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Transcript of Weekly Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson (March 16, 2017)

March 17, 2017

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: Namashkar, ek baar fir aap sabka swaagat hai aaj guruwaar ke din is press briefing mein.

Good afternoon. Welcome all of you once again to this weekly press briefing on Thursday that we normally have or try to have. I have few announcements to make and then we will have one question each from those of you who want to ask questions.

My first announcement is about opening of the third batch of new Post Office Passport Sewa Kendras.

As you are aware the Ministry of External Affairs and Department of Posts have decided to utilize the Head Post Office in various states as Post Office Passport Sewa Kendras for delivering passport related services to the citizens of the country. The objective of this partnership is to extend passport related services on a larger scale and to ensure wider area coverage. You would also know that the first two such POPSKs were announced earlier on in Mysuru, Karnataka and in Dahod, Gujarat. Later on a decision was announced in February to open 64 additional POPSKs. They are to be located in 10 Indian states.

I am not going into the details of the places, you will find them in the press release that we will shortly put out.

Following the successful functioning of these 12 POPSKs the Ministry of External Affairs and the Department of Posts have now decided to open another 19 POPSKs in various other states. One of them will be in Goa, three in Punjab, three in Uttarakhand and twelve in Uttar Pradesh. The list of these places can be found in the press release.

The Ministry of External Affairs and Department of Posts are working closely for early commencement of passport related services at the remaining 73 POPSKs. In other words so far we have announced 2, then 64 and then 19 which makes a total of 85 POPSKs. Out of these 12 are functional and remaining 73 will be made functional.

Second Announcement

The Deputy Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan His Excellency Mr. Hikmat Karzai on a visit to India for attending the International Counter Terrorism Conference called on the Minister of State, Shri M J Akbar and met Foreign Secretary, Dr. Jaishankar and Secretary Economic Relations, Shri Amar Sinha.

Both sides exchanged views on the situation in Afghanistan and reviewed progress in the implementation of development cooperation projects and the decisions taken during the visits of President of Afghanistan to India last year. The Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister apprised the Indian side of the current security situation and the efforts being made by Government of Afghanistan towards peace and reconciliation in the country.

The Indian side reiterated its commitment to continue to support the Government and the people of Afghanistan in their efforts to build a peaceful, stable, prosperous and united country within which the democratic aspirations of the people of Afghanistan are met.

My last announcement is as following.

The Senior Mission Leaders Course is to be organized by the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations in cooperation with the Government of India at the Centre for UN Peacekeeping in New Delhi from 20 – 31 March, 2017. A total of 25 participants from 18 countries will attend the course along with 21 UN officials, senior mentors, facilitators and presenters for the conduct of the course. Various senior officers from the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Defence, Armed forces of India will address the event and the course. The course represents India’s strong commitment to UN peacekeeping both through enhanced contribution and peacekeeping capacity building efforts in recent times. More than 2 lakh Indian troops, military observes and civilian police officers have participated in 48 out of the 69 peacekeeping operations and observer missions established since 1948.

The annual SML (Senior Mission Leaders) Course is conducted with the objective to strengthen the senior leadership’s capacity through training on effective planning and conducting of integrated UN peace support operations. It provides a forum for the participants to interact on diverse issues related to peace and security and challenges faced by them in UN missions. Participants of this course will be high ranking military, police and civilian officials who are expected to assume senior leadership positions in future UN peacekeeping operations.

With that I conclude the announcements for today. Now the floor is open for questions, as I requested kindly limit the questions to one per individual and do not make parts of question i.e. one question one part in the entirety.

Question: Pakistan has expressed concerns over acquittal of Aseemanand in Samjhauta Blast case. How is India viewing these concerns from the Pakistani side?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: I think you are referring to the press report which carried certain items on this in the past few days. India completely rejects Pakistan’s efforts and intention to meddle in our internal affairs including the judicial process with in our country. We also totally reject the completely untenable link which is sought to be established by Pakistan with any other matter currently under purview of the Indian courts.

Strong Indian democracy and justice system obviously needs no self-serving sermons from anybody much less from a country like Pakistan. Pakistan would be well advised to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of India in any form and not to resort to denial from the reality of terrorism emanating from its soil which is effecting not only India but the entire neighborhood and beyond.

It would do well also to take action to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism in its own territory or the territory under its control and bring to justice the masterminds who still continue to operate and enjoy the freedom in its own territory to commit, promote and support terrorism against Pakistan’s neighbors.

Question: Advisor Sartaj Aziz has proposed move to Gilgit-Baltistan a province in Pakistan. What is India’s reaction? Is there a protest that India will lodge and what could the ramifications be of this move?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: I think you are referring to certain news reports which base themselves on a supposed report by a committee which is reported to have been established under the chairmanship of Mr. Sartaj Aziz. As you perhaps are aware that the report of the committee is shrouded in some sort of secrecy and has not been made public, so it’s not my intention or practice to comment on media reports.

