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Press Briefing by the Foreign Minister 31st May 2018

(2018-05-31) [This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.]

Opening Remarks

Ladies and Gentlemen!

Assalam-o-Alaikum and a Very Good Afternoon

On the conclusion of the Parliament's term, it is my privilege to address you as Foreign Minister on the overall shape and direction of PMLN Government's foreign policy through these five years, and to share with you some insights and candid opinions.

Although I have had the privilege of serving as Foreign Minister for a brief period towards the end of the Government's tenure, my previous portfolios in Commerce and Defence, and discharge of parliamentary business of foreign affairs for four years, gave me ample opportunity to remain intimately linked with the issues and challenges confronting Pakistan's foreign relations.

Ladies and Gentlemen!

Foreign policy is never made in isolation. It is a country's dynamic response to the ever-changing international environment. It takes into account a country's ideological moorings, security environment, strategic and economic interests, and historical legacies.

In a democratic polity, foreign policy has to respond to, negotiate with, and address a multiplicity of national and international stakeholders, interests, and actors, while remaining answerable to Parliament and the citizenry it represents.

As Amartya Sen wrote, ''a country does not have to be deemed fit for democracy; rather it has to become fit throughdemocracy.'' These past five years, we have been faced with numerous challenges emanating from a difficult strategic environment, unprecedented flux in our geopolitical context, and our fight against terrorism and extremism.

We have navigated successfully through turbulent waters and have achieved measurable success through a ''regional recalibration'' of our foreign policy.

First under former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and later under Prime Minister Shahid Abbasi, we endeavoured to forge closer and better relations with countries in our neighbourhood and the world at large.

Our aim was to promote economic connectivity, strengthen partnerships, expand Pakistan's diplomatic space, and raise our international profile; while simultaneously serving our diaspora the world over, and safeguarding its interests as well.

I wish to highlight seven notable landmarks:

FIRSTLY:

Further strengthening and deepening of our relations with the People's Republic of China. China has always been the anchor of our foreign policy. Sino-Pak friendship has no parallels in the annals of history.

We have managed to elevate it to an even higher plane.

Our interaction at the highest political level has remained significant. In these five years, Pakistan has welcomed President Xi Jinping, in his historic visit of April 2015, Premier Li Keqiang, and numerous high level dignitaries from China.

From Pakistan ten head of state and head-of-government level visits have transpired.

The launch and quick progress on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the flagship project of President Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative, has been a landmark achievement.

It is a measure of success of our foreign policy that we are now poised to translate our geostrategic location into a geo economic asset.

CPEC is forging ahead with full steam.

It has attracted investments of $ 46.6 billion and has put Pakistan squarely at the center of a blueprint for a more hopeful, prosperous, and connected future for the region and the world.

SECONDLY :

A concerted outreach to Central Asia, resulting in a marked and visible upswing in our relations with this important region.

Pakistan successfully hosted after a gap of nearly twenty-two years, the Thirteenth ECO Summit in Islamabad in March 2017 and assumed Chairmanship of ECO for the ensuing year.

The Summit brought together regional leaders, and underscored our centrality in pushing forward the connectivity agenda for the region.

THIRDLY:

Pakistan's formal accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a full member marks our entry into the largest club of nations in terms of size of populations, geographic expanse, and quantum of resources.

This was a breakthrough we managed to achieve 12 years after assuming observer status in the SCO, and some 18 years after its founding.

FOURTHLY:

For the first time in history, we created and reinforced a historically unprecedented opening in relations with the Russian Federation.

In recent times, there have been regular visits between our two sides.

We have developed mutual understandings and coordinated closely on issues of mutual concern.

This relationship today has the potential to blossom into a multifaceted partnership.

FIFTHLY:

Continued engagement and strengthening of our relations with our traditional

partners and allies in the Middle East.

Rising tensions and insecurities in that region necessitated undertaking delicate balancing measures, while remaining true to our strong conviction the solidarity of the Ummah, and our abiding commitment to the security of our partners.

