[This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated]
Bismillah Ir Rehman Nir Rahim,
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Media,
Welcome to the Foreign Office.
We begin today’s briefing with a summary of events in the foreign policy domain since our last interaction.
Today is the 158th day of the humanitarian nightmare in IOJ&K characterized by a continued military lockdown and complete communications blackout. Over 8 million people in the IOJ&K remain cut-off from the world.
On 5 January, Pakistan commemorated the Day of the Right to Self-Determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. This day reminds us of the Resolution adopted by the United Nations Commission on India and Pakistan (UNCIP) on 5 January 1949, which guarantees a free and fair plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir.
To mark this occasion, the President of Pakistan in his special message reaffirmed that Pakistan will continue to extend moral, political and diplomatic support to the just cause of the people of Jammu and Kashmir until the realization of the right to self-determination of the Kashmiri people in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions.
Prime Minister Imran Khan in his message on this occasion, reminded the international community that since 5th August 2019, India has unleashed a new reign of terror in IOJ&K, locking the region down and violating the human rights of innocent Kashmiri men, women, children and the elderly with impunity. Kashmiri people have been deprived of their right to life, food, health, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and, above all, the right to self-determination.
Foreign Minister Qureshi reiterated that the United Nations, especially the Security Council, bear responsibility to ensure the fulfillment of the promise made to grant the right of self-determination to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. India’s illegal and unilateral actions of 5 August 2019 aimed at altering the disputed status of IOJ&K and its demography have been widely rejected.
We have also seen reports that India is arranging a visit of the envoys of few nations to Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IOJ&K). It is our hope that the visit would take place without any restrictions by the Indian Government; and that the envoys will have access to all the areas; more importantly that they will be allowed to meet the senior Hurriyat leadership and freely interact with the Kashmiris and the civil society in an atmosphere free from intimidation and coercion. To enable these Envoys to assess the situation, following the illegal actions of August 05 in what has come to be known all over the world as “largest open-air prison” on earth.
We believe that India would do well to end the continuing incarceration of the Kashmiri leaders, including the Hurriyat leadership and allow the visit of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and OIC Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) as well as its own political leaders, the international human rights and civil society organizations and journalists to visit the area and see for themselves the situation on ground.
We also reject India’s propaganda on the treatment of minorities in Pakistan. The BJP government’s mischievous portrayal of an isolated law and order incident in Peshawar and Nankana Sahib as alleged ‘persecution’ of minorities is part of its smear campaign against Pakistan and a desperate attempt to divert attention from the ongoing state terrorism in IOJ&K as well as the ongoing systematic discrimination against minorities across India.
Allow me to reiterate that Pakistan attaches the highest respect and sanctity to all places of worship, including those belonging to the Sikh religion. We categorically reject Indian allegations regarding any “attack” and “desecration” at the Gurdwara Nankana Sahib. The Sikh community, all over the world, is aware of the importance that the Government of Prime Minister Imran Khan attaches to the minorities and their places of worship. The historic opening of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor on 9 November 2019 is a clear manifestation of the Prime Minister’s vision in this regard.
In this context, the Indian Charge d’Affaires was summoned by Director General (South Asia & SAARC) on 7 January to convey Pakistan’s strong rejection of baseless and fabricated allegations concerning the Sikh community.
In the context of the evolving situation in the Middle East, our leadership has already expressed its deep concern. These developments in our view, could seriously threaten peace and stability in the region. Pakistan has emphasized the importance of restraint and diffusion of tensions. The Prime Minister has stressed that war is in no one’s interest. He also made it clear that Pakistan would not be part of any conflict in the region but will be a partner for peace and would continue to make efforts for diffusion of tensions, prevention of conflict and preservation of peace.
Towards this objective, Foreign Minister Qureshi has held wide ranging discussions with his counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, UAE, Kuwait and several other important interlocutors. In these discussions, the Foreign Minister reaffirmed that Pakistan would neither let its soil be used against any other State nor become part of any regional conflict. Pakistan would continue to play a role in preventing further escalation and maintaining regional peace and stability. I would also like to draw your attention to the comprehensive policy statement made by the Foreign Minister in the Senate and the National Assembly on this matter.
We are also mindful of the safety of our nationals in Iraq and those planning to visit Iraq, have been advised to remain cautious at this point. We have instructed our Mission in Baghdad to remain alert and available to our nationals in Iraq.
I would also like to extend our deepest condolences to the families of all the passengers of the Ukraine airliner that crashed in Tehran. The government and the people of Pakistan offer their profound sympathies and condolences to the Governments and people of Ukraine, Iran, Canada, Sweden, Afghanistan, Germany and the UK, whose nationals were on board this flight.
