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Transcript of Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson (January 07, 2016)

January 07, 2016

Official Spokesperson (Shri Vikas Swarup): Good evening friends and welcome to the first press briefing of 2016. Let me take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy, fruitful and creatively fulfilling 2016.

Of course it has not begun on a very good note as far as we are concerned with the terrorist attack and today the demise of the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, but anyway this is something that we will have to deal with.

I will start with a couple of announcements and then we can go into the Q&A.

I begin with an important announcement that the Hon. External Affairs Minister has already tweeted about a short while ago. For those of you who have not followed the tweet, it said basically that following a proposal made by Hon. External Affairs Minister, the Hon. Prime Minister has approved the merger of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs with the Ministry of External Affairs.

As you know, since the creation of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs in 2004, there have always been two separate Ministers in charge of the work of the two separate Ministries. It is only since 2014 that one Minister, Shrimati Sushma Swaraj; and one Minister of State, General (Retd.) V.K. Singh, have handled both the portfolios. As a result of this, it soon became apparent that there was more that could be done to utilize the natural synergy between our foreign policy objectives and diaspora outreach, and that the division between the Ministries was entirely unnatural resulting in duplication of work and unnecessary delays.

As you know, the entire execution of decisions and policies taken by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs lay on our Missions and Posts abroad which come under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of External Affairs. Indeed even for the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs’ responses to Parliament Questions, it needed to rely on data provided by our Missions and Posts. So keeping in line with the Government’s overall objective of minimizing government and maximizing governance, the process of merger of the two Ministries has now begun.

The administrative arrangements of the merger are currently being worked out and the details will be made available to you in due course. The arrangements are being personally supervised by the External Affairs Minister to ensure that the current resources and capabilities are strengthened and all the needs and concerns of the diaspora are fully taken care of.

Let me also add that in line with the change, the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas will be celebrated by the Ministry of External Affairs on the 9th of January. Our Missions and Posts abroad have also been tasked with appropriate celebrations abroad including the live telecast of the External Affairs Minister’s Address on that occasion.

My second announcement pertains to the visit of the Foreign Minister of Syria. His Excellency Mr. Walid al Moualem, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Syrian Arab Republic would be visiting India from the 11th to the 14th of January 2016, at the invitation of the External Affairs Minister. He will meet the External Affairs Minister for bilateral talks of mutual interest. He will also meet the Indian leadership during his stay. His Excellency Mr. Walid al Moualem will be accompanied by four other delegation members: Dr. Faisal Mikdad, the Vice Foreign Minister; Mr. Ahmed Arnous, Advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister; Mr. Bassam Al Khatib, Chief of Cabinet of the Deputy Prime Minister; and Ms. Geid Zreik from the Minister’s Office.

That concludes my announcements. Now I am sure all of you are very keen to get into the Q&A.

Question: I would like you to confirm or deny whether the Indian Consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan was the direct target of the terrorists. And who were the people behind it?

Official Spokesperson: Yes, I can confirm that the Indian Consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif was indeed the target of a terrorist attack. The reports that we have received from the Afghan authorities on the 6th of January indicate that armed terrorists attacked the Consulate General of India in Mazar-i-Sharif in Balkh province of Northern Afghanistan on the night of January 3, 2016 with heavy ammunition like RPGs. ITBP security personnel guarding the Consulate kept the attackers at bay till the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) arrived at the scene to neutralise the terrorists. The operation lasted till the night of the 4th of January 2016 when the ANDSF were able to eliminate the four terrorists who had been holed up in a building near the Consulate. One Afghan National Police personnel lost his life while nine ANDSF personnel were injured during the attack.

As you are aware, President Ghani telephoned Prime Minister on the 4th of January and strongly condemned the terrorist attack in Pathankot and briefed the Prime Minister about the terrorist attack that had just taken place at the Consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif. Prime Minister Modi thanked the President of Afghanistan for ensuring the security of the Indian Consulate General and its personnel.

The Afghan government authorities and its various agencies and also the provincial authorities of Balkh displayed tremendous coordination in foiling the attempts of the terrorists to attack the Indian Consulate. We salute the exemplary courage and admirable resilience shown by the ANDSF personnel during the operations which resulted in keeping the Consulate officials out of harm’s way.

Question: …(Inaudible)…

Official Spokesperson: The investigation from the Afghan security agencies is now going on and we await the details from them.

Question: What is the status of the proposed Foreign Secretary level talks between India and Pakistan on 15th January?

