PAKISTAN High Commissioner Abdul Basit Friday said Pakistan’s priority was to work for peace and stability in Afghanistan. “The issues with India can wait, not the ones with regard to Afghanistan,” he said.
Basit was addressing a gathering here at a programme ‘Dialogue without Borders’ organised by the Lokmat group of newspapers. “Here in India, you can’t imagine what Pakistan has gone through after 1979 due to instability in Afghanistan. Today, Pakistan has 30 million Afghan refugees that has caused a great stress to the country’s economy. Fatigue factor has set in. Pakistan needs to address the issues vis-a-vis Afghanistan first while those with India can wait,” he said.
Former Indian diplomat Vivek Katju, BJP ideologue Seshadri Chari, Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi and journalist Jatin Desai were the other speakers.
“When Pakistan came into being, we didn’t have any industry worth the name. We used to stitch papers with thorns as we didn’t even have pins. But we surged ahead and were progressing better than even India and China till 1979. And then Afghanistan happened. We did not invite the Russians there,” Basit said.
Stressing the importance of continuing dialogue, Basit said, “I would like to unburden the weight on my heart (dil ka bojh halka kar lu). Terrorism is not the root cause of mistrust between our two countries. The root cause is in our history beginning with Kashmir in 1948 and through the various wars we fought. We can’t solve this problem by use of force. If terrorism were the only issue, we could have solved it at once.”
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Basit expressed happiness over Prime Minister Narendra Modi inviting Nawaz Sharif for his swearing-in. “It was a very difficult decision for Sharif to come here but he took the call. But after that the dialogue process got interrupted after my meeting with Hurriyat leaders. Foreign Secretary Sujata Singh was to go to Pakistan for NSA-level talks but that didn’t happen. Later, Sushma Swaraj visited Pakistan. And Modi made an impromptu visit to meet Sharif. But later Pathankot happened and again the dialogue was interrupted,” he said.
He added, “We should not draw any premature conclusions about Pathankot and should also not talk publicly about it. To find out who did the attack is a shared objective”.
Basit stressed that India and Pakistan should not discontinue dialogue citing terrorism. “We can unilaterally also do many things like increasing the number of visas for our citizens, increasing air connectivity, increasing cultural exchange, etc. Why can’t Pakistani TV channels and films be exhibited in India. We must end the zero sum game between the two nations and work for achieving peace.”
Katju said, “Pathankot happened after Modi’s visit to Pakistan. Public opinion in India will never accept the dialogue (after that). Emotions will not solve problems, common grounds of interest would. The attempt should be to enhance the space for common interests like trade.”
BJP leader Chari stressed the need to continue dialogue. “Vajpayee took the initiative by visiting Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif also came down on Modi’s invite. We must continue to talk to each other. For India though the dilemma is who do you talk to in Pakistan. There is government, there is army and even non-state actors.” Chari observed, “The new generations in both the countries want to move ahead. We must continue to talk to each other.”
Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi said, “Not only the two governments, but also the two armies and media in the two countries have regular exchanges of dialogue. We should not become slaves of history but should create new history.”