Four days before National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz comes to India for talks, Pakistani High Commissioner Abdul Basit spoke to Harinder Baweja about Islamabad’s concerns, the Kashmir dispute and the controversial invitation to the separatists. Excerpts from the interview:
Q: The atmospherics between India and Pakistan are very tense. Yashwant Sinha says the NSA talks will only be a dialogue of the deaf?
A: Pakistan has always wanted co-operative relations with India and that continues to be our desire. We remain committed to the Ufa joint statement. Despite the atmospherics you refer to, we’ll attempt this meeting with an open mind and a constructive attitude. We want the meeting to end on a positive note.
Q: What concerns is Pakistan likely to raise at the meeting?
A: We will put our concerns on the table. While we will not engage in accusations and counter accusations, we would not like a slanging match. There are many issues that need to be resolved and settled, and Kashmir is the main one. We hope the NSA meeting will be a stepping stone for a larger dialogue process.
Q: But the NSA meet is specifically on terrorism. Is Pakistan likely to take up the issue of Balochistan, the Samjhauta trial and the attack on the Peshawar school?
A: I would not like to pre-empt the NSA by going into specifics. No other country is more serious than Pakistan when it comes to addressing the menace of terrorism. The idea is to discuss all issues. While we focus on terror, nothing should stop us from discussing other issues that continue to bedevil our relationship. We need serious engagement on Jammu and Kashmir. We have spent 68 years and fought three wars so this is very important from our standpoint. I am not saying terrorism is not important but you cannot cherry pick. To make the relationship more productive, all issues must be discussed. We must look at the possibility of resuming foreign secretary-level talks.
Q: India has evidence including GPS data and the testimony of Mohammed Naveed, a Pakistani terrorist. Why does Pakistan continue to allow its soil to be used to export terror into India?
A: We don’t know what India will bring to the table. We have only heard about GPS data and Naveed through the media. I cannot respond to media reports.
Q: The media is not irresponsible. I’ve personally spoken to Naveed’s father in Pakistan…
A: Diplomacy on such sensitive issues cannot be conducted through the media. We have not officially heard from the Indian government. You may have spoken to anyone in Pakistan but determination can only take place when information is shared officially.
Q: India called off foreign secretary-level talks after you met with separatists. You have now invited them for a meeting with Sartaj Aziz. Should India view this as being deliberately provocative?
A: Pakistan would like the meeting between the NSAs to be achieving something concrete so we can move forward. You are using the word ‘provocative’ but you know it is a long held practice. It is neither unprecedented nor unusual.
Q: What if the NSA talks are called off like the FS talks were?
A: It wasn’t Pakistan who called off the talks. It has been our principled position that the Hurriyat is the main representative of the Kashmiris. Our engagement with them is helpful and it should be encouraged. I’ve met Hurriyat leaders on many occasions. It’s not something new for us. We don’t hide our meetings with the Hurriyat and we will continue to meet them.
Q: By raising Kashmir and inviting the Hurriyat, there seems to be an attempt by Pakistan to make amends for Ufa. The joint statement did not have the Kashmir word and Sartaj Aziz faced a lot of flak when he returned to Islamabad from Ufa.
A: That’s not correct. The joint statement said talks on ‘all outstanding issues’. Let’s not try to score brownie points. Cherry picking issues will not help sustain the dialogue.
Q: Hafiz Saeed continues to make provocative speeches against India. Why is there no action against him or the Jamaat-ud-Dawaah?
A: All those organisations in Pakistan which had been involved in violence stand proscribed. We haven’t yet seen any concrete evidence against JuD.
Q: Dawood Ibrahim continues to be sheltered by Pakistan. How serious is Pakistan about handing him over?
A: He is not in Pakistan, so the question of handing him over is irrelevant.