Transcript of the Media Briefing by the Spokesperson Friday 21 July 2023

Islamabad, July 21, 2023 (PPI-OT): Assalam-o-Alaikum,

Thank you for joining us for the Weekly Briefing.

Foreign Minister of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba is on an official visit to Pakistan. This is the first visit by any Ukrainian Foreign Minister to Pakistan since the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries in 1993. The Ukraine Foreign Minister called on the Prime Minister and held in-depth talks with the Foreign Minister covering the entire range of bilateral relations, regional and global issues of mutual concern including the security situation in South Asia and the Eurasian region.

The two Foreign Ministers agreed to enhance mutually beneficial cooperation in trade, investment, higher education, agriculture, defence, and information technology for the mutual benefit of both countries. They agreed on the importance of regular dialogue and engagement and decided to hold meetings of various institutional mechanisms in due course. It was also agreed to deepen cultural exchanges and people-to-people contacts.

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari shared Pakistan’s concern at the prevailing situation in Ukraine and offered condolences on the loss of precious lives and immense human suffering. He expressed the hope that peace would prevail so that the people of Ukraine and Russia would enjoy peace dividends. He emphasized the importance of engagement and dialogue and peaceful resolution of disputes and Pakistan’s readiness to support peace initiatives which can bring about peace. He also expressed Pakistan’s support for the resumption of Black Sea Initiative on the basis of dialogue and consultation.

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has already briefed you on the Change Management Reforms, an initiative which he had launched upon joining as Foreign Minister. He stressed the need to embrace change and modernization in the Ministry so that it is agile, adaptable, and responsive to national and international realities. The Change Management Reform was initiated to revitalize the Ministry, addressing challenges like bureaucratic red-tape, internal inefficiencies, and outdated tools, with a focus on areas like internal communication, decision-making processes, and career development.

The Foreign Minister emphasized empowering the workforce, investing in their development, and creating a knowledge-based economy through the initiative, aiming to optimize consular services, improve conditions of service, and equip future diplomats with necessary skills.

The Minister of Digital Development and Transport of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Rashad Nabiyev, visited Islamabad from 17th to 19th July 2023. During the visit, he held meetings with Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunication, Syed Amin Ul Haque; Minister of Railways and Aviation, Khawaja Saad Rafique; Minister for Communications, Asad Mahmood; and, Minister of Maritime Affairs, Syed Faisal Ali Subzwari. During the visit, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed on Cooperation in the field of Information and Communication Technology and Technology Training Courses.

The Foreign Secretary, Dr Asad Majeed Khan, participated in the 30th Ministerial Meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Jakarta, where he presented Pakistan’s perspective on peace and security in South Asia and addressed the global challenges confronting us. The Foreign Secretary paid a courtesy call on Indonesian President Joko Widodo and held meetings with Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN and senior Indonesian officials. He also met with leaders of delegation of participating delegations. Foreign Secretary also witnessed the signing ceremony for the establishment of the Pakistan-Indonesia Business Council and addressed the prestigious think tank Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia (FPCI).

Pakistan’s Special Representative on Afghanistan, Ambassador Asif Durrani, is currently on a visit to Afghanistan from 19th to 21st July 2023. This is his first official visit to Afghanistan since assuming his responsibilities as Pakistan’s Special Representative on Afghanistan. Ambassador Asif Durrani met with Acting Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Abdul Kabir, the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Acting Minister for Commerce, Mr. Nooruddin Azizi, Acting Minister for Public Health, Dr. Qalandar Ibad and the Acting Minister for Higher Education, Sheikh Nida.

The wide-ranging discussions encompassed the entire gamut of bilateral relations. Ambassador Durrani reaffirmed Pakistan’s firm commitment to work closely with Afghanistan in promoting the mutually reinforcing goals of regional peace and security. Pakistan will continue to actively engage with the Interim Afghan Government on all issues of interest. Special Assistant to the U.S. President and Senior Director for South Asia at the National Security Council, Rear Admiral Eileen Laubacher, led a high-level delegation to Pakistan for a two-day visit. The delegation included members of the State Department, Department of Defence, and the White House.

