TTP is a terrorist organization that is proscribed by Pakistan and the United Nations; Zahid Hafeez

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Transcript of the Press Briefing by Spokesperson on Friday, 20 August, 2021

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

Assalam-o-Alaikum and welcome to the Weekly Press Briefing of the Foreign Office.

Let me begin with the developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s perspective in this regard.

We are closely following the developments taking place in Afghanistan and are in contact with the international community on this issue.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had telephonic conversations with the world leaders including the President of Turkey, the German Chancellor, and the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom, The Netherlands and Denmark.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also spoke to his counterparts from the U.S., China, UK, Denmark and the Republic of Korea.

The overall discussions centered on the rapidly unfolding situation in Afghanistan and the way forward.

The Foreign Minister will also be visiting the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan for consultations soon.

We also remain engaged with the Afghan sides.

Our Ambassador in Kabul has met with the Taliban leaders, former President Hamid Karzai, Dr Abdullah Abdullah and others.

A delegation of political leaders from Afghanistan, representing different ethnic groups and political parties has also been on a visit to Pakistan.

During all these meetings, we have shared Pakistan’s perspective on the current and evolving situation in Afghanistan and the way forward.

Being the immediate neighbor of Afghanistan, with 2600 km long border and host to over 4 million Afghan refugees, we have an abiding interest and desire for peace and stability in Afghanistan.

We have consistently underscored the need for a political solution and have supported every effort for peace in Afghanistan.

We have remained part of all mechanisms, regional and international, aimed at bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan.

We now see an opportunity in the form of international community’s convergence on peace and reconciliation.

We also see a similar opportunity in the form of the Afghans’ yearning for peace and prosperity.

As for the situation on ground, we have noted positively that there has not been widespread violence thus far.

We have also noted the statements made by the Taliban’s Spokesperson in his first press briefing.

We have particularly noted his comments about not letting Afghanistan become a terror haven, protection of lives and properties of Afghans and foreigners, respect for rights of all Afghans including women, right to education and political reconciliation.

These are indeed positive indications.

For durable peace in Afghanistan, we continue underscoring the need for an inclusive political settlement through an intra-Afghan process.

We call upon all parties to respect rule of law, protect fundamental human rights of all Afghans and ensure that Afghan soil is not used by any terrorist organization or group against any country.

We underscore the importance of early and smooth transition of power and the need for all Afghan sides to engage and work out an inclusive political settlement.

The continued engagement by the international community is also critical for achieving durable peace, security and development in Afghanistan.

As for Pakistan, we are committed to work together with the international community to advance our shared objectives in Afghanistan.

I would also like to share our ongoing efforts to facilitate evacuation or temporary relocation of members of the international community from Afghanistan, including diplomats and staff, representatives of international organizations, media, and others.

The Embassy of Pakistan in Kabul is open, fully functional and is providing consular services and all possible assistance to Afghans, Pakistanis and other nationals.

Special arrangements have been made to bring back Pakistanis by air and via Torkham border.

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is operating additional flights from Kabul.

A 24/7 special inter-Ministerial cell has also been established in the Ministry of Interior for facilitation in visas on arrival and other related matters.

Coming to the situation in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK).

The draconian curbs on the fundamental freedoms of Kashmiris continue in IIOJK.

We strongly condemn the use of tear gas shells and firing of warning shots on Muslims who took part in the peaceful Muharram procession in the occupied territory.

These reprehensible actions represent complete disrespect and deep-rooted prejudice of the Indian government for the sentiments of the Muslims in IIOJK.

It is also in flagrant violation of Kashmiris’ fundamental right to freedom of religion.

India must realise that no amount of oppression can subjugate the Kashmiris and break their will in their just struggle for the right to self-determination.

Pakistan calls upon international community, the United Nations, and other human rights and humanitarian organisations to take notice of brutal suppression of the religious rights and freedoms of Kashmiri people in violation of international law and conventions.

We also call upon the Government of India to end its egregious human rights violations in IIOJK, and take concrete steps for just resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with the relevant United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions and wishes of Kashmiri people.