It was a difficult test, but Alhamdolillah, we were able to succeed as a responsible power.

Today, our relations with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran, among others, remain robust and continue to evolve. Our partnerships with the Gulf States remain vibrant and mutually rewarding.

SIXTHLY:

Our continued engagement with our partners in Europe, Americas and the Far East.

It is a measure of success of our economic diplomacy, that Pakistan was able to attain the GSP Plus Status in 2014 for ten years, the widest and longest trade facilitation in Pakistan's history.

We have sustained it successfully ever since, delivering a 38% increase in Pakistan's exports to the European Union.

SEVENTH:

Pakistan continued to maintain a high profile and lead role in international forums including the UN.

We remained a lead contributor to UN's global peacekeeping and peace building missions.

It is a measure of our recognition and acknowledgment of our efforts that Pakistan has recently won elections to three important UN bodies: The Human Rights Council, ECOSOC's Committee on NGOs, and to the UNICEF Executive Board. Out of 30 elections we contested between 2013 - 2018, we won 27.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The martyrdom of Burhan Wani reignited the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination.

Pakistan stood, and will continue to stand, firmly and resolutely by the side of its Kashmiri brethren in their just quest for freedom.

At every forum, on every platform, particularly at the UN General Assembly by Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Abbasi, we highlighted the Indian atrocities and forcefully put forward the case of the Kashmiris.

Regrettably, India has sought to externalize its failings in the occupied territory by raising the false bogey of terrorism, unleashing wave after wave of state sponsored repression in occupied territories, seeking to disrupt the Indus Water Treaty, and through escalating violations of ceasefire at the Line of Control and Working Boundary.

On the regional plane, SAARC Summit was impeded from going ahead.

The arrest and confession of Commander Khulbhushan Yadav has beyond an iota of doubt proven India's reprehensible designs to subvert Pakistan.

Our eastern neighbor will have to abandon negative approaches, and concede to the logic of unconditional dialogue. I refer to the recent statement by my Indian counterpart a few days ago.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We believe that a stable Afghanistan is essential for a stable neighborhood.

Pakistan and Afghanistan are linked together by bonds of language, culture, and history that are as abiding as they are deep.

For seventeen years, Afghanistan and together with it Pakistan, have suffered at the hands of overtly militaristic approaches to addressing the problem of terrorism and extremism.

There is now international consensus that there is no roadmap to peace except through reconciliation.

We have lent and will continue to lend all possible support to an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process of peace and reconciliation.

In this regard, we welcome the Afghan Government's unconditional offer of talks to the Taliban.

The Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS), that has now been activated, will strengthen mutual trust and deepen interaction in all areas of common concern.

Pakistan wishes to also see all Afghan refugees, to whom we have afforded sanctuary and security for over forty years now, return expeditiously with dignity and honour to their country.

We wish to see Afghanistan take reciprocal and complementary measures to secure and manage the border; rendering it impermeable to undesirable elements.

As Robert Frost once wrote, ''Good fences make good neighbours.''

These and other issues will be on the agenda of the APAPPS working groups as they begin their work.

Besides hosting large number of Afghan refugees, we continue to facilitate Afghanistan in other ways.

Firstly, in the domain of capacity building, we have trained 50,000 Afghans in different fields of education.

An additional 6,000 scholarships are in the pipeline.

Many alumni of our universities and educational institutes are now working in Afghanistan's public and private sectors, fulfilling their own dreams and the needs of their country.

No other country comes close to matching this number. Secondly, the Prime Minister announced recently a gift of 40,000 tons of wheat for Afghan people.

Thirdly, we have decided to waive off additional regulatory duties on Afghan exports to Pakistan.

Under the China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Practical Dialogue, Pakistan and China have devised an elaborate program for technical assistance and capacity building of Afghans in diverse fields.

Friends and Colleagues,

Pakistan's relations with the United States go back to the very founding of our nation.

Together our two countries have achieved great things in the past.

Beyond Afghanistan and the issue of terrorism, we have a multi-vectored partnership that spans the areas of education, health, trade, science and technology, commerce, defence and security.