Question: Pakistan remains silent on the current volatile situation in the region. I was in Iran for three days and had interviewed Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who stated that he talked to Pakistan and expects that Pakistan will support Iran. What sort of support Pakistan extends to Iran? (Mr. Zahid Farooq, Daily Metro Watch)
Supplementary Question Does Pakistan officially condemn the assassination of Iranian General Qasim Soleimani? (Anwar Abbas, Boll News)
Supplementary Question When will Foreign Minister Qureshi visit Iran? What is the level of cooperation between the two countries in the backdrop of the current tense environment in the region? (Sheraz Asghar, IRNA)
Answer: I beg to differ with your statement that there is a silence on Pakistan’s part on the ongoing situation in the region. I want to draw your attention to our press release issued on 3rd January, in which we expressed our deep concern on the situation in the region.
I would also like to draw your attention to our press release issued on 5th January after the Foreign Minister held telephonic conversations with his several counterparts in the region.
I would also like to draw your attention to the statement made by the Prime Minister yesterday in which in no uncertain terms he said Pakistan has consistently emphasized the importance of the restraint and diffusion of tension. We urge that there should be no escalation from any side. All sides must exercise maximum restraint. War is in no one’s interest. Pakistan will not be a party to any conflict in the region. Pakistan will always be a partner for peace and will continue its efforts for prevention of conflict and preservation of peace.
Pakistan has reached out to as many of our partners as possible contributing towards our collective objective of peace in the region. There are no two opinions that this region cannot afford any other conflict. The collective wisdom demands that all concerned parties should play their role in this regard. Certainly, Pakistan is playing its role for peace and stability in the region.
As for your question regarding Foreign Minister’s visit to Iran, it is on the cards. We are working on it. As you aware that the Prime Minister has also spoken in this regard and advised the Foreign Minister to undertake visits in the region.
Question: President Trump in his policy statement yesterday declared Iran as a sponsor of terrorism in the region. How does Pakistan see it?
Secondly, it was said in the Parliament yesterday that General Soleimani had some military training in Pakistan. Would you please comment on it? (Fida Hussain, Radio News)
Answer: We heard the comprehensive statement of President Trump last night. We believe that there is an indication that peace must be given a chance and de-escalation of tensions should take place. Pakistan has already stated that any attempt to reduce tensions will be welcomed.
Question: There are reports that Prime Minister Imran Khan is planning a visit to Malaysia. Would you please confirm and share the details? (Saima Shabbir, Arab News)
Answer: We remain closely engaged with Malaysia, which is a brotherly country and an important partner. The Prime Minister’s visit to Malaysia is envisaged in the near future. Further details will be shared in due course.
Question: European Union Ambassadors based in Islamabad have refused to visit Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir on the invitation of the Indian Government, saying the visit would be controlled and partisan. What is your comment on it?
Secondly, unlike past Pakistan has adopted an independent policy in the current tense environment in the region. In this regard, Foreign Minister is also expected to undertake a peace mission in the region. What are your expectations? (C.R. Shamsi, Editor Weekly Pakistan)
Answer: I have already said in my opening statement that there are reports that India is arranging a visit of envoys of few nations to Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir. We hope that the visit would take place without any restriction by the Indian Government so that envoys would have access to all areas. They may also be allowed to freely interact with Hurriyat leadership and Kashmiri people in an atmosphere free from intimidation and coercion. How will the visit take place, needs to be seen. We are also keen to know the outcome.
Regarding your second question, I have already dealt with it in detail.
Question: In the backdrop of firing missiles by Iran and President Trump’s statement, what is Pakistan’s assessment, whether situation would lead towards war or as you rightly said that there was an indication of peace in President Trump’s statement? If there is an indication of peace, do you think there is a need of Foreign Minister’s visit to the region? (Shaukat Piracha, Aap News)
Answer: As I said earlier that any effort by parties concerned to defuse the tension and work towards restoring peace in the region is something that Pakistan welcomes. We have seen the statement of President Trump and we are evaluating it. But as I said de-escalation is something that Pakistan welcomes and contributes in this regard. There is always a room for engagement and interaction within the region and beyond. The Foreign Minister’s visit will be aimed towards this.
Question: Saudi Foreign Minister visited the United States and held meeting with the President Trump. During the visit, he also delivered a message of Saudi King to President Trump, requesting the United States not to go for a war. How do you see this message of Saudi King in the context of current situation in the region? (Mr. Mateen Haider, G News)
Answer: I have already responded that any attempt by any of the parties concerned to de-escalate is welcomed by Pakistan.
