On eve of I-Day, India trades barbs with Pakistan

Pakistan High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit. File photo.

Pakistan High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit. File photo.

India and Pakistan exchanged salvos instead of the usual Independence Day greetings, with Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit calling for Kashmir’s freedom and India terming Islamabad’s policies on Kashmir “illegal” and “absurd”.

Addressing a gathering at the Pakistan High Commission to mark the Independence Day of Pakistan, Mr. Basit said on Sunday: “We dedicate this year’s Independence Day celebrations to freedom in Kashmir.”

The government responded sharply. Minister of State in the PMO Jitendra Singh said Pakistan should end its “illegal occupation” of PoK.

“Our stand is very clear in the context of the J&K issue. If at all there is any outstanding issue with Pakistan, it is how to liberate the part of J&K which remains under the illegal occupation of Islamabad after 60-65 years of Independence and make it a part of J&K and part of the Indian Union. Whatever goes on in Islamabad … is a reflection of the confusion and frustration they suffer from,” he said.

His response came soon after the Ministry of External Affairs termed Pakistan’s offer to send relief material to Kashmir as “absurd”.

“A communication was apparently delivered to our High Commission in Islamabad on August 12. I can only characterise its contents that propose sending supplies to the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir as absurd,” said Vikas Swarup, spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs.

“India and others in the region have already received enough of Pakistan’s trademark exports — international terrorism, cross-border infiltrators, weapons, narcotics and fake currency,” the Ministry of External Affairs tweeted.

On Saturday, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj termed counter-terror vital to Indian diplomacy. “Unlike in the past, we cannot agree that dialogue with the sponsors and supporters of terrorism should carry on without being linked to action in that regard,” she said, at an event attended by a large section of foreign diplomats serving in India.

However, the daily war of words has also drawn a word of caution with veteran diplomats hinting that unless addressed carefully, the current state of affairs might jeopardise the political understanding built by the governments of Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif.

“It appears High Commissioner Basit has been provocative but we have to remember that the ongoing point-by-point exchanges show that the political leadership on both sides are not reaching out to resolve the situation. It is obvious that this kind of exchanges cannot be allowed for long because India and Pakistan will have to work together at the upcoming SAARC summit,” the former Pakistan High Commissioner, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, told The Hindu , speaking on the phone from Islamabad.

The former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran told The Hindu that Mr. Basit had crossed a line by calling for Kashmir’s freedom on the eve of India’s Independence Day. “His comments on Kashmir while being in the capital of India is uncalled for,” said Mr. Saran. Another former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal said Mr. Basit probably was catering to audiences back home or was specifically instructed by the government of Pakistan to make the provocative comment.

“Diplomats serve on the field and therefore are not asked to comment on such sensitive issues and such announcements are usually made by the headquarters. But it appears that he was approved by Islamabad to make the comments which would mean that Pakistan is willing to risk expulsion of High Commissioner Basit.”

Former High Commissioner to Pakistan, G. Parthasarathy, said: “Envoys are expected to serve as a channel of communication during times of crisis. But by speaking offensively against the country to which he is accredited, High Commissioner Basit has become an embarrassment to his government. Personally speaking, I did not make a single critical remark against Pakistan even in the height of the Kargil war in 1999 as Indian envoy because as envoys we are expected to maintain open communication channels.

It means India will hesitate approaching him to serve as envoy in times of crisis. In knowledgeable circles in Delhi, High Commissioner Basit is known to be close to Pakistan military and not to the civilian government.

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Printable version | Jun 27, 2022 11:18:37 pm |