We believe both countries stand to gain by working together.

The new US policy on Afghanistan and South Asia has created an unnecessary divergence, which is based largely on perceptions rather than facts.

Pakistan maintains that the ultimate goal of a safe and secure Afghanistan should take priority over any differences regarding ways and manner to achieve the end-state.

Our relationship with the US, like all other states, is dynamic and evolving. We remain actively engaged with the US Administration and other organs of the state to reconcile our differences and keep this important relationship free of misgivings.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Perhaps epitomizing the new era of high activity, and intense global engagement since 2013, the Foreign Office was given a face lift, and a new state of the art block as well as a Facilitation Hall were added to the existing infrastructure.

Pakistan is fortunate to have a dedicated cadre of highly professional and skilled diplomats, who have carried the flag and discharged their responsibilities in the most daunting circumstances.

Going forward, they will be called upon to play a bigger role, as Pakistan will continue to be required to navigate its foreign policy in an increasingly uncertain and unsettled world.

Allah has blessed Pakistan with a myriad of gifts and assets, not the least are the myriad talents and deep resilience of our 207 million citizens.

Despite being confronted with a multiplicity of challenges, our foreign policy has shown dynamism and resilience, characteristic of our nature and genome.

Pakistan's future direction is only one: upward and forward.

During the PMLN Government, Pakistan emerged from the dark period of terrorism, crippling energy shortages, and a regressing economy into a peaceful, economically vibrant, energy-sufficient and globally-connected nation.

We are destined to be a formidable Asian power, Inshallah.

Representing our great nation has been an immense honour and a tremendous responsibility.

To my successor, I leave the challenge of crafting a foreign policy for a democratic Pakistan, a foreign policy that can be unshackled from security, a foreign policy that looks outwards with an open mind to engage the world economically; a foreign policy that leverages the strength and resilience of the Pakistani people to bring glory and enhanced dignity to Pakistani flag.

As for myself and the government and Parliament-that the people of Pakistan privileged me to be a part of-and that complete their term at midnight, I paraphrase some wise words:

The part assigned to me was to raise the flag of Pakistan, which I did, and now that the flag is up, it is for the people to keep it up.

May the green & white flag soar high always.

PAKISTAN PAINDABAD

Now the Floor is open for Questions

Question

Your government came with the slogan that there will be peace with India. In this context, we heard reports about giving India the MFN status initially, but then there was no progress. Why not?

Second, you talked about peace in the region - at the end of your Government's 5-year term, peace remains elusive in the region, with not only India but also Afghanistan becoming hostile to us. Commander Kulbushan Jhadev came to Pakistan from Iran, and so did Mullah Akhtar Mansoor. Iran has graciously hosted PM Modi and President Ashraf Ghani. Your thoughts on this please!

Third, it was also your Government's duty to harbour internal harmony. With episodes like Dawn Leaks, and the likes, do you think that the internal harmony was also eroded? (Shaukat Paracha - Aaj TV)

Answer

Regarding your first question, negotiations were ongoing to grant India the non-discriminatory market access (NDMA). In this regard, we had many positive developments. But in view of the developments in the region, it was decided that this would be dealt with at a time more congenial and appropriate for the two countries.

On Afghanistan, there were positive beginnings during 2014. In between, there were ups and downs, but fortunately, this Government leaves at a time when the relations between our two countries are improving. There is much better communication on both sides, and a renewed realization that blame game and rhetoric suits no one. On ground, the situation in Afghanistan has also evolved to a point where Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has stated that Afghanistan seeks an end to this long conflict - something that Pakistan has been advocating throughout. Which is why we are hopeful about the future.

With Iran, our relations are improving rapidly. We have excellent bilateral interaction with them at all levels - including frequent high-level visits from both sides. We do believe that these relations still possess the potential to be raised to an even higher level - relations that have had a good foundation for the future. We have recently negotiated banking cooperation agreement with Iran to enhance our business ties with them.

