Press Briefing by Ayesha Farooqui Spokesperson on Thursday, 27 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 207th 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. They continue to face restrictions on their freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion. In the last few days, the Indian Occupation forces martyred three innocent Kashmiris i.e. Shahzada Akhtar, Naveed Ahmed Bhat and Aqib Ahmed Bhat in Southern district of Anantnag in IOJ&K.

We have seen with grave concern news reports of RSS mobs vandalizing Muslim community’s homes, shops and desecration of Mosques in New Delhi. Our leadership has also expressed its deep concern at these developments. The Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) of OIC has regretted the loss of innocent lives and strongly condemned violence against Muslims in India by extremist Hindus. IPHRC called upon Govt of India to protect its Muslim minorities in line with its obligations under international human rights law. The US Commission for International Religious Freedom has voiced grave concern at the communal violence in New Delhi and urged the Indian Govt to protect its Muslim minority community. US Presidential Candidates have also taken note of the violence against Muslims in recent days in New Delhi.

Yet again, the Indian forces violated the 2003 Ceasefire Agreement on the Line of Control (LoC) on 25th February. Due to indiscriminate and unprovoked firing in Nezapir Sector, a 40-year-old innocent civilian Muhammad Bashir s/o Nazar Din, resident of village Mandhar, sustained serious injuries.

Consequently, a senior diplomat from the High Commission of India was summoned to the Foreign Office yesterday to register Pakistan’s strong protest at the continued ceasefire violations by the Indian occupation forces along the Line of Control (LoC) and Working Boundary targeting civilian populated areas with artillery fire, heavy-caliber mortars, and automatic weapons.

Yesterday, we commemorated the first anniversary of Pakistan’s Responsible and Resolute Response to Indian Aggression of 26th February 2019. Pakistan Armed Forces as is their tradition and hallmark, displayed full combat readiness and acted with a high degree of inter-service harmony. Our tribute goes to the brave officers, men and women, of the Pakistan Armed forces.

As you are aware, the US President Donald Trump paid a two- day visit to India and reiterated his offer of mediation on the long-standing Jammu and Kashmir dispute. President Trump also lauded Pakistan’s efforts against terrorism. His remarks during his visit to India are a clear manifestation of the current upward trajectory in Pakistan-U.S. ties.

The Prime Minister accompanied by the Foreign Minister will be visiting Qatar today. This is part of the regular exchange of high-level visits. The Prime Minister will meet His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Amir of the State of Qatar. The focus of the visit will be on strengthening bilateral cooperation and exchanging views on regional developments.Pakistan and Qatar enjoy close, cordial ties based on mutual trust and understanding. The bilateral relationship is broad-based and multifaceted, covering diverse fields including political, trade, commercial, defence, people-to-people contacts and cultural exchanges.

On 29th February, the US Taliban peace agreement will be signed in Doha Qatar. Pakistan welcomes this and hopes that it would pave the way towards intra Afghan dialogue and to enduring peace and stability in Afghanistan and in the region. We hope all Afghan parties would seize this historic opportunity and steer the Afghan nation towards peace and prosperity. Foreign Minister Qureshi will be representing Pakistan at the Peace Agreement signing ceremony.

The 4th Round of Bilateral Political Consultations between Pakistan and Nepal were held on 25 February. The Consultations were led by Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood on our side and Nepalese Foreign Secretary Mr. Shankar DasBairagi.

Both sides reaffirmed the continuing strength of the Pakistan Nepal bilateral relations and renewed our commitment to taking the partnership to a higher level. During the talks both sides focused on ways for enhanced cooperation in political, diplomatic, trade & investment security and defence, culture and educational fields; as well as greater people to people exchanges.Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood also reaffirmed our commitment to SAARC Charter and stressed upon the importance of enabling this regional forum to work for the betterment of the people of this region.

Question: There were some news reports stating that Chinese President might visit Pakistan at the end of May or beginning of June. Can you confirm the veracity of the news? (Zain Zaman, AFP)

Answer: You are already aware of the depth and strength of our partnership and relationship with China. We look forward to the visit of the President of China to Pakistan this year. Both sides are working on the schedules as per the convenience of our leaderships. Once we have the details, we will share with you.