However it is a matter which pertains to the sovereignty of India and therefore I would say that the position of the Government is very well known. The entire state of Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part, has been an integral part and will be an integral part of India and no unilateral attempt or step to change that would have any legal basis whatsoever and of course it will be entirely unacceptable.

I would also say that any such step will not be able to hide the illegality of the attempt and the illegality of Pakistan’s occupation of parts of Jammu & Kashmir which it must vacate forthwith. It will also not be able to hide the tremendous and very concerning human rights violations and the denial of freedom that have been going on in those parts under Pakistan’s control for the last 70 years.

Question: I wanted to ask you about Nepal. You know the Madheshis have pulled out and the Prime Minister has said that the delineation of districts would not happen now, it would happen only after the elections. How do you see the situation in Nepal?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: You have asked a very important question. As you know the peace and development and stability in Nepal which is one of our closest neighbor has always been of great interest to us. I would say that on this I would not like to go into details because it is an evolving situation as you know currently the political process is on in Nepal. Let us not go into specifics because the situation changes rapidly and can change rapidly. I would only say that it has always been our consistent position that the political leaders in Nepal could address the constitutional issues through discussions and consultations with participation from every section of society. India of course will continue to support all such efforts for peace, progress and stability in Nepal. I think I also touched upon this subject in our last briefing.

Question: The Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir yesterday publicly spoke about scrapping of the Indus Water Treaty and also said that India should join the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Now what is the MEA’s view on both statements?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: You can put me on a spot but I won’t comment on a statement made by a political dignitary i.e. a chief minister of our country but as far as the Government’s position is concerned, I think our position on CPEC is extremely clear. We have an issue which has been mentioned to our interlocutors as well as in public. Parts of CPEC pass or propose to pass through sovereign Indian Territory and that concern has conveyed in very clear terms to all concerned.

As far as the Indus Water Treaty is concerned, I think in our last briefing also I dwelled on the matter in some detail and I don’t think our position on the treaty has changed.

Question: Last week Foreign Secretary was in Japan for Two-Plus-Two dialogue and during the meetings he discussed with his counterparts issue related to progress in quadrilateral cooperation. Can you throw more light on this quadrilateral cooperation between India, US, Australia and Japan?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: I am afraid I don’t have a read out on that but I will come back to you separately after the press conference.

Question: Sir aapne abhi passport ke baare mein bataayaa, meraa sawaal hai ki jo poore desh ke mukhya post office hain unmein passport sewaa kab tak shuru ho jaayegi?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: Dekhiye aisaa hai ki abhi jo hamane shuru kiyaa hai, pichhale kuchh mahinon mein hamane jo nirnay liye, jaisaa ki maine abhi bataayaa ki hamane do post office ke dwaaraa iski shuruaat ki dekhane ke liye ki kaise hotaa hai. Chunki unke parinaam achhe lage aur hamane ye dekhaa ki ye sewaa bahut logon tak pahunch rahi hai to hamane fir ye faisalaa kiyaa Department of Posts ke saath milkar ki isko aur badhaayaa jaaye aur hamane 10 aur post office passport kendron ko kholaa.

Bharat ek bahut badaa desh hai aur saare desh ko ek saath cover karanaa sambhav nahi hai lekin aap is baat se ye andaaza lagaa sakte hain ki 2 se ye sankhyaa 12 hui aur 12 se ab ye sankhyaa 85 ho gai hai. In kendron ka parinaam jaise hamaare pass aayegaa, hum is prakriyaa ka vishleshan karenge. Isko aur badhaanaa sambhav ho sakegaa aisi hum ummeed karte hain lekin pehle hamari praathmikataa ye hai ki jinke baare mein nirnay liyaa jaa chukaa hai unkaa achhi tareeke se kriyaanvan kiyaa jaa sake.

Question: The dates of forthcoming visit by Sheikh Haseena has been announced earlier this week. Media in Bangladesh has already reported that there could be a defence agreement signed during this visit and a lot of speculation is going on related to it. Can you comment on the prospect of signing such an agreement during this visit?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: So are you asking me to comment on a speculation? Thank you very much for your question. It is going to be a really landmark visit and both sides are very intensely and actively working to really make this visit with a very significant outcome. At this stage please permit me not to go into details. What I can assure you that closer to the visit we will do a separate briefing on the visit.

Question: Any proposal mooted by India on water sharing ahead of the visit of the Bangladesh Prime Minister? Have you submitted any specific proposals to Bangladesh in this regard?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: When we do the separate briefing on the visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister closer to the visit, we will then cover this aspect in that briefing, we will cover all the priority areas in our bilateral relations.

