Record of the Press Briefing by Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Mr. Sartaj Aziz on 26 May 2016

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

Opening Remarks

The death of Mullah Akhter Mansour in a drone strike on 21 May has added to the complexity of the Afghan conflict.

All indicators confirm that the person killed in the drone strike was Mullah Akhter Mansour who was travelling on a fake identity. The DNA test result will be available shortly.

As already stated, the drone action was a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty as well as breach of the principles of the United Nations Charter governing the conduct of the states. We have conveyed our serious concern to the United States on this issue.

We believe that this action has undermined the Afghan peace process.

On 18 May, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the US and China had agreed that politically negotiated settlement was the most viable option rather than Efforts should continue to bring Taliban on the table.

This understanding has not been respected.

Earlier in July 2015, talks were scuttled at a key stage when the issue of reduction in violence was to be discussed.

In less than a year, peace process has been scuttled twice.

In our view there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. The use of force for past 15 years has failed to deliver peace.

We believe this approach will further destabilize Afghanistan, which will have negative implications for the region, especially due to the presence of large number of terrorist groups in Afghanistan.

To sum up, Pakistan believes that politically negotiated settlement remains the most viable option for bringing lasting peace to Afghanistan. The military approach has been tried for 15 years and could not achieve the objective.

Pakistan also believes that effective border management is vital for checking the infiltrations across long and porous Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The Afghan Government’s cooperation in this regard is an imperative for mutual security.

The presence of large number of Afghan refugees has become a big security risk as the terrorists and militants use the camps as hideouts for their nefarious activities. Effective measures should be taken on an urgent basis by the International Community for the repatriation of Afghan refugees.

Pakistan’s desire for a lasting peace in Afghanistan is motivated by our conviction that peace and stability in Afghanistan is essential not only for the people of that country but also for the entire region.

Pakistan will continue to pursue the objective in close consultation with Afghanistan Government and other members of the QCG.

Now the Floor is open for Questions

Question

Kulbhushan Yadav was arrested near the Iran-Pakistan border. Now Mulla Akhtar Mansur or whoever was the person was killed in a drone strike at the same place. Is it not obvious that there are intelligence agencies in that area which are working against Pakistan’s interest? Or is this part of a great game in the area?

The new Taliban chief had reportedly announced that they will never participate in any kind of dialogue or talks. What is the fate of QCG and the dialogue process? (Shaukat Paracha – Aaj TV)

Answer

Regarding the second part of your question, it is too early to conclude about the stance of the new Taliban leadership, because one report said that there will no participation and the subsequent report said that the earlier report was not correct.

Regarding QCG, all four members have to continue their efforts with the groups they are in touch with and then come back to the QCG table to make a collective decision how to take the process forward because we believe that there is no other alternate to peace talks and we want this process to continue.

Regarding his presence in Iran, remember that he was there under the false identity of Wali Muhammad and we cannot speculate regarding his presence in Iran except that he crossed over into Pakistan from there under a false identity. We should not attach any deeper meaning to this.

Question

Regarding Mulla Mansour, you just mentioned that that we are waiting for the DNA test but all indicators point out that the killed individual was Mulla Mansour. Isn’t it surprising that Pakistan’s security personnel in Balochistan did not know about the frequent travels of Mullah Mansour and we need to wait for the DNA test now? Did we not know the true identity of Mulla Mansour and what is our latest assessment on that?

My second question relates to our failure to develop border mechanisms with both Iran and Afghanistan. Whenever Pakistan takes an initiative towards this, neither the US nor Afghanistan support us. Instead, incidents like the capture of Kulbushan Yadav or Mulla Mansour take place. Is it not the shared responsibility of US, Afghanistan and Iran to help in this regard ? (Mateen Haider – Dawn News)

Answer

We exchanged SOP’s on border management with Afghanistan in 2012 and deliberated the issue many times subsequently after we came into office in 2013. Not only terrorists but smugglers including drug and timber smugglers come and go without check due to lack of effective border management. We all know the nexus between terrorism and narcotics. We have reiterated time and again the need for effective border management. They don’t seem to be fully ready for it. Not only us but other members of the QCG also agree on the need for effective border management.

Regarding your first question, you already know that he was travelling on a fake name and passport and a lot of people travel through the border and it is not easy to monitor each and every person. I don’t think we can infer that our security agencies knew or should have known about his travels.

Question

Has the Foreign Office contacted its Iran and Afghanistan counterparts regarding the drone attack because the attack originated from Afghanistan and the person targeted entered from the Iranian side?