On the 19th of July, she called on the Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to discuss issues of bilateral interest and to exchange views on the regional and global situation. Foreign Minister underlined that Pakistan had a long-standing and broad-based relationship with the United States that needed to be reinforced and widened. He stressed the need for increasing high-level contacts between the public representatives and officials of both sides. Ms. Laubacher reaffirmed commitment of the United States to solidify and reinforce its ties with Pakistan and expressed the hope that Pakistan and the United States would continue to work together to pursue common interests.

Pakistan condemns in the strongest possible terms repeated Islamophobic acts of act of public desecration of the Holy Quran in Sweden. Such disturbing acts are both legally and morally reprehensible. Permission to carry out premeditated and provocative acts of religious hatred cannot be justified under the guise of freedom of expression, opinion and protest. Pakistan calls for unequivocal condemnation of Islamophobic acts, isolate those who stoke religious hatred, build deterrence, and promote mutual respect, tolerance and harmony among religions, faiths and cultures. We expect Swedish authorities to take all measures necessary to stop such acts of hatred and incitement. Pakistan’s concerns about the latest incident are being conveyed to the Swedish authorities.

Today, I wish to speak to you about the founder and President of Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party, Mr. Shabbir Ahmad Shah, who completed six years of his continued detention this month. Incarcerated currently in New Delhi’s infamous Tihar Jail, Shabbir Shah has spent 36 years in prison for his political views. The total period of his confinement exceeds half of his life. He was rightly called by the ‘Amnesty International’ as a “Prisoner of Conscience”.

We urge India to put an end to the protracted imprisonment of Shabbir Shah and thousands of other Kashmiri political leaders and activists, whose “basic crime” is to demand their inalienable right to self-determination. These political prisoners must be released and acquitted of the fabricated charges against them.

I have an update on the Greek Boat Tragedy.

Two separate flights carrying the mortal remains of four Pakistanis who perished in the disaster have arrived in Lahore and Islamabad. The mortal remains have been handed over to the families in the districts of Gujarat and Gujranwala. Our Mission in Greece has made plans for the transportation of the remaining dead bodies within the next few days. We also remain in contact with the Greek authorities for identification of the victims.

Thanks!

Question: In the last 48 hours, there have been four incidents of terrorism in KPK. It is being said that Afghan soil is being used. Does Pakistan think that the Afghan Government has failed to control groups in Afghanistan? Will Pakistan conduct any joint operations with Afghanistan or can Pakistan itself counter such groups? (Khawaja Nayyar Iqbal, Media Today)

Supplementary Question: Recently, there was an attack in Zhob in which the involvement of Afghan nationals was reported. First weapons were used and now Afghan nationals are also involved in terrorist activities in Pakistan. Has Pakistan taken up this issue with Afghan authorities? On what level has this issue been taken up, and what is their response? (Siyar Ali Shah, Khyber News)

Supplementary Question: I think it has been said that Afghan soil has been used to attack inside Pakistan. Was this issue been taken up by Mr. Durrani who is there in Kabul? (Saima Shabbir, Arab News) Supplementary Question: Afghanistan’s soil is being reportedly used and their spokesperson, Zabiullah Mujahid stated that they have made the agreement with America, not with Pakistan or any other country, what is the stance of Pakistan on this? (Allah Noor, Mashriq TV)

Answer: Okay. The issue of terrorism, as I’ve said in the past, including in the last briefing, is an issue of serious concern to Pakistan. And Pakistan has raised this issue with the Afghan authorities on multiple occasions and at every important engagement that takes place between Pakistan and the Afghan interim authorities. We have discussed the threat of terrorism emanating from the Afghan soil. With regard to your question about the agenda of Ambassador Durrani, I spoke about it in my opening remarks. I do not have a readout of those meetings. But I must assure you that all aspects of mutual cooperation and concern are on the agenda.

