War and instability in Afghanistan over the last 40 years have impacted Pakistan’s economy; Mumtaz Zahra

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Transcript of the Press Briefing by the Spokesperson on Thursday, 02 February 2023

[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 Briefing.

Let me begin with the Kashmir Solidarity Day which will be observed on 5th February 2023. Like every year, the Pakistani nation will express its unwavering solidarity with our Kashmiri brothers and sisters in their just struggle for realization of their Right to Self-determination. The Day will be observed with traditional zeal and fervor by all sections of society in Pakistan and by the Pakistani and Kashmiri Diaspora around the world.

We believe that durable peace, security and development in the region hinges on peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. It is imperative that the Kashmiris exercise their right to self-determination through a free and impartial plebiscite under the auspices of the United Nations.

Pakistan will continue to extend all possible support to our Kashmiri brothers and sisters towards a just and peaceful settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolutions.

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is currently in Washington DC from 1-3 February 2023 to attend the National Prayer Breakfast which brings together US and international leaders for a discourse on contemporary issues. The Foreign Minister will be a keynote speaker at the event where he will speak about the “Role of Faith in the Future and Sustainability of Democracy”. Yesterday he addressed the annual gathering of the White House Fellows and Congressional Staff. He has held meetings with Executive Director of the World Food Programme and various other officials. The Foreign Minister returns home tomorrow.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari undertook an official visit to Moscow at the invitation of Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergei Lavrov from 29-30 January 2023. This was Foreign Minister’s first visit to Moscow which coincided with the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Pakistan.

Foreign Minister held delegation level talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on 30th January 2023. The talks covered the entire range of bilateral relations with a special focus on trade and economic relations, energy cooperation as well as regional and global issues of mutual interest.

The two Foreign Ministers agreed to further enhance cooperation in the areas of trade, energy, education, culture, security and counter-terrorism. They also agreed on the importance of regular high-level exchanges and to continue bilateral dialogue mechanisms to explore mutually beneficial cooperation.

The two Foreign Ministers discussed global and regional issues, especially South Asia and Afghanistan. Bilateral cooperation at multilateral fora including SCO came under discussion.

Last week, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar led Pakistan delegation to UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Minister of State presented Pakistan’s national progress report under the Universal Periodic Review, UPR-42.

In her remarks, the Minister of State highlighted legal, policy, institutional and administrative steps taken by Pakistan to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms. She reaffirmed Pakistan’s resolve to promote well-being and welfare of its people, build a democratic polity and foster an inclusive society. She noted the steady progress on implementation of recommendations made at Pakistan’s 3rd Universal Periodic Review and expressed Pakistan’s continued commitment to human rights.

On the sidelines of the event, the Minister of State held meetings with United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Director General of the International Labor Organization, Director General of World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development.

Special Representative for Afghanistan of the United States Thomas West and the European Union’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Tomas Niklasson visited Pakistan this week and held meetings with Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on Afghanistan, Ambassador Muhammad Sadiq and Foreign Secretary Dr. Asad Majeed Khan. During these meetings, the two sides discussed the regional situation including the recent developments in Afghanistan and humanitarian support to the Afghan people. The Pakistan side reaffirmed our commitment to a peaceful, stable and interconnected region.

Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Ms. Inger Andersen is on an official visit to Pakistan from 30th January to 3rd February 2023. During this visit, she has engaged with different national stakeholders. Ms. Anderson called on the Prime Minister and held meetings with Minister for Climate Change, Ms. Sherry Rehman and the Foreign Secretary Dr. Asad Majeed Khan.

In these meetings, the ongoing cooperation between Pakistan and UNEP, including with reference to Pakistan’s efforts to build back better and greener after the last year’s floods was discussed. Pakistan reiterated its commitment to promoting partnerships at all levels in response to climate change and for protecting biological diversity and addressing waste and pollution.

As the current Chair of G77 & China (Nairobi Chapter), Pakistan is actively contributing to UNEP’s agenda and engaged in extensive dialogue on cooperation between UNEP and developing countries to address climate change, biodiversity loss, and ecosystem degradation.

Pakistan has strongly condemned Israel’s brutal attack on the city and camp of Jenin in the State of Palestine, killing several innocent Palestinians. We call for an end to these illegal incursions and actions by the Israeli occupation forces. Human rights of the Palestinian people must be respected. Pakistan will continue its strong and unwavering support to the legitimate struggle of the Palestinian people for the full realization of their rights including the right to self- determination.

