Press Briefing by Ayesha Farooqui Spokesperson on Thursday, 20 February, 2020

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

Bismillah Ir Rehman Nir Rahim,

Assalaam-o-Alaikum,

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Foreign Office Press Corps,

Welcome.

On the 200th day of the lockdown today, the people in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir continue to be deprived of their fundamental freedoms; their right to liberty, health, education and food as well as face continued restrictions on their freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion. Voices across the world increasingly call upon India to respect the fundamental freedoms and human rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The Chairperson of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Kashmir in the British Parliament Ms. Debbie Abrahms MP in her press remarks yesterday in this very room, had stated that “We are pro human rights. It is our obligation according to the UN Convention to speak up against another state experiencing human rights violations.”

The Vice Chair of the APPGK Mr. Imran Hossein MP had stated without any ambiguity, that Jammu and Kashmir dispute cannot be a bilateral issue and that human rights were always an international issue. Indian forces are using special powers like the Public Safety Act which is both draconian and illegal under international law.”

This week is also a painful reminder for all of us, of the tragedy of Samjhauta Express Train that occurred 13 years ago. The families and the loved ones of the 68 victims of that terrorist attack still await justice, 40 of these victims are Pakistani. The inordinate delay in justice for these victims, despite the availability of evidence, illustrates the unwillingness of the Indian government to hold the perpetrators to account for their barbaric action. Last year’s acquittal of the self-confessed mastermind of the attack, Swami Aseemanand, and other accused only reconfirms the culture of impunity that the perpetrators of terrorist attacks enjoy under the RSS/BJP-led, political dispensation in India.

Pakistan would like to remind the Indian government of its responsibility to take serious and credible steps to bring the perpetrators of the Samjhauta Express blasts to justice at the earliest and without further delay.

As you are all aware, the United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG) Mr. Antonio Guterres paid a three-day visit to Pakistan. The Secretary-General delivered a keynote address in the “International Conference on 40 Years of Hosting Afghan Refugees in Pakistan: A New Partnership for Solidarity” and held leadership level meetings as well as meeting with Parliamentarians from both Houses. The UNSG also interacted with students, children, media representatives, interfaith community leaders and Afghan refugees. He gave talks on key themes pertaining to sustainable development, climate change and peacekeeping.

On the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, SG Gutterres expressed his “deep concern at the increase in tensions since last year” and stressed that the solution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute lay in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the resolutions of the Security Council. He also stated that it is “of utmost importance to ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in IOJK.” The unequivocal statement by UNSG serves to put to rest any confusion in any quarter, pertaining to the international status of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute and the need to resolve it in accordance with the UNSC resolutions and the aspirations of the Kashmiri people.

The UNSG also appreciated Pakistan’s role in the Afghanistan Peace Process; he acknowledged Pakistan’s contribution to UN efforts in promotion and maintenance of international peace and security; recognized the extraordinary generosity and solidarity that the Pakistani people have shown by hosting millions of Afghan refugees for over 4 decades and stated that “one can only imagine how much worse the plight of Afghans would be, and how much more unstable the region might be, without Pakistan’s stellar example of hospitality and compassion.”

While visiting the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor, the UNSG called it “a welcome symbol of interfaith harmony, a unique experiment in cross-border ties, showing Pakistan’s commitment to peace.”

The key take aways from the recent visits of the UNSG and from that of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier is the growing acknowledgement by the international community of Pakistan’s contribution towards global peace and security; whether through its peacekeeping troops across the globe in UN Peacekeeping Missions, or through hosting of millions of displaced and dispossessed Afghan refugees or through its consistent stance for peaceful resolution of Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with UNSC Resolutions or through building the Kartarpur corridor offering a space for the Sikh community from all over the world to practice their religion in a spirit of harmony and peaceful co existence. Pakistan is now being recognized as a “Partner for Peace” in the world.