Before taking questions on these or other foreign policy related developments, I would like to share with you that this is my last press briefing as Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

I wish to thank all my media colleagues and friends for all the help and cooperation extended to me.

I also wish to thank all those who have been following my briefings and statements.

Let me take your questions now.

Question: On one hand, TTP is banned in Pakistan, but there is TTP presence on Afghan soil. What steps can Afghan Taliban take in this regard to curb TTP presence? (Adeel Bashir, Roze News)

Answer: We have a clear position on TTP. It is a terrorist organization that is proscribed by Pakistan as well as the United Nations.

We have been taking up the issue of use of Afghan soil by the TTP for terrorist activities in Pakistan with the previous Afghan government and we will continue raising the issue with the future Afghan government as well to ensure that TTP is not provided any space in Afghanistan to operate against Pakistan.

In a recent meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC), chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, we reiterated that Afghan soil must not be used against Pakistan for any terrorist activity.

Question: I have two questions.

Firstly, China and Russia both have been hinting at the need for the international community to develop a lenient approach towards Taliban. Does Pakistan hold the same opinion?

Secondly, India has continuously played the role of a spoiler in Afghanistan. Now even voices from inside India are commenting on its failures. What are your views on this? (Khawaja Nayyar Iqbal, Media Today)

Answer: We continue to believe that an inclusive political settlement is the best way forward in Afghanistan. To this end, we remain engaged with all sides in Afghanistan and with the international community.

As for the formation of the new government, we believe that international consensus is very important in this regard. We see an opportunity in the form of existing international convergence on the need for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

As for your question on India’s role, Pakistan has always highlighted India’s role of a spoiler in Afghanistan. India wanted a security vacuum in Afghanistan so that the same could be used for sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan.

We shared a detailed dossier with the world community last year, containing irrefutable evidence of India’s involvement in terrorist activities in Pakistan and the use of Afghan soil for the purpose.

Any country going against the international community’s convergence on peace and stability in Afghanistan at the moment and work for destabilizing Afghanistan will stand isolated.

Question: How do you see the fall of Kabul being so smooth? (Zahid Farooq Malik, Daily Metro Watch)

Answer: The international community needs to look into the real reasons for complete meltdown of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces and the failure of governance in Afghanistan. You may have seen the statement by the Spokesperson of the U.S. Department of Defense emphasizing the superiority of ANDSF in air power, weaponry, capability and numbers. We believe that the utter failure despite the apparent advantages needs to be looked into rather than pointing fingers at others.

As for Pakistan, we have always played the role of a facilitator in the Afghan Peace Process and we will continue doing so. The decision of the future of Afghanistan, however, ultimately rests with the Afghans.

Question: I have two questions. Firstly, Is Pakistan in contact with the Afghan Taliban at any level?

Secondly, do you see the possibility of U.S. getting involved in future dialogue mechanisms on Afghanistan? (Khalid Mehmood, Express News TV)

Answer: As for your first question, Pakistan has been consistently engaged with all Afghan sides. Due to our engagement with all sides, we have been able to play the role of a ‘facilitator’ in the initiation of intra-Afghan negotiations. Even in the current situation, our Ambassador in Afghanistan has been reaching out to the political leaders in Afghanistan, including the Taliban. You would also be aware of the visit by the Afghan Delegation to Pakistan, comprising leaders from various ethnicity groups and political parties.

As for your second question, we believe that the international community has an important role to play for achievement of an inclusive political settlement and durable peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Question: I have two questions.

Firstly, will Pakistan recognize the current Taliban government?

Secondly, the Indian State of Aligarh is being renamed as Harigarh. How do you comment on this? (Essa Naqvi, Freelancer)

Answer: As for your first question, Pakistan has always maintained that a political solution is indispensable for durable peace in Afghanistan. We continue urging all Afghan sides to work out an inclusive political settlement.

We also believe in the necessity of consensus and engagement of the international community. There is no change in our position.

We have also positively noted that major violence has been averted thus far.

