Transcript of the Weekly Media Briefing by Mumtaz Zahra Spokesperson Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Thursday 07 December 2023
Thank you for joining us. Welcome to the Foreign Office.
Additional Foreign Secretary (Africa) Ambassador Shehryar Akbar represented Pakistan at the Peacekeeping Ministerial Meeting held on 5-6 December 2023 in Ghana. He highlighted the challenges confronting UN peacekeeping and underscored the importance of ensuring safety of peacekeepers and the populations they serve. He called for a renewed commitment and robust partnership among Member States and the United Nations to address these issues. At the conference Pakistan has presented 19 concrete pledges demonstrating our commitment to UN peacekeeping. These pledges include the Strategic Communications Unit, infantry battalion, enhancing the percentage of women peacekeepers, helicopter units and renewable energy resources etc. These pledges show Pakistan’s dedication to global peace and security.
In Ghana Ambassador Shehryar Akbar called on the Vice President of Ghana Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia and Foreign Minister of Ghana Shirley Ayorker Botchwey. The two sides agreed to advance durable and mutually beneficial engagement and dialogue. They agreed to enhance cooperation across multiple domains including science and technology and digitization and to facilitate joint ventures. Ambassador Shehryar Akbar also held bilateral meetings with the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix; the UK Minister of States for Armed Forces, James Heappey; and the UAE Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for Security and Military Affairs, Dr. Rashed Alkaabi.
The 6th Round of Bilateral Political Consultations (BPC) between Pakistan and Mexico was held in Islamabad on 05 December 2023. Ambassador Mariam Aftab, Additional Foreign Secretary (Americas), led the Pakistan delegation while the Mexican delegation was headed by Ambassador Jose Tripp Villanueva, Director General for Africa, Central Asia and Middle East at the Mexican Foreign Ministry. The talks covered all aspects of bilateral relations, emphasizing mutual commitment to strengthen ties in trade, agriculture, investment, science & technology, and people-to-people contacts.
A series of visits by senior US officials is taking place this week. These include Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration, Julieta Valls Noyes; Special Representative on Afghanistan, Tom West; and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Elizabeth Horst. These visits are part of ongoing dialogue with the US on a range of issues including, but not limited to, the situation in Afghanistan. Pakistan remains committed to sustained engagement and dialogue with the United States.
Pakistan welcomes the UN Secretary-General’s decision to invoke Article 99 of the UN Charter, to bring to the attention of the UN Security Council the dire security situation and the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. This decision of the Secretary General demonstrates his conscionable assessment of the catastrophic situation in Gaza.
Pakistan strongly and unequivocally condemns the continued use of force by Israel and its indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian facilities and infrastructure in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law. The suffering and collective punishment endured by the besieged people of Gaza is unprecedented and unacceptable.
As the Secretary-General has underscored in his letter to the President of the UN Security Council, “civilians throughout Gaza face grave danger” and “nowhere is safe in Gaza.” There is a severe risk of collapse of the humanitarian lifeline essential for survival. The situation is fast deteriorating with potentially irreversible implications for Palestine and for peace and security in the region. Such an outcome must be avoided at all costs.
We join the Secretary General in his call to the international community to end the ongoing situation and avert a humanitarian catastrophe.
The UN Security Council must perform its primary responsibility under the Charter, impose an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and protect the people of Gaza from an impending genocide. We call on Israel’s backers to urge Israel to end its barbaric attacks and inhumane siege against Gaza.
We also call for an international conference for long-term peace on the Palestinian question. Durable peace in the region will emerge from the internationally agreed two-State solution and from the creation of a secure, viable, contiguous, and sovereign state of Palestine on the basis of the pre-June 1967 borders, with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.
The decision by the Indian Parliament yesterday to pass a legislation pertaining to the future of IIOJK, is yet another farce to perpetuate India’s occupation and to deny the people of Jammu and Kashmir their right to self-determination.
Jammu and Kashmir is an internationally-recognized disputed territory, whose final disposition is to be made in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolutions and as per the aspirations of the Kashmiri people. Any other process cannot serve as a substitute to the right of self-determination of the Kashmiri people.
Pakistan has never recognized India’s occupation of Jammu and Kashmir. It has reportedly rejected the relevance of the Indian Constitution to this disputed territory. We therefore, categorically reject any measures that perpetuate India’s occupation.
India’s unilateral and illegal measures of 05 August 2019, and a number of subsequent steps, are aimed at changing the demographic structure and political landscape of the Indian Illegally-Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK). Pakistan strongly condemns and rejects these measures as these would convert Kashmiris into a disempowered minority in their own land. These measures are also a blatant violation of international humanitarian law and the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. India must rescind these illegal and unilateral measures, provide relief to the people of IIOJK and create a positive environment for peace and dialogue.
