February 28, 2021 4:39:48 am
Two days after India and Pakistan announced adherence to ceasefire agreements along the Line of Control, signalling a thaw amid the chill in ties, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan Saturday “welcomed” the ceasefire agreement but said the onus of creating an “enabling environment” for further progress in bilateral relations rests with New Delhi.
These are his first comments since the ceasefire was announced, after almost three months of back-channel talks.
Khan said Pakistan remains ready to move forward to resolve “all outstanding issues” with India through dialogue.
In a series of tweets, the Pakistan Prime Minister said: “I welcome restoration of the ceasefire along the LOC. The onus of creating an enabling environment for further progress rests with India. India must take necessary steps to meet the long-standing demand & right of the Kashmiri people to self-determination according to UNSC resolutions.”
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“We have always stood for peace & remain ready to move forward to resolve all outstanding issues through dialogue,” he said.
While there was no official response from New Delhi to Khan’s comments, India’s remarks Thursday on the ceasefire had been extremely temperate.
Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava had said “India desires normal, neighbourly relations with Pakistan. We have always maintained that we are committed to addressing issues, if any, in a peaceful bilateral manner.”
“On key issues, our position remains unchanged. I don’t need to reiterate it,” he said.
There was no repetition of New Delhi’s constant stress that “terror and talks don’t go together” — a significant omission, seen as a departure from previous statements.
Srivastava had also skirted a question on the Financial Action Task Force action against Pakistan, making no mention of Islamabad’s record on terror financing. The FATF has its “own procedures to take decisions,” the MEA spokesperson had said, which was again unusual. The FATF later decided to keep Pakistan under the grey list until June this year.
While Delhi’s initial response is seen as a signal to Islamabad on moving forward, much will depend on the adherence to the ceasefire pact through the summer months — when infiltration attempts increase, and ceasefire violations are reported more in number.
On the second anniversary of Pakistan’s retaliatory air strikes after the Indian Air Force targeted a Jaish-e-Mohammed terror training camp at Balakot in 2019, Khan also said that Pakistan also demonstrated its “responsible behaviour” by returning a captured Indian pilot. This was in reference to the return of Wing Commander Abhinandan who was captured by Pakistan following a dogfight.
Khan’s remarks on the Kashmir issue is a standard Pakistani formulation, reiterated by Khan. But, in the light of Thursday’s development, a source pointed to Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s remarks on February 2. On a visit to the Pakistan Air Force Academy, General Bajwa said: “We stand firmly committed to the ideal of mutual respect and peaceful co-existence. It is time to extend a hand of peace in all directions… Pakistan and India must also resolve the longstanding issue of Jammu and Kashmir in a dignified and peaceful manner…”
The source noted that this was one of the most conciliatory remarks coming from Pakistan since the abrogation of Article 370, and that too from its Army chief.
This, according to sources, was possible since India and Pakistan had been holding back-channel talks for the last three months, with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval leading the Indian diplomatic initiative with Pakistan’s civilian-military leadership. Sources said “more steps” towards peace are likely in the coming weeks, with both sides “engaged” and “cautiously optimistic”.
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