Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s top foreign policy aide has made it clear that Pakistan will not start formal dialogue with India unless the longstanding Kashmir dispute is on the agenda.
The statement from Sartaj Aziz came days after an icebreaking meeting between Premier Nawaz and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in the Russian city of Ufa on the margins of the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
“We are not going to beg for dialogue. If India follows up this with the next step of seeking formal dialogue, then I can assure you that no dialogue will take place unless Kashmir is on the agenda,” Aziz told reporters at a news conference on Monday.
The government has come under fire over the Nawaz-Modi meeting with some opposition politicians insisting the joint statement issued after the Ufa rendezvous did not reflect Islamabad’s stance on several key issues, including Kashmir.
In an attempt to clarify the government’s position, Aziz dismissed the criticism, saying all issues, including Kashmir as well as the recent Indian statements against Pakistan, were discussed during the meeting.
He said the July 10 meeting was not the formal start of dialogue but would serve to achieve one major objective that was to lower tensions and create an environment for meaningful talks on all issues of importance for both countries.
The premier’s aide added that the joint statement clearly recognised India and Pakistan had a collective responsibility to ensure peace and promote development, and to do so they were prepared to discuss all the outstanding issues.
“We all know what these outstanding issues are. Kashmir, of course, tops the list of outstanding issues, but there are other important matters also like Siachen, Sir Creek, interference [in internal affairs] and water,” he added.
Aziz said Pakistan would continue to extend political, moral and diplomatic support to our Kashmiri brethren. The two sides have agreed to revive ‘Track II dialogue’ to explore ways of resolving issues that have been lingering for a long time and need to be resolved in order to give peace a chance. “Modalities for Track II dialogue will be worked out through diplomatic channels,” he said.
Responding to criticism that the prime minister did not take up concerns over India’s alleged involvement in Pakistan’s affairs, Aziz claimed there was frank discussion on the concerns from both sides.
“Pakistan has been deeply concerned not only about the hostile statements of Indian ministers but also about India’s interference in Pakistan, including support for Balochistan insurgency,” he said. India on the other hand, he pointed out, has been repeating its traditional accusation of cross-border terrorism while overlooking the decisive counterterrorism campaign launched by Pakistan.
“To address these acrimonious concerns, the two sides have agreed that the national security advisers of the two countries should meet – first in New Delhi and then in Islamabad,” he added.
Asked whether Pakistan would now raise the issue of Indian interference at the UN, Aziz said the decision whether to go to the UN or not would be taken only after the meeting between the two security advisers.
He said the Nawaz-Modi meeting had provided an opportunity to identify some areas where the two countries could promote cooperation right away in order to reduce tensions and hostilities. “Peace and tranquillity on the LoC and the Working Boundary is in the interest of both countries,” he stressed.
Aziz said that Premier Nawaz had also sought information on the progress made in the trial of Samjhauta Express terrorist attack and ‘additional information’ on the Mumbai attacks of 2008.
For the prime minister, a peaceful neighbourhood was the centrepiece of his foreign policy vision, he said. “Why? Because this will best promote our national interests and also create the conditions wherein the government can focus its resources on the socioeconomic uplift of the people,” he added.
Aziz, however, made it clear that Pakistan would protect its national interests while pursuing this policy.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2015.
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