Official Spokesperson (Shri Syed Akbaruddin): Good afternoon friends and thank you very much for being here this afternoon. I must say I am delighted by the sort of response that I got for not being able to meet you last week. It indicates that you were really missing out on meeting me. So, I am grateful to you all for the heartfelt desires that you have communicated both orally and also sometimes in print. I would like to assure you that we will always be there to try and communicate with you in various ways and will try and be available at your beck and call.
That said let us come down to more rudimentary business. I have a couple of announcements to make following which I am willing to answer any questions that you may have on those announcements or on anything else that you may like to ask other than those announcements.
The first one is about the visit today of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and African Integration of Chad. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and African Integration of Chad Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat is in Delhi today and he met the External Affairs Minister Mr. Salman Khurshid. This is the first bilateral interaction at this level between India and Chad and, therefore, it has its own importance. It was an opportunity for us to exchange views on the current situation in the region there.
As you are aware, the situation of Chad is very important in the current ongoing issues that are plaguing that region. Chad was involved in Mali a little earlier during the year, and has emerged as an important economic and political player in that region. It heads the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), and is likely to be the next Chair of the important regional organization Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
India has started buying limited quantities of crude from Chad. Chad has also one of the best equipped forces in that region, and its forces were on the frontline in Mali. We have a growing development partnership cooperation with them. We have offered something in the vicinity of more than 100 million lines of credit for various projects. We provide 25 ITEC slots to students from Chad. And we have offered to set up a civil aviation academy. Chad also, as you are aware, is part of the Pan African E-Network that we have set up. That is about the visit of the Foreign Minister of Chad.
I have another announcement from the African continent and that is about the visit of the Special Envoy to South Sudan. As you perhaps are aware, Mr. P.S. Raghavan, the Special Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs is also the Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan. In this capacity he visited Juba recently and was among the first to call on the President Mr. Salva Kiir subsequent to his swearing in the new 18-member Cabinet in South Sudan. This is reflective of our commitment in partnering South Sudan which gained independence in 2011.
As you are also perhaps aware, we are working towards the visit of the President of South Sudan to New Delhi later during the month, and the visit of the Special Envoy was preparatory to that visit.
For your information, India has also two battalions of 2,200 personnel in UNMISS which is deployed in two of the largest States of South Sudan currently. The visit was also helpful in identifying various development projects for South Sudan. Mr. Raghavan, incidentally, is also the Head of our Development Partnership Administration.
The areas that we are trying to focus have two main components, that is, capacity building and infrastructure development in key areas of health, education, solar electrification, mining, agriculture, electoral management, and of course hydrocarbons.
We look forward to the early visit of the President of South Sudan. The visit of Mr. Raghavan was successful in laying the path to that.
I do not have any further announcements. If any of you are interested in the two announcements that I have made, we will first respond to those and then to anything else.
Question: When did Mr. Raghavan visit?
Official Spokesperson: He was in Juba on, to my understanding, 8th and 9th August.
Since you do not have any more questions on that, I am now open to answer any other questions.
Question: My question is surprisingly on Pakistan! Nawaz Sharif has apparently once again reiterated that he wants talks with India to resolve all issues. While he is saying that, we have also seen an escalation of tensions along the Line of Control and the International Border with these repeated ceasefire violations. We are saying they are doing it, they are saying we are doing it. How do we respond to that?
Official Spokesperson: I will try and respond to this multiple question by answering once.
We welcome the publicly articulated commitment by the newly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan to seek a relationship with India that is defined by peace, friendship and cooperation. For our part, India is committed to resolve all outstanding issues with Pakistan through a peaceful bilateral dialogue in an environment free from violence and terror. In the current context and the events of the last week, we see that the upholding of the sanctity of the LOC is vital. It is to us one of the most important CBMs between the two countries. For us it is vital to uphold the sanctity of the LOC.
