Pakistan provides maximum facilitation to the Sikh Yatris from all over the world for visiting their religious sites. Zahid Hafeez

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Transcript of the Press Briefing by Spokesperson on Thursday, 18 February, 2021

[This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated]

Assalaam-o-Alaikum and Welcome to the Weekly Press Briefing of the Foreign Office.

I wish to begin with the keynote address by Prime Minister Imran Khan at the Governing Council of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

In his address, the Prime Minister acknowledged the significant contribution made by the Fund to enhance agricultural production in the developing countries.

The Prime Minister highlighted that the world is facing multiple challenges in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and achieving the two key Sustainable Development Goals: “No Poverty” and “Zero Hunger”.

The Prime Minister emphasized the need for a common plan and strategy for global recovery, survival and prosperity.

To end poverty and hunger, the Prime Minster proposed a five-point agenda:

First, to invest in sustainable agriculture infrastructure.

Second, to ensure adequate and fair prices for agricultural and food products.

Third, to apply new agricultural technologies to enhance food production; improve seed quality; and ensure efficient usage of water and land;

Fourth, to adopt digital technologies in agriculture; and

Fifth, to re-think our patterns of food consumption and production.

The Prime Minister further proposed that a new strategy for sustainable food production and consumption should be considered and adopted at the Food Systems Summit next year.

The seventh edition of Pakistan Navy’s multinational maritime exercise ‘AMAN’-21, concluded on 16th February with a graceful International Fleet Review (IFR).

President of Pakistan, Dr. Arif Alvi was the Chief Guest at the occasion.

The President congratulated the Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral M Amjad Khan Niazi and Pakistan Navy for successfully hosting AMAN-21.

Reaffirming Pakistan’s resolve for promoting peace and security, the President thanked the participating regional and extra-regional navies for displaying their commitment to collaborative maritime security.

With the participation of 42 nations, including ships and aircrafts from China, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, US, and UK, AMAN-21 was yet another manifestation of Pakistan’s global engagement and abiding commitment and contribution to the promotion of international peace and security.

An International Maritime Conference was also held in Karachi on the sidelines of the AMAN-21.

Addressing the Conference, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi reaffirmed Pakistan’s abiding commitment to maritime peace and security.

He underscored the critical role of Blue Economy in promoting sustainable growth and development.

Foreign Minister Qureshi also underlined that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the development of Gwadar Port are game-changing projects that have further enhanced the geo-economic significance of Pakistan.

On the invitation of his Egyptian counterpart, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi is currently visiting the Arab Republic of Egypt.

During the visit, the Foreign Minister held detailed discussions with Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry on key issues of common interest, including the regional situation.

The Foreign Minister met with the Secretary General of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit at the Headquarters of the Organization in Cairo and discussed the issues of mutual interest in detail.

The Foreign Minister also called on the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and other dignitaries.

During his the meeting with the President, the Foreign Minister expressed Pakistan’s desire to further strengthen and diversify bilateral ties between the two brotherly countries.

Conveying warm greetings of Pakistan’s leadership to President Sisi, the Foreign Minister briefed him on the situation in Pakistan’s neighborhood, in particular Pakistan’s efforts to facilitate the Afghan Peace Process.

He also briefed the President on the ongoing situation in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) and the continuing human rights violations there.

Reciprocating the warm sentiments of the Pakistani leadership, President Al-Sisi expressed the hope that the visit of Foreign Minister Qureshi would pave the way for enhanced bilateral ties and dynamic multilateral cooperation.

In line with Pakistan’s desire to forge stronger ties with the Islamic world, as well as the government’s “Engage Africa” initiative, Pakistan accords high importance to its partnership with Egypt.

Head of Afghan Massoud Foundation, Mr. Ahmad Wali Massoud, along with his delegation, arrived in Islamabad yesterday.

During the visit, Mr. Ahmad Wali Massoud called on the Prime Minister and the Speaker National Assembly of Pakistan.

He is also scheduled to hold meetings with the Foreign Minister and other dignitaries.

In his meeting with Mr. Ahmad Wali Massoud, the Prime Minister reiterated his longstanding position that there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan and that a political solution is the only way forward.

The Prime Minister also underscored that all Afghan parties must work for reduction in violence leading to ceasefire and conveyed that Pakistan would support whatever the Afghans agree upon about the future of their country.

