[This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated]
Bismillah Ir Rehman Nir Rahim,
It has been 235 days since the lockdown of the people in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Over 8 million people continue to be deprived of their fundamental freedoms; their right to liberty, health, education and food. Pakistan remains deeply concerned over the continued communication blackout in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir which is depriving its people of critical information and the supply of essential medical items needed to effectively contain the Covid-19 pandemic. We call upon the Government of India to end the communication blackout in IOJK and allow medical teams and supplies to reach the Kashmiri people.
In the wake of the rising threat of COVID-19, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has established the Crisis Management Unit (CMU) to monitor the overall evolving situation and coordinate with our Missions abroad to facilitate and repatriate Pakistani nationals across the world. The CMU is working 24/7 with a dedicated team. Our Missions have also designated focal persons and established 24/7 hotlines for the assistance of our Diaspora across the globe. Details of these hotlines and focal persons in each Mission abroad are available on our website under the Crisis Management Unit tab.
As per the instructions of the Government, all Pakistan Missions abroad are actively engaged in reaching out to our overseas communities and to assist Pakistani passengers stranded in different parts of the world on a priority basis.
In the past few days, the Government has successfully facilitated the repatriation of Pakistani nationals who were visiting Saudi Arabia for Umrah or for other purposes through special flights; The Government also facilitated the return of Pakistani passengers stranded at Dubai airport on 23 March. Similarly, from Qatar, the Government brought back home Pakistanis stranded at Doha airport. Besides this, Pakistanis at Kuala Lumpur airport were assisted to exit airport premises and were accommodated at a nearby hotel and their visas were extended by the Malaysian authorities. From Rome Airport, our nationals who could not board the Qatar airways flight due to non-availability of the Coronavirus test were facilitated by our Embassy to return to their homes in different cities of Italy.
I would like to underscore that it is the utmost endeavor of the Government and of our Missions abroad to ensure the safety and early return of our nationals stranded in different parts of the world. Our Missions are actively coordinating with local authorities towards this end and are helping our nationals with food, medicines, accommodation and other necessities wherever needed.
In the last few days, the Foreign Minister engaged with many of his counterparts in the region and beyond, including the Foreign Ministers of Bangladesh, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Turkey, Germany, Spain and France. In his discussions, the Foreign Minister expressed deep concern at the loss of precious lives by the Covid-19 outbreak in many parts of the world where the situation is grave. He also exchanged views on best ways to control the spread of the coronavirus as well as ways to enhance cooperation to combat the threat.
Reaffirming abiding commitment to the SAARC process in his conversation with the Foreign Ministers from the SAARC region, the Foreign Minister reiterated Pakistan’s readiness to host the SAARC Health Ministers’ Conference. Given the prevailing situation, Pakistan has proposed a video conference at an early date to coordinate efforts to stem the pandemic in the region.
In his conversation with his counterparts from France and Spain, the Foreign Minister raised the issue of lifting of unilateral sanctions against Iran given the challenge that the Iranian nation is facing due to Covid-19 as well as the need for debt restructuring and economic assistance for developing countries.
Your questions have been received and will be responded to shortly and uploaded onto our website.
Thank you very much.
Question: Could you please comment on the current tension between the Afghan government and the US as the State Department has issued a harsh statement about Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah and announced a cut of $1 Billion? (Tahir Khan, NNI news Agency)
Supplementary Question: How does Pakistan view the lack of progress on the prisoner issue in Afghanistan as controversy over the release of Taliban prisoners has already delayed the intra-Afghan dialogue scheduled for March 10? What is your comment? (Tahir Khan, NNI news Agency)
Supplementary Question: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced US $1 Billion decline in Afghan aid and more cut of the same amount in 2021. Do you not think this will hamper peace efforts and development of Afghanistan? (Faisal Raza Khan, 92 News)
Supplementary Question: Secondly, where do you see US-Taliban Peace Accord and Afghan peace, particularly talk between Afghan factions after Ghani-Abdullah power sharing rivalry? (Faisal Raza Khan, 92 News)
Supplementary Question: Does Pakistan support an inclusive government in Afghanistan? What is your comment? (Tahir Khan, NNI news Agency)
Answer: As you are aware, Pakistan had welcomed the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement signed in Doha on 29 February. We consider it a historic opportunity for Afghans to work towards lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan. It is a matter of concern that some delays have occurred in the implementation of the peace agreement. However, we are hopeful that all Afghan groups would seize this opportunity and work towards implementation of the peace agreement in letter and spirit.