With India, it is unfortunate that Indian leadership, after the election of Prime Minister Modi, has been emanating aggressive statements and postures against Pakistan. In response, Pakistan has reacted in a very measured and just manner to all such provocations, because we believe that regional connectivity and enhanced regional cooperation is the panacea for all ills facing our region. Pakistan faces Indian aggressive posture on the LoC and WB with equal and proportionate equanimity. With a new Government in Pakistan in less than three months, and one to form in India next year, we hope that a fresh vigour and mandate will be brought to the relations between both countries.

Question

If Pakistan's Foreign Policy has seen myriad successes in the past five years, what went wrong that made FATF possible, with Pakistan again in the grey list, with a potential to be blacklisted. Why the World Bank did not give any time to Pakistan for two years, during which time India built and inaugurated the Kishenganga Hydropower Project? (Tariq Mahmood - Hum News)

What went wrong when US, in its recent report on lack of religious freedom, has included Pakistan's name, but not that of India? (Khawaja Nayyar Iqbal - Kashmir Post)

Answer

In Afghanistan, the US is fighting the longest war in its history. This war has incurred the US economy an estimated cost of US $1 trillion and loss of lives of thousands of soldiers - without any end in sight. They are bound to pin their failures in Afghanistan on someone else and Pakistan is an easy target for them. Up until the Obama Administration, there was a realization in the US that dialogue must be maintained at all levels. This desire to remain engaged has dwindled during the Trump Administration, which is why our diplomatic contact and dialogue with the current US administration is almost next to none.

Indeed, high level meetings have taken place between Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbassi and US Vice President Mike Pence, but there is no continuous working-level dialogue to sustain and support this engagement at the leadership level. We believe that with the gap in communication, mistrust is bound to prevail. The US has had traditionally used sanctions and aid cuts as toolkits to pressurize Pakistan, so this time, it is nothing new. We have tried not to over-react to these measures by the US. We want continuous and sustainable dialogue at all levels of interaction with the US side.

Pakistan is mindful that in foreign policy and the conduct of international relations, there should be no zero-sum approaches to enhancing ties with regional and world powers. Pakistan's interests are global. Our relations with the US are very important in this context.

Question

As our relations with the US have touched the lowest ebb, with the US threatening to cut our civilian aid and the ensuing sanctions vis-a-vis FATF, there is a lot of criticism and ire over Government's recent decision to appoint Mr. Ali Jehangir Siddiqui, who has no experience in diplomatic conduct, as the Ambassador to the US?

Second, in your view, what are the reasons behind ever-rising tensions with India despite the exchange of friendly visits by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's visit to India on the oath-taking ceremony of Prime Minister Modi, and PM Modi's trip to Raiwind? (Rashida Sial - Abb Takk)

Supplementary Questions

Recently, DGMOs of Pakistan and India met, and in an unprecedented move, issued identical statements regarding respect of Ceasefire line. Is there any new agreement in place, or is it the renewal of the 2003 Agreement? (Naveed Siddiqui - Dawn TV)

On India-Pakistan relations, last year we saw a contact established between Indian BSF and Pakistan's Rangers. This year, on May 28, negotiations took place between the maritime agency of Pakistan and the Indian coastguards. Then there is progress on DGMOs' contacts recently. All these contacts are of military nature - no contact has been reached at the diplomatic levels. Why is that so? (Faisal Raza Khan - Channel 92)

Recent meeting of the DGMOs is unprecedented and presents a major breakthrough. In your view, did any foreign power intervene behind the scenes for this? (Mateen Haider - Freelance)

In the recently released US report on Religious Freedoms, Pakistan has again become a victim of extreme criticism. What are your comments on this? (Khwaja Nayyar Iqbal - Kashmir Post)

Answer

First, I don't think that our relations with the US are at the lowest ebb. The lowest was in 2011 post Osama bin Laden, Raymond Davis and the Salalah incidents. This time around, they are difficult, but not at their lowest.

