Pakistan 'reveals pre-requisites' for talks with India: report

Islamabad wants New Delhi 'to ease lives' of Kashmiris before initiating dialogue, say sources


News Desk April 23, 2021
Pakistani Rangers (wearing black uniforms) and Indian Border Security Force (BSF) officers lower their national flags during parade on the Pakistan's 72nd Independence Day, at the Pakistan-India joint check-post at Wagah border, near Lahore. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

Islamabad is willing to hold formal bilateral talks with New Delhi to resolve long-standing issues including the Kashmir dispute if the latter takes certain steps to “ease lives” in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK).

Highly-placed Pakistani sources familiar with the development shared with Al Jazeera a list of actions that the Indian government could take in IIOJK to create the conducive environment for the bilateral dialogue.

Ties between the nuclear-armed rivals have been on ice since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi withdrew the semi-autonomous status of IIOJK in order to tighten his grip over the disputed territory, provoking outrage in Pakistan and the downgrading of diplomatic ties and suspension of bilateral trade.

But the two governments have re-opened a back channel of diplomacy aimed at a modest roadmap to normalising ties over the next several months, the people said.

Several reports suggested that the UAE was mediating between the two countries. There were even reports that senior intelligence officials of Pakistan and India had met in Dubai in January leading to the ceasefire between the two countries along the Line of Control (LoC).

The UAE ambassador to Washington also confirmed that his country was facilitating dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi. The envoy said the idea behind the UAE’s effort was to ensure that Pakistan and India have a functional relationship.

“Pakistan is genuinely standing by the Kashmir cause, of course the territory is an internationally recognised dispute, but the first thing we have to do is make sure Kashmiri lives are eased,” said one source, who spoke on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the issue.

What Pakistan wants from India

The sources gave “examples” of concrete Indian actions that could move the “communication” between the two countries forward.

First, a permanent halt to demographic change in IIOJK, where India in April 2020 introduced a new domicile law that would allow long-term migrants from other parts of the country to gain permanent residence.

“This would inevitably be necessary to move forward,” a Pakistani source said.

Second, Indian authorities would have to release political and other prisoners being illegally held since it imposed a curfew in the Muslim-majority region.

Third, the removal by India of blockades on communication and movement in the occupied region.

Fourth, giving back full statehood rights to IIOJK, which were also revoked as part of the August 2019 actions, and “recognising that it is subject to an internationally recognised territorial dispute with Pakistan”.

Fifth, a reduction in occupation forces deployment in IIOJK, where hundreds of thousands of security forces personnel have been deployed following the August 2019 imposition of lockdown after India’s Article 370 was revoked.

“The markers I have mentioned, these are what we define as ‘the enabling environment’,” said a source.

“This is the next step. Whatever conditions that India creates, must also be acceptable to the Kashmiris. Without this, it is unlikely that Pakistan can move forward.”

The second Pakistani source also said these “markers” were starting points for any further conversation.

“Let’s say that they do not do any of these things. Then that’s the end of it,” the second source said.

Arindam Bagchi, India’s foreign ministry spokesperson, declined to comment on the issue to Al Jazeera.

Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri, Pakistan foreign ministry spokesperson, did not comment on specifics of the current communication between the two countries, but repeated Islamabad’s stance that “the onus is on India” to restart talks.

“For any meaningful and result oriented dialogue, there has to be a conducive and enabling environment,” he told Al Jazeera.

Notably absent from Pakistan’s demands is the reimplementation of Article 370, which was revoked on August 5, 2019, by the Modi government.

“Article 370 […] is not our headache because we never recognised the Indian constitution’s application to Kashmir,” a Pakistani source said.

“Whether they bring 370 [back] or not … just tell us is the Kashmiri identity intact?” said the source, marking a potential softening of the country’s previous stance.

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