Official Spokesperson: Let me preface this with a broader explanation of our Pakistan policy.The Government’s Pakistan policy is clear and consistent. India wants friendly relations with all its neighbours including Pakistan. We have extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan but we will not countenance cross-border terrorist attacks. As you would recall, the decision to commence a Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue with Pakistan followed the constructive meeting of the National Security Advisors in Bangkok in which the central concerns of terrorism, peace and security, and tranquillity along the Line of Control were discussed. The terrorist attack on the Pathankot airbase has once again put renewed focus on the challenge posed by cross-border terrorism.

As far as we are concerned, the ball is now in Pakistan’s court. The immediate issue in front of us is Pakistan’s response to the terrorist attack and the actionable intelligence that has been provided to them. I think it will be premature for me to say anything more at this point.

Question: Our policy consistently has been that terror and talks cannot go together. Is India sticking to this point or not?

Official Spokesperson: Of course we are sticking but we have said we must have talks on terror, and that is why the National Security Advisors met in Bangkok and they discussed all issues connected to terrorism.

Question: …(Inaudible)…

Official Spokesperson: Right now for us the immediate priority is - there was a conversation as you know between our Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of Pakistan. During that conversation our Prime Minister very strongly urged the Prime Minister of Pakistan to take action. Actionable intelligence in regard to the terrorist attack and the links with the perpetrators in Pakistan was provided to the Pakistani side. The Pakistan Prime Minister promised us prompt and decisive action. We now await that prompt and decisive action. I will just restrict myself to that.

Question: Sir, Pakistani media ke havaale se khabar aa rahi hai ki bahattar ghante mein Pakistan, jo evidence Bharat Sarkar ne provide kiye hain us par karravayi karega aur is silsile mein raids bhi shuru ho gayi hain. Abhi Hamid Mir ka shayad …(Inaudible)… chala hai. Main aapse jaanna chahta hun aapki pratikriya.

Official Spokesperson: Mujhe toh aisi koi jaankaari abhi nahin mili hai lekin agar yeh aisa ho raha hai to bahut achha ho raha hai. Is ke matlab hain ki Pakistan ne jo kaha ki vo karenge vo kar rahe hain. Lekin main Hamid Mir ke bayaan ke upar toh nahin jaunga, jab mere paas officially iski khabar aayegi tab main pratikriya dunga.

Question: When you say ‘prompt and decisive’ action, what exactly do you mean? Do you mean arrest of all those in the J-e-M who are involved? Do you want them to be sent to India? What is it that you have told the Pakistani side?

Official Spokesperson: I am not going to parse the meaning of ‘prompt’ and ‘decisive’. We are not imposing any deadline. At the same time, prompt means prompt and we will go by the common sense interpretation of that word.

Question: Sir, Pradhan Mantri ji Moscow se chale, Kabul aaye, Kabul se chale, Lahore aaye, phir Dilli aaye. Aur Afghanistan mein bhi hamle hue, phir hamaare yahan hamle hue. Toh kya nahin lagta ki yeh donon ke taar kahin ek hi jagah yaani Pakistan mein jude hue hain? Aur kya jab Nawaz Sharif se jab baat hui Pradhan Mantri ki, unhonne Afghanistan par bhi charcha ki?

Official Spokesperson: Nahin. Jo Pradhan Mantriyon ki jo baat-cheet hui thi vo keval Pathankot par jo aatanki hamla hua hai uske sandarbh mein baat-cheet hui thi. Ab taar kiske kahan jude hain yeh toh investigations se hi pata lagega. Jahan tak hamaara maanna hai, hum kisi bhi tarah ke cross-border terrorist attack ko nahin jhelne ko taiyar hain aur hum uske prati kadi karravayi karenge.

Question: …(Inaudible)…Foreign Secretary level talks. …(Inaudible)…

Official Spokesperson: Mark my words! I said we are waiting for Pakistan to take action on the actionable intelligence that has been provided to them, and the assurances that have been given to us of prompt and decisive action. Obviously if that prompt and decisive action happens, it creates a different dynamic.

Question: …(Inaudible)…Prime Ministers. Is it a strategic talk or is there more to it which needs some explanation to the media?

Official Spokesperson: I do not understand what you mean by strategic talks.

Question: The National Advisors have met in Thailand and they have made certain strategic dialogue. Strategic dialogue means, the next time when we meet we will have some strategy on the affairs of the two nations. Do you feel some strategy has been worked out for the talks or is it just announcement from the two nations?

