At a press conference that could derail the already faltering peace process between India and Pakistan, High Commissioner Abdul Basit on Thursday accused India of suspending Foreign Secretary-level talks and hinted that the NIA team due to visit Pakistan had not received clearance from Islamabad yet.
“As of now there is no date for the Foreign Secretary talks. I think you can say for now that the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue is suspended. Let’s see if we can commence the process,” Mr. Basit declared at a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club. Asked what the future of the dialogue process that was announced by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in Islamabad on December 9 would be, Mr. Basit replied, “I leave that to your imagination.”
Significantly, Mr. Basit indicated that there was no concrete plan to invite the NIA team, that was due to visit Pakistan to collect evidence in the Pathankot attack and even interrogate JeM chief Masood Azhar, after the Pakistani JIT visited India last month. “It is very difficult for me to say. But at this stage... the whole investigation is not about question of reciprocity in my view. It is more about extending cooperation or our two countries cooperating with each other to get to the bottom of the incident,” Mr. Basit said.
The comment is expected to create some embarrassment for the government that has come under fire from the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party over its decision to allow the JIT into the Pathankot airbase. However, the MEA countered Mr. Basit’s assertions, saying the ‘Terms of Reference’ conveyed by India to Pakistan were “broadly agreed to…on the basis of reciprocity and followed in accordance with extant legal provisions.”
On the issue of Foreign Secretary talks being suspended, the MEA also said the High Commissioner had been contradicted by his own Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson who on Thursday evening said the “countries are in contact” to work out dates. The MEA’s reaction, though swift, seemed mild in response to the strong allegations made by Mr. Basit. In the 40-minute press conference, Mr. Basit accused India of putting the Jammu and Kashmir issue, “the root cause of mutual distrust”, on the “back burner.”
Pakistan's stance shows civil-military divide
Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit, who on Thursday accused India of suspending Foreign Secretary-level talks, also raised the recent arrest in Pakistan of a former Indian naval officer accused of spying. Mr. Basit told the press conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club here: “The arrest of Kulbushan Yadav corroborates what Pakistan has been saying all along. We are aware of those who seek to create unrest in Pakistan.”
Mr. Basit’s comments came a day after an official from the Chinese Embassy defended China’s move to stop a diplomatic campaign by India at the 1267 Committee of the U.N. to ban JeM chief Masood Azhar. “We agree with the Chinese position,” Mr. Basit said, asked about the “technical hold” that has caused a rift in India-China ties. Analysts said the sharp comments by the High Commissioner were unusual, and possibly an indicator of a growing civil-military divide in Pakistan.
“Nawaz Sharif’s government is facing increasing pressure from the military which is trying to take control of foreign policy and nuclear issues,” says former Foreign Secretary Shashank. However, former High Commissioner of Pakistan to India, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, told The Hindu that he believes Mr. Sharif will prevail.