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ISLAMABAD: Foreign Office on Friday dismissed as “baseless” reports that Pakistan allegedly agreed to India’s inclusion into the UN Security Council (UNSC) as its permanent member during the recent meeting between Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and the United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, in New York.

Speaking at his weekly media briefing, Foreign Office spokesperson Asim Iftikhar said Pakistan has opposed any expansion in the permanent membership of the UNSC and described the media reports as “rumours and speculative” about Pakistan’s position on the Indian bid for permanent membership of the UN Security Council.

“Let me tell you this is totally baseless, absolute fiction. We categorically reject any such statement that is being wrongly attributed to the foreign minister. Let me also state that no discussion on this issue took place during the foreign minister’s meeting with Secretary Blinken in New York”, the spokesperson stated in response to a question.

He said that Pakistan’s position on the reform of the UNSC is clear, consistent and unambiguous.

“Together with its other partners in the Uniting for Consensus (UfC) Group, Pakistan is opposed, in principle, to any expansion in the permanent membership of the Security Council. There is no change whatsoever in that policy,” he added.

He stated that Pakistan supports a comprehensive reform of the Security Council that would make the Council more democratic, more representative, more transparent, effective, and more accountable to the wider membership of the United Nations.

“We support a reformed Council that corresponds to the interests of the large majority of member states and not just a few. Expansion in the permanent category of membership does not conform to these principles of reform. We believe that expansion in the non-permanent category with periodic elections and rotation is the best way of achieving a more representative and accountable Security Council in line with contemporary democratic ideals”, he added.

Responding to another query, he confirmed that Pakistan is in contact with Russia regarding the possibility of oil import at discounted rates.

“I understand both the food sector that is the food grain and the oil sector - they are not under sanctions. We have been in contact with the Russian side, both through our embassy in Moscow and through the Russian Embassy in Islamabad for the possibility of oil import on discounted rates”, he said, adding that there is a separate discussion going on about procurement of wheat on G2G basis.

On the oil import, he pointed out that the Minister of State for Petroleum has recently held a dedicated press briefing on these matters.

“This subject matter remains under consideration. And once again, I would say that we would take steps that are in our national interest - that serve our national interest”, he added.

To another query, he said that the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) on which Pakistan has a long-standing principled position on the question of membership and this remains a subject of discussion with the US and other countries.

“But I don’t recall this being discussed in the recent meeting being referred to”, he added.

Commenting on the US recently-released annual Religious Freedom Index report, in which it has criticised Pakistan for committing gross human rights violations on religious minorities, he said that Pakistan is strongly committed to the respect for human rights which are universal in nature.

Over the years, he added that a number of steps have been taken and there is a continued progression and improvement with regard to our international and national obligations also in accordance with our Constitution with regard to the rights of all our citizens.

“The inherent problem with such kind of reports, unilateral in nature, is that they are devoid of the element of constructive engagement, and often do not take into account fully the ground realities and efforts that are being undertaken, and are thus arbitrary and subjective in their assessment, and that I think is not very helpful in advancing this discussion”, he added.

“At the same time, we have seen that such reports are invariably lopsided. You can see clearly some double standards in these reports, in terms of the problems of human rights in different countries and different situations, and the way they are portrayed in these reports”, he stated.

He further stated that “one can very well compare as to what extent for example, the human rights violations, and issues of religious freedom, in our neighborhood in India and in IIOJ&K, are highlighted to what extent, in comparison with other situations of lesser concern”.

“Now this is an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed. What I can say is that we are deeply committed to ensuring the respect for human rights and religious freedoms in Pakistan. A lot of reforms have been undertaken to promote and protect rights of the religious minorities. And we continue to engage constructively with all our partners on these matters”, he added.

To another question, he confirmed that Muhammad Tahir, a Pakistani citizen, has been awarded three-year imprisonment and a fine amounting to SAR 10,000 on account of uploading a video on social media of the unfortunate incident that took place in Masjid-e-Nabwi on the eve of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s visit to Saudi Arabia.

“He was not involved in raising slogans but was charged on account of using social media prejudice to public order against the local laws. He was reportedly not among those apprehended on charges of sloganeering”, he added.

Responding to another query about Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s viral video of offering a spoonful of a piece of cake to the British High Commissioner during an event on Thursday, besides his interaction with various foreign diplomats, he stated that all the interactions of the prime minister including the courtesy calls and other meetings take place according to protocol.

“The Prime Minister’s Office is well aware of the established protocols and all meetings, and all those who attend those meetings, including those who take notes, that is according to the established practice”, he added.

On the FATF, he said that Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar has been assigned the responsibility to chair the National FATF Coordination Committee, adding that she is leading the national effort to ensure the earliest completion of the FATF Action Plans and it is in that capacity that she is the principal lead from Pakistan side for all interactions and the FATF-related meetings.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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