India’s decision to call off foreign secretary-level talks last month took Islamabad by surprise, but it didn’t stop the latter from maintaining a conciliatory tone. Abdul Basit, Pakistan’s high commissioner to India, justified meeting Kashmiri separatists, the source of New Delhi’s grouse, but said the setback should not discourage both the countries from pursuing dialogue. While there is no sign of talks resuming anytime soon, a measure of civility has persisted. Recently Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sent mangoes to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, and the latter responded by offering flood relief assistance to Pakistan.
The atmospherics took a turn for the worse this week when Mr Basit — while replying to a reporter’s question about Hafiz Saeed’s free movement in Pakistan — said the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist was a Pakistani national who was “free to roam around”. The high commissioner went on to say that Saeed was a free citizen as the courts had exonerated him and that “there is no issue as far as Pakistan is concerned”. India’s ministry of external affairs rightly responded sharply, calling Saeed the “evil mastermind” of the Mumbai 26/11 attacks who should be apprehended and prosecuted. Mr Basit’s blasé remarks on Saeed are severely insensitive to the victims of the attacks and are a great disservice to the cause of India-Pakistan peace. Islamabad should know that the 26/11 attacks cannot be easily wished away. The trial against the accused has dragged on while Pakistan has refused to do all it can to build a legal case against Saeed. Normalisation of India-Pakistan ties will be elusive so long as Islamabad continues to stand by its supposed “assets”.
Mr Basit’s remarks are a grim reminder that Islamabad does not treat terrorism seriously. Saeed is an internationally designated terrorist with a bounty of $10 million on his head. The LeT is recognised by western governments as an international threat which has terror networks across the world. Giving Saeed a clean chit regrettably confirms the Pakistani State’s acquiescence with widespread criminality in its society.