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Transcript of Weekly Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson (October 27, 2016)

October 28, 2016

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Good evening friends and welcome to the weekly press briefing. I will begin with an announcement.

At the invitation of Rt. Hon’ble Bidhya Devi Bhandari, President of Nepal, the President of India Shri Pranab Mukherjee will be on a State Visit to Nepal from 02 to 04 November 2016. A high level delegation will accompany the President.

This will be the first visit of a President of India to Nepal in 18 years. During the visit the President will hold talks with the President of Nepal and have meetings with the Prime Minister and other leaders of Nepal on a wide array of issues of mutual interest.

The State Visit reflects the priority that the Government of India attaches to further strengthening its age old, unique partnership with Nepal and our shared historical and cultural linkages and wide ranging people-to-people contacts.

Apart from official engagements in Kathmandu, the President of India will also visit Janakpur and Pokhra.

That concludes my only announcement. The floor is now open to questions.

Question: The Pakistan High Commission staffer who was picked up by the Delhi Police, he was let off because of the diplomatic immunity. What do we know about him? What are the details shared by the Foreign Secretary and is there any link coming up with the Uri attacks?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Today morning the Foreign Secretary summoned the Pakistan High Commissioner Mr. Abdul Basit and informed him that India had intercepted an official of the Pakistan High Commission in the pursuit of espionage and that he was being declared ‘Persona Non Grata’.

Following the intelligence inputs for the last six months relating to espionage on vital installations of army and para-military forces, Mr. Mehmood Akhtar was intercepted by the Delhi Police in the forenoon of yesterday while he was receiving sensitive documents pertaining to national security of India from two persons.

Although initially Mr. Mehmood masqueraded as an Indian national, he even produced a fake Aadhar identity card, he later admitted that he worked in the Pakistan High Commission and requested that the High Commission be informed of this development.

He stated the he had joined the Baloch regiment of the Pakistan Army in 1997 and came on deputation to Inter-Services Intelligence i.e. ISI in 2013. He was posted in September 2013 to the Pakistan High Commission where he is working as an Assistant to Mr. Farooq Habib, Counsellor (Trade).

In keeping with the accepted norms for treating members of a diplomatic mission, he was treated with utmost courtesy and handed over to a diplomat of the Pakistan High Commission soon thereafter. The Pakistan High Commission has been informed that Mr. Mehmood Akhtar and his family must return to Pakistan by October 29 i.e. within 48 hrs.

The Foreign Secretary also strongly conveyed to the Pakistan High Commissioner that the Pakistan High Commission must ensure that none of its members indulge in activities inimical to India or behave in a manner that is incompatible to their diplomatic status.

I suppose further investigations will now be conducted but we have definitely busted an espionage ring and the ringleader has been asked to return to Pakistan within 48 hrs.

Question: Sir, please provide the response in Hindi also.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Aaj subah Videsh Sachiv ne Pakistan ke Ucchayukt Shri Abdul Basit ko bulaya aur unhen bataya ki Bharat ne Pakistan Ucchayog ke ek adhikari ko jasoosi karte hue pakda hai aur unhen "persona non grata” yaani "asweekarya vyakti” ghoshit kiya ja raha hai.

Sena aur Ardhsainik balon ke mahatvapoorn pratishthano ki jasoosi ke sambandh mein pichhale 6 mahino se prapt khoofiya jaankari ke baad Shri Mahmood Akhtar ko Delhi Police ne kal maddhyanhpoorv us samay pakda jab woh Bharat ki suraksha se sambandhit samvedansheel dastaavej do vyaktiyon se prapt kar rahe they.

Pahle to Shri Mahmood ne Bhartiya Naagrik hone ka chhal karne ki koshish ki aur ek jaali Aadhar card bhi dikhaya, parantu baad mein unhone ye sweekar kiya ki woh Pakistan Ucchayog mein kaaryarat hain aur ye nivedan bhi kiya ki ucchayukt ko is ghatna ke baare mein soochit kar diya jaye.

Unhone bataya ki 1997 mein ve Pakistani sena ke Baloch regiment mein bharti hue they aur 2013 mein unhen pratiniyukti ke aadhar par Inter Services Intelligence i.e. ISI mein tainaat kiya gaya. September 2013 mein unhen Pakistan Ucchayog mein niyukt kiya gaya jahan woh vartmaan mein Shri Farooq Habib, Counselor Trade ke sahayak ke roop mein karya kar rahe hain.