Question: It is observed that there is no proper coordination between Foreign Office and other stakeholders. We have seen that recently in case of KL Summit and Taliban’s delegation visit to Pakistan caused embarrassment to the Foreign Office. It is said that Foreign Secretary is not playing his due role. (Syed Aoon Shirazi, Shach TV)
Answer: I have to make a strong statement on this. The Foreign Secretary has spent the last three decades of his life working for Pakistan. He is one of the ablest, well trained and acclaimed diplomats of Foreign Service of Pakistan. Since he has taken charge, he has led this Ministry in one of the most challenging times for Pakistan’s foreign policy in a very professional manner. As for your reference to media stories those are often based on speculation and lack of evidence.
Question: US Secretary of State and Secretary Defence have made telephone calls to Chief of Army Staff following the evolving situation in Middle East. What sort of help US needs from Pakistan? (Ms. Kausar Lodhi, Prime News)
Supplementary Question We have seen that Secretary Pompeo has called Chief of Army Staff instead of his Pakistani counterpart. Do you think that the US has by passed Foreign Office?
Do you think that the Afghan peace process can be affected due to increasing tension in the Middle East? (Rashida, AbbTak News)
Supplementary Question Secretary Defence called the Army Chief instead of Defence Minister that indicates that the Army Chief is on the driving seat, whereas the Prime Minister and the Foreign Office is not seen anywhere? Your comments? (Aijaz Ahmed, GNN)
Supplementary Question Would you please clarify what are the protocols in such situation when instead of counterparts other members are contacted? (Asad Hashmi, Al-Jazeera)
Answer: US and Pakistan have long standing relations. Our bilateral relations cover the entire gamut of our interaction across all fields that include political, military, economic, development, social, academic. The contacts and exchanges between the leaderships of the two countries take place at multiple levels. There is not one channel, but there are multiple channels of interaction between our leaders. The focus in all these multiple interactions remains on building a stronger relationship and advancing cooperation in areas of mutual interest. All these questions should be seen in the paradigm of what I said.
Regarding Afghan peace process, you have seen our press release of 5th January, where the Foreign Minister in his extensive outreach with his counterparts expressed hope that the that the progress made in the Afghan peace process should be preserved and further advanced. So we are very mindful of this. At every interaction by the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and the military leadership we have underscored that the peace process in Afghanistan should not be affected.
Question: Recently, there was a notification that the name of Azad Kashmir services was to be changed to Jammu & Kashmir Administrative services. Prime Minister AJK also made a statement that he is last Prime Minister in this set up. Are the preparations to give the status of province to AJK complete? Secondly what is the status of letter written by Syed Ali Gillani. (Raziq Bhatti, Kashmir Express)
Answer: Regarding notification I will check and revert.
Regarding letter by Syed Ali Shah Gillani, I want to state that Syed Ali Gillani is the most respectable figure of the Kashmiri freedom struggle. His sacrifices and contributions are well known and deeply valued. His statements on Jammu and Kashmir dispute are accorded very serious attention. The response has been conveyed to him, in line with Pakistan’s historical and steadfast support and commitment to the Jammu and Kashmir cause.
Question: The Prime Minister has tasked the Foreign Minister and the Army Chief to make efforts for the peace process. Will the Army Chief also visit the regional countries?
Secondly, the American President has announced further sanctions on Iran. If the USA takes further measures with the support of NATO countries, will Pakistan be a part of any such move or remain independent? (Abbas Jaffar Daily District News)
Answer: You are referring to the Prime Minister’s tweet. I have discussed, in my opening remarks that the Foreign Minister has been in contact with his counterparts from the region and beyond. He has also been tasked by the Prime Minister to undertake visits as part of Pakistan’s efforts to promote peace. The Foreign Minister is actively engaged in this process.
Regarding your question on the Chief of Army Staff’s visit plans, I will refer you to the Ministry of Defence for details on that.
Regarding your second question, on sanctions indicated by the President of United States in his speech last night, I would state that we are awaiting further details on that as it was mentioned in the course of his speech. We will update you on our position, as and when the situation develops
Question: What has been the response of the regional countries regarding the contacts made by the Foreign Minister with his counterparts on the regional situation?
Secondly, the United States’ State Department announced resumption of IMET for Pakistan and as per my knowledge Pakistan will receive $2 billion and 66 army officers will go to the United States for training purposes. Can you please verify these numbers? (Waqas Ahmed Capital TV)
Answer: I have already discussed the outreach of the Foreign Minister with his counterparts of the region. There is a collective wisdom and understanding that this region cannot afford another conflict. Therefore, it is in the interest of everyone to work towards de-escalation and diffusion of tensions.
Regarding your second question, US decision to revive IMET for Pakistan is one more step in the right direction and reflective of our growing bilateral relationship. We believe it is important to continue to work for a broad-based and enduring relationship, based on mutual trust and mutual respect. Our two sides remain engaged in this context. However, since it is a military training and education program, the exact figures can be provided to you by the Ministry of Defence.