Pakistan supports the Palestinian demand for a viable, independent and contiguous Palestinian State, with pre-1967 borders and Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital, in accordance with the relevant United Nations and OIC resolutions.

You may have seen that we have condemned in the strongest terms the senseless and deeply offensive act of desecration of the Holy Quran in Denmark. We have conveyed our concerns to the authorities in Denmark. We consider such acts as racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic. Pakistan is concerned about the growing Islamophobia around the world as the freedom of expression is being blatantly abused to spread religious hatred and incitement to violence against Muslim minorities. We urge the international community to be mindful of the hurt such actions cause to Muslims including in Pakistan and to take effective steps to prevent such hateful and Islamophobic acts.

I conclude with an upcoming visit announcement. The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar will undertake a visit to Colombo on 3-4 February 2023 to participate in the 75th Independence Day of Sri Lanka as a Guest of Honour. In addition to attending the Independence Day events, she will call on the Sri Lankan leadership and hold a meeting with the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka.

Pakistan and Sri Lanka have historic ties that have grown steadily in all aspects of bilateral cooperation. We also have worked closely in multilateral forums including SAARC. The visit of the Minister of State would contribute to enhanced understanding between the two countries and signal Pakistan’s support for Sri Lanka in a difficult time.

I thank you all.

Question: On daily basis, we are seeing that Pakistan is trying to build up cooperation with Afghanistan. But, in the latest incident that took place in Peshawar, the Foreign Minister of Afghanistan has said that Pakistan shouldn’t blame Afghanistan regarding the presence of terrorist groups in Afghanistan. What are your comments? (Adeel Bashir, Roze News)

Supplementary Question: In response to various statements from Pakistan’s Ministers blaming Afghanistan for the recent terrorist incident, the Afghan Foreign Minister has said that Pakistan should investigate whether such huge destruction in the incident in Peshawar was caused by a small suicide jacket or was it something else from the inside? Your comments, please. (Sardar Awais Ashraf, Daily Haqeeqat)

Answer: First of all, let me share on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs our heartfelt condolences on the tragic terrorist incident that took place in Peshawar in which more than 100 people were killed. We extend our deepest sympathy with the bereaved families of the victims and wish speedy recovery to those injured in the terrorist incident. We are grateful to many countries which have sent these messages of sympathy for the victims and their families in this time of mourning. These include Albania, Afghanistan, Argentina, Austria, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iran, India, Latvia, Libya, Maldives, Nepal, Norway, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Sweden, Turkiye, UAE, United States and Uzbekistan. This is the list that I had until last night. Such messages are incoming and we will update you once we have more information.

On the Peshawar incident, I would like to say that this is a tragic incident that has resulted in the loss of precious lives. The Government of Pakistan has opened an investigation and we would not like to go into details of the investigation or the circumstances around the incident.

Regarding the other question that you have raised, I would like to say that We have seen the statement of the Afghan Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Pakistan expects sincere cooperation from the Interim Afghan Government to address the challenge of terrorism and hopes that Kabul would live up to the commitments made to the international community in this regard.

We take the loss of innocent lives very seriously and would expect our neighbours to do the same. Terrorism is a common threat to both Pakistan and Afghanistan. We must take a strong stance against entities that use violence against innocent citizens and law enforcement agencies.

We remain firm in our resolve to root out the evil of terrorism and safeguard the security of every citizen. We do not believe in accusations or finger pointing; however, we would reiterate our expectation that no country should allow its territory to be used for perpetrating terrorism against Pakistan. It is time the commitments made to the world and Pakistan are fulfilled with sincerity and in good faith with concrete actions.

Question: This is with reference to the engagement that was going on between Pakistan and Iran, particularly after an untoward incident that took place on Pak – Iran border and you promised that you will update the media about that very engagement. Is it possible for you to kindly comment on this? (Mazhar Iqbal, PNN)

Answer: As I have said earlier, Pakistan and Iran have active channels of communication and we have discussed all issues, including the border incident that you are referring to with the Iranian authorities. You would also recall that the Foreign Minister held a meeting with the Foreign Minister of Iran on the sidelines of the ECO Ministerial meeting in Tashkent. It was a very constructive meeting where all issues of mutual concern were discussed.