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: Thank you ma’am. Good morning. So, as in detail you discuss this situation, the legal status which has already been changed by India on 5th of August 2019 and later on, another legislation which has been moved in Indian parliament. Other than discussing, regretting, condemning, is Pakistan seriously planning to take up the matter with the UN because these all illegal acts of India are also the violations of the UN resolutions. India doesn’t listen to Pakistan’s condemnation, whatever plan they have, they are continuing and implementing that. Kashmir is going beyond the control of Pakistan and even beyond the control of the United Nations.
And second question is that what agenda all these three top American officials have brought to Islamabad and the caretaker setup is there, what actually do they want to discuss with Pakistan? Thank you ma’am. (Mateen Haider, G News)
Answer: First question, we must realize that the Jammu and Kashmir dispute is on the agenda of the UN Security Council and we believe it is the responsibility of the United Nations Security Council to implement its own resolutions. And the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Government of Pakistan have repeatedly reminded the international community, have reminded the United Nations of its responsibility to implement its own resolutions to hold a plebiscite so that the people of Jammu and Kashmir can exercise their right to self determination.
As far as your second question is concerned, I already referred to it in my opening remarks that there are three incoming delegations. This series of meetings is part of ongoing dialogue that (is) taking place with the United States. There is nothing out of ordinary that these officials are visiting Pakistan. We are ready to discuss with them all aspects and issues that they bring to the table.
Question: Yesterday, Indian interior minister Amit Shah said in the parliament that, these are his statements “Pakistan Occupied Kashmir is ours and 24 seats have been reserved for POK in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly”. We have witnessed time to time similar statements from the Indian officials, so, about Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan. So, what is your response about these statements? (Muhammet Nazim Tasci, Anadolu Agency)
Answer: First of all, we reject the statement that you are referring to. The reality is that history cannot be undone. No rhetoric can falsify the fact that Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed territory under international law, whose final disposition is to be made in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions and as per the wishes of the Kashmiri people. The irresponsible statements by leadership in India cannot conceal India’s own responsibilities and commitments to the Kashmiri people, Pakistan and the United Nations of holding a free and fair plebiscite enabling the people of Jammu and Kashmir to determine their own future. We advise the Indian leaders that instead of nurturing delusions, they should faithfully implement the UN Security Council resolutions so that the people of Jammu and Kashmir can exercise their inalienable right to self-determination.
Question: Thank you very much. Can you enlighten us what is Article 99 that has been invoked by the Secretary General of the UN, especially vis a vis any responsibility for Pakistan because as widely reported today in the newspapers, Ismail Haniyeh has asked Pakistan to challenge Israel so that the war can be stopped.
And, my second question is about Afghanistan. Again, Jang newspaper reported it in Umar Cheema’s story that Sirajuddin Haqqani even travelled on Pakistani passport. How come a minister in the Afghan Taliban government, is possessing and travelling on Pakistani passport. As per story there was the connivance of certain senior officials from the Government of Pakistan. (Shaukat Piracha, AAJ News)
Answer: As for your second question, I have just seen the report in the Jang. I do not have the facts to respond to your question. Maybe I will be able to comment on some other occasion when I have more information. With regards to Article 99 of the Charter, Article 99 of the UN Charter pertains to the responsibilities of the UN Secretary General with regards to peace and security and in exercising those responsibilities the UN Secretary General has brought the question of Palestine to the urgent attention of the Security Council. And that is why Pakistan has supported the call of the UN Secretary General for the UN to take urgent measures and impose a ceasefire, and to provide relief to the people of Gaza who are facing an impending genocide.
Question: And on Haniyeh Statement? (Shaukat Piracha, AAJ News)
Answer: I have not read that statement. I just saw the headline this morning. I cannot comment on it until I have seen the statement and the context in which it was made.
Question: So, this is again going to be in connection with the visit of the US delegations. Last time we reported that Pakistan was not satisfied with the list of 25,000 people that are supposed to be in the US resettlement pipeline. What’s the progress on that? Is Pakistan now somewhat satisfied? So, if you can please elaborate on that. And the second question is, during these visits would Pakistan share any evidence on TTP hideouts in Afghanistan with US officials and does Pakistan expect any support on this front from Americans? (Sarah Zaman, VOA)
Supplementary Question: Ma’am, US Assistant Secretary State expressed some reservations on the safety and security of Afghan nationals or refugees in Pakistan. She met some of the refugees and she also discussed pathways to relocate and resettle the Afghan nationals in the United States. As follow-up to Sarah Zaman’s question, can you tell us the details, what was discussed and how many Afghans are being relocated or resettled? What’s the list, how many people? 25,000, we had 25,000 or 30,000 number please if you can confirm? (Naveed Siddiqui, Dateline Islamabad)
Supplementary Question: Pakistan Foreign Office is saying that the interactions and dialogue between Pakistan and America is taking place and the agenda of these meetings is broader than Afghanistan. Whereas, there is nothing other than Afghan refugees and Afghanistan mentioned in the press release issued by the US Embassy. Need your comments on it please. (Anwar Abbas, Bol News)
Answer: I think you may ask the details from the American Embassy about the focus of their statement and the reasons for the wording in those statements. So, that is not for us to comment.