As for your second question, the extremist ‘Hindutva’ ideology has permeated all the state institutions of India. The RSS-BJP regime’s record is replete with the instances of gross and systematic violation of the rights of minorities, particularly Muslims, which is deeply concerning. A systematic campaign is underway in India to deprive the minorities, particularly Muslims, of their culture and distinct identity.

These actions are in complete violation of India’s international obligations under the relevant Conventions.

We condemn any such actions and will continue sensitizing the international community in this regard.

Question: Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have spoken to a number of world leaders. What has the international community been saying to Pakistan? Do you see the possibility of isolation of Taliban by the international community? (Shaukat Piracha, AAJ News)

Answer: Our conversations with the world leaders are centered on the evolving situation in Afghanistan, the way forward, and the efforts for evacuation and temporary relocation.

We see a common desire for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, and a convergence of the international community in this regard.

Question: China has indicated to support Taliban’s government. As China does not share its border with Afghanistan, are there any plans underway to support Talibans’ government, jointly by China and Pakistan. (Allah Noor, Mashriq TV)

Answer: I would refer you to the Spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs for their response.

As for Pakistan, we remain committed to both peace and development in Afghanistan. We have consistently supported the Afghan peace process and have extended necessary development assistance. We have committed over US$ 1 billion for projects in health, education and infrastructure in Afghanistan.

We have been extending useful cooperation to Afghanistan in the human resource development. More than 50,000 Afghans got educated from Pakistan and over 6000 fully-funded scholarships have also been provided to the Afghan students including women to study in higher education institutions of Pakistan.

Moving forward, we will continue to support the peace process and development in Afghanistan, as we have done in the past.

Question: Pakistan has once again become at the center of world’s attention after the events of 15th August in Afghanistan. Has there been any contact by the US side with Pakistan to discuss the future course of action in Afghanistan. (Zulqernain Haider, ARY News)

Answer: Pakistan continues to remain engaged with the world community, including the US.

Pakistan has been working together with the United States over the Afghanistan issue. You may recall Pakistan’s role as a ‘facilitator’ in the Agreement between the Taliban and the US in February 2020.

Pakistan believes that there is a convergence of views and interests between the two countries, i.e. the need for an inclusive political settlement and the desire for peace in Afghanistan.

Recently, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi spoke to the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, and exchanged views on the evolving situation in Afghanistan and the way forward.

Question: I have two Questions.

Firstly, how do you comment on the recent statement by President Biden on Afghanistan and the report released by SIGAR which highlighted the massive corruption by Afghan leadership and Afghan officials?

Secondly, President Erdogan in his recent statement has said that the Afghan soil would not be used against any other country. As you are aware that India had set up consulates in all major cities of Afghanistan, which were used to support terrorist activities inside Pakistan. Now that India is leaving Afghanistan, how do you see the overall security situation in Pakistan, particularly in Balochistan, in the coming days? (Naveed Siddique, Dawn TV)

Answer: As for the issue of use of Afghan soil by anti-Pakistan elements for terrorist activities in Pakistan, we presented a comprehensive dossier in which we shared irrefutable evidence of India’s active planning, promoting, aiding, abetting, financing and execution of terrorist activities in Pakistan, last year.

Our position on this issue has been clear and consistent, which was also reiterated during the recent meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC), that all parties must ensure that the Afghan soil is not used by any terrorist organization/group against any other country.

In this regard, the recent statements made by the Taliban’s Spokesperson with regards to not letting Afghanistan become a terror haven against other countries, is a positive indication.

Regarding the findings of SIGAR, there are serious concerns and questions being raised by the international community with regard to the governance failure compounded by allegations of massive corruption by the Afghan government.

Question: It is being reported that the prisoners being released by Taliban also include some members of TTP, who remained involved in terrorist activities inside Pakistan. How do you comment? (Khawaja Hamza, Media Today)

Supplementary Question: I would also like to draw your attention towards the prisoners being released by Taliban, including TTP leaders like Maulvi Faqir Mohammad. Have you taken up this matter with the Taliban leadership?

