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The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan with LePointtn: Pakistan is ready to make Tunisia a launching pad to expand our trade and economic interaction with the rest of Africa

Pakistan will continue pursuing its full spectrum approach on the Jammu and Kashmir including humanitarian, legal and peace and security dimensions

LePointtn- Pakistan and Tunisia are trusted friends. How do you see the current and future relationship between the two countries?

Ans :   Pakistan and Tunisia enjoy warm and cordial relations. Both countries are bound by strong ties of friendship and Islamic brotherhood. Although the two countries had established official diplomatic relations in 1958, cordial relations between the two countries predate the independence of the two countries. Pakistan passionately supported Tunisia during its struggle for independence at the United Nations and provided office space to the freedom struggle activists in Karachi to garner international support. Between 1948 and 1954, Pakistan’s first Foreign Minister, Sir Zafarullah Khan, and Permanent Representative to the UN, Syed Ahmad Bokhari (PatrasBokhari) represented Pakistan at the United Nations Security Council where he vociferously advocated for Tunisian freedom from colonial rule.

Similarly, Tunisia was always there, when Pakistan needed support, be it at the bilateral level, at the United Nations or in the OIC. Pakistan cannot forget the historic words of the founding President of Tunisia, Mr. Habib Bourguiba regarding the Kashmir issue. He said, “My stand on the Kashmir issue is not that of a Muslim supporting Muslims but that of a man respects human dignity and the rights of a people to decide for themselves – a principle that constitutes one of the mostnoble manifestations for the respect of humanity”.

Our relationship continues to grow day by day. We have unanimity of views on all important global issues including those faced with the Islamic Ummah. We are co-members of the United Nations, NAM and the OIC.

We have concluded more than 30 bilateral agreements. Ten more agreements are at various stages of negotiation. It is my belief that with the implementation of these agreements, our bilateral relations will see new heights.  

LePointtn-    Exchange of high-level visits play an important role in strengthening bilateral relations. In this regard, your predecessor, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Khawaja Muhammad Asif had visited Tunisia in 2018. How did the visit impact Tunisian-Pakistani relations? 

Ans:  Exchange of high-level visits play an important role in cementing relations. We therefore wish to increase the frequency of high-level exchanges between the two countries, especially at the Summit level. We would also like to increase parliamentary exchanges as well as interaction between think-tanks and intelligentsia of the two countries. On my part, I look forward to welcome the Foreign Minister of Tunisia to Pakistan during this year to co-chair the 10th session of Pakistan-Tunisia Joint Ministerial Commission. The 9th session of JMC had made some important decisions. We will review the implementation of those decisions and also make our own contribution to move the relations forward.

            LePointtn-Is any high level expected from either side in near future?

Ans:    Pakistan wholeheartedly welcomes high-level visits from Tunisia to Pakistan, including at the Summit level. As mentioned before, I am looking forward to receive my counterpart to visit Pakistan to co-chair the 10th session of Pakistan-Tunisia Joint Ministerial Commission. The dates for this meeting will be fixed through mutual consultations.

LePointtn-    Tunisia’s strategic geographical location, as a gateway to African, European and Arab markets, offer a wide range of trade and investment opportunities. How is Pakistan taking advantage of it?

Ans:    Pakistan considers Tunisia an important North African country. Tunisia’s strategic location gives it many advantages. It connectsthree important continents, the Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. In addition, Tunisia has a pool of well-educated and skilled workforce, significant agricultural and fishing potential, and large deposits of minerals. It is also a favourit tourist destination. Likewise, Pakistan is bestowed by Allah with similar bounties.  Sharing of our experiences in these areas will create a win-win situation for both the countries.

In line with the vision of Prime Minister Imran Khan, Pakistan has embarked on an “engage Africa policy”, that seeks to deepen multifaceted engagement with our African partners including Tunisia. Pakistan is ready to make Tunisia a launching pad to expand our trade and economic interaction with the rest of Africa.

            LePointtn-Do you think that the diversity of Tunisian agricultural products, such as olive oil and dates, may provide opportunities for the development of trade exchanges between the two countries and prompt Pakistani businessmen to visit Tunisia to discuss cooperation and partnership opportunities with their Tunisian counterparts?

Ans:    There is a huge potential for bilateral trade between Pakistan and Tunisia. Pakistan is a big market of 220 million people. With regard to export of Tunisian dates and olive oil to Pakistan, let me tell you that Pakistan imports edible oil including olive oil worth US$ 3 billion annually. Exporters of Tunisian olive oil should visit Pakistan and create their niche for their products in this he Pakistani market. Pakistan is ready to facilitate their meeting with the edible oil importers.

