Pakistani High Commissioner Abdul Basit on Wednesday defended his meetings with Hurriyat leaders over which India called off planned talks between the foreign secretaries of the two countries, but said his government was committed to the dialogue process with India.
Basit said he had not breached any protocol by meeting with the separatists and the cancellation of the August 25 talks was a setback, but added that Pakistan wanted to improve ties with India and there was no need to be "pessimistic" the talks being called off.
“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. This is not an either-or situation,” Basit told a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club.
India called off the talks on Monday in a tough reaction to Islamabad’s decision to meet with Kashmiri separatists, which New Delhi described as an “unacceptable” interference in India’s internal affairs.
The move came as a blow to peace efforts between the two countries which received a boost after Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited Nawaz Sharif to his inauguration in May. Pakistani envoys have in the past too talked to separatists and the Indian government has tolerated such meetings.
“This is a setback, but 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.
Kashmiri separatist leaders continued to meet Pakistan’s envoy after India cancelled the talks. Three Hurriyat Conference leaders called on Basit even though foreign secretary Sujatha Singh had called up the high commissioner, asking him not to meet the separatists.
Basit said the sole aim of the meetings was to find a solution to the Kashmir issue. He stressed that India and Pakistan understand “Kashmir is a bilateral dispute and that’s why it is part of the composite dialogue process”.
“We strongly believe that our interaction is helpful to the process itself. It is helpful to find a peaceful solution to the problem. It is important to engage with all stakeholders. So that is the bottomline for us,” he said.