Pakistani president Mamnoon Hussain said on Wednesday that foreign secretary-level talks with India remained suspended as the neighbour was “running away” from dialogue. The remark drew a sharp response from New Delhi that India had never shied away from talks and was willing to discuss all issues in an atmosphere free from terrorism and violence.
Hussain’s statement made at a joint session of parliament assumes significance as the president’s address to lawmakers generally sets the government’s policy parameters. Hussain also raked up the Kashmir issue, terming it the unfinished agenda of Partition.
“Despite Pakistan’s efforts for resumption of talks (with India) and its offer of a joint probe in the Pathankot attack, the foreign secretary-level talks are still suspended. Pakistan is concerned about it,” he said. Hussain said Pakistan wanted peaceful ties with all neighbours by addressing disputes through talks and accused India of “running away from talks with Pakistan”.
The development marked another low in efforts between the neighbours to get their fragile peace process back on track after the New Year attack on the Pathankot airbase threw it in limbo. Hussain’s speech came days after prime ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif had a telephonic conversation before the latter’s open-heart surgery in London on May 30.
“We have never shied away from talks. We are prepared to discuss all issues with Pakistan in an atmosphere free of terror and violence,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup told Hindustan Times.
Hussain’s statement came ahead of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Tashkent on June 23 and 24 where Modi is expected to meet Sharif, though there is no confirmation of the meeting from either side. India and Pakistan are set to become new members of the grouping.
Pakistani high commissioner Abdul Basit said in April that talks between the neighbours were suspended and the Indian foreign office reacted to it by saying both sides were in touch to hold them.
Though it was not a meeting to announce a timeline for the talks, the two foreign secretaries met in Delhi in the same month and agreed to remain in touch.
India insists Pakistan must take action against those who behind the Pathankot attack, linking talks with progress on the case of terrorism launched from across the border. Pakistan also did not respond favourably to a team of Indian investigators visiting the country to probe the attack as a reciprocal measure to Pakistani investigators visiting the airbase.
“We believe the main cause of tension in the region is the Kashmir issue. It is part of the unfinished agenda of Partition of the subcontinent. Unless Kashmir issue is settled according to the wishes of people of Kashmir and UN resolutions, the problems of this region cannot be resolved,” Hussain said on Wednesday.
Reacting to that, Swarup said, “Our stand on Jammu & Kashmir is well known.” India maintains that Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part of the country.
Despite several promising measures such as Modi’s surprise visit to Pakistan last December, ties between the neighbours remain frosty.
Hussain said Pakistan was a peaceful country and wanted its foreign policy to be based on friendship and brotherhood with all nations. “We do not wish to be aggressive towards any nation and intend to participate with honesty in national and global affairs,” he said.