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Presser: Jack Straw and Pakistan Foreign Minister

Press Conference: Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar

Following the Foreign Secretary's visit to Islamabad for talks with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar, both held a press conference to brief the public on their discussions (23 November).

Below is a full transcript of the press conference.

MR SATTAR

... as well as rescheduling of our debt on softer terms at the meeting of the Paris Club next month. With these words, may I once again extend to you a very warm welcome and request you to address this press conference.

FOREIGN SECRETARY

Thank you very much indeed, Your Excellency. It is a real delight to be back here in Islamabad and, as Minister Sattar has said, to have the fourth meeting with him in six weeks. He made a reference to my reading of the Supreme Court Judgement of Pakistan.

Just in case that you think that I picked it up at a bookstall, I ought to explain that when I was Home Secretary in the United Kingdom, I received a request for judicial co-operation with the new government of Pakistan in respect of corruption enquiries here, and it was necessary for me to satisfy myself about the operation of the legal system here, and as I knew I was going to be challenged in the British courts about any decision I made, I thought I had better read the judgement.

Anyway, I started reading it. I have to say for those who have not read it, it is a very good read, and I have concluded that I should accede to the requests, and it is very good of you to acknowledge that.

I have had two good meetings this morning. The first, a lengthy meeting with President Musharraf and then a meeting with Minister Sattar. The agenda covered similar subjects in both meetings. First of all, obviously, the situation in Afghanistan. The current military situation, concern about the humanitarian factors in Konduz and in Kandahar, and we discussed what is a very difficult and potentially very serious situation there.

Then the meeting which is due in Bonn under the auspices of Lakhdar Brahimi and I had a discussion yesterday with his deputy, Francesc Vendrell, about the possible outcomes of that meeting and we are all agreed, and it is a point that your President makes very strongly, Minister, as you know, that it is extremely important that as quickly as possible there is a broad-based multi-ethnic civil administration introduced into Afghanistan as a precursor to a more permanent government, and that the quicker that is established, the better it will be for the short term and therefore the medium term stability of that country.

We also talked about bilateral relations between Pakistan and Iran, which was also the subject of our discussion yesterday in Tehran, as well as issues about the economic development of Pakistan, a donors meeting that was held two days ago, and the United Kingdom's aid commitment to this country, and thanks to the work of my colleague, Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, there was before 11 September, but there is now to a greater degree, a very substantial investment by the British Department for International Development in this country and, unusually amongst ailing countries, we have set a three-year time scale for this so that we can get involved in Pakistan, as in other countries, over the medium term, as well as over the short term.

And then we discussed overall strategic issues ? I did with the President ? strategic issues concerning security and stability in South Asia itself.

I am very happy to take questions.

QUESTION

My question to the British Secretary of State is that you have just mentioned about Konduz. Excellency, there is great danger of human tragedy in that city. 30,000 people have been besieged by the Northern Alliance. Your country is the champion of human rights. For this reason I am putting this question to you. What actual steps your country will take to save those human beings in Konduz.

FOREIGN SECRETARY

It is a very serious situation. It is also one where information is limited, but our position is very straightforward and that is that if people are ready to surrender, they are serious in that intention, they have given up their arms, and it is possible to accept their surrender, then their surrender should be accepted. And we all understand the potential humanitarian disaster that could be possible in Konduz.

Making those arrangements in the particular and very confused circumstances could prove extremely difficult. It also has to be said that if people have been fighting for the Taliban, as is the case for any other combatants in a similar conflict, then they stand to be detained, if they are surrendered. They cannot expect to go free. We are very concerned about this situation. It is a matter that President Musharraf raised with me.

And we shall be doing our best, but we don't have forces in the area and also we are not entirely clear whether those who are on the Taliban side have decided not to continue to fight.

QUESTION

Mr Straw, one needs to look no further than your itinerary to see that you went to Tehran first and Islamabad second, and you have said that you have discussed the relationship. What part of those talks did discussions about the Northern Alliance's role in a future government of Afghanistan have.

FOREIGN SECRETARY

Well, when I was in Tehran yesterday I had a lengthy meeting with Dr Abdullah Abdullah , the foreign affairs representative of the Northern Alliance. I thanked him for the position which the Northern Alliance has publicly taken in respect of the formation of a broad-based multi-ethnic government because there were anxieties that the Northern Alliance might have decided to take a more partisan approach to any future administration, themselves having taken Kabul.