I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate Pakistan Kabaddi team for winning the world championship and also would like to extend our congratulations to our tennis star Mr. Aisam-Ul-Haq and his doubles partner Dominic Inglot for winning the doubles title at the New York Open on 16 February 2020.

Question: The US wants to station its troops but at the same time it wants to leave Afghanistan; and it is circulating in the news that the peace process might be successful in the coming days. What will be your comments on the current political situation in Afghanistan? (Khawaja Nayyer, Media Today)

Supplementary Question: As we know that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has been declared the winner by the Afghan Election Commission but there has been no official response from Pakistan as of yet. How does Pakistan see this development of election of Ashraf Ghani as President? (Shabbir Wahgra, PTV)

Supplementary Question: As you are aware that Ehsan ullah Ehsan escaped from Pakistan recently. Is there a link between his escape and the current Afghan peace process. Has he been released as a bargaining chip for anything that could have been discussed in the Afghan peace process? What is Pakistan’s position on this issue? (Naveed Siddique, Dawn News)

Answer: Pakistan is keen to see the peace process move forward and lead towards intra-Afghan dialogue. We have noted the announcement made by the Independent Afghan Election Commission of Afghanistan. We are monitoring the developments and will respond at an appropriate time.

Regarding the question about Ehsan ullah Ehsan, it is a speculative angle that has been given to the Afghan peace process and it does not merit a comment.

Question: There are many reports in the social media that hundreds of Pakistanis who were detained by the Saudi authorities have not been released and the Consulate General of Pakistan is not helping them. Your comments on this? (Zulqarnain, ARY News)

Answer: As it has been already shared with the media by our Consulate General in Jeddah, they have been in touch with relevant Saudi authorities. Every year, before the month of Ramzan, Saudi authorities routinely carry out exercise against the illegal expatriates and illegal workers especially in Makkah region. The assumption that it is a Pakistan-specific drive is completely incorrect. The campaign is not Pakistan-specific; Saudi authorities have arrested nationals of several countries as part of this drive.

The Consulate General of Pakistan remains in regular contact with the Saudi authorities in the matter and is also taking all possible measures, within local rules and regulations, to protect the interests of Pakistani community.

Propagation of baseless news through social media created unnecessary anxiety and unrest in the Pakistani community. Certain social media sections also sought to give it a misleading political angle. We stress again that it is in the interest of the deep-rooted Pakistan-Saudi brotherly relations that such baseless reporting and irresponsible twist are avoided at all costs. The fraternal Pakistan-Saudi Arabia relationship is of strategic importance and remains strong and dynamic.

Our fraternal ties with Saudi Arabia are of strategic importance and remain strong and dynamic.

Question: Senate has passed a unanimous resolution rejecting US President’s deal of the century on Israel Palestine conflict; however, the Foreign Office statement issued a few days earlier was a little different. How do you see this development? (Saima Shabbir, Arab News)

Answer: You have already referred to the official statement issued by Foreign Office a few weeks ago regarding the peace plan. Senate represents the people of Pakistan and we respect the resolutions that emerge from both houses of the Parliament.

Question: It’s a three part question. First, there are reports that fifteen fighters from the Zenabiyoon Brigade of Pakistani nationality have been killed while fighting in Syria and they are to be buried in Qom. What’s your take on that? And can you please confirm the veracity of this?

Secondly, what could be the level of participation from Pakistan during the signing of the Afghan peace process that is likely to happen on the 29 of this month? As per the Taliban spokesperson there will be representation from twenty-four countries including Pakistan.

Thirdly, there was a ship that was captured along the coast of Gujrat in India that had missiles that were enroute to Karachi. What is Pakistan’s position on this? (Anas Malick, Wion TV)

Answer: On your first question we have heard the news of few Pakistanis in Syria. Our mission is Damascus is seized of the matter and we have asked them to ascertain the factual position.

Regarding participation in the Afghan peace process and the potential signing date of agreement, I will let you know once we have the final confirmation.

Regarding the third question I will revert back to you with the requisite information.