Question: As you mentioned in your statement that Kashmir Solidarity Day will be observed all over the world. Some time back, a Kashmir solidarity day event was organized by Pakistan in Britain in which a protest was held in front of Indian High Commission and Indians tried to ban those protests. Has the ban been lifted for holding a protest in front of the Indian High Commission?

Secondly, is Prime Minister going to visit Muzaffarabad on Kashmir Solidarity Day to deliver a speech? (Raziq Mehmood Bhatti, Daily Kashmir Express)

Answer: Regarding your second question I would advise you to refer that question to the Ministry of Information because they can speak more authoritatively on the engagements of the Prime Minister. Your second question is about an incident on which I need to get an update, so I can respond on this later.

Question: My question pertains to a news item that circulated sometime back earlier this week with regards to Iran’s penalty or threat to impose a penalty on Pakistan’s part of the gas pipeline not being completed that Pakistan had committed to complete by March 2024 and if it does not happen, then there is an $18 billion-dollar penalty that Pakistan would have to pay. Can you please update on the facts of the matter and Pakistan’s response? Thank you. (Anas Mallick, Capital TV)

Answer: As you know, Pakistan and Iran have close relations. These relations are rooted in historical, religious, spiritual and cultural linkages. There is a mutual desire to work together on all issues including the issue that you have referred to. The technical details of this question can be ascertained from the Ministry of Petroleum because they would know the exact details on the status of discussions on this subject.

Question: Currently, what is the legal status and total number of Afghan refugees who came to Pakistan during the Afghan war? After fencing has been done how movement of Afghan refugees is possible across Pakistan – Afghanistan border as currently they move freely across the border? Recently Minister of Interior has also given a statement in which he said that they plan for these terrorist attacks safely inside Afghanistan and go back after carrying out these attacks in Pakistan. What is the concrete solution of this?

Secondly, as trade relations between Russia and Pakistan continue to improve, does Pakistan have any apprehensions of external pressure or hindrances against it? (Khawaja Nayyar Iqbal, Media Today)

Supplementary Question: Afghan Foreign Minister has condemned the Peshawar incident and stated that there is no involvement of Afghanistan in this incident and people involved are present in the tribal areas of Pakistan. In the previous Government of PMLN, it was decided to send these Afghan people back to Afghanistan who are present in tribal areas and are naturally related to TTP as well. What is the current status regarding this decision and what is our foreign policy in this regard? (Sardar Amir Hussain, Daily Maddar/Royal News)

Answer: On the first question, I would like to say that I would not comment on any statement made by the Minister for Interior. The Ministry of Interior may be able to elaborate on this statement.

As I said earlier, the Peshawar incident is under investigation, and we will await the report by the government before we can comment on that. Regarding the Afghan refugees inside Pakistan, Pakistan has for years hosted the Afghan Refugees and welcome them when they were in a difficult situation. We believe that war and instability in Afghanistan over the last 40 years have impacted Pakistan’s economy, endangered our security and threatened our way of life. At the same time, war and instability in Afghanistan have brought untold miseries to the people of Afghanistan, and people of Pakistan have great sympathies for their brothers and sisters in Afghanistan. We have hosted Afghan refugees for the last 40 years with our traditional and generous hospitality. Pakistan has and will continue to work with UNHCR and with our international partners as well as the Afghan authorities to develop pull factors in Afghanistan so that these refugees are able to return to their country with dignity and honour.

On the second question, I would like to say that Pakistan has a foreign policy that prioritizes developing good relations with all countries. We have constructive dialogue with countries around the world including with our neighbours, the Russian Federation and the United States and the European Union countries and we believe that this constructive dialogue should continue. As Foreign Minister said in the Joint Press Conference with his Russian counterpart, we equally value our relationship with United States, Russia and Europe. We hope that our bilateral relations with Russia, including economic cooperation will develop on their own merit.

Question: TTP has sanctuaries inside Afghanistan and one faction of TTP took responsibility of Peshawar attack. So why not from this forum of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, you directly address the Afghan government to deny these sanctuaries instead of indirectly saying that all neighbors should cooperate with Pakistan?

