*Opening Statement for weekly Press Briefing*
Islamabad : Assalaam-o-Alaikum and Welcome to the Weekly Press Briefing of the Foreign Office.
Let me begin with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s participation in the 14th Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) Summit held in a virtual mode.
The theme of the Summit was “Regional Economic Cooperation in the Aftermath of Covid-19”.
Prime Minister Imran Khan opened the Summit in Pakistan’s capacity as Chair of the 13th ECO Summit held in Islamabad in 2017.
In his wide-ranging opening address, the Prime Minister highlighted the regional and global health and economic consequences of Covid-19.
Sharing Pakistan’s experience, the Prime Minister dilated upon the Government’s ‘people and poor-centric approach’ to tackle the pandemic.
Talking about the regional integration, the Prime Minister underlined the importance of peace and stability in Afghanistan for integration of the ECO region.
Welcoming the ECO rail connectivity projects, such as Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad (ITI) commercial cargo train, the Prime Minister stressed timely completion of cross-border energy projects including TAPI gas pipeline and CASA-1000 electricity grid.
The Prime Minister made six specific proposals for enhanced regional economic cooperation in the aftermath of COVID-19:
One, mobilization of national and international resources to recover from the pandemic;
Two, building of resilient health care systems to respond to such crisis in future;
Three, development of integrated transport network to facilitate both intra-ECO trade and to serve as pathway for trade with other global economies;
Four, establishment of ECO Investment Agency along with organization of Annual ECO Investment Fair;
Five, pursuit of trade promotion measures such as simplification of border procedures, establishment of intra-regional institutional linkages, reinforcement of existing regional mechanisms, and implementation of Economic Cooperation Organization Trade Agreement (ECOTA);
Six, promotion of knowledge-based economies, increased expenditure on research and development, and focus on rapid digitalization, especially extension of broadband to all parts of the ECO countries.
The Foreign Minister of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Dr. Abdulaziz Kamilov visited Pakistan on 9-10 March 2021.
During the visit, Foreign Minister Kamilov held bilateral talks with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and called on the Prime Minister and the Chief of Army Staff.
In his call on the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister Kamilov conveyed cordial greetings from the President of Uzbekistan and reiterated the commitment to expand bilateral cooperation with Pakistan in diverse fields.
Expressing satisfaction over excellent bilateral relations between Pakistan and Uzbekistan, the Prime Minister emphasized the need to further expand economic cooperation between the two countries.
The Prime Minister emphasized that enhanced trade and regional connectivity were the cornerstones of economic growth and development.
Expressing appreciation for the proposed Trans-Afghan railway project between Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, the Prime Minister underscored Pakistan’s commitment to support all efforts for the earliest realization of this important connectivity project.
The Prime Minister highlighted that Pakistan offered the shortest route to international seas to all Central Asian Republics through Karachi and Gwadar ports and could be the gateway to landlocked Central Asia.
Stressing the imperative of negotiated political solution, the Prime Minister reaffirmed Pakistan’s steadfast support to the Afghan peace process.
In the context of South Asia, the Prime Minister underscored that durable peace and economic development in the region hinged on peaceful resolution of long-standing unresolved disputes.
Foreign Minister Kamilov also extended an invitation to the Prime Minister to participate in the Central Asia – South Asia Connectivity Conference scheduled to be held in Tashkent in July 2021.
During the delegation level talks between Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Dr. Kamilov, views were exchanged on enhancement of economic cooperation, mutual support at international fora, regional connectivity and tourism promotion.
Both sides expressed their firm resolve to boost high-level interactions to give boost to the existing positive momentum in bilateral relations.
As part of the Government’s efforts to promote Economic Diplomacy, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi met with the European Envoys based in Islamabad.
The meeting was aimed at reviewing Pakistan’s economic engagement with the European countries, identifying the impediments and charting the way forward.
Highlighting Europe’s position as Pakistan’s largest trading partner, the Foreign Minister underscored the importance of consolidating and expanding Pakistan’s economic outreach with Europe.
The Foreign Minister apprised the Envoys of the various reforms introduced by the Government to improve business and investment climate in Pakistan.
He particularly highlighted the impressive improvement in Pakistan’s Ease of Doing Business ranking.
Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood held a roundtable discussion with the resident ASEAN Heads of Missions.
Consistent with the “Vision East Asia” policy, the Foreign Secretary reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to strengthen Pakistan-ASEAN partnership in all domains.
The Foreign Secretary specifically underscored the importance of forging closer cooperation in political, economic, security, tourism, education and cultural domains.
Recounting the steps taken by Pakistan to enhance engagement with ASEAN, the Foreign Secretary underscored the need to optimally utilize the available bilateral and ASEAN-wide institutional mechanisms.
The need for exploring new opportunities of cooperation in line with the ASEAN`s Master Plan for Connectivity (MPAC-2025) and Pakistan`s China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), initiative was also highlighted.
Pakistan and Thailand signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Defence Cooperation on 5 March 2021.
The MoU, inter alia, envisions cooperation in the fields of defence and security policy, exchange of information, training, joint exercises, and research and development in defence technology.
The MoU would provide a sound overall framework for consolidating and further enhancing bilateral defence and security cooperation between Pakistan and Thailand.
Coming to the situation in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK).
The Indian occupation forces martyred one more innocent Kashmiri youth last week, in staged “cordon-and-search” operation in Sopore town of Baramulla district in IIOJK.
Pakistan condemns the continuing extra-judicial killings by the Indian occupation forces in IIOJK.
The independent voices continue to raise concerns on the gross human rights violations in IIOJK.
The European Parliament’s Sub-Committee on Human Rights has discussed the serious human rights situation and continued crackdown on civil society and human rights activists in IIOJK and India.
The UK Parliamentarians have once again condemned human and civil rights abuses of Kashmiri people through military occupation of the region.
They have also demanded the UK Government to take action against the human rights violations in IIOJK.
The Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir has published a report, covering human rights violations in IIOJK from August 2020 to January 2021.
The Editors Guild of India (EGI) has once again expressed its shock on regular detention of editors of Kashmir based publications by the Indian security forces.
The EGI has underscored that “there are scores of journalists who are experiencing this new normal where they can be hauled up by the security forces for writing anything that goes contrary to the government narrative that peace has returned to the valley”.
We again call upon the Government of India to rescind all its illegal