As I said earlier, there are three incoming visits from the United States. The meetings which are taking place today and have taken place in recent days are related to, yes, Afghanistan and Afghanistan related matters. There are some other bilateral aspects which may come up under discussion in coming days. Secondly, with respect to the list that you have referred to, we have received an updated list from the US side and we are in contact with the American Embassy in developing the mechanics for the early repatriation of individuals on those lists to the United States. We have already said that it is important that the process of verification and issuance of visas should be expedited and we hope that this process will be completed at the earliest.
Question: Any sharing of evidence regarding TTP hideouts in Afghanistan? (Sarah Zaman, VOA)
Answer: I will not go into details about the sensitive nature of some of these conversations. But as you know intelligence related information is normally shared through intelligence channels.
Question: So, first a follow-up. There has been a demand from Western countries with regards to the exit fees. Has there been any development? Do you have any update to share on that matter? Secondly, yesterday, we saw the Torkham border being closed due to Pakistan trying to install a welcome board, which the Afghan side alleges was 20 meters inside the Afghan territory. Would you want to state facts for the record? And lastly, with regards to China, a China-Indian Ocean forum is taking place. Pakistan participated there last year. Is Pakistan invited and if so then who is participating?
Answer: In the meetings between Pakistani and US officials, the meetings which have taken place and which will take place today as well, we fully expect the US authorities to raise any concerns they may have on any issues. Similarly, we will also share our observations on matters that need their consideration. With regards to the exit fees, I underline that in all countries, individuals who overstay their visas or are in violation of immigration laws, face fines which need to be paid. With respect to the exact amount of those fines, you may ask the Ministry of Interior about the nature of these fines and the amount of fines that individuals would have to pay while they stay in Pakistan.
With regards to the border, the Torkham border gate was reopened yesterday for all kinds of traffic and the issue regarding the signboard was resolved, and as our border officials have engage with each other to resolve such issues whenever they arise. On your question about the Indian Ocean Forum, Pakistan has been invited. Secretary, Economic Affairs Division is representing Pakistan at the forum.
Question: Ma’am, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui’s lawyer has contended that when she was in Guantanamo Bay and later as well. She was sexually harassed during the investigations and this matter was brought into the notice of both Pakistan and America’s governments. Could you confirm this assertion? what was the response of Pakistan when this matter was taken up with Pakistan? (Siyar Ali Shah, Khyber News)
Answer: The statements that have been made are serious statements. And the government of Pakistan takes them very seriously. The Prime Minister of Pakistan has directed that this matter may be taken up by the Government of Pakistan with the US authorities to investigate the matter and to address it. We will be taking up this issue with the US Department of State to investigate and to share the findings with us. In the past as well, we have repeatedly requested the US Department of State and the Department of Justice as well as the prison authorities of FMC Carswell that Dr. Aafia Siddiqui should not be subjected to any sort of physical or mental abuse. The well-being of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui remains our utmost priority, and that of our Missions in Washington and Houston.
Question: Ma’am my question is that former Special Assistant to Prime Minister Shahzad Akbar was reportedly attacked with acidic liquid in London. Has he registered a case with the local police? He has made allegations of involvement of Pakistani institutions. Your comments please. Secondly, how is the High Commission in the UK assisting the investigation? (Farhan Ali, Public News)
Answer: Safety and security of Pakistani citizens wherever they are, is a matter of primary concern for Pakistan. We have seen the news item about the alleged attack on former Special Assistant to the Prime Minister, Mr. Shahzad Akbar. We understand the local police has registered a case. He has not sought any help or assistance from the High Commission so far.
We reject any insinuations of Pakistan’s involvement and that of Pakistani agencies in such a heinous attack. It is not our policy to target our own nationals abroad. Many political dissidents have sought political asylum and have been living in the United Kingdom and other countries around the world for several decades and they have indulged in vitriolic and often undue criticism of Pakistani government and institutions. Many of them have had links with terrorist entities inside Pakistan. Pakistan has not engaged in any extra-territorial attacks against such individuals. We have full confidence in the law enforcement agencies of the United Kingdom and hope that culprits in this case will be identified and treated as per the UK law. Pakistan will keenly follow the investigations and would welcome any information that the UK authorities would share with us.