Secondly, since SCO was also discussed during the Moscow visit as you have very candidly stated. Can you share that whether the Russian Foreign Minister persuaded Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to attend the Ministerial Conference in India? (Shoukat Piracha, AAJ News)

Answer: First of all, I do not have the detailed readout of the meeting between the two Foreign Ministers. But as you know, Shanghai Cooperation Organization has a vast agenda and there are many aspects of cooperation on the agenda of SCO. So, as far as I understand, the two Foreign Ministers discussed cooperation between Pakistan and Russia in the SCO framework and furthering the SCO as an organization.

Regarding your first question, I would reiterate that we are awaiting results of the investigation which is being carried out by our relevant authorities. If after the report is finalized and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is assigned a particular role, we will play that role.

Question: There is an Afghan cell in Foreign Office, which takes part in discussion in all important matters including matters related to policy making. Was any input taken from Foreign Office in resettlement of some thirty to forty thousand Taliban in Pakistan. As you may have seen that ex-PM Imran Khan also alluded to this in one of his recent statements.

Secondly, if input was taken from Afghan cell of Foreign Office on this policy related decision; does Foreign Office take responsibility of these 100 people who died in Peshawar incident? (Anwar Abbas, Bol News)

Answer: I have not seen the statement you are referring to so at this point I have nothing to share on this question.

Question: Whenever Pakistan talks about its foreign policy, it talks about a balanced approach. When Aramco oil facilities in Saudi Arabia got attacked a condemnation was issued. My question is that, few days back there was an attack on a military installation in Isfahan, Iran. Will Pakistan issue a condemnation on this attack? (Syed Faisal Ali, Daily State Views)

Answer: We have seen those reports and at this stage we do not have any comments to offer.

Question: What is the position of OIC on the incidents of desecration of Holy Quran in various countries? Has Secretary General given any statement regarding this incident? What is our foreign policy on this issue? (Sardar Amir Hussain, Daily Maddar/Royal News)

Answer: Yes, the OIC Secretary General has condemned these provocative incidents of desecration of the Holy Quran. OIC Executive Committee has met in Jeddah already, where this issue has been discussed. Our Permanent Representative in Jeddah participated in that meeting. We are in consultations with other members of OIC on raising this issue at appropriate forums and developing a coordinated response.

Question: Since the return of Taliban in Kabul, Pakistan is facing extraordinary militancy challenges. Pakistan was the frontline state after 9/11 in combating terrorism. Washington has expressed moral support and condemned the Peshawar incident. Is there any consultation between Islamabad and Washington for any cooperation to deal with militancy and terrorism in the region? (Jaleel Akhtar, VOA Urdu)

Answer: I think I answered this question earlier as well. We believe Pakistan has the will and the ability, and we have demonstrated in the past, to take on this challenge. Our history shows that our security forces are capable to fight this threat and to defeat this threat. We continue to engage with all friends of Pakistan, including the United States to discuss cooperation in matters relating to counterterrorism, security issues, and other issues of bilateral importance.

Question: Can you please share the updated status regarding the illegal arrest of human activist Khurram Pervaiz by India and does Pakistan have any reaction upon this? (Kausar Lodhi, Prime News)

Answer: We have spoken about the case of Khurram Pervaiz on various occasions. He is a human rights defender and has been illegally incarcerated by the Indian authorities for reporting and speaking about human rights abuses in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. This is something about which the international community is deeply concerned. You may have seen the statements by international human rights organizations including the Amnesty International calling for the release of Khurram Pervaiz. We call upon the Indian authorities to free Khurram Pervaiz so that he is able to continue to work for the protection and promotion of human rights in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

Question: In a statement, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to UN has said that ban on education of women in Afghanistan is a cultural matter. Is this also Pakistan’s official position regarding the ban on women education and other activities in Afghanistan? (Siyar Ali Shah, Khyber News)

Answer: We have sought details of the statement and the context in which it may have been made.

As far as our policy is concerned, Pakistan is a country that accords equal status to women. It also respects its commitments under international agreements and conventions including its obligations under international human rights covenants. We believe that Islam grants equal access to education and women rights and we have spoken publicly about the importance of girls’ education and their participation in public life. We have also said that the enterprising and innovative Afghan women should not be deprived of their rights to progress and to follow their dreams.

Our policy was clearly outlined by the Minister of State, Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar when she spoke to the media after her visit to Kabul and by the Foreign Minister of Pakistan at the international Conference on Afghan Women Education in Bali. He clearly enunciated Pakistan’s viewpoint and I would like to quote here, “we are under no illusion that universal access to education for all including women is critically important”.