Regarding the other questions, I advise you to speak to the Ministry of Interior to ascertain details about the law-and-order issues. ISPR has made a statement, the Ministry of Interior has made some remarks and the Minister for Defense has also spoken on it. I would invite you to refer to those statements to understand Pakistan’s viewpoint. Pakistan has and will continue to raise issues of our concern with the Afghan authorities. We believe that Afghanistan has given certain commitments, including in the trilateral agreement between Pakistan, Afghanistan and China. That outcome document, you have all seen, clearly states that Afghanistan would not allow any individual or group including the TTP and ETIM to pose a threat to regional security. So, we hope that Afghanistan will adhere to the commitments that it has made to Pakistan and the international community and ensure that its soil is not used for terrorism against Pakistan.

Question: Regarding the cypher, as this topic is being highlighted in the media these days, how serious is this matter in the eyes of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs? (Khawaja Nayyar Iqbal, Media Today)

Answer: I will not go into the political aspects of the case. But as you know, we have addressed this issue on several occasions from this podium, over the last year or so. The numerous statements of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are on the record and can be referred to in our transcripts. Our position is very clear. And this Ministry has nothing further to add.

Question: Firstly, the Spokesperson of the Afghan Taliban, or the Information Minister, Zabiullah Mujahid, while speaking to the BBC, has said that the recent statements from the Pakistani side are against the arrangement or the spirit of the arrangement that the two countries share on the matter of terrorism. Can you please elaborate on which arrangement is he referring to? Number two, the Afghan Foreign Ministry released on the visit of Ambassador Durrani and I quote, during the meeting, Durrani congratulated the Afghan interim government for achieving peace after four decades of struggle, unquote. Does the Pakistani state believe that what the Taliban did was a struggle because they were on the sanctions list for all those years? Did he really say that or do you want to negate it? (Anas Mallick, Capital TV)

Answer: On Afghanistan, you have referred to some statements made by the officials of the interim Afghan government. On the first statement, I do not know in what context that statement was made. So, I cannot comment on it. Regarding the second statement that you say has been released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That is their version of events. I would hesitate to comment at this stage because we are waiting to receive the readout of the meetings of the Special Envoy with the Afghan authorities during a visit which is still ongoing. I can only share our version after the visit and when we have details of what transpired in the meetings.

Question: With regard to the cypher saga, on which you’ve already made a statement. We recently saw that the Principal Secretary the Prime Minister has allegedly made a statement before a magistrate which says that the contents of what was made public were changed and were, quote, locally manufactured. Would you want to shed some light on that with regard to its contents, that’s because you previously said from this podium that Cypher does exist and it’s here, it’s safe. While it was said in the statement before a magistrate which came to light that it’s gone missing. Would you want to clarify that? (Anas Mallick, Capital TV)

Supplementary Question: I want to know that one Cypher is kept safe in the Foreign Office, and one Cypher was waved by Imran Khan and it’s misplaced. Which copy of the Cypher is real? (Anwar Abbas, Bol News)

Supplementary Question: I want to elaborate on Anas’s question. The content that is published is real, or the Cypher that is with the Foreign office has different content? (Ali Hussain, Business Recorder)

Supplementary Question: As the Cypher is being discussed in Pakistan’s politics nowadays, what is the reality about Cypher received and the one kept safe in Foreign Office? The former DGISPR confirmed the interference, and after that, a meeting of the National Security Committee was held in which the interference was confirmed. What is the reality of this? (Allah Noor, Mashriq TV)

Answer: I’ll answer the cypher questions together. First of all, regarding the document that you’re referring, you would know that the document in question is a classified document and there are laws of Pakistan, including the Official Secrets Act that do not permit me to make a statement about its contents, and about its location. I am not at liberty to speak on that. So, unfortunately on your question, I would not be able to give you an answer. The other aspects of these questions that you raised are political in nature. And you know the Foreign Office does not delve into political matters. We would not like to do that this time either.

