to outline that yesterday an important meeting was held, chaired by the Prime Minister on security matters and this reflects the importance that Pakistan accords to the security and safety of Chinese nationals in Pakistan. It has always been a priority and I will not go into the details of how we are further enhancing the security of Chinese nationals and projects in Pakistan. All aspects are under consideration. And it would not be responsible of me to share all these details at this stage. I can reassure you that Pakistan has further enhanced security of Chinese nationals and projects inside Pakistan.

(Anas Mallick, Capital TV): Any discussions regarding compensation?

Spokesperson: At this point we are focusing on investigating the terror attack and ensuring that the mortal remains of the deceased are transported to their home country.

(Khawaja Nayyar Iqbal, Media Today): Ma’am, is Pakistan reconsidering its policy regarding trade relations with India? My second question is also about India. Allahabad High Court in India abrogated a 2004 law regarding religious education of Muslims. There is uneasiness among Indian Muslims on this development. What is Pakistan’s stance?

Spokesperson: Yes, we have seen the news reports about the decision of the Allahabad High Court. We see it as a manifestation of steps being taken in India to target and marginalize Muslims. These latest developments seem to be part of a concerted campaign to marginalize and target Muslims in India. We believe that if some students or their parents from a particular community prefer to follow traditional mode of instruction, they should have the freedom and right to do so.

With regards to Pakistan-India trade, your question is whether Pakistan is reviewing it. Like any foreign policy question, our relations with our neighbours remain under regular assessment and examination. Pakistan’s relations with India are an important aspect of Pakistan’s Foreign Policy. Pakistan-India trade relations, if you would recall, have been non-existent since 2019 when certain steps were taken by the Indian authorities in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir and subsequent steps have further deteriorated conditions in IIOJK. You would recall a few days ago, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan mentioned that some members of the business community have expressed an interest in review of the trade related matters with respect to India. Examination of such proposals is a regular exercise in the Government of Pakistan, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where we continue to consider all such requests and assess our policy. At this point there is no change in Pakistan’s position.

(Anas Mallick, Capital TV): On India, it’s interesting you mentioned the 5th of August 2019. Yesterday, the Prime Minister was here at the Foreign Ministry. He made a passing mention on Kashmir with regards to the UNSC resolution. The Prime Minister and Foreign Minister did not speak about the 5th of August or reversing the measures taken on 5th of August 2019. So, is this a demand solely coming from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and not from the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister himself because it’s not explicitly mentioned in their comments?

Spokesperson: I think I was clear in my statement. I have highlighted the context of the developments in August 2019 and decisions related to Pakistan-India bilateral trade were taken. I have also underlined there is no change in Pakistan’s position.

(Shaukat Piracha, AAJ News): You’re right, that your statement is very clear. But when this trade was abandoned with India, the Government took this initiative and did not consult the businessmen in the private sector. So, the question that has been under discussion is that Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Honorable Ishaq Dar sahab said in this statement in London that we are reviewing. That’s why we are seeking the clarification, apart from whatever the businessmen are talking about. What is this Ministry thinking about it?

Spokesperson: Well, if you go back and listen to the press conference, and the statement of the Foreign Minister, the Foreign Minister, clearly spoke about examining the matter and that I must underline is a continuous process in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Every foreign policy question, including with respect to different aspects of our relations with India, is discussed and debated in this Ministry on a regular basis. That does not mean that a policy has been changed. What the Foreign Minister has said, and I repeat, is that Government of Pakistan will examine the request that has come from some members of the business community.

(Siyar Ali Shah, Khyber News): Ma’am, you spoke about Pakistan-Iran Gas Pipeline Project that Pakistan will not demand a waiver from the US regarding this project. Yesterday a Federal Minister, who is related to this matter, said that Pakistan will request for waiver. So, what is the official policy of Pakistan?

Spokesperson: I am not in a position to explain the statement made by another Minister of another Ministry. Maybe you can get clarification from them. The statement that I made a week ago on this matter was very clear and it is reflective of our policy. I do not have anything further to add to that.

(Naveed Siddiqui, Daily Dateline): Ma’am, the US, United States the day has categorically rejected to support IP Gas Pipeline. What are your comments?

Spokesperson: I just responded. As I just said, I have made a statement a week ago that reflected Pakistan’s position and since then, there have been no new developments for me to give a new statement.