Question: Ma’am today it’s been 49 days. There is a protest on Chaman border. The border is closed and only Torkham is open out of almost eight of our entry points. What is the update on this? What are we going to do? Are we going to listen their demands or not? And what is the latest update regarding the opening of the border? Secondly, former Prime Minister Imran Khan in the court, addressing the judge, said that he will summon General Bajwa and US officials in the court as witness. What are your comments on this? Lastly, regarding TTP, other militant groups like Al-Qaeda, Daesh and other organizations, aren’t they a threat to us? And which organization is threat to us? Please comment. (Azaz Syed, Geo News)
Answer: Regarding your last question, Pakistan is seriously concerned about activities of all terrorist entities wherever they are for the threat that they pose to Pakistan’s security. And we do not distinguish between these terrorist entities. For us all threats emanating from terrorist entities are considered serious and our law enforcement agencies take action against them.
With regards to your second question about the legal case. I would like to underline that it is the practice of this Ministry, not to pronounce publicly on cases which are sub-judice. We will respond to the court after consultation with and guidance from our legal team as per practice, and as per the guidelines given by the esteemed court. With regards to the issue on the Chaman border, I will advise you to perhaps talk to the Ministry of Interior and the Home Department, for details on these protests. I can only underline that the Government of Pakistan has decided and that from the 1st of November, movement of people across the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan will take place on one document and individuals who wish to travel back and forth between Pakistan and Afghanistan would need to travel on the basis of valid visas. As is the practice internationally.
Question:There are many protests being held in favour of Palestine and statements condemning Israeli atrocities. Which option is left to stop Israel’s aggression? (Khawaja Nayyar Iqbal, Media Today)
Answer: As we have said, and as the UN Secretary General said overnight, it is critical that the UN Security Council plays its mandated role to impose a ceasefire in occupied Palestine and impress on Israel not to end the inhumane campaign that it has unleashed against the people of Palestine over the last several weeks.
Question: My question is, Pakistan has been criticized in the US terrorism country report for the year 2022. How does the Foreign Office respond to the report? (Ch. Waqar Younas, Daily Al-Balad)
Answer: Pakistan has been a major victim of terrorism. We have paid a huge price, Pakistani civilians have lost their lives, and our security agencies have lost thousands of people in this fight against terrorism. It has cost millions of dollars to Pakistan’s economy. So instead of acknowledging Pakistan’s sacrifices for counterterrorism, the report peddles an outdated perspective, which is totally divorced from ground realities. We therefore reject statements in the report that the listed organizations are active in Pakistan are engaged in activities relating to financing of terrorism. The report ignores the facts on the ground as it ignores the measures taken by Pakistan to proscribe terrorist organizations of all hues and to prosecute and convict their leaders.
Similarly, on the issue of financing of terrorism as well, Pakistan’s performance has received international appreciation, and Pakistan has undertaken serious reforms to control financing for terrorism. It has made special efforts to enhance the conviction rate of terror financing cases. It is, therefore, very unfortunate that the US report could not register these positive facts. It simply retained the language of previous years in the report without updating it according to the developments which have taken place in the preceding year.
Question: How many Pakistani prisoners are there in UAE? How many of them have completed their term of punishment and not yet been released? What role is being played by Pakistani consulate in UAE and Foreign Office regarding this issue? (Syed Asif Ali, Din News)
Answer: There are 5292 Pakistani prisoners currently incarcerated in prisons in the UAE. I can assure you that our embassy in the UAE and our consulate remain committed to facilitate and provide relief and legal assistance to the prisoners in jails, as are the responsibility of our missions across the world.
Question: Thank you ma’am you earlier spoke about Pakistani dissidents living in different parts of the world. But two of them who have been convicted by the court martial by Pakistani military authorities, Adil Raja in United Kingdom and Haider Mehdi in Canada. There have been very serious offenses on them for speaking against national security institutions and Pakistan. So now they have been formally convicted and sentenced. What efforts are being made by government of Pakistan to bring them back? So that they may serve the sentence given by the military court? (Mateen Haider, G News)
Answer: As you know, the extradition cases are developed and then pursued by the Ministry of Interior and they take a lead in this matter when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs receives such information and is asked to perform any action, we will undertake those responsibilities.
