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Weekly press conference of Foreign Office

Islamabad: As you know, a boat carrying over 215 asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Turkey was capsized near East Java, Indonesia, on 18 December 2011. The passengers included 50-60 Pakistanis. So far 103 bodies have been recovered. The rescuers managed to save 47 foreign nationals including 7 Pakistanis.

Our Embassy in Jakarta is in close touch with local authorities both in Jakarta and Surabaya and are trying to identify dead bodies of Pakistani nationals. To facilitate the process, a NADRA expert is already in Indonesia. The dead bodies are severally decomposed. Therefore, identifying these will be very difficult. Our Embassy in Jakarta has therefore, requested the Indonesian authorities to extend the deadline for burial of unidentified bodies i.e. 20 January 2012 by two weeks.

We will keep you updated.

Q & A Session

Q. Would you like to share information about issuance of visa to Mr. Mansoor Ijaz? Has he applied for visa?

A. According to my information, none of our Missions in UK has so far received his visa application.

Q. How do you see the drone attack which took place yesterday after a long time?

A. Our position on drone attacks has always been very clear. We are of the view that strategic disadvantages outweigh tactical advantages of drone strikes. Winning hearts and minds is crucial to win against violent extremism and this cannot happen if the collateral damage continues. Then there is the issue of violation of our sovereignty which we can never condone.

Q. Why have not you strongly condemned drone attacks? Is there any change in our policy towards drone strikes after the November 26 incident?

A. You would appreciate that at present the Parliamentary Committee of National Security is reviewing the entire gambit of engagement with the US. At this stage we would not like to go beyond of what we have been saying about this particular issue.

Q. Former President Pervez Musharraf has said that good relations between Pakistan and Israel would benefit us. Although Pakistan has not recognized Israel, how you look at this statement by the former President?

A. We do not have any relationship with Israel because we do not recognize Israel. Nor is this under consideration.

Q. More than 1,000 Pakistanis are imprisoned in the jails of Saudi Arabia. Three of these prisoners were condemned to be hanged under the accusation of killing a fellow Pakistani. Although blood money has been paid by these three Pakistanis but nothing has been done by our Embassy in Saudi Arabia for the release of these Pakistanis. Any comment?

A. I would respectfully differ with you. Our Missions around the world have been vigorously pursuing release of Pakistanis from jails abroad. Nevertheless, you pointed one specific case. I can assure you that both our Embassy in Riyadh and the Consulate General at Jeddah are trying their best but obviously there are domestic rules and regulations. There are certain difficulties. There is no laxity on part of our Missions. You would know that thousands of Pakistanis have been repatriated to Pakistan in 2011. We have formed a separate division for overseas Pakistanis in the Foreign Office in compliance with the instructions of the Supreme Court. We are sparing no effort to look after our nationals abroad.

Q. Can you comment on the news item regarding US financial aid given to religious groups (Sunni Ittehad Council)? It has been claimed that US$ 36,000 has been received by this religious outfit in 2009?

A. I have seen this press report. I am sorry I would not able to give anything beyond what has appeared in this report.

Q. Reports are pouring in that the US and Israel are planning to attack Iran. On its part Iran has threatened to close Hormuz Straits. What would Pakistan do if there is any escalation?

A. Pakistan’s stance has been very clear. We have always advised restraint and emphasized that issues surrounding Iran’s nuclear programme should be resolved peacefully and through dialogue. We also, at the same time, respect Iran’s right to peaceful use of nuclear technology. It is important that all countries respect and abide by their international obligations. We sincerely hope that the issue would be resolved through dialogue and the situation would not be allowed to escalate as another conflict in the region would be hugely devastating.

Q. Can you give us a comparison of the level of assistance Pakistan has been receiving from the international community during the military regimes and civilian setups? With rumours about a possible military coup in Pakistan going around, what kind of cooperation do you expect from the international community?

A. I wish you had informed me about your question in advance so that I could have gathered the requisite details. As for the later part of your question, I would refrain from answering questions based on conjectures.

Q. Events of last few days have drawn attention of the international community. The UK High Commissioner has clearly stated that respect for the law and democracy should be ensured in Pakistan. The Spokesperson in the US Embassy has also expressed similar views. Is this not interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs? Whether they have contacted the Foreign Office in this regard?

A. I am not aware of any such interaction taking place in the Foreign Office. But as regards your first question, the matter is beyond my mandate.

Q. Our leadership both political and military have been accusing each other. Do you think it is a bad signal for international community?

A. Dwelling on this subject is beyond my purview.

Q. Mrs. Sherry Rahman met Secretary Hillary Clinton yesterday. Would you share something about that meeting? Is Marc Grossman is coming to Pakistan?

A. That was a courtesy call by our Ambassador-designate. As you all know she would be presenting her Letter of Credence to President Obama shortly. They discussed the current state of Pak-US relations. The Ambassador-designate apprised Secretary Clinton of the parliamentary process underway to review the terms of engagements with the US / NATO/ ISAF.

Q. Chairman, Kashmir Committee Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman has said if protests in Pakistan arise, our relations with India can be reviewed particularly in context of MFN status. Also there are some reports that the UK is playing a mediatory role between Pakistan and the US and a high-level delegation from the UK is in Pakistan for this purpose. Any comment?

A. As far as MFN is concerned, you all know that a decision has been taken in principle to move from the positive to a negative list in our trade with India. The work is in progress and the Ministry of Commerce is engaged in consultations with all stakeholders. A final decision in this regard will be taken by the Cabinet and I do not see that happening before October 2012. About your question regarding a high-level UK delegation visiting Pakistan, I would say that the visit was planned a month or so ago and the visit is taking place within the framework of the Enhanced Strategic Dialogue between Pakistan and the UK. One strand of the Dialogue is to enhance bilateral trade and economic relations. The target is to increase Pakistan –UK trade to £ 2.5 billion by 2015. Lord Green, Minister of Trade and Investment, is visiting specifically with this objective in view. This visit was planned much in advance.

Q. Has US taken Pakistan into confidence regarding opening of the Taliban office in Qatar to initiate a dialogue process? Do you still believe that the Afghan reconciliation process should be Afghan-led?

A. There is no change in our position on reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Q. Can you confirm about President Zardari’s visit to Dubai? Is he returning today?

A. I think he is travelling but I do not have exact details. Let me check and get back to you.

For more information, contact:
Syed Haider Ali Jafri
Personal Secretary
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Government of Pakistan
Tel: +9251 921 0335 and 9056604

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