Question: Recently, there was an ongoing tension between two tribes in Parachanar. From Afghanistan side, fences were removed. People from the other side of the fence and the TTP escalate this tension and create aggression against Pakistan by participating in these conflicts. Has this issue been taken up with the Afghan authorities? (Ali Hussain, Business Recorder)

Answer: As I said earlier, we discuss all issues of concern including the terrorist threat and terrorist acts that emanate from Afghanistan. This is an issue of national security and Pakistan’s sovereignty and, therefore, important for us. We will continue to discuss these issues with the Afghan authorities.

Question: Yesterday, Defence Minister Khwaja Asif told in an interview that we celebrated and welcomed the so-called victory of the Afghan Taliban by collapsing an elected government inside Afghanistan and imposing the government by gun by Afghan Taliban. What are the thoughts of the Foreign Office on this? The second question is regarding the recent visit of the COAS Asim Munir to Iran regarding security. Don’t you think that the civilian government has been limited with some sort of symbolic statements and the actual driver of the train is someone else on the foreign policy specifically? (Abdullah Momand, Dawn)

Answer: Regarding your first question relating to some interview that you say the Defence Minister has given. I have not seen his statement so I do not want to comment on something that I have not seen. But I can speak about our policy. Pakistan respects the sovereignty of Afghanistan and has always tried to maintain good relations with our Western neighbour, with whom we share cultural and historical ties. Pakistan has maintained relations with successive governments in Afghanistan including the Afghan Government prior to the 5th of August 2021. We will continue to engage with Afghanistan for the mutual benefit of both countries.

On Iran, I do not agree with the premise of your question. I think this is a misunderstanding of how foreign policy is conducted and how we develop relations with any country. Iran is a very close neighbour and friend of Pakistan, and we have extensive historical ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran. These relations are multifaceted; they are in the economic domain, political domain, connectivity, science and technology, education, culture, and defence and security as well. Relevant departments in Pakistan have developed strong links with their counterparts in Iran. The visit of the Chief of Army Staff was in the context of his meetings with the military leadership of Iran at the invitation of Iranian defence officials to discuss defence cooperation.

In Tehran, he met with the Chief of General Staff and military commanders, and discussed bilateral issues of concern in security and defence. I would also like to remind you that very recently, Foreign Secretary Dr. Asad Majeed Khan was in Iran and there he held extensive talks with Iranian authorities including his counterpart. He also called on the Foreign Minister. Those meetings were wide-ranging and included all aspects of our bilateral relations from political, economic, trade, connectivity, defence, science and technology and all aspects of relations between Pakistan and Iran. Our friendship with Iran is historical and has great potential for the future.

Question: My question is pertaining to the Pakistani prisoners in foreign countries. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister responding to a query in the National Assembly told the House that they are more than 12,000 Pakistani prisoners in different foreign countries. Most of them more than 3000 are in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. When Prince Mohammed, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia visited Pakistan during last government tenure, he promised to release Pakistani prisoners on humanitarian grounds. Could you give us any data how many since he promised to release them how many Pakistani prisoners detained in Saudi Arabia has been released under his promise? (Muhammad Jaleel Akhtar, VOA)

Answer: Your question is very specific and requires some data that I do not have with me at present but I can assure you that welfare of Pakistanis abroad including prisoners remain the responsibility and concern for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and our Missions abroad. Our Embassy in Riyadh and our Consulate in Jeddah closely follow the cases of Pakistani prisoners who may need consular access. They also remain in contact with the local authorities for providing relief to Pakistanis and for consular access to those who may be in prison.