Rajnayik mission ke sadsyon ke prati vyavhar ke sweekarya maanakon ke hisaab se unke saath shishtachar poorn vyavhar kiya gaya aur uske sheeghra baad hi unhen Pakistan Ucchayog ke ek Raajnayik ke hawale kar diya gaya aur unhen bata diya gaya ki Shri Mahmood Akhtar aur unka parivaar 29 October yaani ki 48 ghanton ke antargat Pakistan avashya wapas laut jayen.

Videsh Sachiv ne Pakistan Ucchayukt ko kade shabdon mein ye bata diya hai ki Pakistan Ucchayog ko yah sunischit karna chahiye ki unka koi bhi sadasya Bharat virodhi gatividhiyon mein shaamil na ho aur na hi aisa koi vyavhaar kare jo unke Raajnayik star ke anuroop na ho.

Question: Vikas, Pakistan has said that India is trying to distract attention from Kashmir, would you agree with this? Also are there more people likely under suspicion or to be arrested?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Well, as I said the investigation is continuing, if we uncover evidence of involvement of more people then of course they will be arrested. Certainly, there is no doubt about it but I do not understand the rationale for Pakistan making such a statement. What has this got to do with Kashmir, which is an integral part of India?

This is a gentleman working in the Pakistan High Commission, indulging in activities which are clearly incompatible with his diplomatic status and he has been caught, literally, red-handed while accepting sensitive documents pertaining to vital security installations and we have taken the appropriate action which is warranted in such a situation.

Question: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has released a statement condemning the activities that have taken place this morning in New Delhi. They say that the allegations are unsubstantiated, they also say that this follows a media orchestrated campaign in the Indian media. How do you react to this and also sir on the developments that have taken shape, does the Indian government really fear that very sensitive information in regard to what has been happening in J&K could have been shared already by the concerned ISI agent and do you also fear or not rule out that there could be other officials also involved in such a ring?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Look, as to what information was shared or not shared, I will not be going into that. This is obviously a matter for our security agencies to confirm the extent of the information that has been provided or was going to be provided. Suffices to say that we are happy that we have nipped this ISI ring in the bud and hope that if there are more individuals involved they too will be tracked down.

The Pakistani press release, I am sure that you have seen that already, the first thing it alleges is that he was manhandled. Now, let me deny this categorically. He was treated with courtesy befitting his diplomatic status, in fact, it was Mr. Mehmood Akhtar who resorted to subterfuge by concealing his real identity.

I can also confirm that when he was handed over to the Pakistan High Commission in the presence of an MEA official, he himself said that he had been treated well. In fact, none of this would have arisen in the first place if he had not indulged in espionage activity. So the denial that had come out from Pakistan, I would say, this is something which by now has become quite characteristic.

Question: Pakistan has also highlighted that India has violated Vienna Convention?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: No, we have not violated any Convention. Which Vienna Convention says that persons who are posted here can indulge in activities incompatible with their diplomatic status? Declaring somebody "Persona Non Grata” is very much part of the diplomatic convention.

Question: Yesterday, the Kremlin in a statement that President Putin has sent to the Pakistan Prime Minister and President following the Quetta terrorist attack has said, and I quote, "Russia is willing to strengthen anti-terrorism cooperation with Pakistan.” Is that something which concerns us, given the conversation we have had with Russia over this subject recently, including in Goa when Prime Minister met President Putin?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: When it comes to reforming Pakistan’s behavior, weaning them away from the path of state sponsored terrorism, then we would welcome such a statement. I think all the countries in the world should act upon Pakistan to tell it the dangers of promoting state sponsored terrorism.

We have seen the terrible attack in Quetta which is exactly what happens when you grow terrorism in your backyard. I think all nations of the world need to give the same message to Pakistan that we are ready to work with you in order for you to prevent the kind of activities that you have been doing so far.

Question:We have an Indian soldier in Pakistan captivity, Chandu Chauhan. Can you update on the status of our efforts, how we plan to get him back?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup:
We are handling this through the established channels between the two militaries. There have been cases in the past as well where soldiers have strayed across the boundary and through the established military channel they have been returned. We are hoping that a similar standard operating procedure will be followed in this case as well.

Have you got any reports about any retaliatory action by Pakistan on our diplomats in Islamabad? And are you expecting or is there any inkling that they may be treated similarly?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: We certainly hope there is no tit for tat because we have not given any cause for such action to be taken against us.

Question: The question is about Nepal. Today it was JCM, what was the agenda and what was the outcome? Can you please elaborate?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: The fourth session of the India-Nepal Joint Commission was held in New Delhi today in the afternoon. The session was co-chaired by Minister of State for External Affairs Shri M J Akbar and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nepal, His Excellency Dr. Prakash Sharan Mahat.