With India, our attempt at extending friendly gestures reflected our desire to establish good relations with our neighbouring country. It was a future oriented approach. However, our gestures were not reciprocated. In return, we have received negativity and aggression from India, with no dialogue at any level. We really hope that the new governments in both Pakistan and India are able to instill a fresh impetus in the relations between both the countries. If India has an assessment that it can pressurize Pakistan by deliberately heating up the LoC and the WB, they are mistaken. We are vigilant at our physical, as well as ideological and diplomatic borders and are fully prepared to defend and safeguard them.

As I said earlier, a large number of population in the South Asian region lives below the poverty line. Therefore, it is very important that economic and regional connectivity takes place, as other regions have managed to do so. There has been no reciprocity so far from the Indian side.

The agreement recently reached by the DGMOs is a welcome development. This is the same 2003 Agreement that both sides have pledged to honour and uphold. With this, a working level understanding on ground has been established. However, to make this contact and understanding sustainable, it has to become a part of the policy, which hasn't happened yet. On its part, Pakistan has always maintained a consistent position that sustainable and result oriented dialogue is the only way forward. If India is desirous of reciprocating these gestures, the process can be taken to the next level.

Regarding the appointment of Mr. Ali Jehangir Siddiqui, the Prime Minister has the prerogative to appoint Ambassadors after assessing peculiar situations in the changing global environment. It is believed that in the US, during Trump Administration, the contours of conventional diplomacy may not work, as before.

Question

Pakistan is an important regional player, particularly in the context of Muslim Ummah and the OIC. However, this time on the issue of Al-Quds Al-Sharif, it was Turkey that took a proactive role in condemning Israel's designs. Why has Pakistan not been so proactive at this front? (Zahid Mashwani - ARY News)

Answer

In Pakistan, it has been a concerted decision to rid Pakistan of the menace of terrorism. With this in focus, this Government has endeavoured to include 20,000 plus MW of electricity to the national grid. The political situation in Karachi and Balochistan has improved significantly. The recent merger of FATA with KP will immensely enhanced the prospects for the people of these areas. Our Government has established basic comfort factors necessary to build further upon.

Pakistan is mindful that the diplomatic stances advocated in the 80s and 90s must evolve, just like the evolving and ever-changing political and economic landscape in the Middle East. It is one of our foreign policy challenges to recalibrate our traditional relationships on the basis of newer realities and circumstances.

Question

In the context of the US, you said that it is fighting the longest war in its history and is placing blame on Pakistan for its failure. However, you seem to overlook the fact that for all practical reasons, the change in US attitude towards Pakistan started with the Osama bin Ladin Abbottabad incident. The threat in FATF is not very simple either. If there is dialogue between US and Pakistan at any level, what would Pakistan do to alleviate US apprehensions?

Second, in India there is a prevalent impression that Pakistan does not have an independent working government, because of which there is no substantial progress on dialogue. Please comment! (Syed Mohsin Raza- Asas Group of Publication)

Supplementary Questions

In Osama bin Ladin's case, Col. Iqbal, an ex ISI official was closely involved, along with Shakeel Afridi. Col. Iqbal is currently in Santiago, US. What efforts have you made to bring him back in the last five years? (Anwar Abbas - Waqt News)

We have heard it time and again that our Foreign Policy is run not by the Government, but by some other force. How would you comment? (Khawaja Nayyar Iqbal- Daily Kashmir Post).

Answer

The US mindset is still rooted in the events post 2011, which saw incidents like Osama bin Ladin, Raymond Davis and the Salalah that resulted in martyrdom of our 24 soldiers. Back then, the US pressurized Pakistan to take decisive action in the South Waziristan region. Pakistan has moved forward through successfully conducting counter-terrorism operations Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasad and rendering innumerable sacrifices in fighting war against terrorism. There is national consensus on eradicating terrorism from its roots. With our concerted efforts, Alhamdulillah, there is no organized presence of terrorism in Pakistan anymore. While we have successfully dismantled terrorist outfits and rid our areas of terrorists, marching on the path of economic recovery and social stability, the US mindset has not changed. They have yet to acknowledge our sacrifices and resolve to fight terrorism. Whereas, we have done our bit.

