Two days after India called off the Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan, Islamabad’s envoy Abdul Basit on Wednesday expressed hope that the two sides would “overcome the setback”, and described his meetings with the Kashmiri separatist leaders as a “helpful” interaction with “legitimate stakeholders”.
New Delhi called off the August 25 bilateral talks after Basit went ahead with his meetings with the Hurriyat leaders. Stressing that the two sides should keep the “diplomacy doors ajar” and “diplomacy is the art of the possible”, Basit said, “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.”
He was responding to New Delhi’s stand that Pakistan should choose between dialogue with separatists or with the Indian government. Stating that he “did not breach any diplomatic protocol” by meeting the Hurriyat leaders, he said such meetings have been a “longstanding practice” since the Kashmir issue is a “dispute” between the two countries.
“We strongly believe that our interaction is helpful to the process itself. It is helpful to find a peaceful solution to the problem. It is important to engage with all stakeholders. So that is the bottomline for us,” said Basit.
Reacting to his statements, the Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said that 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 Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Atal Behari Vajpayee,” he said.
On why India permitted meetings between Pakistani officials and Hurriyat leaders in the past, he said, “We all know the answer to that question quite well. 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.”
He said, “However, 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 and that an approach that is different to the one laid down by the Simla Agreement and Lahore Declaration does not yield results.”
Basit, who took charge as Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India in April this year, said, “Dialogue is not a favour by Pakistan to India or vice versa.”
He, however, said, that “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 how this process can be taken forward.”
Stating that there was no need to be “pessimistic”, he emphasised that the Kashmir issue should be looked at “dispassionately”. He also clarified that the possibility of a meeting between Modi and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, in New York, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly next month, has not yet been planned or finalised.