Official Spokesperson: Are you talking about the conversation between the two Prime Ministers?

Question: No, the entire strategy …(Inaudible)…

Official Spokesperson: That I explained to you, I think you did not observe. What I said in my response to the second question was that we were able to commence the process of a Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue based on the constructive discussions that were held between the two National Security Advisors in Bangkok on the issue of terrorism, because for us that is a very important concern.

Question: I will just rephrase my question. Are you satisfied with the present strategy which the two nations or the two External Affairs are taking?

Official Spokesperson: There is no question of being satisfied or unsatisfied. We have to deal with the situation as it emerges. As I said, a very positive atmosphere had been created following Prime Minister’s visit to Lahore, and now we are faced with a difficult situation because of the terrorist attack on the Pathankot airbase. Now we are dealing with the aftermath of that particular terrorist incident.

Question: One of the things that were spoken of, as you said, was that you were creating an atmosphere conducive to talking and you talked on terror in Bangkok which is what led to this meeting. There has also been a general acceptance that whenever there is a rapprochement between the two countries, somebody tries to derail the peace process. When you say prompt and decisive, are you then going to allow these Foreign Secretary talks to be derailed by the elements that want to derail the talks?

Official Spokesperson: We are not derailing anything, we are not foreshadowing anything, we are not imposing any deadline, that is what I said. Let us not put the cart before the horse. Let us deal with the immediate situation in front of us. Media unfortunately wants everything in black and white - are the talks happening or not happening? Prompt and decisive action is what was assured to us by the Pakistan Prime Minister. But as I said, I am not going to parse the definition of prompt, that prompt means 72 hours or it means five days or it means seven days. Prompt means prompt.

Question: …(Inaudible)…

Official Spokesperson: As I said, let us not get into that. We will cross that bridge when we come to it. Right now, as I told you, our immediate priority is getting to the bottom of this terrorist attack, ensuring that investigations into this are carried out by the right quarters.

Question: …(Inaudible)… unhonne taftish ki thi ya ISI ka bhi haath ho sakta hai. Kya is mein aatankvaadi groups hain ya vahan ke jo institutions hain unka bhi haath hai?

Official Spokesperson: Jo bhi hai, job hi groups hain, yeh toh Pakistan ko karyavahi karni hai...

Question: Bharatiya agencies kya ...

Official Spokesperson: Dekhiye, agencies kya keh rahi hain main usmein nahin jaa raha hun. Hum logon ne Pakistan ko kuchh prakar ki information di hai. Ab Pakistan ko us information ke upar action lena hai. Aur jitney bhi individuals hain, groups hain, vo sab us action mein shamil ho jaate hain. Hum logon ka unse kehna hai ki aapko ye cross-border aatanki hamle rokne hain; is cross-border aatanki hamlon ke peechhe jis bhi individual ka haath hai, jis bhi group ka haath hai, uske khilaf aap action lijiye.

Question: …(Inaudible)…Clearly batayenge ki prompt kya hai aur kitna samay mein …(Inaudible)…

Official Spokesperson: Clear kyon hum karein?

Question: Hum yeh jaanna chah rahe hain to the point kya 15 tareekh ko vaarta ho payegi ya nahin.

Official Spokesperson: Abhi hum log saat tareekh par hain. Pandrah tareekh abhi aath din door hai. Hum dekhte hain ki aaj se aur tab ke beech mein kya hota hai. Aap bhi dekhiyega kya hota hai.

Question: Can you confirm if Mr. Modi will be meeting Mr. Nawaz Sharif in Washington end of March?

Official Spokesperson: Voh 15 ki baat kar rahe hain aur aap Farvari aur March tak chale gaye!

Question: There are reports that the Prime Minister is likely to visit ...

Official Spokesperson: All I can say is that Prime Minister of India has been invited by President Obama for the Nuclear Security Summit. As and when a decision is taken that Prime Minister is attending, then we will deal with these issues.

Question: There are reports that he is going to Kenya next month. Is that correct?

Official Spokesperson: No.

Question: I understand that our Foreign Secretary is meeting his Japanese counterpart and this has almost coincided with the worrisome testing of the hydrogen bomb by North Korea. To what extent do you think this will cast a shadow on the progress of the India-Japan civil nuclear cooperation?

Official Spokesperson: I do not think this has any impact on that. It is not as if this is the first time North Korea has tested a nuclear weapon, they have done this in the past. We have expressed deep concern in the past as well and we have done so again through our Press Release of yesterday.