Question: Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad was expected to visit Pakistan today; can you please share details on his visit? (Khalid Mehmood Express)
Answer: We are aware of an intended visit to the region by Amb. Khalilzad. We do not have exact confirmation of the dates. We will share them once we have them.
Question: The Foreign Minister announced that a task force was formed at the Foreign Office on the current regional tensions. Can you please update us on the progress and performance of the task force? (M. Yaqoob Alvi)
Answer: Yes, the Foreign Minister announced this during his address to the Parliament. He has established this task force at the Foreign Office to monitor the situation in the Middle East, analyze the situation and to provide its recommendations to the leadership. Since it is a fluid situation and requires constant monitoring, this task force has been working round the clock since the past few days. It is in contact with all our Missions in the region. This consultative process will continue.
Question: Two questions, ma’am. Firstly, a follow-up question from the last week regarding the release of 2106 Pakistani prisoners from the Saudi jails. Secondly, the Foreign Minister, in his address to the Senate stated that he feared some ‘high-profile’ assassinations, in the region, in the aftermath of Gen. Soleimani’s assassination. Was this statement based on intelligence reports or just a statement? (Anas Malick WION)
Answer: We contacted our Missions in Saudi Arabia and were informed that they are in contact with the Saudi authorities. This is a highly important matter for us and the discussions are ongoing.
Regarding your second question, this has been stated on a number of occasions already and indeed the Foreign Minister said this on the floor of the House that the recent developments since 3rd January and the assassination of Gen. Soleimani have brought tensions that were already simmering in the region, to another level. A dangerous level. There has been effort by Pakistan to bring the tensions down because when the situation is fluid and tempers are high, things can get very wrong. The outreach initiated by our leadership, is towards that goal.
Question: How important is Pakistan’s role for establishing durable peace in the region? (Khawaja Nayyer Media Today)
Supplementary Question: Has Iran or Saudi Arabia contacted Pakistan to mediate between the countries, in light of the tense situation prevailing in the region? (Tariq Mehmood, Hum News)
Answer: Pakistan’s geography, history and strong relationships with all the countries in the region make Pakistan a very important player in the current situation, especially in the light of the recent developments in the Middle East. Based on these considerations, it is very important for Pakistan to contribute towards the goal of ensuring peace and security in the region.
Regarding the second question, this is an initiative that Pakistan has taken because we understand our responsibility as a member of the international community and as an important country in this region. We have brotherly and historic relations with Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and all other countries in the region. And based on these relations, I want to remind you that the Prime Minister has taken visits to these countries earlier also, in an effort to bring down the tensions in the region. This is another effort and attempt, in this context.
Question: The Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has announced that Iran will not abide by the Nuclear Agreement and will enrich uranium. On the other hand, President Trump has said that Iran will not be allowed to enrich uranium. What is Pakistan’s stance on this issue? (Zarghoon Shah Geo News)
Answer: Pakistan has a principled position on Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which you are referring to. Pakistan has always maintained that JCPOA the represents a good example of a negotiated settlement of complex issues through dialogue and diplomacy. We hope that all parties to the JCPOA will be able to take effective measures to resolve all outstanding issues through consultations within the framework provided in the Agreement.
Question: Regarding the current situation in the Middle East, I would like to ask that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted that if situation deteriorates and if America uses any other country’s soil to attack Iran, then they will directly attack that country as well. Secondly, he stated that Iran might attack Israel if situation exacerbates further. What is Pakistan’s stance on this?(Shamim Mehmood Online News Network)
Answer: I have spoken comprehensively regarding the tensions in the Middle East and the fluidity of the situation, and I would like you to please refer to those statements.
Question: We are aware of decades-long conflict and tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia but the current situation is entirely different. Our Prime Minister has tweeted that the Foreign Minister will be undertaking visits to Iran, Saudi Arabia and USA. Do you think that Saudi Arabia has some role in the current conflict that has started after assassination of Gen. Qassem Soleimani on 3rd January? (Essa Naqvi Indus News)
Answer: I would like to remind you that the Foreign Minister has spoken to many of his counterparts. Being a part of the region, it makes all of us interested and eager to see the diffusion of tensions and de-escalation. The Foreign Minister has reached out to many of his counterparts. So, the visit of these three countries is a part of that ongoing outreach.
Question: Foreign Minister said on the floor of the house that the Turkish President is expected to visit next month. Can you please confirm and share details regarding the schedule and agenda of the visit? (Sib Kaifee Arab News)
Answer: I believe I spoke about this in my last briefing as well. The Turkish President is scheduled to visit Pakistan in February. The exact dates of the visit are being worked out by both the sides and will be shared in due course.