Interview

Pakistan is not begging for dialogue: Abdul Basit

Abdul Basit, Pakistan's High Commissioner to India during an interaction with The Hindu in New Delhi on Thursday.   | Photo Credit: V.V. Krishnan

 

Pakistan Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz will be visiting India for the Heart of Asia conference this weekend. Do you expect a bilateral meeting, and where do you see ties today?

In the India-Pakistan relationship, we have seen many ups and downs. We have made many diplomatic initiatives but unfortunately things always come back to square one and we have to start afresh. What the two countries need is to make gains, and then consolidate, to build on them. But our trend is one step forward, two steps back and then discuss how to break the ice again. Some thought the Heart of Asia conference may be the time when the two countries move towards a thaw. We have expressed our readiness to consider any proposal for talks from the Indian side, whether or not they would like to have a bilateral engagement on the margins of the conference. We fully understand that the focus should stay on Afghanistan at the conference. And whether or not there are bilateral talks, our adviser is coming because Afghanistan is important for us, its stability and economy are important for us so we will participate constructively.

The challenge is for the two sides on how to move forward. In Islamabad, we do have a strong desire to move forward. We have the patience to wait. If they don’t break the ice in Amritsar perhaps we will find another opportunity somewhere later.

The MEA says no formal proposal has been received by them, are you then simply speaking through the media here?

As happens at these multilateral forum meetings, we had conveyed that our adviser would attend and he made a statement that we are open to ideas (for talks) . As hosts India will decide our programme. We have expressed our desire, but we do not know if India is willing. We are kind of in a situation where we would like the ice to break but we would not like to take any step that will not be reciprocated.

You said Afghanistan’s stability is important, but both India and Afghanistan hold Pakistan responsible for cross border terrorism they face. Are you worried that you will be cornered at the conference with the declaration that is likely to contain tough words on terror?

Why should we worry because terrorism is also an important issue for us and the final draft on terror is being negotiated, and many brackets will be removed from the declaration before it is cleared. We are not worried. We have our own positions on these issues. We are the outgoing co-chair., and we were able to have an Islamabad declaration which will be followed by the Amritsar declaration.

Is the 2003 ceasefire now dead? Have the recent exchanges of fire on the LoC and International border now taken India and Pakistan back to the pre-2003 ceasefire situation?

2003 ceasefire was an important Confidence Building Measure (CBM). We would not like to see it destroyed. That’s why, last week, our DGMO took the initiative to speak to his Indian counterpart. We would very much like peace and tranquility to be preserved. I think this CBM should not be ended. We must preserve it and then consolidate.

What is the mechanism to do this now. Should Army chiefs meet?

No, I think the first step is to give diplomacy a chance. Unless we do that I don’t know how we can achieve these objectives, and create the space for it.

What according to you is responsible for the flare up at the LoC

I don’t want to dwell on it but in Pakistan, there is a feeling that since July 8th, what is happening in Jammu and Kashmir have made things difficult. Whatever India and Pakistan agreed to in Islamabad last year (during Sushma Swaraj’s visit) of a comprehensive dialogue process including Jammu and Kashmir, the feeling in Islamabad is that there is no desire for a comprehensive dialogue in Delhi. The problem with LoC firing is you blame us, and we blame you.

So how do you go forward?

The first thing is the firing must end immediately, and then the next step has to be bilateral engagement. That is unavoidable. You can’t agree on anything unless you talk with each other. I can’t say more, because I don’t know what India wants to do.

We did have engagement…PM Modi invited PM Sharif, then he visited Lahore…but we are still at the same place.

This is somehow the nature of our relationship. We all thought that our PM coming we were all looking to a good process. But you all know what followed with the Hurriyat. Then FS Jaishankar visited Pakistan. The July 8th comes and we are back to square one. Hence it is in my view important not to brush aside issues that bedevil relations. Jammu and Kashmir becomes the issue between us. It’s resolution is absolutely important for us. That is not happening. We have already agreed that on the comprehensive dialogue framework. If we are ensconsed in our respective positions then we wont move.