Question: High Commissioners and Consul Generals are appointed in foreign countries in order to perform their duties in a positive manner. Our Ambassador in China has kept two cats as pet. It is often observed that this practice causes inconvenience to the staff and other people who visit the Mission. The Ambassador often takes one of the cats with her in the diplomatic car wherever she goes which is again a source of inconvenience. What is your take on it? (Aoon Sheerazi, Such TV)

Answer: I am amazed at this question. I will let you know when I find out about this.

Question: There are reports about an impending agreement between Afghan Taliban and the US. How far has Pakistan been able to address the concerns that Pakistan had about India and how far Pakistan been successful in convincing US about its point of view? (Aejaz Ahmed, GNN)

Answer: I have stated Pakistan’s official position on numerous occasions earlier regarding Pakistan’s contributions to achieving peace. There is no other country desirous to see peace and stability in Afghanistan more than Pakistan. Regarding the peace agreement, we hope it will be signed sooner rather than later and leads to intra Afghan dialogue and eventual peace in Afghanistan.

Question: Yesterday parents of students stranded in Wuhan city of China protested at the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis. How do you comment on it? (Khalid Mehmood, Express News)

Supplementary Question: Pakistani students in China are facing shortage of food, water and are only getting salad for food. The students via video messages have also stated that the two member team of Pakistan Embassy has not conveyed the actual situation on the ground to the headquarters. What is your comment on it? (Bashir Chaudhry, Urdu News)

Answer: We have been briefing you on the situation of coronavirus from this forum as well as from other platforms. Two member team of officers of the Embassy of Pakistan in Beijing has been sent to Wuhan city for the purpose of evaluating situation and ensure the welfare and safety of our all students. So far, they have visited seven universities and individually met with every student. They have also met the administration of each university and the local Chinese authorities in Wuhan. These members of the Task Force would remain deployed in Wuhan and would not return to Beijing until the quarantine is lifted. Their mandate is to make sure that all needs of our students are addressed and provided to them. Their safety, wellbeing and health will be constantly monitored and ensured in close coordination/consultation with the respective university administration and Chinese authorities.

Question: President Trump is going to visit India on the 24th of February. Four US Senators including Senator Lindsay Graham have written to Secretary of State Mick Pompeo and have expressed concerns about the human rights situation in Indian occupied Jammu & Kashmir. What’s your advice for the Trump administration to raise this issue with the Indian government?

This question related to the map of Indian occupied Jammu & Kashmir. Recently Google changed the map. What will be your comment on that? (Haider Sheerazi, G News)

Supplementary question: As part of preparations for the upcoming US President’s visit, India has constructed a 1650 KMs long wall in order to hide the slums from President’s proposed route. In a similar manner Indian army has constructed a wall in Occupied Jammu & Kashmir. Do you think that the super power’s President will make any effort to raise the human rights situation with the concerned officials? (Abbas Jaffar, District news)

Answer: The letter that you mentioned that aims to draw attention towards atrocities being committed in the Indian occupied Jammu & Kashmir. As I mentioned in my opening remarks there are growing voices calling upon India to provide fundamental freedoms to the people of Jammu & Kashmir to lift the draconian laws like Public Safety Act. The letter that has been sent is yet another voice in that growing international call on the government of India to abide by international law, human rights conventions and to ensure that a just resolution is given to the people of IOJK, so we welcome it. We hope that during the US President’s visit to India the issues being faced by the people of Indian occupied Jammu & Kashmir will be raised with the Indian government and the offer of mediation expressed by the US President is taken forward through some concrete practical step.

Question: Al-Qaida has recently claimed in a magazine Nawa-i-Afghan Jihad that a Pakistani retired Lt. General Shahid Aziz had relations with some members of the organization and as an operative he died in 2018. Your comment on this? (Rabia Pir, VOA, Diva Radio)

Answer: It is yet again one of those stories that are put in the media that have no basis or evidence so I will not comment on that.

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