They are themselves sending representatives to the meeting in Bonn under somebody who is fairly senior in the Northern Alliance, and we hope, given what they have already said, and expect, the Northern Alliance to continue to show a high degree of responsibility for securing a peaceful future in Afghanistan, and that can only come about if there is give and take and if there is acceptance that no one party, or no one ethnic group should have complete control of any government or administration.

QUESTION

About the meeting in Bonn. The reports that I have read are that is that there is some concern that the Pashtun group might not be truly representative of the current movers and shakers in Afghanistan. It is a lot of exile groups, apparently one from Cyprus. And then the King's contingency or contingent. I am just wondering what your thoughts are about the Pashtun representation likely to be in Bonn on Monday.

MR SATTAR

We are supporting Mr Brahimi in his own efforts to select a representative group. We are confident that with his knowledge and background he will make all efforts. But it is very difficult at this time. New forces are rising in different parts of the country, and we only hope and pray that the choice that he makes will actually lead to the formation of a broad-based transitional administration, and maybe there will be time for revision of the list of people, and for addition to that list, in order to ensure that the transitional administration is fully representative of the Afghans. This is very important for the sake of peace and stability in Afghanistan.

QUESTION

Minister Sattar, could you set out whether you still believe that in a broad-based government there should be moderate members of the Taliban represented.

MR SATTAR

Unfortunately the word moderate has been misunderstood. I would like to clarify that any Afghan who is prepared to support implementation of Security Council Resolutions of 1999, December 2000 and September 12 and October 14 of this year should be considered eligible for consultation in the formation of a broad-based government. Of course those people who are to be brought to prosecution for their part in terrorism, they are in a different class.

And these are the ones we consider to be extremists. Secondly, I want to remind you that many of the Generals in the Northern Alliance were once allied with the Soviets during their intervention in Afghanistan, so they have been forgiven for that and I think others who might have been allied with one side or the other should not be excluded for that reason alone.

QUESTION

Mr Secretary, the Northern Alliance has objected to the presence of British troops in Afghanistan. So did this issue come up in your meeting Dr Abdullah Abdullah, and what is his position now?

FOREIGN SECRETARY

Well, they are not objecting to the positioning of British troops in Afghanistan. The question did come up, indeed, and it was the subject of comment by both of us when we gave a joint press conference in Tehran yesterday. The Northern Alliance have actually welcomed the use of coalition military force to help eliminate the Taliban and the Al-Qu'eda organisation and have been working closely in that respect. So far as coalition forces for other purposes, for example to secure airfields, for protection of humanitarian workers and for general stabilisation is concerned, their position, it was made clear by Dr Abdullah Abdullah, is that they have no objection in principle, but they do wish to be consulted about any such forces, and that is a position that we accept.

QUESTION

Foreign Secretary, you have just mentioned that you have discussed additional security issues with President Musharraf. Would you like to share some .....

FOREIGN SECRETARY

Sorry, which issues?

QUESTION

You had a meeting with our President this morning and you said that you had also discussed security issues in the region.

FOREIGN SECRETARY

Yes, it was a general discussion about Pakistan and its relations with its neighbours. And there was a report in one of the Pakistan newspapers this morning about the fact that President Musharraf might be meeting Prime Minister Vajpayee at a SARC (phon.) Meeting which I think is coming up shortly. So it was a discussion in that context.

QUESTION

Mr Straw, what is your understanding of the situation in Konduz? Has the Taliban agreed to surrender, and if so, why are they not doing so.

FOREIGN SECRETARY

I am afraid that my reports are as sketchy as yours, that's the answer. I am no better informed than people here.

QUESTION

Minister Sattar, I wonder if Mr Straw has been able to reassure you this morning on concerns which are very evident reading your newspapers today which is basically that Pakistan has been too obliging to the United States in this crisis and has got less out of it than it might have hoped and that pro-Indian forces are dominant in Kabul. I read that an Indian diplomat has arrived in Kabul to set up a mission, and that a senior American official in London has said that freedom fighters, as they are called in Kashmir, aren't freedom fighters, they are terrorists. And this feeling reflected in your press that you have been too obliging.

MR SATTAR

We haven't really had time this morning to discuss the Kashmir question. As the Foreign Secretary has said in his meeting with the President, the general security situation in South Asia came up for discussion. The question of the definition of terrorism is under discussion in the United Nations and let me say that the Organisation of the Islamic Conference has a position on the subject which differentiates very clearly between terrorism on one hand, and freedom movements on the other.

I think the best thing at this time is to leave this question to the UN Conference, but quite clearly when more than 75,000 persons are said by Kashmiris to have died in the last 12 years, the question arises, who is the killer, and who is the terrorist in this case? The victims, or the perpetrators?

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