Question: It has been announced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia that the ban has been imposed for all pilgrims from across the world who intend to perform Umrah,which includes Pakistan as well. How do you see this development? How will Pakistan compensate its pilgrims who were scheduled for Umrah? (Mr. Shabbir Wahgra, PTV World)

Answer: I have also seen the reports on this. I have reached out to our Embassy to seek more details from the Saudi authorities.

Question: President Trump during his recent visit to India has once again offered for mediation on the dispute of Jammu & Kashmir. How is this going to move forward? (Khawaja Nayyer, Media Today)

Supplementary question: The United States offered for mediation in 1962 which was never materialized. Recently, the Government of India rejected the offer for mediation made by the UN Secretary General during his recent visit to Pakistan. How do you comment on it? (Raziq Mehmood Bhatti, Kashmir Express)

Supplementary question: During his visit to India, President Trump appreciated Pakistan; meanwhile India and the U.S. inked a defence deal of US$ 3 billion which enables India to buy military equipment, including helicopters etc. How do you see this? (Waqas Ahmed, Capital TV)

Answer: We have seen the remarks made by President Trump reiterating his offer to mediate on the Jammu & Kashmir dispute. As before, we welcome this offer and believe that there is an increasing awareness in the entire global community that resolution of the Jammu & Kashmir dispute is really the key that will bring peace and stability into our region. In this regard, voices are being raised in different parts of the world.

On the issue of defence deal between India and the United States, we have spoken from this platform earlier as well that Pakistan has concerns regarding defence deals with India, particularly the sale of sophisticated weapon system to India which we believe would further destabilize an already volatile region. We have alerted the International community many times about India’s aggressive designs not only towards Pakistan but towards other countries in the region as well.

Question: What emergency led the Prime Minister of Pakistan to undertake one day visit to Qatar, especially when the Taliban and the US Peace Agreement is going to be signed in couple of days. What is your comment? (Kausar Lodhi, Prime News)

Answer: I have already mentioned in my opening remarks that this is a bilateral visit. It is a part of our ongoing High Level exchanges with the Government of Qatar with which we share very cordial ties.

Question: Iranian officials in a press briefing yesterday asked Pakistan to detain and hand over the attackers of Sistan to them. What are your comments on this? (Saima Shabbir, Arab News)

Answer: As far as I know, this has not been taken up with us officially as yet.

Question: Pakistan indeed gave a very befitting response to India last year on the same day. Where does Pakistan’s defence stand today? A number of times you, from this platform, and the Foreign Minister have said that India is planning to stage another false flag operation against Pakistan. In case of false flag operation or any other misadventure what sort of response Pakistan will give to India?

On coronavirus, what is the message from the Foreign Office? Are you in contact with the Iranian authorities? What is the level of threat? Is it serious or not? (Mateen Haider, G News)

Supplementary question: Do you think that the recent violence in New Delhi against Muslims is an effort to divert attention from the 27th February 2019 episode?

Secondly, President Trump during his recent visit to India appreciated Pakistan’s counter terrorism efforts and stated that a positive development is expected soon. Would you please elaborate on this? (Abbas Jaffar District News)

Supplementary question: There are many Pakistani pilgrims in Iran presently. Whether they will be allowed to come back or is Pakistan planning to suspend flights comingto and from Iran? (Mr. Shabbir Wahgra, PTV World)

Supplementary question:Will the movement of Pakistani Zaireen in Iran be restricted or will they be allowed to come back to Pakistan? (Hassan Ayub, ARY)

Answer: Regarding your first question, there should be no ambiguity and no confusion regarding the readiness and willingness of Pakistan’s armed forces, and that of the government and the people of Pakistan to thwart any aggression that may come from any quarter towards Pakistan. I do not need to elaborate this as you said a befitting response was given a year ago and God forbid, in case of any such misadventure, it will be responded in a similar manner.

As far as current violence in India is concerned, what is happening in New Delhi is a continuation of a majoritarian mindset that propounds discriminatory policies towards minorities. This is a pattern we have seen in the last few years, especially in last few months. It is increasingly happening in various parts of India. The oppression that the Kashmiri people have been suffering for decades especially after 5th August 2019 has now found its way into the Indian capital. We believe what is happening in New Delhi now is a continuation of that pattern.

With regard to coronavirus, the Government, both at the federal and provincial levels, is actively engaged with the Government of Iran to deal with the spread of Coronavirus. We fully support the efforts of Iranian authorities in managing the outbreak and we stand in solidarity with them.