Question: Can you please tell us about the level of cooperation between Iran and Pakistan on coronavirus outbreak and as you know that Iran is facing some problems due to economic sanctions so is there any plan by the Pakistani government to help Iran? (Afzal Reza, Iranian official News Agency)
Supplementary Question: A large number of pilgrims from Iran have been reaching Pakistan for the past few weeks. A sizeable number of these pilgrims were also infected with Coronavirus. Public opinion in Pakistan is also inclined towards believing that these pilgrims have been the primary source of infections in Pakistan. My question is, how many Pakistani pilgrims are still there in Iran, who will be arriving in Pakistan in the coming two to three weeks? (Ishtiaq Ahmed News One TV Islamabad)
Supplementary Question: Soon after the Pak-Iran border was sealed in the wake of outbreak on Feb 26, 2020, did the Balochistan Government contact federal government with a plea to request Iranian Government to send Pakistani pilgrims towards Taftan only after proper screening, medical check-up and details of their current health status? (Naimat Khan Correspondent of Arab News)
Supplementary Question: Did Foreign Ministry of Pakistan contact the Iranian government with request in regard to screening of the pilgrims? If, yes, then what was their response? Did Iranian side assure Pakistan of any help? Did they extend any help? (Naimat Khan Correspondent of Arab News)
Supplementary Question: Chief Minister Balochistan asked Foreign office to demand from Iran to screen Zairean before their return to Pakistan. Did Foreign Office take this up with Iranian Authorities and have they responded on this? (Saima Shabbir, Arab News Islamabad.)
Answer: The Government of Pakistan is in touch with the Iranian authorities on regular basis with regards to matters pertaining to Coronavirus. Close coordination is taking place between the two sides, both at the leadership and working level. Pakistan realizes the problems being faced by Iran in its fight against the virus due to economic sanctions. The Prime Minister has already expressed his concern and called for the lifting of sanctions against Iran to enable it to combat effectively this pandemic. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also spoke with his Iranian counterpart on 22 March. A read out in this context has already been issued. As regards movement of Pakistani Zaireen from Iran, we are closely coordinating with Iranian authorities to ensure that the movement takes place as per the SoPs prescribed by the Government. Every effort is being made to sort out issues, if any, through mutual coordination.
Question: As Pakistan allowed its devotee citizens from Iran to return back to country despite sealing of borders with neighbors, therefore can it also be expected that Pakistan will bring back its citizens particularly students from China, Turkey and European countries in coming days? (Nuaman Ishfaq Mughal, Daily Parliament Times)
Answer: Due to prevailing situation of Covid-19, the government is exploring best possible options for the safety and repatriation of our citizens in different parts of the world. Travel restrictions from Wuhan are reportedly being lifted from 8th April. This can pave the way for our nationals to make their further plans in light of the guidelines issued by the governments on both sides.
Question: Pakistan is trying to convince the world to lift US sanctions against Iran. Has Pakistan formally requested US through diplomatic channels to lift these sanctions? Is there any positive response from the US side? (Adeel Warraich, Special Correspondent, Dunya News Islamabad)
Supplementary Question: What are the outcomes of Pakistan’s efforts to end cruel economic sanctions against Iran, any positive gesture or response from US? (Faisal Raza Khan, 92 News)
Supplementary Question: Prime Minister Imran Khan appealed US president Trump regarding Iran sanctions. What are the updates? Is there any response? (Khawaja Hamza, Media Today)
Supplementary Question: Prime Minister Imran Khan appealed to US President Trump regarding Iran Sanctions. What are the updates? (Khwaja Nayyar Iqbal, Media Today)
Answer: Prime Minister has publicly appealed to the U.S. in his tweet, to lift sanctions from Iran on humanitarian grounds. The Prime Minister has also called for debt rescheduling and economic assistance for the developing countries. This was further underscored by the Foreign Minister in his recent telephonic conversations with his counterparts from France, Spain and Germany. This initiative has gathered traction in recent days, evidenced by the joint statement of IMF and World Bank calling for suspension of debt payments for poorer countries. An extraordinary G-20 meeting is also likely to take place to discuss the economic impact of Coronavirus pandemic on global economy and developing countries.
Question: How much aid and equipment Pakistan has received from China and USA for Covid-19 and is there any Chinese team that has arrived in Pakistan for assistance? (Shabbir Wahgra PTV World)
Answer: The U.S Government has announced $1 million in assistance for Pakistan in dealing with Covid-19 situation. The assistance is being disbursed in coordination with Health Ministry. Further details can be obtained from the relevant quarters.
