A defiant Pakistan high commissioner on Wednesday justified his meetings with Kashmiri separatists notwithstanding India’s protestation, asserting that engagement with all stakeholders have been the “bottomline” of Islamabad’s efforts to find a solution to the Kashmir issue.
Pakistan high commissioner Abdul Basit said calling off the August 25 talks between foreign secretaries of the two countries by India was a “setback” but noted that it should not discourage the two neighbours from resolving the Kashmir issue.
Addressing a press conference at Foreign Correspondents’ club, Basit defended his meetings with Kashmiri separatist leaders in the last two days and said he did not breach any protocol by holding talks with them. “This has been a long-standing practice. We have been meeting the Kashmiri leaders. It is important to engage with all the stakeholders to find a peaceful solution to the issue,” he said.
India had called off the talks between foreign secretaries, telling Pakistan bluntly to choose between an Indo-Pak dialogue or hobnobbing with the separatists.
Noting that Pakistan wants to improve ties with India, he said there was no need to be “pessimistic” about cancellation of the foreign secretary-level talks and that both the countries should move forward.
“So 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 as to how this process can be taken forward,” Basit said.
He said Pakistan understands that it was a “complex situation” but added it was positive and will not allow distractions to come in the way of finding solutions to the problems.
Basit said Pakistan has been holding talks with Kashmiri leaders for the last 20 years and asserted that the sole aim of his meetings in the last two days was to find a solution to the Kashmir issue.
“We strongly believe that our interaction is helpful to the process itself. It is helpful to find peaceful solution to the problem. It is important to engage with all stakeholders. So that is the bottomline for us,” he said.
Replying to a question on India’s position that Pakistan talk to the separatists or to it, he 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.”
Basit said the Kashmir issue should be looked at “dispassionately” and asserted that the aim of his meetings with the Kashmiri separatists was to find a viable solution to the issue. He said Indian diplomats in Islamabad also meet people from all hues.
“We attach enormous importance to our relations with India,” he said.
On South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, Basit said, “Sky is the limit if SAARC is vitalized.”
Ahead of the talks in Islamabad, Basit had invited separatist leaders from Kashmir “for consultations”. Pakistan envoys had in the past too talked to separatists from Kashmir before any major diplomatic initiative with India.
However, Islamabad broke from this practice when Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited India to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May this year. Sharif was severely criticised in Pakistan for not meeting Kashmiri separatists.
Asked whether there was possibility of any meeting between Prime Minister Modi and his Pakistan counterpart Sharif in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly next month, he said it would be wrong to speculate.
On the ceasefire violations along the LoC, Basit said as per Pakistani side, there have been 57 alleged border violations by the Indian troops since July last year for which Pakistan had served demarche.