Question: Four days ago, the Indian Minister for External Affairs gave a statement that Bilawal Bhutto Zardari talked about the internal matters of India, misusing the SCO platform. Secondly, the Indian Foreign Minister was asked, you have Indian-occupied Kashmir; what about Azad Kashmir? He replied that Azad Kashmir is, was and will be ours. What are your comments on this? (Saqib Ali, Daily Kashmir Times)

Answer: It is a fanciful imagination of India to consider that Azad Jammu and Kashmir is or will ever be a part of India. It has never been in history and will never ever be a part of India. They can keep on dreaming. Regarding Shanghai Cooperation (SCO) related aspects of your question, the world has seen how our Foreign Minister conducted himself with dignity and grace under pressure when he was in Goa. Despite the kind of statements that the host made, the overall environment that we saw, and the questions which were posed by the Indian media, the Foreign Minister’s remarks which very measured and basically presented Pakistan’s viewpoint to the Indian public which has been fed lies for years. Foreign Minister’s participation reflected our commitment to SCO, and we believe that SCO should not be politicized. Unfortunately, statements coming from the Indian side seem to be an effort to politicize an important organization such as SCO, after having politicized and then making SAARC dysfunctional, which we believe is an important organization for regional cooperation.

Question: Can you share some data with regards to flood data that India would have shared under the 1960 bilateral treaty that Pakistan and India continue to abide by with regards to sharing of floods water data. (Anas Mallick, Capital TV)

Answer: Actually as I said in our last briefing, such data is being shared between the water authorities of the two countries. The Ministry of Water Resources, is the central repository of such data including details about water inflows. You may seek details from them.

Question: Foreign Minister is the head of the committee which will discuss the important decision of National Cricket Team’s participation in the world cup. Any update? (Sohail Majeed, The Asian Telegraph)

Answer: No updates.

Question: So yesterday during the press stakeout, Foreign Minister of Pakistan Bilawal Bhutto Zardari told that Pakistan has sent humanitarian aid to the Ukrainian people in a sign of solidarity. So, the question is, what actually was sent in what amounts? The second one, does Pakistan want to make the same gesture for the Russian people suffering given this conflict, thank you. (Ruslan Bekniyazov, ITAR-TASS News)

Answer: I do not have the exact figures with me. These can be shared with you later. Pakistan provided humanitarian assistance to Ukraine last year. Both Russia and Ukraine are our friends. We have a close relationship with the Russian Federation. As you have seen in recent months, there has been a flurry of visits exchanged between Pakistan and the Russian Federation. Chairman Senate recently visited Russia where bilateral cooperation was discussed. Our engagement with Russia will continue. Furthermore, as our Foreign Minister has said we are concerned about the ongoing conflict, and about civilians on both sides. And we hope that this conflict will end soon on the basis of constructive dialogue and communication. Pakistan is ready to play its part in promoting that dialogue, which we believe is necessary for this conflict to end.

Question: This is the 10th year of the launching of the CPEC since President Xi Jinping visited in 2015. Is there any high profile visit, Prime Minister or President level, coming to Pakistan? Because in most of the celebrations and events that have been in Islamabad, the Chinese Charge d’ Affaires participated along with other Chinese officials. And when can we see the return of the Chinese Ambassador in Pakistan? (Jaleel Akhtar, VOA)

Answer: On your second question, I would say hopefully very soon. On your first question, the 10-year celebrations of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor are taking place not just in Pakistan but also in China. Our Ambassador in China has attended several events in Beijing. If you would recall, our Minister for Planning was recently in Beijing to attend the Joint Cooperation Committee meeting, which was in the context of the 10th anniversary of CPEC. With regard to important upcoming visits, I am not in a position to announce any visit at the moment. But as you know, Pakistan and China have robust relations and we maintain a healthy exchange of visits between the two countries. You will see during the course of the year that this exchange of visits will continue to take place.

Question: Would the Foreign Office like to comment on the role of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to get the IMF deal done? (Saima Shabbir, Arab News)

Answer: As I said in our last briefing as well, the Ministry of Finance is taking the lead on the IMF and other financial negotiations and has been in contact with the finance authorities of relevant countries including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other friendly countries of Pakistan. We are grateful to all our friends who have come to Pakistan’s assistance in this very difficult time. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are brotherly countries that have time after time stood by Pakistan in difficult circumstances and we appreciate their support to Pakistan.

For more information, contact:

Spokesman,

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Government of Pakistan

Tell: +92-51-9205494

Fax: +92-51-9204202

Cell: +92-336-5644459

Website: www.mofa.gov.pk

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