In order to boost our bilateral trade, government of Pakistan is encouraging businessmen from both sides to visit each other’s countries for business contacts. Accordingly, members of the Tunisian corporate sector have attended Expo Pakistan in 2015, 2016 & 2017 and Texpo Pakistan in 2018. A 12 member Tunisian delegation visited Pakistan to participate in Texpo 2019 held in Lahore in April 2019. In January this year, a Tunisian trade delegation participated in Pakistan’s engage Africa Conference held in Nairobi, and gave a detailed presentation on trade and investment opportunities in Tunisia to the Pakistani participants. We can do much more in this field. Tunisia can not only export olive and olive oil to Pakistan but also help us in cultivation of olive in our country.

LePointtn-Coming over to Pakistan’s regional situation, how do you see the overall regional situation, especially with relations to the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir?

Ans: Maintaining good relations with all countries of the world, especially with its neighbors is one of the objectives of Pakistan’s foreign policy. Unfortunately, our relations with India is strained, mainly due to India’s denial to grant the right of self-determination to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, as well as its own constitution. On 5 August last year, India abrogated the provisions of its constitution which upheld the disputed status of the territory. Pakistan categorically rejects India’s illegal and unilateral actions of 5 August, which represent an attack on the very identity of the Kashmiri people. The situation in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) is the worst in the history of the dispute with almost one year of military siege & lockdown; media blackout; and restrictions on fundamental freedoms. Martyring of Kashmiri youth in fake “encounters” and “cordon-and-search” operations by the Indian occupation forces has become almost a daily routine. Senior Kashmiri leaders and activists have been arbitrarily arrested or detained.Through these actions, India is seeking to perpetuate its illegal occupation of IIOJK.

These illegal steps to turn Muslims into a minority in the only Muslim-majority area, are in clear violation of the UN Security Council Resolutions, bilateral agreements and international law, including the 4th Geneva Convention. By changing the demographic structure of IIOJK, India is trying to undermine the exercise by the Kashmiri people of their right to self-determination through free and impartial plebiscite as per the relevant UNSC Resolutions.

India’s illegal actions and irresponsible behavior represent a danger to regional peace and security. Indian actions in IIOJK are being condemned by the world community, United Nations, and international human rights organizations.

Pakistan will continue pursuing its full spectrum approach on the Jammu and Kashmir including humanitarian, legal and peace and security dimensions of the issue.We will continue our intense diplomatic outreach, bilaterally and multilaterally, effectively raising Jammu and Kashmir dispute at all international fora.

The relevant UNSC Resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir continue to form the basis of our Kashmir strategy and we will continue pushing for the implementation of these Resolutions.We will continue calling upon the world community to pressurize India to adhere to its international human rights obligations while international media and independent observers should also be allowed entry into IIOJK to independently verify reports of abuse, violations and use of excessive force.

LePointtn-Do you think the international community has responded adequately and effectively to Pakistan’s concerns regarding the emerging situation since 05 August 2019?

The world leaders, international human rights organizations as well as the media have been vocal in their condemnation of the ongoing siege and communication blockade by Indian occupation forces in IIOJK that has now been in place for a year. The United Nations Security Council has discussed the Jammu & Kashmir dispute three times since 05 August 2019. The UN Secretary General during his visit to Pakistan expressed “deep concern” at heightened tensions over the disputed region of Jammu & Kashmir and called for India to respect “human rights and fundamental freedoms” when dealing with discontent in the territory.

Various international & national parliaments, parliamentarians, world leaders and civil society organizations have also spoken against India’s unilateral and illegal action of 05 August. Parliamentarians from the UK and US Congressmen have also raised the issue. Forty-five members of the Parliament (MPs) from the United Kingdom co-signed a letter calling on the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to intervene and prevent India’s unconstitutional attack on Kashmir’s autonomy while over 85 US Congressmen have urged India to address concerns over the human rights situation in IIOJK and lift the communications blackout.

Two resolutions have been tabled in the US Congress urging India to lift its restrictions in IIOJK while two successive, unprecedented public hearings on human rights in IIOJKhave been held in the US Congress. Recently 15 Members of European Parliament have written a letter to the President and vice president of European Commission criticizing India for its lockdown in Kashmir and urging the President to call on India to fulfill its international legal obligations by responding and adopting the recommendations in the UNHRC reports of 2018 and 2019.

LePointtn-What has been the OIC’s response following August 2019 developments in Jammu and Kashmir?

Ans: The OIC, as the voice of the Muslim Ummah, has been active and outspoken in its condemnation of India’s unilateral and arbitrary actions as well as the human rights abuses being perpetrated by its occupation forces in IIOJK.

An emergency session of the OIC Contact Group on Jammu & Kashmir was immediately held on Pakistan’s request on 6th August 2019 as a result of which the IPHRC delivered a strong statement condemning India’s atrocities in IIOJK. The OIC Contact Group on Kashmir has expressed solidarity with the Kashmiri people.The OIC IPHRC held its first ever ‘Open Discussion’ on the worsening human rights situation in IIOJK and reaffirmed the right of self-determination of the Kashmiri people.

Sofien rejeb

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