Pakistan, India need to continue engagement on terror and other issues as the only option: Abdul Basit

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ISLAMABABD, June 21 (APP): Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India
reiterating Pakistan’s position that talks and preconditions cannot go together, hoped that bilateral talks between the two countries would resume in the near future.
As he ends his stint, he talks about need for a structured initiative on
the ‘front channel’. He calls for keeping the door open to all possibilities, reports Indian prominent Newspaper, the Hindu.
Abdul Basit’s tenure as Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India began in
March 2014, a few months before the NDA government assumed office. The last three years have seen many low points in bilateral ties – from the cancellation of the Foreign Secretary level talks in August 2014 following Basit’s invitation to Hurriyat leaders to a near-freeze in dialogue over cros border terror attacks.
However, Basit believes that the agreement between the two sides on
a framework for comprehensive dialogue in December 2015 is a silver lining.
In an interview with the newspaper when asked about the cricket and
rivalry between the two neighbours, he remarked that Pakistan and India should play cricket and other sports too. “If we put off all sporting ties until we solve our problems, that wouldn’t be wise. These events do help create a better environment and we need that.”
To another question he said that sports and politics should be kept
separate, and Pakistan has been proposing and suggesting cricketing ties and others throughout. So our position is very clear, he added.
About the Pak-India relations during his 3 years tenure, he said, “We
were very hopeful because our Prime Minister took a very bold decision to travel to India in May 2014, but after that the process got stuck. Notwithstanding all the problems, the two countries were able to agree on a framework to restart talks in December 2015 and on the comprehensive bilateral dialogue, which was our biggest achievement in the last three years.” Now, whenever the two sides agree to talk to each other, at least we wouldn’t be spending too much time finalizing the modalities for talks, he added.
“In diplomacy, you cannot simply lock the door and throw the key away.
You have to keep the door open for possibilities. I am hopeful that Pakistan and India will talk to each other, but whether it happens now or two years down the road, I do not know.”
When asked that the Indian government holds him responsible for closing one door and crossing a ‘red line’ by inviting Hurriyat leadership of IoK for meetings, in 2014, just before the Foreign Secretary was leaving for Pakistan, he said “No, Pakistan has been engaging with the Hurriyat, and we never thought it should be a problem, and still don’t. But since then too, we have been meeting the Hurriyat leadership and there has been no problem. Our meetings should be seen in a constructive way, as it helps us find a just and fair solution to the long-standing dispute over Jammu and Kashmir.”
Pakistan’s position is that Hurriyat represents the political
aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and that’s why these talks are necessary, he argued.
When asked how Pakistan can rewsume talks with India, he said, “We in
Pakistan strongly feel that talks and preconditions do not go together. India has a different position. Now terrorism is also a big issue for us, and in Pakistan, Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav’s conviction has proven our concerns. We aren’t shying away from issues like terrorism. But even when you look at the Mumbai or Pathankot attacks, if you want to conduct a proper trial, the two countries would need to cooperate with each other. And this cooperation cannot take place in a void or a vacuum. Without talking, how can you realistically expect these issues to come to a close? I feel that now that we have a framework under which to resume talks, it is just a matter of time…
He was of the view that the issues remain the same. No matter how much you fiddle with this framework, you will end up coming to the same issues. Obviously we don’t expect overnight results, but our engagement must not be interrupted. Only then can we move beyond this environment of accusations.
Responding to another query, the Ambassador said, “As I said, talks and preconditions can’t go together. We have no qualms about solving our problems bilaterally, and we have been trying to do that…”
When asked if Pakistan was constantly looking for a third party, Abdul
Basit said, “Well, we have not seen much progress in the 40-plus years since the Shimla agreement (1972) on bilateral talks, on the core dispute. If there is no movement on the bilateral front, you cannot expect Pakistan not to even discuss that with the rest of the world… Jammu and Kashmir is central to Pakistan-India relations, and we feel that is the root cause of all our problems.
The UN Security Council in its resolution 1172 of June 1998 stated that
Pakistan [and India] should resolve their bilateral disputes, including Jammu and Kashmir. So the international community is aware of the problem. In a recent interview to The Hindu too, the Saudi Ambassador here showed an interest in facilitating dialogue between India and Pakistan, he said.
We do not see any move on the part of New Delhi to reach out for a
structured dialogue with us.
To a question about the recent irritants on both sides for normalizing
the relations, Abdul Basit insisted that issues remain the same. “These are offshoots of the same problems we have been grappling with. You mentioned that India brought up Balochistan; we raised (India’s support to) Balochistan in 2009 at Sharm el-Sheikh.
In our view, the surgical strikes never took place, and it was Delhi’s
decision to take the Jadhav issue to an international court, let’s see what happens. All these new issues that you mention only complicate the path to addressing the root causes: terrorism, Kashmir, Siachin, Sir Creek and others.”
When asked why Pakistan is not taking some real hard action against
Hafiz saeed, the Ambassador said, “No individual in Pakistan is above the law. It is not the first time he has been put under house arrest, the law will move against him. At the end of the day it is for the courts to decide.”
To a question that the UNSC, the U.S. and many other countries seem to agree that the man (Hafiz Saeed) is a terrorist and Pakistan government has also agreed then why is it so difficult for Pakistan to take serious action against Hafiz Saeed, or Masood Azhar, the Ambassador said, “If we do have evidence maintainable in a court of law, and if India cooperates by giving us hard evidence, that could help too.”
About the links of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed with Osama bin Laden and adequate action aganst them, Abdul Manan said the government was trying its best. All these groups have been banned in Pakistan, he added.
About the Indian concerns and holding of SAARC process, he said, “I
haven’t seen any move to hold the SAARC summit yet. This hasn’t happened for the first time, and SAARC has been held up before. We wouldn’t like the process to suffer, as all the countries in South Asia have invested a lot in it. There is no proposal under consideration to move the venue, and Pakistan will host the 19th SAARC summit, whenever that happens,” he asserted.
On a question on Jadhav case, the ambassador said, “There is a process that is ongoing, and if Jadhav’s appeal were rejected [by the court], that would be the time for the Army chief or the President to reconsider the sentence against him. He has been tried, he has been convicted, and he has the right to appeal. If that is rejected, then he has the right to submit an application for clemency to the Army chief, and if he denies it, then to the President. So there is room for a rethink there.”
The ambassador said there was was no back channel between Pak-India
relations. We must first think of a formal structured dialogue and then we can think of a back channel, he added.
Referring to progress between the two countries during 2000 to 2008, the ambassador said even at that time, the back channel was in parallel to a “front-channel” process, so that was a different phase in the relationship.
On a question on Kashmir, Abdul Basit said that as far as Islamabad is
concerned, no solution is acceptable unless it is acceptable to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Any other solution will fall apart very quickly, he added.
He said most of Pak-India diplomatic processes are consumed by these
perennial gridlocks like some terrorist activity just before the dialogues. We need to spend more time and energy resolving the key issues. This is an important relationship, it is important that India and Pakistan work together to address South Asia’s challenges.