You say Jammu & Kashmir is the main issue, we say no talks till terror end. Why is Pakistan unable to deliver action on terror groups like LeT and JeM when it can’t take action against other groups.

There is zero tolerance for terrorism in Pakistan. The organisations you mentioned are proscribed organisations. We have in the past taken actions against them. And if there is proof against them it should be shared with us not speculation and hearsay.

But all terrorism is a big issue for us. We want to discuss what is happening in Balochistan, FATA, Karachi. We would like to move in a more reasonable manner.

What more proof do you want for action against Masood Azhar for example. Everyone saw him on TV being exchanged for hostages…is there any doubt about his guilt?

This cannot be done just on the basis of speculation or unfounded stories. We are ready to play our role, so long as this is done on the basis of irrefutable evidence . Even after Pathankot, Pakistan moved quickly and filed an FIR. That should be testimony to the seriousness of purpose, but they need a cooperative approach.

The Pakistan government has started an International campaign on Kashmir, is it possible to have a dialogue at the same time?

Pakistan will continue to extend moral and diplomatic support to the people of J&K. To expect Pakistan to look the other way would not be possible. And we are not alone. OIC has issued a statement on support of J&K. UN Human Rights Commissioner wants to send a fact finding mission there.

What about the fact that in the region Pakistan has been isolated on this issue, which led to the SAARC summit being cancelled?

That is a temporary thing. If SAARC couldn’t be held that is our collective loss. We also have serious issues on terrorism. The entire leadership of the TTP, for example, is in Afghanistan. We still strongly feel that terrorism is a common challenge and it is only through a cooperative approach that we can make a difference, not targeting one country.

So what are you suggesting for dialogue. Can Pakistan give any assurances on terror?

I think we need to work on how to break the impasse between us. It is a slightly skewed approach to think India is doing a favour by having a dialogue process. Pakistan is not begging for dialogue. If India is not ready, we can always wait. We will continue to work to break the impasse, but we are very clear that dialogue is the only way our countries can move forward and they cannot live in a state of perpetual hostility. Talking to each other is inevitable. Whether it happens 1 year down the road or 3 years down the road.

What is behind the new friendship with Russia? Many in India have been concerned given the first military exercise and other exchanges…

If Russia engages with Pakistan how is it a loss for India? We are living in a world that is transforming in many ways. Russia is a sovereign country, so is Pakistan. China and India have very good relations, China is one of India’s biggest trading partners, but that doesn’t have an impact on Pakistan and China’s strategic partnership. All good relations work to our collective advantage. I don’t subscribe to this zero sum game. Also remember, Russia played an important part when the Tashkent agreement happened, so good relations always help.

What about the US? We saw the statement on the conversation between President-elect Trump and PM Sharif where he offered to play a role to help sort out problems.

Well, we are looking forward to having a good relationship with the incoming administration in the US. The US is our largest trading partner, and has a big role in Afghanistan . What the US will do vis a vis India and Pakistan is not for me to say. At the end of the day any decision has to be taken by India and Pakistan rather than a third country. We have to take the difficult decisions. We can count on US and other countries to encourage us. But primary decisions lie between New Delhi and Islamabad.

How worried are you about PM Modi’s recent statements on the Indus Water Treaty?

Indus Water Treaty is a permanent treaty. It can neither be changed nor abandoned unilaterally. We urge India to discuss their problems through dispute settlement mechanisms. And so far we have been able to resolve all our issues.

How do you see the new restraint on cultural exchanges, on Pakistani film stars and performers as well as Pakistan’s ban on Indian films?

We saw what happened to Fawad Khan and we are concerned by that. Look, it is difficult to build these ties, but easy to destroy them. We need to try and build on CBMs rather than taking steps away from them . I would encourage people to people contacts. This year we issued visas immediately to Sikh Yatris and Hindu Yatris for pilgrimages. That continues to be our approach. But there is public opinion in Pakistan building up too that follows Pakistan bashing here and the ban there was in reaction to the events here.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Apr 19, 2021 2:43:40 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/interview/Pakistan-is-not-begging-for-dialogue-Abdul-Basit/article16737668.ece1

Next Story