In first remarks after India announced that it had conducted surgical strikes against terror launch pads along the Line of Control, Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit said Monday that the two countries need to “talk to each other, break the ice”.
In an interview to The Indian Express, Basit said, “If India is ready, Pakistan will be willing. But if India is not ready, we can always wait. India has to make up its mind.” Seeking to lower the temperature, the Pakistan envoy said “war is not really a solution to our problems” and there is “no room for conflict in a nuclear environment”.
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He said both countries need to “bring diplomacy to centrestage” and “rather than talking at each other, it is important that you talk to each other”. But “if you immediately start saying Pakistan is a terrorist state… then you do not leave any room for cooperation,” he said.
On terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir and the apprehension of a further slide in relations, Basit said “there are huge stakes involved” on either side and there is “need to have serious, sustained diplomacy” because both countries cannot “remain in this phase indefinitely” and “need to come out”.
Reiterating his country’s position that “no surgical strike” took place and there was only “cross-LoC firing”, he said the Baramulla attack could not be called a retaliation since there was “no strike” in the first place.
On the attacks in Uri and Baramulla, he said “violence anywhere does not serve our purpose” but the “Kashmir issue needs to resolved, and cannot be brushed under the carpet”.
Asked about Pakistan Defence Minister Khawaja Asif’s threat to use nuclear weapons against India, Basit distanced himself from the comment, saying “such statements we have seen here in India also”. “Both our countries understand war is not really a solution to our problems and there is simply no room for conflict in a nuclear environment,” he said.
“It is important to avoid raising false expectations, as happened after the cross-LoC firing on September 29. We cannot afford to go down that route. Statements are made, but I think both countries do understand (the) serious implications of escalating the situation either horizontally or vertically,” he said.
To a query on the Indian soldier in Pakistani custody — on the day it announced the surgical strike, India said the soldier had strayed across and was not connected to the operation along the LoC — Basit said he was not aware of any “arrest at this point”.
“I do not know if we have made any arrest… I think this was raised by your DGMO with our DGMO this morning but so far, at least I do not know if a soldier has been arrested by Pakistan,” he said.
Calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s trip to Lahore and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Delhi for Modi’s swearing-in ceremony as “useful optics”, he said despite these “good gestures”, the two countries have not been able to engage in a substantive dialogue process.
“Optics are important, especially in (the) Pakistan and India context, but you cannot rest your entire engagement on optics, optics should lead to substance… Our PM came here to attend (Modi’s) oath-taking ceremony, all these were optics, useful optics, I would say. Those optics did help to break the ice, provided us space to move forward, but then unfortunately in the last two-and-a-half years, we haven’t been able to engage in a substantive dialogue process,” he said.
The Pakistan envoy said he has been in touch with Indian political leaders of “all hues”.
“I am in touch with politicians of all hues. You know, politicians, whether they are in Pakistan or India, they all want a good relationship… Pakistan policy should not be driven by domestic political compulsion. When that happens, you see too many ups and downs, so we also need to get out of this,” he said.
On the postponement of the SAARC summit in Islamabad and the prospect of regional isolation, he said, “Pakistan is too big a country to be isolated, so we are not worried about that, and I am sure good sense will prevail and (we) will host the 19th SAARC summit, at an appropriate time, so we are also positive… Pakistan will be able to host it…if not this year, hopefully next year.”
Asked about Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar, he said: “We need to move beyond the usual whining and whinging. Masood Azhar, if there is any solid evidence against him, he would have been on the list by now. I think China is always very correct on these matters, so I do not see any problem. If India does have any evidence, then they should share (it) with us and China. Things can be taken forward, but simply on the basis of allegations, you cannot achieve results.”
Basit’s remarks come days after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told the UN General Assembly that India had never set any condition for dialogue but only tried to strengthen ties, “but in return has got Pathankot, Uri…”
“The Prime Minister of Pakistan… said that India has placed pre-conditions for talks which are not acceptable to him. What pre-conditions? Did we impose any pre-condition before extending an invitation for the oath-taking ceremony of our Government? Did we impose any pre-condition when I went to Islamabad for the Heart of Asia conference and agreed to begin the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue? Did we impose any pre-condition when Prime Minister Modi travelled from Kabul to Lahore? What pre-conditions?” Swaraj had said.
“We took the initiative to resolve issues not on the basis of conditions, but on the basis of friendship. We have, in fact,
attempted a paradigm of friendship in the last two years which is without precedent. We conveyed Eid greetings to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, wished success to his cricket team, extended good wishes for his health and well being. Did all this come with pre-conditions attached? And what did we get in return? Pathankot, Bahadur Ali, and Uri. Bahadur Ali is a terrorist in our custody, whose confession is a living proof of Pakistan’s complicity in cross-border terror. But when confronted with such evidence, Pakistan remains in denial,” Swaraj had said.