Three months after the Pathankot terror attack forced postponement of Foreign Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan, Islamabad’s envoy Abdul Basit Thursday said the comprehensive bilateral dialogue process has been “suspended”. He also said “cooperation” is key to the investigation, and not “reciprocity” — putting in limbo the National Investigation Agency team’s visit to Pakistan.
“I think, at present, it is suspended,” Basit said, during a media interaction at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of South Asia, responding to questions about the bilateral dialogue process. He said no meeting of the Foreign Secretaries has been scheduled so far.
MEA Spokesperson Vikas Swarup’s response to Pakistan High Commissioner’s comments today. pic.twitter.com/S5pNrJk2bk
— ANI (@ANI_news) April 7, 2016
Stressing that Pakistan would like to have a “comprehensive and meaningful” dialogue with India to resolve “all our problems”, he said, “But if India is not yet ready, we can always wait. Because as far as Pakistan is concerned, we consider the dialogue process important to resolve our problems… It is not a favour by one country to another. So we will wait and see how India evolves its position on the dialogue process itself.”
Basit, Pakistan government sources said, was articulating what is obvious since New Delhi had said in January that Foreign Secretaries have agreed to reschedule their talks in very near future. Early last month, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar said that in the aftermath of a terror attack, “if you ask me what is the priority, dealing with terror or diplomatic dialogue, then the answer is obvious.” This was the only occasion when the Indian government had drawn a link between talks and action against those who carried out the terror attack. But New Delhi has so far refrained from using the word “suspended”.
Within minutes of the Pakistan envoy’s remarks, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) pointed out that his comments were in conflict with the Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s statement which said that “both countries are in contact with each other” and “modalities are being worked out”.
Basit’s comment on the NIA team’s possible visit to Pakistan to follow-up on the investigations into the Pathankot attack, as a reciprocal step after the visit of the Pakistan Joint Investigation Team’s visit, was a surprise to New Delhi.
“It is very difficult for me to say. But at this stage, I personally feel, this whole investigation is not about question of reciprocity in my view. It is more about extending cooperation or our two countries cooperating with each other to get to the bottom of the incident,” Basit said, responding to a question whether a team from NIA will be allowed to visit Pakistan.
Asked whether he was ruling out NIA’s visit to Pakistan, he said, “I leave it to your imagination.”
South Block said NIA’s visit to Pakistan was in the mutually agreed terms of reference, and this is being perceived as “backtracking” by Islamabad. However, New Delhi intends to verify the view with Islamabad.
After Basit’s comments, the MEA said, “We have seen comments by the Pakistani High Commissioner on the visit of the JIT Team to investigate the terrorist attack on the Pathankot airbase that have reference to reciprocity. The ministry would like to clarify that on March 26, before the visit of the JIT, the Indian High Commission formally conveyed to the Pakistani Foreign Ministry that the terms of reference “are broadly agreed to with the proviso that these would be on the basis of reciprocity and followed in accordance with extant legal provisions. Subsequently, the JIT visited from March 27 to April 1.”
Basit also mentioned the arrest of alleged R&AW agent Kulbhushan Yadav, saying it “irrefutably corroborates what Pakistan has been saying all along”. Islamabad has always alleged that Indian spy agencies have been involved in subversive activities, a charge New Delhi denies vehemently.
The fact that Islamabad is keen to make Yadav’s case a central issue was evident in the manner in which Basit spoke about it in his opening remarks.
Asked about India seeking consular access for Yadav, he said, “I cannot exactly tell you exactly as to when the Indian authorities would be given consular access to him. The Indian request is under consideration,” Basit said, and went on to rubbish reports that Yadav was sold to Pakistan by the Taliban. “He was arrested in Balochistan by Pakistan’s authorities. He is being investigated and interrogated,” he said.
Islamabad’s hardening of stance has also come in the wake of China blocking a UN ban on Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar. “I subscribe to the Chinese point of view,” Basit said. Indian officials said China blocking the Indian bid has emboldened Pakistan on the issue of Masood Azhar.
Meanwhile, the Congress, while slamming Pakistan for “unilaterally suspending” the peace process with India, also took a swipe at the Centre saying it hoped the government would now shun “unthought” and “unconsulted diplomatic moves” aimed at boosting “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s larger than life persona persona”.
“Pakistan’s unilateral suspension of peace process is extremely unfortunate. It is also a grim reminder of how Pakistan time and again has betrayed the peace process and its commitment to resolve all bilateral issues through peaceful negotiations,” Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala said.
Highlights of Basit’s interaction at the event
# “I think at present the peace process between India and Pakistan is suspended.”
# “It is the J&K dispute that is the root cause of mutual distrust (Indo-Pak) and other bilateral issues.”
# “There shouldn’t be any doubt that Pak wants to have a normal & peaceful relationship with India.”
# “As far as I know there is no meeting scheduled between two foreign secretaries (India-Pak) yet.”
# “The recent arrest of Kulbhushan Yadav in Pakistan irrefutably corroborates what Pakistan has been saying all along. We all are aware of those who seek to create unrest in Pakistan and destabilise the country. They are bound to fail as the people of Pakistan are united to effectively counter anti-Pakistan subversive activities.”
# “So, It is high time to break the carapace of complacency and dispense with self-serving approaches.”
# “We all are aware of those who seek to create unrest in Pakistan and destabilise it. They are bound to fail as the people of Pakistan are united to effectively counter anti-Pakistan subversive activities.”
# “What we need is to engage uninterruptedly, comprehensively, and meaningfully dialogues. Therefore, it’s fair and just resolution,as per aspirations of people of Jammu & Kashmir, is imperative.”
# “Pakistan continues to be one of the largest troop contributing countries to UN peacekeeping missions around the world.”
# “We sincerely hope the Summit, building on the past achievements, would help create more synergies and win-win situations.”