(Mateen Haider, G News): It’s again related to terrorism. According to security sources regarding the massive use of American weapons in different terrorist attacks in Pakistan, including in Gwadar and also in Turbat, and in several other places. Pakistan enjoys diplomatic relations both with Afghanistan and with the United States. So, has Pakistan officially taken up with the US authorities as well as with the Afghan authorities that how come these weapons are in the use of TTP and several other terrorists including BLA? And these weapons are openly being used against the State of Pakistan, Pakistani security forces and the people of Pakistan?

Spokesperson: Pakistan has expressed its deep concern at the sophisticated weaponry that is used by the terrorist groups and individuals who have hideouts and sanctuaries inside Afghanistan and are targeting Pakistani nationals. We have raised this issue at multiple levels, including at the United Nations and Pakistan believes it is the obligation of the international community to disarm these terrorist groups.

(Sara Zaman, VOA): So, I want to actually go back on the gas pipeline question. Number one, what is the status of construction because the previous government, the outgoing government, had given approval? And secondly, you had said last week that Pakistan doesn’t need a waiver to build, and that is correct, to build anything on its territory, Pakistan doesn’t need it. But to trade energy with Iran, Pakistan will need a waiver. So, is this Ministry, along with other concerned Ministries, working on preparing a waiver request? Has that work started or not?

Spokesperson: The concerned Ministry that is the Ministry of Petroleum are working on all options with regards to purchase of energy to ensure Pakistan’s energy security, from all sources of energy, including from the Middle East, but also from Central Asia.

(Sara Zaman, VOA): And construction?

Spokesperson: Construction, as far as I understand, has not yet started.

(Ali Hussain, Business Recorder): My question is also regarding IP. When will the construction of the pipeline start on Pakistan’s side?

Spokesperson: I think Ministry of Petroleum will be in a better position to give you the timelines of the start of the project.

(Jaleel Akhtar, VOA Urdu): Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif on his social media statement has said has again accused Kabul as the source of terrorism in Pakistan is Afghanistan and despite all efforts by Pakistan, Kabul has not made any progress. Instead, terrorists continue to operate from Afghanistan. Defence Minister also says that in the current situation where cooperation is not coming from Kabul, Pakistan needs to reinforce all international laws on the border. My question is that whether Pakistan has not been dealing this border as international border. With the terrorist attacks in Pakistan and Pakistan’s security challenges, some quarters are interpreting it as a disastrous policy of Pakistan towards Afghanistan?

Spokesperson: Yes, we have seen the tweet by the Minister for Defence, and it appears to be an explanation of the reasons for Pakistan’s decision to introduce the One Document Regime regarding travel between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Foreign nationals, including from Afghanistan, shall travel to Pakistan on the basis of valid visas on their national passports, as is the case of travel by nationals from any other neighbour of Pakistan. So that is, what I understand is the background of this statement.

(Jaleel Akhtar, VOA Urdu): Madam and on second part, Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan is considered by some as disastrous in view of the security challenges and terrorist challenge in Pakistan. Your comment please.

Spokesperson: I do not wish to engage in an analysis or debate on Pakistan’s policies. Our policy with regards to Afghanistan is determined by Pakistan’s national interest and Pakistan’s security calculations. So, any other interpretation or commentary with regards to Pakistan’s policy we believe is unjustified.

(Anas Mallick, Capital TV): There have been reports of the second phase of the Afghan repatriation plan, where it’s reported and there are documents in circulation as well, with regards to the Afghan citizenship card holders, ACC holders, being repatriated. Can you confirm if they’re being repatriated? What will be the modus operandi details on that?

Spokesperson: On that, the inter-ministerial and inter-agency process is ongoing and when that process is complete, we can surely make – actually the Ministry of Interior will release more information.

(Mateen Haider, G News): Yes, ma’am. It’s a UN Security Council resolution on Gaza ceasefire. Despite adoption of this resolution three days ago, Israeli bombardment is continuing on areas near Rafah border. So, how does Pakistan see this development which is a blatant violation of UN Security Council? It’s Ramadan ul Mubarak and the UN Security Council’s resolution is blatantly being violated by Israeli security forces.

Spokesperson: I just spoke about this in my opening remarks that despite the adoption of the UNSC resolution, the Israeli war on the people of Gaza continues unabated and the Palestinian people continue to face starvation and genocide. We call on the backers of Israel to urge Israel to bring an end to the massacre of the Palestinian people, lift the inhumane siege and allow humanitarian assistance to all parts of Gaza.