ISLAMABAD - Pakistan said on Thursday that the (closed) borders with Afghanistan would soon be opened for trade and people’s interaction.

Addressing a weekly media briefing here, Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakaria said that the borders were closed temporarily due to security reasons.

“Sooner than later we will be able to open the border and resume the trading of goods and interaction of the people as usual. I can’t give a date but we are mindful and we are taking measures which are essential,” he said.

Zakaria’s comments came after Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz met with Afghanistan’s National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar in London to discuss the two countries’ tensions. British National Security Adviser Sir Mark Lyall Grant hosted the two leaders.

This was the highest-level face-to-face meeting between the two countries after Pakistan closed borders with Afghanistan to stop infiltration. Pakistan’s action was in response to Afghanistan-based militants’ claims of carrying out the recent terror attacks in Pakistan.

Questioned about the Aziz-Atmar meeting, Zakaria said that Aziz was in London to basically attend the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group meeting. “Afghan NSA Hanif Atmar was also there. It provided a good occasion for them to engage and discuss issues of mutual interest. The issues pertain to use of Afghan soil against Pakistan, our concern about sanctuaries enjoyed by various terrorist outfits and our concern about the funding and the financing of these terrorist elements to destabilise Pakistan. This is also the background for Pak-Afghan closure of the border,” he said.

The spokesperson said that he did not know about the fencing of the Pak-Afghan border but “as to the closing of the border, I have said this thing earlier that it is a temporary measure. Security of our people and territory is of vital importance, which has been attacked time and again by the terrorist elements enjoying safe havens in Afghanistan.”

He said Afghan soil had been actually used against Pakistan. “We are taking measures to this effect. I am sure all these occasions (meetings on the sidelines of multilateral summits) provide the opportunity to the leadership of both the sides to discuss the issues and come to an understanding as to how to overcome such challenges,” he said.

Zakaria said Pakistan remained supportive of an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process for a political settlement. “Our participation in Afghan related forums including the trilateral and later six-party regional consultations is based on our policy of supporting Afghan peace initiatives. There are a number of initiatives on Afghanistan. In many of them, Pakistan wholeheartedly participates. Bringing warring factions to the negotiating table for dialogue with the Afghan government is an imperative,” he elaborated. 

The spokesperson said Pakistan had shown a number of gestures for peace which were not reciprocated by India. “We hope that India will soon realise that dialogue is a key to peace and stability in the region, as well as peace between our two countries, particularly in the context of the issue of Kashmir,” he said.

Questioned if Sartaj Aziz and his Indian counterpart will meet on the sidelines of CMAG, he said: “I’m not aware of any such proposal. The only proposal I am aware of was the meeting with Afghan NSA.”

About the victimisation of minorities in India, Zakaria said a report released last month by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom also pointed out top the issue.

The report, he said, noted with deep concern, the treatment of successive Indian governments towards minorities, particularly Muslims. “Of course, it is a matter of deep concern for us also. The international community should take note of this. The policies of the current Indian government under (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi, and the rise of Hindutva and Hindu extremist mindset has raised a lot of concerns not just for the Muslims, but other religious minorities in India also, like Christians. We have expressed our concerns about this in the past; similar concerns have figured in UN Geneva’s ongoing session on Human Rights also,” he added.

The spokesperson strongly condemned the Indian occupation forces’ continued brutalities in India occupied Kashmir, which claimed the life of a minor Kashmiri girl Kaneeza while another minor boy was injured.

He said Hurriyat leaders Syed Ali Gilani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Shabbir Ahmed Shah, Syeda Aasiya Andrabi, Yasin Malik and others were arrested. Their constant harassment, repeated detention and denial of their fundamental rights were highly deplorable.  Pakistan has raised the issue of grave human rights violations in Kashmir at the Human Rights Council in Geneva during its ongoing 34th Session, he said.

About UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres proposal to hold talks with officials from Pakistan and India on Kashmir, he said when the UN Secretary General assumed the office, he had announced that he would like to resolve the conflicts in various regions and he also talked about Kashmir, which Pakistan welcomed. 

 “Our Permanent Representative at UN New York and envoys across the world brief the people concerned on the issue of Kashmir. Maleeha Lodhi (Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN) has comprehensively briefed Antonio Guterres about the issue of Kashmir on various occasions,” he added.

He said the Asian Parliamentary Assembly was hosted by Pakistan, where India also participated.  “There is also an upcoming meeting of Indus Water Commissioners. Pakistan will be the host,” he said. He criticised Bharatiya Janata Party’s policy of using Pakistan card in their domestic politics as ‘unfortunate and regrettable.’

Zakaria said Pakistan this week had hosted a regional seminar on the implementation of UNSC Resolution 1540 in Islamabad in collaboration with the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs in which senior disarmament officials and experts of various countries and organisations participated.

Questioned about the Pakistan Naval ships and helicopters’ arrival at Iranian Bandar Abbas port in the Persian Gulf for three days, he said: “It’s a routine matter of conducting Navy drills, Pakistan Naval Ships pay goodwill port calls at various ports around the world. PNS Sultan with an embarked helicopter and PNS Jurrat are currently on a goodwill visit to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.”

The visit, he said, was aimed at promoting peace and security in the region and enhancing maritime collaboration between the two brotherly neighbours. This visit would further strengthen Pakistan-Iran bilateral relations.

Asked about US CENTCOM Commander General Joseph Votel’s statement that Pak-India conflict could go nuclear and India’s policy of diplomatic isolation of Pakistan may be a hindrance to improving ties between the two countries, he said: “Realization by the international community of the perilous situation created by India has long been emphasized by Pakistan.”

He said India had not informed Pakistan about supersonic Brahmos cruise missile tests. “The test was not notified to Pakistan. The bilateral agreement on pre-notification of missile tests covers only ballistic missiles. Cruise missiles are not covered. This underscores the need for Pakistan and India to engage in meaningful discussions on further measures for confidence-building, avoidance of arms race and promotion of strategic stability in South Asia. Pakistan stands ready for such talks with India. Our proposal for a strategic restraint regime for South Asia is still on the table,” he remarked.

The international community, he said, should also take note of the reports that India had been exercising “strategic restraint” on its missile development prior to getting the Missile Technology Control Regime membership.

He said the case of Indian spy Kulbushan Yadav was under investigation. Regarding the Samjhauta Express terrorist attack, the spokesperson said: “Indian Deputy High Commissioner was called to express our concern. So far, the Indian side has not shared any details of Samjhauta Express terrorist attack, despite the fact that promises were made at the highest political level that India will share its investigations with us. This is a matter of great concern that India is exonerating all those who were involved in Samjhauta Express terrorist attack in a very systematic manner. We will continue to take up the issue.”

On former ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani’s statement, he said: “There has been a debate in the parliament regarding this matter. Defence Minister (Khawaja Mohamed Asif) has said that he will issue a statement on the coming Monday. Therefore, let us not get into speculations and wait for his statement.”

Regarding $ 350 million grant to Pakistan under the US Coalition Support Fund, he said the CSF disbursement by the US continues and has been an important vehicle through which the US had reimbursed Pakistan over the years for the expenses incurred in providing support to counter-terrorism operations.

Commenting on the reported arrest of a Pakistani national, Amir Hamid, in China, he said whenever any Pakistani is arrested anywhere in the world, “our concerned mission immediately requests for their consular access.”