During his meetings, Mr. Ahmad Wali Massoud appreciated Pakistan’s critical role in facilitating the Afghan peace process.

The visit of Mr Ahmad Wali Massoud is part of Pakistan’s policy to reach out to political leadership in Afghanistan and deepen people-to-people linkages.

Pakistan remains committed to strengthening bilateral relations with Afghanistan and facilitating an inclusive, broad-based and comprehensive political settlement of the Afghan conflict through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.

Coming to the situation in Indian illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), amidst unprecedented military siege since 5th August 2019, India continues its efforts to mislead the world community.

As part of its propaganda, India has taken another group of New Delhi based diplomats on a ‘guided tour’ to IIOJK.

The fact that the people of IIOJK greeted the envoys with spontaneous and voluntary strike has evidently expressed the true feelings of the Kashmiri people against the illegal Indian occupation.

It may be recalled that the choreographers of last such visit to IIOJK had come under sharp international criticism for presenting retired soldiers as apple growers to the visiting envoys.

We believe that such guided tours are a smokescreen, aimed at diverting international attention from India’s egregious human rights violations in IIOJK and creating a false impression of ‘normalcy’.

The visit means nothing in the absence of access to all the areas and free interaction with the Kashmiri people and the civil society in an atmosphere free of intimidation.

Equally, meeting the senior Hurriyat leadership including those incarcerated on trumped-up charges would have enabled an objective assessment of the ground realities.

India must allow the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); the United Nations Observers; the OIC Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC); the international human rights and civil society organizations; and the international media to visit IIOJK and assess the situation on ground.

In its 2020 report on Muslim communities in non-OIC countries, the OIC General Secretariat has raised serious concerns on the treatment of Muslim population in India and IIOJK.

The report covers the anti-Muslim actions of the BJP-RSS regime: including the aftermath of India’s illegal actions of 5thAugust 2019 in IIOJK; the discriminatory citizenship laws and Delhi pogrom; and rise of cow vigilantism and anti-Muslim campaigns of the extremist Hindu groups.

The findings of the report are another reminder of the need for the world community to hold India accountable for continuing failure to meet its human rights obligations.

As part of Pakistan’s regular diplomatic outreach to keep the international community fully apprised of the developments relating to IIOJK and the region, Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood briefed the Heads of Diplomatic Missions in Islamabad.

The Foreign Secretary underscored that the international community must call upon India to stop violations of human rights and facilitate efforts for peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

Let me conclude by appreciating the Non-Resident Pakistanis (NRPs), for making the Government of Pakistan’s initiative of Roshan Digital Accounts a great success.

Roshan Digital Accounts are being offered by banks to provide digital banking solutions to millions of Non-Resident Pakistanis (NRPs), for the first time in Pakistan`s history.

Any NRP can now easily open a bank account in Pakistan from abroad digitally, with simplified requirements.

Over 87,000 accounts have been opened so far from 97 countries around the world.

The overseas Pakistanis have also sent $500 million to Pakistan in just five months through their Roshan Digital Accounts.

The overseas Pakistanis continue making the nation proud of their contribution to the national development efforts.

I thank you and am happy to take questions on these or other foreign policy related developments.

Question: India is prohibiting Sikh Yatris travelling to Pakistan for religious purpose. How do you comment on this?

Secondly, India keeps on claiming that Pakistan has been isolated internationally. In this regard, the recently concluded maritime exercises, AMAN-21 saw participation of 42 countries. Do you think this was a befitting response to India’s claim of isolating Pakistan? (Khwaja Nayyer Iqbal, Media Today)

Answer: Regarding your question on Sikh Yatris, Pakistan provides maximum facilitation to the Sikh Yatris from all over the world, including India, for visiting their religious sites in Pakistan.

In its historic Kartarpur Corridor initiative, Pakistan had opened the largest and the holiest Sikh shrine in Kartarpur Sahib to facilitate Sikh Yatris.

The Sikh as well as the international community, including the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who while visiting Kartarpur described it as “Corridor of Hope”, have immensely appreciated this landmark initiative of Pakistan.

The Sikh community remains particularly appreciative of the efforts made by Pakistan to complete the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor Project in record time and for the excellent arrangements made to facilitate the pilgrims.

We believe that India should also facilitate Sikh Yatris for visiting their religious sites in Pakistan.