Unprovoked incidents on the LOC naturally have consequences for bilateral relations. We expect Pakistan to abide by its publicly stated commitment not to allow its territory or territories under its control to be used for terrorism and violence against India. We also look forward to determined action being undertaken to dismantle the terrorist networks and infrastructure as well as tangible movement on bringing to justice quickly those involved in the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2008.
I think I have answered all the points that you raised.
Question: Jis tarah se abhi Niyantran Rekha par, LOC par, ashanti bani hui hai, aur ceasefire violation ke cases ban rahe hain, iska karan kya maante hain? Aur dusra, kahin iska sambandh Gen. Kiani ke retirement se to nahin juda hua hai? Kyonki 28th November, 2013 ko unka karyakaal poora ho raha hai, kahin yeh usse to juda hua nahin hain ki Sena aisi sthitiyan paida kar rahi hai?
Official Spokesperson: Aapka sawal kya hai?
Question: What are the reasons that the number of ceasefire violation cases are increasing continuously?
Official Spokesperson: I think this question needs to be answered by those who are involved in that. We have already said that these are unprovoked violations of the Line of Control. We have already just now said that for us this is the most important CBM. Therefore, anyone who violates it, your question should be directed to them.
Question: Akbar, despite a 10 million dollar bounty on his head, Hafiz Sayeed led the Eid prayers at Gaddhafi Stadium in Lahore. Have you taken up the issue with Pakistan and more importantly with Americans? Also, can you talk about the Secretary-level talks which were to be taking place towards the month end, and also Nawaz Sharif and PM meeting? Possibly, if you are indulgent.
Official Spokesperson: Since you have asked three questions, I will choose the question that I want to answer. You asked more questions than one at your own peril and I will answer them. Let me take the easiest of the questions that you have asked, the Secretary-level dialogue.
First of all, my understanding is that we did receive, perhaps last month, proposals for some Secretary-level dialogue meetings which were to be hosted by Pakistan. Since then I have just told you that for a peaceful dialogue to proceed, we need an environment free of violence and terror. And certainly what has happened last week does not fit into that. But that said, there was no timeline of the type you are mentioning about that being held definitely by the date that you indicated. We are considering these things and have factored all subsequent developments also. We will take a call on this in due time and well ahead of what is required to be responded to.
Question: I wanted to ask the Hafiz Sayeed question. Does the Ministry of External Affairs have a view on Hafiz Sayeed leading a large prayer on Eid in Pakistan?
Official Spokesperson: I think our view has been articulated on several occasions. We see him as the mastermind behind Mumbai 2008. We see him as somebody who we would like to bring to justice, and we will not rest until we fulfill that. Therefore, from that follows our clear view on anything that he does. Fugitives from justice need to be brought to justice.
Question: About the MFN status, Pakistan once again refused to give it to India.
Official Spokesperson: Why do I think that this is a sort of déjà vu? We have been on this path before. I do not think you should be surprised about the situation there. And let me clarify, as far as MFN is concerned, this is a commitment for States who joined the WTO to abide by. All States who are members of the WTO are expected to abide by it. What you have asked, we have seen this before and we have gone down this path. We will continue to address this issue as and when it is required.
Question: Sir, what is the update on the UK visa issue, the 3,000 pound fee that they were planning to impose? Are we taking any reciprocal steps?
Official Spokesperson: My understanding of this is that when we had the last consultations with the UK, this was in the last week of July in London, this matter was raised by our delegation although we had not received any communication from the UK about what you are saying. But that said, we also had seen news reports on this matter. So, we had raised this matter with the UK delegation and articulated our concerns, if this were true.
We were told at that stage that no final decision has been taken on this matter and this is something that they are working through their internal processes. At that stage we informed them that should they intend to proceed further on this, it would be useful to have bilateral contacts at senior levels. That is my understanding of the situation. We rechecked with them following news reports after that meeting, and were told that the situation remains as it was when they communicated to us last.
Question: MEA and Foreign Ministry of Pakistan were trying hard as we heard for a meeting between Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Do you think still that working hard is going on or there is some slackness?