Our Embassy and our two Consulates in Iran are alert and monitoring the situation closely. They are reaching out to our community members, the Pakistani Zaireen and our students in Iran. Round the clock help-lines at the Embassy and the Consulates in Mashshad and Zahidan have been established to provide updates to our community on the outbreak of coronavirus, both for their awareness and for assistance. Specific guidelines containing precautionary measures, hotline numbers, email addresses of the designated focal points in the Embassy and the Consulates have been shared through social media with our community members in Iran.

Similarly, with respect to our students in China, our Embassy and Consulates are fully engaged. As I mentioned in my last briefing that a two-member team has been permanently deputed in Wuhan city to make sure that the daily needs of our students in terms of food and health are addressed and monitored in close coordination with the Chinese authorities.

As for return of Pakistani nationals from Iran, the government and all the relevant authorities,including the Ministry of Health and the Provincial Governments are monitoring the situation to take all precautionary measures. As you are aware that Dr. Zafar Mirza, SAPM on Health went to Balochistan and Taftan Border to evaluate the situation so that necessary assistance can be provided accordingly.

Question: Would you please confirm that the Foreign Minister Qureshi will be present at the signing ceremony of Taliban-U.S.Peace Agreement in Doha? Secondly, has the draft agreement been shared with the government of Pakistan?

Recently, the American scholar Vali Nasr, while talking to Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, said that Pakistan has no think-tank in the USA whereas India has many, and that Pakistan is more focused on collecting charity. Isn’t it the failure of Foreign Office of Pakistan? (Aijaz Ahmed, GNN)

Answer: As I already mentioned in my opening statement that the Foreign Minister will represent Pakistan at the signing ceremony of Peace Agreement between the US and Taliban in Doha.

As for your second question, you are well aware that Pakistan’s Embassy and our four Consulates in the United States regularly engage with the think-tanks in the US to share Pakistan’s perspective on various issues of interest. This is an important part of our job which is taken forward at all levels,It is an ongoing effort that is carried out in the US and other parts of the world.

Question: World is fighting against terrorism, but in India we are seeing the violence that is being unfolded by terrorist organizations like Shiv Sena and RSS. Can Pakistan request the U.S. to ban these two organizations?

Secondly, Pakistan depends on China for a major part of its trade. Global financial institutions like IMF have also threatened Pakistan to stop working on the CPEC projects. If global financial institutions put a trade ban on China, what will be the future of Pakistan’s trade with China? (Zaheer Ali Khan, Samaa TV)

Answer: I think we have spoken about this earlier as well that Pakistan is a victim of state terrorism emanating from its eastern border, and Kulbhushan Jadhav is a glaring example of such state terrorism against Pakistan. We have shared this with the international community. The rhetoric and threatening language of the Indian leadership, be it civilian or military, against Pakistan is something that we obviously take very seriously and have shared our concern with the international community.

Responding to your second question, Chinese Government is taking extraordinary measures to stem the spread of Coronavirus. Their efforts have been appreciated by the whole world, including WHO. I don’t see any situation where it affects our trade with China, which continues in a dynamic and robust manner.

Question: As regards the U.S. Taliban Peace Agreement, can you please comment on whether the institutions in Afghanistan are robust enough to handle the post with-drawl scenario? Secondly, Alice Wells has tweeted about the Social Media restrictions in Pakistan. Can you also comment on that? (Rashida Sial, AbbTakk)

Supplementary Question: Pakistan has always stated its policy that as long as peace and normalcy does not return to Afghanistan, the U.S. troops should not leave the country. If the foreign troops leave, the situation can lead to further violence and there is every chance of a civil war ensuing between different groups. In this context, does Pakistan’s stated policy on this issue remains the same? (Naveed Akbar, Aaj TV)

Answer: I would like to bring to your attention the Foreign Minister’s press briefing last evening, where he reiterated Pakistan’s significant role in facilitating peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. We believe that it should be an Afghan led, Afghan owned process. We have welcomed the signing of this agreement on the 29th of this month, and we hope that it will further lead to initiation of an intra-Afghan dialogue. In my opening remarks, I had stated that this historic opportunity should be seized by all Afghan parties; to steer the Afghan nation towards lasting peace, stability and prosperity. They have seen enough war and conflict.

As regards the post with-drawl scenario, it is upto the Afghan people to steer their country towards peace and to make those efforts that are needed in order to achieve a long-lasting peace. Pakistan would like to contribute in the re construction phase through the bilateral platform. It is our utmost desire to see a stable and prosperous Afghanistan.