Question: Aap keh rahein hain ki Pakistan ko aap logon ne kuchh zaruri soochnayein muhaiya karaayi hai. Kya Pathankiot hamle mein Pakistan ke kisi sarkari tantra ka haath nahin tha ya tha isko lekar bhi koi soochna hai ya phir hum usko clean chit de rahe hain ki ISI ...

Official Spokesperson: Vo soochna kya hai, vo actionable intelligence kya hai vo public mein toh hum usko rakhenge nahin. Jinke paas vo soochna pahunchni thi, jinke paas vo information paunchni thi un tak pahunch chuki hai, unhon ne acknowledge kar liya hai. Unhon ne kaha hai we are working on the leads provided by India. Ab dekhte hain natija kya nikalta hai.

Question: Indian media is reporting that this terrorist attack was conducted by Jaish-e-Mohammad. Can Indian Government confirm this point?

Official Spokesperson: As I said, this is a matter for investigation by the Pakistani authorities on the basis of the evidence that we have provided them. Once they have investigated, then we will know exact identity of who is behind it.

Question: This is regarding the …(Inaudible)… strategy vis-a-vis with Pakistan starting from the NSA level talks in Bangkok. In terms of talks, has India insisted on bringing the Pakistan Army on board during the talks given that in the past so many years engaging only with the civilian government has seemingly been ineffective?

Official Spokesperson: Their National Security Advisor is a former army officer.

Question: …(Inaudible)… Government regarding the situation prevailing between Saudi Arabia and Iran?

Official Spokesperson: As you know, we have friendly relations with both countries and we would hope that they are able to resolve the differences in a peaceful manner, and international norms in terms of protection of diplomats etc., are adhered to by all sides.

Question: This is with reference to the Syrian Foreign Minister’s visit. I presume ISIL will be one of the issues which will be on the table. I am just wondering, last week there was this victory by the Iraqi Army, they took over Ramadi. Does the Indian Government see it as a significant victory against ISIL?

Official Spokesperson: Yes, we welcome the liberation of the City of Ramadi by the Iraqi armed forces from the control of ISIS. India strongly supports the Iraqi people and the government in their war against terror and their efforts to uphold national sovereignty and preserve their territorial integrity.

Question: Abhi jitne savaal hain Bharat-Pak sambandhon ke pariprekshya mein, jo bhi mahaul hai, jo itihas hai pehle aur aaj ki sthiti mein, mera savaal hai ki Bharat Sarkar aasha aur nirasha ke pariprekshya mein, aasha aur nirasha ko lekar kitna pratishat deti hai jisse ki hum aage vaarta aur aage dialogue ko badhate rahein? Aap kitne aashanvit hain? Uska pratishat kya hai?

Official Spokesperson: Dekhiye, hum aasha nirasha ke basis par nahin chalte hain, hum realism ke basis par chalte hain. Hamaare saamne ek particular situation hai aur hamein dekhna hai us situation se ab kya nikalta hai. Aur jo situation se niklega uspar hi aasha ya nirasha nirbhar karegi.

Question: Could you please confirm if the External Affairs Minister is travelling to Israel and Palestine?

Official Spokesperson: External Affairs Minister, as you know, had announced at her press conference that she would be traveling to Israel and Palestine. I can confirm to you that she would be traveling shortly. Exact dates I cannot announce to you because, as you know, the announcement is coordinated with the countries that she is visiting. But I can confirm to you that she would be shortly visiting Israel and Palestine.

Question: Is there a possibility of NSAs meeting before the Foreign Secretaries?

Official Spokesperson: There has been no discussion with Pakistan on this particular matter.

Question: After the Mazar-i-Sharif attack there was a bomb blast outside the Jalalabad Mission. It was not targeted at the Indian Consulate but it was outside the Pakistani guesthouse and I read reports that it was just a kind of a decoy. What do you have to say to this?

Official Spokesperson: Our information is that the blast took place 400 metres away from the Indian Consulate and 400 metres is a fairly long distance, as you know. So we were luckily not targeted in that particular attack.

Question: Kya aap yeh cheez clear kar sakte hain ki agar Pakistan action leta hai toh 15 tareekh ko baat-cheet hogi?

Official Spokesperson: Dekhiye, main ne kaha hai ki action pehle hamaare saamne aa jaane dijiye uske baad main sab kuchh spasht kar dunga.

Dhanyavad. Thank you.

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