Official Spokesperson: Dr. Akhilesh, you have been covering us for a long time. You also are aware that announcements of meetings take place very few days before these happen. I just announced a meeting which happened earlier this morning. Following that track record that I would like to abide by, I would counsel all of you to be patient. The days that you are mentioning are quite some distance away. Between now and then let us see what developments take place. Let us be patient rather than jump the gun on this and before we announce it draw any conclusions.
Question: Pakistan ne Bharatiya Ucchayog ke saath aur Videsh Mantralaya ke saath bhi shikayatein darz ki hain ki unke High Commissions ke bahar protests ho rahe hain ya PIA offices ke bahar khatara hai. Bharat ki taraf se is par response kya hai? Kya joh sanskritik karyakram ho rahe hain Bharat, Pakistan ke beech mein, unko bhi call off karne ki koi mansha hai? Vaise kayi sanskritik karyakram abhi haal mein radd kiye gaye hain. Kuchh Pakistani singers vagairah ke programmes last minute cancel huye hain.
Official Spokesperson: Agar aap aagya dein to main is saval ka Angrezi mein javab dun?Dhanyavad.
There has been information conveyed by the Pakistani High Commission to us about concerns about safety and security for both the High Commission and its building as well as the PIA and its offices. We have assured them that we will take all necessary measures to ensure the safety and security of Pakistani personnel in their diplomatic missions as well as the premises of the PIA here and in Mumbai.
As regards your other question about cultural events, these are private choices made by private individuals and I presume that it is best that you address those questions to them.
Question: Jaise Madam ne kaha artistes ke liye, is tarah kayi Pakistan se Sikhon ke bhi groups, Sindhi, Hindu, Muslims ke groups yahan aati hain jinko visa nahin diya ja raha. Aur aaj kal zyada reject kiye ja rahe hain. Kya joh ceasefire violation ho raha hai uske asar ke karan aisa ho raha hai, ya sarkar ki policy hai ki vahan se logon ko aane ke liye mana kar diya jaye?
Official Spokesperson: I think that is a valid question and I will answer on a specific issue.
When requests for visa come to us, we take a holistic view of this. We did receive requests for visas recently for zaerin to visit New Delhi for the Nizamuddin Urs. In this case we have carefully considered the issue, and as a matter of abundant precaution and caution we have advised that those zaerin defer their visit to New Delhi in the current circumstances.
Question: Circumstances like security concerns? Local security …(Inaudible)…
Official Spokesperson: I think we just preceded that question with her question about safety and security of personnel and premises in New Delhi and Mumbai, and my answer to that was quite clear. When I say abundant caution and precaution in terms of safety and security, zaerin was the focus.
Question: Sir, there is a cricket team that has applied for a visa. And, as you probably know, what has happened is that the Board has said that we will follow the instructions of the MEA and the Indian Government. This is for the team that was supposed to come for the Champions League. What has the Government decided on it? Will the Government ask the Pakistani team to come or will it not allow it to come?
Official Spokesperson: It is true that we have been approached for visas for a team from Pakistan to participate in the Champions League T20 Tournament. But my understanding is that that tournament does not start for more than a month. Now that we have received this request, we will carefully examine it and consider all aspects before we take a decision. Once we take that decision, we will communicate it both to those who have requested us as well as to all of you since you are always on the ball and know information of what is happening on a minute-to-minute basis.
Question: Today Mr. Lal Krishna Advani has written a blog where he has said that we have told PM categorically that we are not going to support Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh. After this, are you still hopeful that this Bill would be passed in the Parliament?
Official Spokesperson: I suggest you ask questions related to my pay grade. What you are mentioning is about is the view of Shri Advani with Parliament in session. I suggest a response will only be provided appropriately in Parliament by an appropriate person. I must confess I am too small to respond to that.
Question: Have there been any reports in the last couple of days of any Chinese activities in Arunachal Pradesh?