Question: There were some reports some time ago that Russia has decided not to have any military drill with Pakistan. Have they also conveyed this formally to you, the same assurance?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: You mean the military exercises. You are aware of the position that the Government had taken last year on a specific military exercise and our points that were very clearly conveyed to our Russian friends and partners. The relationship with Russia that India has is a privileged strategic partner and this relationship has very solid foundations and our dialogue that we have had with Russia, not only in the last few weeks and months but for a number of years, is based on mutually shared interests including strategic interest in our region. So I am sure the future direction of the evolution of this relationship and its development and consolidation will take all those factors into account.

Question: The Chinese Defence Minister is visiting Nepal next week and the two countries will be having a joint military exercise for the first time. Any comments from the Indian side on this?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: I would beg not to make comments on relationship between two other countries in this forum.

Question: There are also reports that Russia was interested in participating in China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Has India taken up this issue with Russia?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: As far as I am aware certain statements have been put out by the Russian dignitaries themselves in this regard and I would refer you to them.

Question: When the Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister was here, was there any talk of any new proposal or initiative for India to augment its people-to-people contacts or programs there. For example there was a proposal of an air-corridor, so were there any new discussions on any new proposals?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: Thank you for your question. If you recall that when I mentioned about Mr. Karzai’s visit in my opening announcement, I did mention that his discussions with Indian interlocutors involved conversations on the decisions taken during President Ghani’s visit to India last year. Closer economic cooperation and development cooperation with Afghanistan has always been India’s priority in our relations with Afghanistan.

As you would recall certain discussions were held when President Ghani was here. Air corridor for trade between Afghanistan and India was one of them. These and other matters of development cooperation and closer economic cooperation are on high priority for us as well as for Afghanistan. Both sides are engaged in further delineating the details in the process. In other words, discussions in this regard are going on and they are making progress.

Question: ….Inaudible…..

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: Not merely one but many areas which were discussed during President Ghani’s visit last year.

Question: Do we have any new information about Father Tom who was abducted in Yemen?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: Unfortunately No. Since last week I have no further updates. As and when we have any updates we will share with you and I would also like to mention that which is also that I mentioned last time that we continue to make very sincere efforts to locate him.

Question: When are the Indus Water talks scheduled?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: I think they are early in the next week. I think they are from 19 – 21 March, but some of these dates may be travel dates, I don’t know the exact program but that is the bracket.

Question: Last year Bharat ne SAARC summit ka boycott kiyaa thaa aur saath hi mein jo tamaam aur member desh they woh bhi nahi gaye they lekin isi saal election ke results ke baad 3 parliamentarians Pakistan gaye they. To plan mein kya koi change huaa hai, kyaa ye baatcheet ko dobaaraa shuru karne ki taraf ishaaraa hai, kyun is tarah ki permission di gayi, sarkaar ki ismein kya manzoori thi?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: Aapke sawaal ke liye bahut dhanyawaad. Hamaare jo ye teen maananeey sansad sadasya jo wahaan par gaye hain unki yatra ko aapko is sandarbh mein dekhanaa chaahiye woh wahan par Asian Parliamentary Assembly ki standing committee ki meeting jo ki abhi Islamabad ke pass ek jagah hai Mari karke, wahan par chal rahi hai, to ye yatra uske sandarbh mein hui hai.

Asian Parliamentary Assembly ki Standing Committee ke mezbaan Pakistan hain aur unka nimantran aayaa tha aur chunki Bharat duniya ka sabse bada aur sashakt loktantra hai, Asian Parliamentary Assembly kaa ek bahut sakriya sadasya hai, isliye ye laazimi hota hai, ye banta hai ki hum usmein bhaagidaar ho. Isko kisi aur sandarbh se dekhna ya jodna uchit nahi hoga.

Question: Last year we boycotted the Islamabad SAARC Summit and subsequently now we have the Secretary General of SAARC from Pakistan. We have a delegation of MPs who have traveled to Pakistan and there comes the response that Gilgit-Baltistan is to be turned to a province. The moment there are indications that India is perhaps inching towards a renewed round of talks with Pakistan, there comes this sort of response. Do you think this particular step of turning Gilgit-Baltistan into a province is a setback for us?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: I have answered in the earlier part of this press conference about the Gilgit-Baltistan related thing. I think our Government’s position on that is very clear so I will not repeat that.

If I get your question correctly you are linking two or three things which is the visit of the Asian Parliamentary Assembly members as well as this development reportedly which has come out just now while the members are there.

Well as I said the visit of the Asian Parliamentary Assembly members is taking place to attend its Standing Committee meeting and as you know India as a member of this assembly and as the largest democracy of the world is participating in it, so I really don’t see the link which your question seeks to project.

With that we come to an end of today’s interaction. Good to see all of you and hope to see you soon. Thank you.



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