I will quote the famous economic expert John Kaynes ''when the facts change, I change my mind - what do you do Sir?''

For Pakistan, the facts have changed. We are still sacrificing in the fight against terrorism. Only yesterday, two soldiers in North Waziristan were martyred through IEDs, planted by rogue elements. However, our resolve is to protect our land, rid ourselves of the menace of terrorism, and fence proactively, have produced many positive results.

In reality, when Pakistan was being hit the hardest by terrorism, US support and aid to Pakistan was unparalleled. However, since the time that Pakistan has taken serious actions against terrorism, US acknowledgement and support has lowered incrementally, with this year being the lowest. This is the first year that no money under Coalition Support Fund was given to Pakistan.

The US needs to realize that the situation on ground in Pakistan has changed and improved for the better. The US is an important partner of Pakistan, and we believe that dialogue must continue between both sides.

Question

You mentioned that Pakistan has sacrificed immensely as result of operations Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasad. However, it is being said that there are some groups against which no action is being taken. Is it our weakness that we have failed to convey our viewpoint to the international community in this regard?

Second, you said that Pakistan's relations with China and Russia are progressing. However, we have also seen immense tensions with other countries. Are we moving from one block to another? (Rabia Pir - VoA Diva Radio)

Answer

Inter-state relations are not a zero-sum game for Pakistan. We are not moving from one block to another. In fact, it has been the effort of this Government to enhance and diversify its engagement with regional as well as global actors. Our relations with China have deepened. We are actively reaching out to Russia and other regional countries. Our traditional alliances in the Middle East, as well as with Turkey, have strengthened greatly. The US narrative towards Pakistan hasn't changed but the situation on ground in Pakistan has!

The overtly militaristic approach of the US in Afghanistan is not giving desired results. Pakistan has serious concerns that despite huge US military presence in the region, Daesh has flourished at a startling pace.

Question

In your opening remarks you said that foreign policy is very important for global positioning. Will you admit that during the four-year tenure of Ex PM Nawaz Sharif, there was no Foreign Minister and it was very damaging for the country?

Second, in your view, has Gen (r) Asad Durrani's recent book damaged Pakistan's stance on Kashmir, and how will it impact Pakistan's foreign policy? (Aon Sherazi - Sach TV)

Answer

I have already mentioned seven achievements achieved largely during the tenure of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Pakistan was not without a Foreign Minister during this time. The portfolio of Foreign Minister was held by the Prime Minister himself. I don't agree with your statement that it was a failure.

Question

Pakistan could not convince international community despite so many sacrifices in the war on terror. The US & its allies still demand us to ''do more''. Is it a result of weak foreign policy or the clash of state institutions? (Zahid Farooq Malik - Daily Metro Watch)

Answer

There were so many challenges when this government took charge. We took all possible measures to tackle these challenges. And they are continuing. As I said that for my successor, I leave the challenge of crafting a foreign policy for a democratic Pakistan, a foreign policy that can be unshackled from security, a foreign policy that looks outwards with an open mind to engage the world economically.

Question

Recently, former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif has given a statement that Pakistan has allowed some people to carry out the Mumbai attacks of 2008. What is the official position of Foreign Office on this matter?

Both of our former Foreign Ministers have been ousted from power for holding Iqamas. Has not this disqualification resulted in the tarnishing of image of Pakistan on the international stage? (Shahid Maitla - Bol News)

Answer

We have not suffered by the grace of Almighty Allah any loss in these five years on the diplomatic front. We have earned the status of GSP Plus from the EU. President Xi Jinping visited Pakistan in 2015 to officially launch what has become Pakistan's biggest economic project in its history in the name of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Moreover, Pakistan has held joint military exercises with Russia, which is unprecedented in its own right. Notwithstanding the adverse conditions and internal strife, we faced, we persisted in doing the work for the betterment of Pakistan and will continue to raise its flag high.