As news broke of Ajmal Kasab being awarded the death sentence for his role in the Mumbai 2008 terror attacks, Pakistan on Thursday hoped that non-state actors, and shrill statements made by a section of Indian polity and officialdom would not derail the dialogue that was resumed in Thimphu only last week.

Asked for a reaction by the media at a routine briefing just as television channels were beaming the trial court verdict, Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit — in the first official reaction to the death sentence — said legal experts would need to go through the detailed judgment first. At the same time, he pointed out that Pakistan had strongly condemned the horrific Mumbai attack and said “it is important that culprits are brought to book.''

On the specific issue of observations by Indian officials that the verdict was a message to Pakistan that it should not export terror, Mr. Basit said: “It is important to avoid such far-fetched statements as both countries have agreed to resume dialogue.''

Meanwhile, in an interview to “Devil's Advocate'' on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was optimistic of the spirit of dialogue prevailing over hiccups like Kasab's conviction and indictment of Hafiz Saeed and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi of the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Stating that the prime ministers of India and Pakistan have acknowledged dialogue as the only sensible way forward, he said: “Yes, there will be difficulties and hiccups but we have to move on. We have a much bigger agenda and we should not let any individual, non-state actor or any terrorist organisation impede the peace process. We should develop it to such an extent that it becomes irreversible.''

On whether Pakistan would accept the death sentence or plead for leniency, Mr. Qureshi said: “We will have to respect each other's judicial process.'' As for Pakistan seeking Kasab's extradition, the Minister pointed out that it was not the decision of the government but a requirement of the court. “The Government of Pakistan was conveying the decision of the court.'' This distinction was again drawn by the Foreign Office spokesman at his weekly briefing.

Contesting the charge made by the media that Pakistan has been spineless in its response when cases are filed against its nationals overseas, Mr. Basit said the government has always provided legal aid where it is legitimate. “We need to draw a distinction between where assistance is legitimately required and where it is not.”