China has helped Pakistan a great deal in our efforts to contain Coronavirus. A team of medical experts is expected to arrive soon from China to assist our doctors in battling the Coronavirus. The medical team will also bring medical equipment from China to strengthen our capacity.
China’s assistance to Pakistan to fight Coronavirus includes 12,000 test kits, 3,00,000 masks, 10,000 protective suits and four million US dollars to build a hospital. Xinjiang government has also provided 50,000 masks each to Islamabad Capital Territory as well as Sindh government. A considerable amount of donation from private sources from China is also arriving. Alibaba Foundation has donated 50,000 test kits and 5,00,000 face masks as well.
Question: Is there any country other than the China to help Pakistan in combating against Coronavirus? Any financial offer from friendly countries? (Khalid Mehmood, Express News)
Answer: The U.S Government has announced $1 million in assistance for Pakistan in dealing with Covid-19 situation. This assistance is being disbursed in coordination with Health Ministry. Furthermore, our Diaspora communities in different parts of the world have also been mobilized to assist their compatriots in Pakistan.
Question: After Covid-19 outbreak, any role Pakistan would play to bring GCC countries together and to end tensions among key players? (Faisal Raza Khan, 92 News)
Answer: The Prime Minister has always emphasized the importance of diffusion of tensions and political solutions to differences and disputes, including in the Middle East/Gulf Region. After the outbreak of Covid-19, we believe that the only way to pass through these extraordinary times is by standing together, leaving differences aside, and taking collective steps by the affected countries.
Question: As you are aware that Covid-19 has affected almost all the countries across the globe, however no information regarding the number of patients and infected persons in IOJ&K has been released to the world due to complete information black out. Pakistan had also called upon India to ease restrictions in IOJK in order to facilitate people affected from Covid-19. Has there been any response from the Indian side in this context? Would you please comment on it? (Ishtiaq Ahmed News One TV Islamabad)
Answer: Pakistan is persistently raising the issue of restrictions in IOJ&K at all relevant forums. Recently during the SAARC video conference, the issue of communication restrictions in IOJ&K in the wake of Coivd-19 was once again raised by Pakistan. The MoS for Health drew attention to the health emergency in IOJ&K in the context of Coronavirus and underscored the need for lifting of restrictions on communications and ensuring access to medical supplies. In making this call, Pakistan has not been alone. Indeed, numerous voices from within IOJ&K, India, and the world are echoing the same message. However, unfortunately, India contented it as ‘politicization’ of humanitarian issue which is both misleading and mischievous, as Pakistan believes that the collective endeavors of South Asian nations to fight common challenges should not be allowed to become victim of self-serving propaganda.
Question: Any contact is being made with Indian Foreign Minister by Foreign Minister as part of FM policy of reaching out to South Asia? Plus, what is the situation in IOJK vis-a-vis medical supplies to fight Coronavirus? (Mateen Haider GTV), (Naveed Akbar Aaj News)
Answer: Pakistan has consistently called upon India to lift the communications blackout in IOJ&K so that the full extent of the Covid -19 outbreak can be assessed. Recently during the SAARC video conference, the issue of communication restrictions in IOJ&K in the wake of Coivd-19 was once again raised by Pakistan. The MoS for Health drew attention to the health emergency in IOJ&K in the context of Coronavirus and underscored the need for lifting of restrictions on communications and ensuring access to medical supplies.
Question: Given the Coronavirus situation, Pakistan is calling for relaxation in debt return & so, and as per the FM Qureshi statement, a meeting in this regard is also to be held in Foreign Office today to discuss a possible resolution to be moved in UNGA. But Pakistan is not among 39-member heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC). Are we seeking an out of the box procedure with regard to the debts and also for Pakistan or just for the HIPC countries? (Ali Hussain, Business Recorder)
Answer: As you are aware, the Prime Minister had called for debt rescheduling and economic assistance for the developing countries. This was further underscored by the Foreign Minister in his recent telephonic conversations with his counterparts from France, Spain and Germany. This initiative has gathered traction in recent days, evidenced by the recent joint statement of IMF and World Bank calling for suspension of debt payments for poorer countries. An extraordinary G-20 meeting is also likely to take place to discuss the economic impact of Coronavirus pandemic on global economy and developing countries.