Official Spokesperson: Maha, I would like to clarify once and for all on this that if there are reports on the border, there are agencies which handle this. I represent the Ministry of External Affairs and I am willing to answer questions in terms of diplomatic overtures and diplomatic repercussions. Factual situation of what happens somewhere, especially on our borders, I suggest it is best addressed by those who are responsible for the security of our borders.
Question: There were some reports that the Chinese were being offered some land for setting up some economic zone in Uttar Pradesh. Is it true?
Official Spokesperson: I do not know how to respond to saying that there were some reports about, if there is anything specific about specific issues, I am willing to respond.
Question: This is specifically about an industrial zone.
Official Spokesperson: My understanding is that here were discussions of possibility of industrial zones or industrial parks where Chinese industries would be set up. Now I do not think there are any definitive final decisions taken on this. You may talk of a report somewhere from a State Government that they have been approached or another State Government that had been approached. I will not get into this. But the point is that a final decision on these can only be taken by the competent authorities both at the State level and in consultation with the Centre. So, if there is no final decision, I cannot communicate it to you because if there is a process which has just been initiated, I cannot sit here in judgment on a process. There may be similar other processes. I cannot answer hypothetical questions about a communication received by somebody from somewhere else. The MEA is not in the picture on that. I think I have answered you on that.
Question: Sir, there is a global …(Inaudible)… ISAAA have circulated literature distorting India’s map. Have you taken cognizance of it, and what have you done?
Official Spokesperson: Ashok, if there is literature which is circulated, there are organizations in India which handle publications. I would suggest that you address these questions to those organizations in India who are in charge of ensuring that publications correctly depict India’s borders as they are. That said, as far as the Ministry of External Affairs is concerned, we look at publications from outside coming in here which may not have India’s borders correctly depicted and we take it up diplomatically and otherwise outside India. If there are local publications which are published in India, there are other mechanisms available and I would suggest that you address …(Inaudible)…
Question: This is an international organization.
Official Spokesperson: If there are international organizations, those international organizations are accountable to Government of India. You have brought this now to my notice, I would suggest that you provide information on this and we certainly will take it up if they are international organizations, and if these are published outside. If they are published within India, then there are other mechanisms to handle it. But please do provide that information and we will take it from there.
Question: Akbar, our High Commission officials have been summoned in Islamabad at least a couple of times in the last few days. What is the burden of their song, what are they protesting against? In our view are those protests valid? Are their contentions valid?
Official Spokesperson: I think I have answered this before you came here about safety, security, etc. I think the answers are available on the record.
Question: You can imagine that I will ask you for an update on the situation of Italian Marines. We are reaching 18 months now from the incident. I know that the Italian Envoy has arrived today. Can you give me some more information from your side?
Official Spokesperson: You would appreciate that providing information before the meeting is neither fair nor proper on my part. As you said, Italian Special Envoy Mr. Staffan de Mistura will be here. He will once again take this matter up. The issues, as you are aware, relate to possibility of examining witnesses who were there on the ship but are now not available. These are matters which are handled by our investigating agencies. They are in touch on this matter. Should any diplomatic requirement be a prerequisite, we will certainly follow it up during our discussions with Mr. Staffan de Mistura. But I think it is not fair for me to tell you in advance the nature of discussions between him and the External Affairs Minister.
Question: Sir, could you throw some light on the visit of the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister?
Official Spokesperson: The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister is likely to be here on 18th of August. He comes here with an invitation for the CHOGM. Therefore, it is related largely to that issue. Of course when he is here, India and Sri Lanka have a relationship which is extremely close and we will talk about other issues too apart from the invitation that he intends to deliver for the CHOGM Summit meeting in Colombo in November.
Question: This is regarding a Hindustan Times report last Saturday. The question is very simple. Now there is a visit I know. But before, there was some official step by Indian Government toward Italian authorities regarding the issue.
Official Spokesperson: Yes, we have communicated the views of the NIA previously to the Italian authorities on what they perceive is the way forward.
Thank you very much.
For video of this media interaction, please visit:
Weekly Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson (August 13, 2013)