My second question is that in his last visit President Hasan Rouhani talked about cooperation between Gwadar and Chabahar. What will the situation after the recent Iran-India transit agreements? Would Chabahar become a hub for Indian intelligence agency RAW against Pakistan? (Kauser Lodhi – Prime News)

Answer

As far as the drone is concerned, it probably originated from Afghanistan. On the trade and transit issue you know that there is a proposal to make Gwadar and Chabahar sister ports and a road is also being built between them. So there is no conflict. In fact, Pakistan is expanding its own connectivity with Iran and trying for more border trade. We are also improving our transit trade with Afghanistan through Chaman and other crossing points. These routes are all complementary to each other and economics will decide which route is used more frequently and by whom. I think, there is nothing to worry about and regional cooperation overall is a desired idea. All these ports and processes are complementary to each other.

Question

What is the role of the four countries individually under the QCG framework and was it is decided in the last QCG meeting on 18 May that the Afghan leadership would be targeted militarily or was it a unilateral action on part of the United States? (Fakhar-ur-Rehman – Turkish News Agency)

Answer

In its third and fourth meeting, QCG had formulated a framework and a roadmap. The roadmap was very clear that the first option was reconciliation through talks and other options would come only after that option was exhausted. In the 18 May 2016 meeting, it was reaffirmed that reconciliation through talks was the preferred option because the military option had not succeeded in the past and was not likely to succeed in the future. The QCG decision was very clear and there was no indication of a military option. It is because of this that we feel that this drone attack will be a negative factor as far as continuation of the peace talks is concerned. After a few days, when an opportunity arises, the QCG countries will reassess the situation and take the process forward. In the meantime, we are holding bilateral consultations with US, China and Afghanistan to assess the situation.

Question

Can you tell us the losses which Pakistan has suffered in human and financial terms due to terrorism and what assistance is given by the US and under which heads and why are we again and again called to “do more?” (Khawaja Nayar Iqbal – Kashmir Post)

Answer

We have suffered 60,000 casualties in this war. This includes ten thousand security personnel. According to the last economic survey, the economic losses so far have been 110 billion US dollars. The coalition support fund is not aid but is the reimbursement of the amount that we spend in this effort. However, the efforts we have taken for counter terrorism are for our own security. Our efforts have been praised widely. Operation Zarb-e-Azb is continuing successfully and the writ of the state has been established in the tribal areas. Efforts are continuing in other parts of Pakistan. We do not want assistance in lieu of our efforts but want bilateral cooperation overall for the mutual benefit of both the countries. We also want US assistance for peace in the region and that is why they are part of the QCG.

Question

The Interior Minister raised two questions yesterday. Why does the US target “high value individuals” when they are on Pakistani soil? The Interior Minister also called into question the US assertion that Mulla Mansour was opposed to the peace talks. Even if the QCG process starts what are its chances of successes given the aggressive statements coming out from Afghanistan and the US? (Majid Jarral – News One)

Answer

It is not the impression from our side, especially of those who were talking to the Taliban regarding participation in the peace talks that Mulla Mansour was opposed to the talks. The Interior Minister also said that our impression was that he would agree to peace talks with the Afghan Government. It is because of this that we think that this drone attack has damaged the peace process.

Regarding US and Afghanistan, they were part of the last QCG meeting on 18 May 2016 and you can see the joint statement after the meeting which clearly states that negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan Government under an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process is the only way forward. You can yourself see that the military option exercised for the past fifteen years has yielded no fruitful result. Therefore, I can’t say that their role in this process will be negative. However, I understand there would be concerns in Afghanistan regarding recent terror attacks and the first agenda item of the 31 July 2015 aborted meeting was to reduce violence in Afghanistan. It would be premature to negatively judge these two QCG countries at this moment. QCG members will consult those Afghan groups who they were in touch with, and then make a joint assessment collectively.

Question

Do you think US foreign policy has changed as shown by the recent drone attack? Do you feel difficulties will increase for Pakistan in the future? (Shahid Maitla – ARY News)

Answer

If you look at the situation since 2001, there have been 390 drone attacks till now and the frequency was very high from 2010 to 2012 with 60-70 attacks every year. When we assumed power in 2013, we protested against the attacks very firmly with the United States and the US officially suspended drone attacks for three months in 2013 to give space to negotiations with the Taliban. We are very concerned about this drone attack because this is the second time that an attack had taken place inside Pakistan outside the tribal areas. Earlier most of the attacks took place in the tribal areas. We have strongly protested to the United States that such attacks would affect our bilateral relations and they were also against the UN Charter.

As far as the US is concerned, as stated officially, it was their assessment that Mulla Mansour was opposed to peace talks and should be eliminated. Like their policy on Iraq, this might not prove beneficial in the longer term. We will convey to them that drone attacks are not beneficial for the peace process in the long run and such interruptions to the peace process are not advisable and detrimental in the long term.

Question

The fourth paragraph of the QCG joint statement condemned the terrorist attack in Kabul and underscored that those who perpetrated such attacks should be ready to face the consequences of their actions. Could it be said that the drone strike inside Pakistan was a consequence of the joint consensus on the above point.