The two delegations included Foreign Secretary of India, Dr. S. Jaishankar and Foreign Secretary of Nepal, Mr. Shankar Das Bairagi, and other senior officials from the two sides.

The third session of the Joint Commission was held in Kathmandu in July 2014.

The discussions were held in a warm and cordial atmosphere. The meeting of the Joint Commission was preceded by a preparatory meeting at the senior official’s level on 26 October 2016.

The Joint Commission reviewed the entire gamut of bilateral partnership as well as exchanged views on sub-regional, regional and international issues of mutual interest.

Both sides reviewed and positively assessed implementation of decisions emerging from high-level exchanges, including the two visits of our Prime Minister to Nepal in August and November 2014, and the visits of Prime Ministers of Nepal to India in February, September and October this year. The intensive interaction at the highest political levels and regular meetings of important bilateral mechanisms demonstrate the priority that India attaches to furthering relations and cooperation with the people and Government of Nepal.

The Joint Commission provided an opportunity to review political exchanges and bilateral cooperation in all areas and to provide necessary political guidance for further enhancing the traditionally warm and close relations.

Both sides acknowledged the significant progress made since the last meeting of the Joint Commission in taking forward bilateral initiatives in areas such as trade, transit, economic, mutual investments, defense and security, border management, power, water resources, agriculture, cross-border transport facilitation, education, cultural and youth exchanges, tourism, railways, infrastructure development, capacity building and human resource development and promotion of people-to-people contacts, among others.

The Joint Commission reviewed the progress in projects covered under the Lines of Credit, and agreed to expedite their implementation. Both sides agreed to closely monitor progress of all development and infrastructure projects such as the Terai Roads, the cross-border rail links, development of integrated check-posts, cross-border transmission line projects, hydro-power project, cross-border oil pipeline, and address any bottlenecks on both sides to expedite the implementation of these projects.

India conveyed its readiness to move forward expeditiously on post-earthquake reconstruction projects in partnership with the Government of Nepal, within the inter-governmental framework of India’s assistance package of US $ 1 billion.

Both sides decided to convene bilateral mechanisms at an early date to promote cooperation in areas such as trade, transit, civil aviation, and water resources.

The next session of the Joint Commission will be held in Nepal at a mutually convenient date.

Question: There have been a number of ceasefire violations by Pakistan in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. Do you have anything to say as a BSF soldier has also been martyred?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: What I will say is that the terrorist attack in Uri and the continuing attacks that have been taking place with repeated frequency in parts of Jammu & Kashmir, they have all been carried out with the support of Pakistan.

It is a matter of grave concern that instead of acting against the cancer, Pakistan takes shelter in denial and abjuration. Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad are active under various aliases and find support from state organs of Pakistan.

Terror has, in fact, become the central motif in our interaction with Pakistan and it is important that Pakistan takes action to honour the various commitments it has given to us at the highest levels that it will dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism in its country, that it will not allow its soil to be used for terrorism against any country, including India. So we hope that Pakistan honours these commitments.

Question: Regarding the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, there has been a very strong reaction from Beijing. Would you like to react?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: You are aware that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a revered spiritual figure and an honored guest of India. He is absolutely free to travel to any part of the country. It is a fact that he has a sizeable following among the Buddhists in Arunachal Pradesh who like to seek his blessings. He has visited the state in the past as well and we see nothing unusual if he visits it again.

Question: It is reported that Heart of Asia Conference which is going to take place in Amritsar, Pakistan is going to participate in it, Sartaj Aziz said that. How do you look at this development? Will there be any talks on terrorism when Pakistan will be coming?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: First of all we are yet to receive an official confirmation. I have also seen the media reports but we are waiting for the official confirmation as also the level of participation from Pakistan. This is a ministerial level meeting. As you know this is multilateral meeting to discuss peace, development and cooperation, economic cooperation in particular, in Afghanistan. It has a number of countries which are members, a number of countries which are observers. In total, they are more than 40 plus, if you add the partner organizations etc.

We certainly would welcome all countries to Amritsar because we are totally committed to peace and prosperity in Afghanistan. We believe the Heart of Asia process is a very important process for taking that particular narrative forward, the three transitions that are happening in Afghanistan and how the international community can partner with Afghanistan in helping it through those three transitions. We would welcome the participation from Pakistan but whether any bilateral meeting would take place, let’s not jump the gunand let’s first get the official confirmation of participation.

Question:There is a PTI story that says that ADB has declined to fund Pakistan’s 1.4 billion dollar dam project on the Indus River as Islamabad has no NOC from India. Does that makes any sense? Does Pakistan have to get an NOC from India?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: I have not seen this report and I do not have any news about this report.