Question: During his visit to UAE, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif invited President of UAE to visit Pakistan which he also accepted. After that, President of UAE Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited Pakistan but it is being said that it was a private visit during which he also visited his hunting place and then returned to UAE. There are some reports that the Government of Pakistan came up with an excuse that the visit was cancelled due to bad weather conditions but the reality was that President of UAE was not interested in this visit. Please confirm whether this visit was officially planned or was he on a private visit? (Sardar Awais Ashraf, Daily Haqeeqat)

Answer: We made an official statement last week stating that His Highness President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan arrived in Pakistan on 25th of January on a private visit. I said this from this very podium that it was a private visit. The Prime Minister had received the President of UAE and held a brief conversation at the airport. No formal talks were expected. The President of UAE had a plan to have a short stopover in Islamabad before departing for UAE. However, as the Prime Minister’s office has already said in its press release, due to bad weather conditions the visit to Islamabad was postponed.

Question: What is the update from Pakistan High Commission New Delhi regarding the issue of a girl who went to India playing an online game? (Syed Asif Ali, Din News)

Answer: We had asked our High Commission in New Delhi to approach the Indian authorities and the High Commission has approached the Indian government to seek confirmation of the media reports regarding the individual in question. The Missions has also sought information about her whereabouts and requested for grant of consular access. We are awaiting a response from the Indian side. Any further details can only be shared after consular access has been granted.

Question: During the current week, a meeting of Islamic countries took place in Algeria and Kashmir issue was raised there. As Kashmir Solidarity Day is being observed on 5th February, has any other Islamic organization express solidarity on the Kashmir issue and also what activities have been planned by Foreign Office at global level?

Secondly, if Taliban Government cannot take action against TTP then is it being considered that Pakistan will negotiate the right for hot pursuit with Afghanistan so that Pakistani forces can take action against terrorist inside Afghanistan? (Ghulam Abbas Jaffar, Daily District News)

Answer: I would not respond to your second question because it is based on speculation. Regarding your first question about activities on Kashmir Solidarity Day, I have already said in the opening statement that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and our Missions abroad, as well as Pakistani and Kashmiri diaspora are going to commemorate the Kashmir Solidarity Day with the traditional fervor. We hope that you will follow the news and would see for yourself the activities that have been planned to mark the occasion.

Question: As my colleague has asked a question earlier regarding visit of President of UAE, a public holiday was announced on the day and seven flights were also operated that day. What was the actual reason of cancellation of this visit? (Naveed Ahmed Khan, The Spokesman)

Answer: As the Prime Minister’s Office has said, it was bad weather conditions that led to cancellation of the visit.

Question: Firstly, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was recently in Russia. We saw the statement issued by Russian MFA that clearly stated that the talks would be held on regional issues, Afghanistan, Syria and Ukraine. Can you please apprise us on the agenda of the talks precisely regarding Syria and Ukraine, because the Pakistani side statement did not mention anything like that?

Secondly, India has written a letter to Pakistan with regards to the amendment in the Indus Water Treaty under Article 12(3) of the Indus water treaty itself that calls for the change in the treaty through another treaty, and that it cannot be done unilaterally. We saw that response earlier shared by you that we would not be responding to media reports and speculation should be avoided. But now that they have written a letter, what is Pakistan’s official position and has Pakistan responded to India on their letter? (Anas Mallick, Capital TV)

Answer: First of all, let me reiterate what I said earlier that Pakistan would not like to indulge in commentary on media reports regarding the Indus Waters Treaty. We have just concluded the proceedings of the Court of Arbitration in The Hague, where Pakistan’s viewpoint was presented. It is a legal case under the Indus Waters Treaty and our objections to the Ratle and Kishenganga hydroelectric projects.

Lastly, I would like to add in this context, that we do not conduct our diplomacy through the media, and we would not like to comment on this any further.

Regarding your question on Russia, as I said in my statement today and in our press release issued after the visit, important global and regional issues were on the agenda and were discussed by the two Foreign Ministers, who spoke about this in the Joint Press Statement as well. Both Pakistan and Russia presented their viewpoint on global and regional issues. As you have seen, Pakistan also presented its viewpoint on the situation in South Asia, including in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

Thank you.