Secondly, Iran has rejected the claims that Mulla Mansour entered Pakistan from Iran. Your comments. (Essa Naqvi – Dunya TV)

Answer

Regarding who perpetrated the attack in Kabul, how can we presume that it was Mulla Mansour. We can’t be sure. Yes, it is a fact that we condemned the 19 April 2016 attack in Kabul because we condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and many innocent lives were lost in the attack.

I have already answered the second part of your question.

Question

You have said that since 2013 when the incumbent government came into power there has been sizeable reduction in the number of drone attacks. We have also seen that Pakistan has excellent coordination with the international community especially the US. So does this drone attack reflect any clash of interests?

We have also seen reports that Obama administration gave a statement that we took Pakistan and Afghanistan in confidence before the attack. Now, what do you think, is there any clash of interests that inspite of the excellent coordination such attacks are taking place. (Kaswer Kalasra- India Today)

Answer

It was very clear stated in our press note that they did not consult us before the drone attack but informed us after the attack. They informed Army Chief almost three and half hours after the attack. Then Secretary Kerry called Prime Minister at 10:30 pm which is almost seven hours after the incident. There was no consultation prior to the incident.

As far your second question about their motives, it has been already said that it was their assessment that he was a hurdle. We will again talk to them and we will try to convince them. On one side you want to start talks with them while on the other side you are killing them which is not a consistent attitude. Apart from the quadrilateral framework, we will keep on consulting them on this bilaterally on moving the peace process forward.

Question

There are reports that dead body of Mullah Mansoor has been taken by his relatives. Kindly inform us what is the status on this?

Secondly, in this situation, how much hopeful Pakistan is about the Afghan reconciliation process? Moreover, regarding our eastern border, it is said that Pakistan is ready for the talks while India is not. Again, how much hopeful we are about the betterment of relations with India? And what are the reasons behind the delay of the Secretary level talks? (Khalid Jamil – Abb Tak TV)

Answer

As far as your first question, he was travelling alone with a driver on a fake identity. Everybody knew about the company of the driver from which the vehicle was hired. So, when his relatives came, the dead body was handed over to them. Relatives of the other person did not contact for two or three days. Later, there was a contact with them but the dead body has not been handed over to them yet, until the process of DNA test is completed.

I have already answered other parts of your question.

Question

We condemn drone attacks, we say that these are against the charter of UN and we also say that these are violations of our sovereignty. Now, on which forum we are going to take up this matter? (Naveed Akbar-Daily Dunya)

Answer

As I have already replied, drone attacks started a long time ago. We pursued it very diligently and these attacks were almost suspended. Regarding this drone attack, in our bilateral meetings and in briefings of envoys of different countries we are bringing this issue to their notice that such attacks are not only violations of laws but they are also contrary to the objectives of the Afghan peace process and we will keep on taking up this matter.

Question

Iran, India and Afghanistan recently signed a trilateral deal which is called Chabahar agreement. What is Pakistan’s formal position on this agreement? President Rouhani after singing this agreement welcomed any regional country to join this deal and said that it will be beneficial for all regional countries. (Muhammad Manafi-IRNA)

Answer

I said in reply to an earlier question that there are number of proposals for connectivity. Even China, apart from CPEC, is connecting through different routes in the region because regional connectivity is important for the whole region. Chabahar is an alternative port which people can use and we have Gwadar and Karachi. So, it depends upon economics and the type of facilities available on these ports which will determine their usage. Pakistan can use the Chabahar port for trade. Therefore, we are building roads to connect Chabahar and Gwadar. So, I don’t see any conflict in these proposals and I hope that our efforts to provide greater facilities to these traders in Afghanistan and Pakistan will continue. This will enable trade between both the countries to expand.

Question

Pakistan seems to be under multiple crises. US has carried out a drone attack, India sets the stage for terrorist attacks and maligns Pakistan, while Afghanistan’s soil is being used to launch terrorist attacks in Pakistan. So what is Pakistan’s strategy to counter these challenges? (Amjad Ali – PTV News)

Answer

It is a very interesting question because it is generally believed that something very serious is going on. In fact, if you look at the last six years you find one crisis or the other going on. We are located in a very active geo-political region and therefore these kinds of things happen. But if you examine it closely even our relations with the US, compared to the lows they reached in 2011 and 2012, are much better. Similarly, with India if you compare it with our relations in 2002 after the attack on parliament, the situation is much more stable and we are trying to revive the dialogue. But the most important thing is our own resilience. Pakistan is a growing economy, we have the eighth largest standing army in the world, we are a nuclear power, we have huge natural resources, and we have very strong cooperative arrangements with China and many other friendly countries in the neighborhood. Therefore, I think we have the ability to deal with challenges and in fact Pakistan does better when it faces challenges. Therefore, I am quite confident that not only we will overcome the challenges but we will also move forward in a very decisive manner

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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