Question: When will be the next round of talks between Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen will be held? Did you get any proposal from Sri Lanka?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Yes, as you know the External Affairs Minister had invited the Sri Lankan Fisheries Minister because both sides want a permanent solution to the issue of the fishermen. Dates are currently being negotiated with the Sri Lankan side on the visit of the Sri Lankan Fisheries Minister. From our side it will Agriculture & Fisheries Minister together with the EAM who will be meeting their counterpart delegation from the Sri Lankan side. We are eagerly looking forward to that visit but I am not in a position to confirm the dates as yet.

Question: You said that Pakistani diplomat had a fake Aadhar card. I want to know if there are any more details on that because obviously that is kind of alarming that Pakistani citizen could obtain such card?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: As I said it was a fake Aadhar card, it was not a real Aadhar card. When he was first arrested he said that my name is Mehboob Rajput and he produced that Aadhar card as a proof of that identity. Only when he was taken to the Chanakyapuri Police Station and the interrogation started, that is when he acknowledged that he is MehmoodAkhtar, a member of the Pakistan High Commission and requested that the Pakistan High Commission be informed about his arrest. That is when the other chain of events was set in motion, but on subsequent examination his Aadhar card was proven to be a fake one.

Question: Who are these two people who shared these documents with Pakistani diplomat?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: They are two Indian nationals. Delhi Police have already given their details in their press briefing.

Question:Vikas, you said that the spy was an assistant to the Counselor, Trade. What’s the level of the diplomatic immunity that he really enjoys and does that include him not being detained for being questioned?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Look, he is not a diplomat in the traditional sense of the term, he probably does not have a diplomatic passport but in some respect or the other, all members of a Foreign Diplomatic Mission enjoy some level of immunity.

So we have followed the established procedure in such cases, where you cannot really arrest them and put them in jail. We have handed him back to the Pakistan High Commission and declared him "Persona non grata” as is provided under the relevant convention.

Question: Pakistani politician Imran Khan has accused India that India is trying to implode Pakistan by promoting insurgency and also certain movements. How do you deal with this because this is a member of the political class of Pakistan? Is there a kind of short cut that they are resorting to by blaming India for the problems that they are facing? How would you like to answer to that?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: First of all, I respond to statements by Pakistanis in official positions who make official statements. I cannot respond to every off the cuff remark made by any politician in Pakistan, so I am not going to respond to that.

But on a more general note, let me say, if today Pakistan is feeling itself isolated, if today Pakistan is facing increasingly the problem of terrorism on its own soil, it is because of the misguided policies that it has pursued. Pakistan itself is to be blamed for the situation it finds itself in and that is why instead of bluster and denial, I think, this should be a moment for real introspection in Pakistan. They should not remain in denial but the people of Pakistan must urge the government of Pakistan to change their current policies and adopt policies which really favor peace, progress and prosperity rather than this self-defeating, vicious cycle of terrorism.

Question: Reports suggest that there could be about half a dozen people in the Pakistan High Commission involved in the espionage racket. Is there any confirmation on that front? Has the police told you anything?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: First of all where do you have these reports from, who has given you these reports?

Question: These are coming from the Delhi Police Crime Branch sources. Is there a possibility that it goes right up to the top?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: I would suggest that you please direct your query to Delhi Police Crime Branch sources.

Question: New Zealand has said that it will take constructive approach regarding India’s entry in NSG. On what grounds it avoided direct support for India’s entry?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: I would assess the talks that were held yesterday between our Prime Minister and Prime Minister John Key as a positive outcome of a very constructive and pragmatic discussion.

New Zealand has said that it would work with others in the NSG on India’s membership so that the process can conclude successfully. India and New Zealand have also agreed to remain engaged at the senior official level going forward and the two leaders themselves will follow the progress.

I think this certainly represents good progress from the past statements that had been made. And I think the very fact that Prime Minister John Key in his press remarks also acknowledged this fact bodes very well for the future of our engagement with the NSG process.

Question: The Prime Minister will be going to Japan next month. What is the status of the nuclear deal negotiations, could you give any update on that?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: First of all I have not publicly announced Prime Minister’s visit to Japan so I cannot comment on a hypothetical scenario. But let me just say that Prime Minister will be travelling to Japan for the annual summit which takes place every year. There is an established procedure under which we announce such visits. It is done in coordination with the host government. So tomorrow we will be jointly announcing this visit.

Question:But will the nuclear deal be signed…?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup:As I said, let me first announce the visit,then I will answer questions which pertain to what may happen during that visit.

As there are no other questions, this press briefing comes to a close. Thank you all.


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