Regarding AMAN-21 exercise, with the participation of 42 nations, including ships and aircrafts from China, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, US, and UK, AMAN-21 was yet another manifestation of Pakistan’s global engagement and abiding commitment and contribution to the promotion of international peace and security.

Contrary to the Indian propaganda, Pakistan enjoys friendly and cooperative relations with the comity of nations.

Question: What are the exact dates of Prime Minister’s visit to Sri Lanka? It is being reported that the address of Prime Minister Imran Khan to the Sri Lankan Parliament has been cancelled due to Covid-19. Could you kindly share details?

Secondly, reports have surfaced regarding irregularities in appointment of consular assistants in Pakistan Embassy, Kabul. Your comments please? (Naveed Siddqui, Dawn TV)

Answer: Pakistan and Sri Lanka enjoy close cooperative relations, which are deep-rooted in history. High-level exchanges from both sides are a hallmark of this friendly relationship.

The Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa had extended an invitation to Prime Minister Imran Khan to visit Sri Lanka, which was accepted by the later. The visit is likely to take place later this month.

Prime Minister Imran Khan will be the first Head of Government to visit Sri Lanka after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed office last year, which is reflective of the importance both countries attach to this important relationship.

The two sides are currently working on the elements of the programme of the Prime Minister’s visit, keeping in view the COVID-19 related health safety protocols. Further details of the Prime Minister’s visit will be shared in due course.

On your second question, I will revert to you.

Question: There are reports that Pakistan is participating in India-led initiative on Covid-19, with regards to the meeting of Health Secretaries. I think SAPM on Health is participating. Can you confirm?

Secondly, on 11th February 2021, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement, which said that the Foreign Minister held a virtual envoys conference with Pakistani envoys in European countries. The picture released on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs official Facebook page shows a number of Ambassadors in it. Along with them, an individual namely Ms. Selina Rashid can also be seen in the same frame. Can you please enlighten me that under what capacity was Ms. Rashid part of this meeting? (Anas Mallick, The Correspondent)

Answer: The workshop on “Exchange of Good Practices in tackling COVID Pandemic and the Way Forward” is being organized for SAARC member countries plus Mauritius and Seychelles in a virtual format today.

In line with its policy of enhanced regional and international cooperation in dealing with the pandemic, Pakistan is also participating in the said workshop and sharing its good practices with the regional countries.

It may be recalled that Pakistan had also hosted a conference of SAARC Health Ministers to enhance regional cooperation against COVID-19.

Due to effective policies and timely interventions by the Government, Pakistan did well, particularly during the first wave of the pandemic. Our handling of COVID-19 based on the “whole of government approach”, “smart-lockdowns” and the “maintenance of balance between lives and livelihoods” earned Pakistan global recognition.

Pakistan will be happy to inter alia share its best practices with the regional countries at the said workshop.

Regarding your second question, I will revert to you.

Question: Pakistan has announced a new liberal visa policy. Is it different from the one introduced last year and would India also be a part of this visa policy? (Nouman Ashfaq, Parliament Times)

Answer: In line with Prime Minister Imran Khan`s vision, Pakistan has introduced one of the most liberal visa policies with the facility of e-Visa to further promote trade, tourism and foreign investment.

New visa categories have also been introduced for ease of travel to Pakistan.

Question: Can you update us regarding the current status of the Afghan peace process, especially since we have the new U.S. Administration in power? (Khawaja Nayyar Iqbal, Media Today)

Answer: Pakistan has consistently maintained that there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. An Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process for an inclusive, broad-based and comprehensive political settlement is the only way forward for achieving lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Towards this end, Pakistan has been constructively engaged with all Afghan sides as well as the international stakeholders for facilitating the Afghan peace process. The international community has duly recognized Pakistan’s efforts in this regard.

Pakistan appreciates the progress made in the peace process during the last one year, particularly the developments, including signing of the U.S.-Taliban Agreement, start of the Intra-Afghan Negotiations and agreement on the rules and procedures.

We believe that the Intra-Afghan Negotiations have now advanced into an important phase where all the negotiating sides are required to show continued commitment and responsibility for moving forward towards reaching a comprehensive political settlement. It is important for Afghan to seize this historic opportunity.

Pakistan has also continued to reiterate its calls on all sides for taking measures for reduction in violence leading to ceasefire, which is linked to progress in the Intra-Afghan Negotiations.

Pakistan reiterates its abiding commitment to a peaceful, stable, sovereign, united and democratic Afghanistan.

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