Regarding social media remarks of Ambassador Alice Wells, I have not seen that tweet but I think the departments that are concerned with policy making in this area would take the best possible policy measures.

Question: Those countries that don’t have missions in Pakistan have appointed honorary consuls instead. Those consuls are usually Pakistanis and they are working towards a better relationship between Pakistan and the countries that they represent. But they have a grievance against the Foreign Office that whenever they write a letter or communicate with the Foreign Office in any other manner, the response is usually delayed or there is no response at all. They are making their efforts to bring in investment but they are not being taken seriously. Secondly, CTD has implicated the former Ambassador of Pakistan in Afghanistan, Rustam Shah Mohmand, on terror financing charges and he might be arrested if he does not secure a pre-arrest bail. He is a former Ambassador and part of the Foreign Office, how do you see such an allegation against him? (Aoon Shirazi, Such TV)

Answer: We have the utmost respect for the honorary consuls. There is a separate section in the Foreign Office that deals with their matters. We have noted your question and we will forward this to the concerned section. If there are any complaints, those will be addressed. Regarding the second question I will have to look it up so I will revert to you on it.

Question: Vali Nasar, while addressing the Senate committee, said that there are 17 India sponsored research institutions working in the US. He also said that the Indian research centers working in the US are being utilized to disseminate propaganda against Pakistan. How will you respond to it?

Secondly there are some harmful side effects to the Afghan war, one being deformities in the new born children as well as contamination of underground water with chemical substances. These problems are there on the Pakistani side of the border as well. How will you respond to it? (Haider Ali Shirazi, 90 Second)

Answer: Regarding anti-Pakistan activities of Indian research centers in the US, I am hardly surprised, we are well cognizant of all such activities. As regards the second question, it has been decades since Afghanistan is in a state of war. Pakistan’s contributions, especially towards hosting the refugees, are acknowledged internationally. Pakistan has paid a heavy cost of the war in Afghanistan and its fall out. Pakistan is a generous and compassionate nation. Hosting our Afghan brothers and sisters stems from our Islamic values. We are aware that the border areas have faced a socio-economic fall-out of the Afghan war but this is not something new and the Govt has been taking measures to address these issues. Restoration of peace and stability in Afghanistan is Pakistan’s utmost desire.

Question: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad has tendered his resignation. Given that he is a friend of Pakistan, how does Pakistan see this situation?

Secondly there is this policy that the Pakistani nationals in China who have been quarantined are not to be brought back yet. But now we have seen that two cases of coronavirus have emerged in Pakistan and the source appears to be from Iran. Given that there is a long standing demand of the parents of those Pakistanis who are in China that they should be brought back, what is the policy of the Foreign Office in this regard? (Anas Malick, WION TV)

Answer: Pakistan and Malaysia have very close and cordial relations between our people and between our leaderships. We share commonalities of culture and faith. What is happening in Malaysia is a part of their domestic politics, and as a policy we don’t comment on internal politics of other countries.

Regarding coronavirus confirmation in Pakistan, as I have said earlier the federal government and the provincial governments are fully seized of the matter. The federal and the provincial governments will take necessary measures to control the spread of coronavirus. As I have already mentioned, it is an evolving situation and the best possible measures to control the spread of the virus will be taken by the Govt.

Question: As you have already talked about coronavirus, is there a policy of halting flights between Pakistan and Iran under consideration? Secondly the question that has been asked by Haider Shirazi is very important. I also belong to Khyber Agency and I am a personal witness to the horrors of war. The land has gotten barren due to continuous war and children are being born with deformities. In the Senate Committee Session with Vali Nasar, this issue was highlighted and the Foreign Office was asked to raise this matter at the highest level with the US administration. It was also highlighted that this issue of harmful side effects of the war on Pakistani territory and its population should also be taken up in the ongoing US-Taliban peace talks. How will respond to it? (Ali Hussain, Business Recorder)

Answer: So far no decision has been taken with regard to suspension of flight operations between Pakistan and Iran. Whatever needs to be done will be done and the government will take the best possible measures.

Responding to the second question, the federal and provincial governments are well aware of the socio-economic implications of the Afghan war on Pakistani side of the border. Govt is taking steps to lessen the effects of environmental degradation and other effects of the Afghan war on Pakistan.

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