Secondly, could you please also update on the status of border crossings between Pakistan and Afghanistan? (Ali Hussain, Business Recorder)

Answer: We have seen some media reports in this regard. We have and continue to oppose support for any individual or any proscribed groups and outfits that remained involved in terrorist activities inside Pakistan, without discrimination. TTP is a terrorist organization that is proscribed by Pakistan and the United Nations.

Let me re-emphasize that Pakistan has a clear policy on this issue, which was reiterated during the recent meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC).

We hope that once the new government is formed in Afghanistan, it will take strict measures to ensure that their soil is not used against other countries.

As for the borders, border crossing points between Pakistan and Afghanistan are currently open, both for transit trade and movements.

Question: There are reports to include Iran as part of Troika plus framework. Given the strained relations between US and Iran, do you think it is a possibility?

Secondly, given the significance of US in existing mechanisms like Troika plus, do you think that the future way forward is to rely on regional partnerships than on existing frameworks? (Khalid Azim Ch, Samaa TV)

Answer: Pakistan believes that continued engagement by the international community particularly that of neighboring countries and major powers is critical for achieving durable peace, security and development in Afghanistan.

An early and inclusive political settlement is significant for lasting peace and security in the region. In this regard, we believe that all existing platforms including that of Troika plus must be effectively utilized.

Question: How many foreign diplomats have been temporarily evacuated and relocated to Islamabad by far? Is Pakistan’s mission in Kabul continuing its consular services?

Secondly, there was a high level meeting chaired by Prime Minister that discussed the repatriation of foreign Journalists from Kabul. Any outcomes of the meeting?

Lastly, Is Kabul open for Journalists? Is PIA operating its flights to Kabul or the flights are temporarily suspended? (Mateen Haider, G News)

Supplementary Question: It is being reported in Foreign Media that a large number of Afghans are entering Pakistan via Chaman border crossing. Your comments, please. (Naveed Siddiqui, Dawn TV)

Answer: As I have shared in my opening statement, our Mission in Kabul is open, fully functional and is providing consular services and all possible assistance to Afghans, Pakistanis and other nationals.

A 24/7 special Inter-Ministerial Cell has also been established in the Ministry of Interior for facilitation in visas on arrival and other related matters.

As of today, over 1300 people have already been evacuated including 400 people evacuated today.

Regarding flights by Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), PIA is operating flights from Kabul. Additional flights have also been arranged. In addition, arrangements have been made to bring back Pakistanis by road via Torkham border.

Regarding the special meeting by the Prime Minister, we will share details once received.

As for your question on Afghans crossing over to Pakistan via Chaman crossing point, I would not like to comment on the unconfirmed media reports.

Question: According to media reports, the Taliban are hoisting their flags in place of Afghanistan’s flag throughout the country, however, at the same time they have vowed to make an inclusive political government represented by all political factions. How do you comment on this? (Mateen Sayed, Aman News)

Answer: We continue to closely follow the developments taking place in Afghanistan. We are also in contact with the international community on this issue.

Pakistan desires an early political settlement, smooth transition of power and an inclusive political settlement. We support all such efforts being made in this regard.

It is however, important to note that we believe that only the Afghans have the right to decide their future. The others can only facilitate.

Question: Has there been any direct engagement between Pakistan and the Taliban side, particularly with regard to TTP? (Umer hayat, Bol News)

Answer: We remain engaged with all Afghan sides, including Taliban. Our Ambassador in Kabul has met with the Taliban leaders, former President Hamid Karzai, Dr Abdullah Abdullah and others.

As I stated earlier, we have a clear policy on proscribed entities. As of now, there is no government in Afghanistan. As soon as the new government is formed, we will engage with them on this issue.

Question: Foreign Minister is likely to visit regional countries to reach a regional consensus on Afghanistan issue. Any dates of the visit? Is there any plan underway to host a regional conference on Afghanistan issue? (Jaleel Akhtar, VOA(Urdu)

Answer: Pakistan believes that all neighboring countries of Afghanistan have an abiding interest and an important role for peace and stability in Afghanistan.

As part of our consultations on the recent developments and the way forward in Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi will be undertaking a visit to regional countries soon.

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