Question: If you can sort of give us a summary of what are some of Pakistan’s priorities and key points that Pakistan would like to discuss with the Americans and see some kind of action or support from the American in these meetings? (Sara Zaman, VOA)
Answer: First, as I said, there are three incoming visits. Conversations in the first two visits like of Special Representative Tom West will focus on Afghanistan and Afghanistan related issues. With the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State of course our agenda would be broader. This will be an opportunity for both sides to exchange views in Afghanistan, to share our respective perspectives on developments which are taking place, including with respect to resettlement of Afghan nationals to the United States. And, more broadly, we will be discussing with the United States, how the two countries can work together to develop confidence, enhance dialogue, and identify new areas of cooperation as Pakistan is committed to further advance and consolidate its dialogue with the United States.
Question: Ma’am as Torkham border was closed and “Welcome to Pakistan” sign board was placed. It was being said that this was the reason of closure of the border. Was this the reason or is there any other reason? Similarly, Afghan Taliban’s made a statement that the flag of Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan would be placed at Attock. And what are the expectations of Pakistan from Afghan government regarding TTP? And is there something which can be done by Afghan government for Pakistan regarding this? (Allah Noor, Mashriq TV)
Supplementary Question: There were reports recently in the media that in the back channel talks, when Pakistan raised the issue of TTP Kabul asked Pakistan to consider the possibility of recognition of the Taliban government so that they can formally move ahead, to alleviate Pakistan’s concern vis-a-vis TTP and other issues. Your comments please. (Muhammad Jaleel Akhtar, VOA Urdu)
Answer: First, regarding Allah Noor’s question about the incident at the border. I would like to underline that at the border, sometimes misunderstandings arise between border officials and it is important that the channels of communication are functional and both sides are ready to resolve those issues and overcome those misunderstandings. So, yesterday’s case, is one such case after which we believe the two sides have found a way to move forward and we will continue to discuss the issues which have arisen at higher forums. So, that these misunderstandings do not perpetuate or arise further.
With regards to any statements that come from Afghan officials, claiming any part of Pakistan’s territory, we reject such statements and we believe those statements are not based in reality. And it is important that the Afghan authorities make efforts to fully consolidate peace in Afghanistan, provide economic relief to the people of Afghanistan and to take immediate effective action against terrorist entities which are based inside Afghanistan, instead of making statements against Pakistan.
With regards to Mr. Jaleel’s, I would not like to engage in a discussion on privileged conversations between two sides on important matters, including with regards to recognition. I can only say what I just said. It is critical that Afghanistan takes concrete effective action against terrorist hideouts and sanctuaries inside Afghanistan that pose a threat to Pakistan. It is also critical that the action that Afghan authorities take against TTP is robust and demonstrated by concrete results.
Question: As you just said that yesterday the incident which occurred at Torkham border was a misunderstanding. Torkham border was closed for four times in previous three months. Is it always a misunderstanding? What is the reason of this misunderstanding? Or who is responsible for this? Who closes the border every time due to this misunderstanding? (Siyar Ali Shah, Khyber News)
Answer: I think we cannot put all such closures in one category. You would recall a couple of months ago, there was a closure of the border after there was an incident on the border where Afghan forces opened fire against our border security officials. There are times when Pakistan has been constrained to take such steps to control the movement of terrorists or to control rampant smuggling. It is not a desire of Pakistan to close the border. We would like to facilitate our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan and hope that this border between Pakistan and Afghanistan becomes a border of peace and amity. And for that it is critical that both sides make equal efforts to ensure that peace prevails along the border.
Question: According to reports, considering the recent situation in IIOJK, Modi’s government wants to delay the elections there. What are your comments on this? (Khawaja Nayyar Iqbal, Media Today)
Answer: As I said in my opening statement, we do not accept India’s hegemony on Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Any mechanism or process, apart from what is prescribed in the UN Security Council resolutions of holding a plebiscite, is unacceptable to Pakistan.
Question: Any updates regarding Malik Yasin’s case? Secondly, it has being reported that almost 4 to 4.5 lac Afghans are going back. What is the number of registered Afghanis in Pakistan? (Shahzad Hassan Mirza, Royal News)
Answer: I think the answer to your second question is available with Ministry of Interior. With regards to your question about Mr. Yasin Malik, the plea seeking a death penalty for Mr. Yasin Malik reflects the Indian authorities desire to physically eliminate a potent voice of the Kashmiri people. There are news reports that the case has been adjourned for 14th of February. It is very unfortunate that Mr. Yasin Malik and a large number of Kashmiri leaders, activists and human rights defenders have been incarcerated in IIOJK and jails across India. It is urgent that all charges against Mr. Yasin Malik may be dropped, and all political prisoners including Mr. Yasin Malik may be released.