A defiant Pakistan on Wednesday made it clear that it will continue talking to Kashmiri separatists, saying that the “bottomline” for Indo-Pak talks on Kashmir issue was to engage all stakeholders, evoking a sharp reaction from India which accused it of adopting an approach different to the one laid down by Simla Agreement.
Within hours of Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit justifying his meeting with Kashmiri separatists, saying “We need to engage with all stakeholders”, Spokesperson in the External Affairs Ministry Syed Akbaruddin said as per Simla Agreement it was a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan and any other approach will “not yield results”.
The fresh round of sparring has raised doubts about the prospects of early resumption of the dialogue process for bringing the strained ties back on track.
“We need to engage with all stakeholders. It is not a question of either, or as far as we are concerned. We are engaging with India to find peaceful ways,” Basit said during an interaction with foreign journalists here while reacting to India’s stand that Pakistan should either choose dialogue with separatists or Indian government.
Justifying his meeting with the Kashmiri separatists, Basit said, “We strongly believe that our interaction is helpful to the process itself. It is helpful to find peaceful solution to the problem. It is important to engage with all stakeholders. So that is the bottomline for us.”
Asked about Basit’s remarks, Akbaruddin said, “After 1972 and the signing of the Simla Agreement by the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan, there are only two ‘stakeholders’ on the issue of Jammu & Kashmir –the Union of India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
“This is a principle which is the bedrock of our bilateral relations. This was reaffirmed in the Lahore Declaration of 1999 between Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Vajpayee,” the Spokesperson said, asserting “that an approach that is different to the one
laid down by the Simla Agreement and Lahore Declaration does not yield results”.
India had called off the talks between Foreign Secretaries slated for August 25, telling Pakistan bluntly to choose between an Indo-Pak dialogue or hobnobbing with the separatists.
Asserting that he has not breached any protocol by holding talks with Kashmiri separatists, Basit said, “This has been a long-standing practice. We have been meeting the Kashmiri leaders…It is important to engage with all the stakeholders to find a peaceful solution to the issue.”
Asked why did India permit meetings between Pakistan and the Hurriyat in the past, the MEA Spokesperson said,”Pakistan assured us, at the highest level, that they were committed to a peaceful dialogue on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and would not allow Pakistan or territories under its control to be used for terrorism against us.
“We know now, particularly after the Mumbai terror attacks and the manner in which Pakistan has pursued subsequent investigations and trials, that this assurance had no meaning.”
Asserting that “Dialogue is not a favour by Pakistan to India or vice versa”, Basit said Pakistan remains committed to promoting peaceful, result-oriented and meaningful dialogue process.
At the same time, he said his country “attaches enormous importance” to its ties with India and that there was no need to be “pessimistic” about cancellation of the Foreign Secretary-level talks.
Noting that Kashmir was a “bilateral dispute”, he said there was no need to be “pessimistic” about cancellation of the Foreign Secretary-level talks and that both the countries should move forward.
“So the setback should not disappoint us, discourage us to finding ways and means as to how to take the process forward in line with our leadership’s visions on both sides of the border. So, we will try our maximum to see as to how this process can be taken forward,” Basit said.
He said Pakistan understands that it was a “complex situation” but added it was positive and will not allow distractions to come in the way of finding solutions to the problems.
Basit said the Kashmir issue should be looked at “dispassionately” and asserted that the aim of his meetings with the Kashmiri separatists was to find a viable solution to the issue. He said Indian diplomats in Islamabad also meet people from all hues.
But the Pakistan envoy parried a question on whether his government will allow Indian diplomats to meet local leaders from Baloch region.