Pakistani envoy Abdul Basit said on Thursday the dialogue with India is suspended as there are no plans for the foreign secretaries to meet, while hinting that the NIA will not be given access to JeM chief Masood Azhar for the probe into the Pathankot attack.
The assault on the Pathankot airbase, blamed on Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed, disrupted fresh efforts to place troubled bilateral ties on an even keel and Basit’s remarks reflected a new low in the diplomatic impasse.
The arrest of alleged RAW agent Kulbhushan Jadhav in Balochistan also triggered a row between the two sides. China’s decision last week to block India’s move at the UN to designate Azhar a terrorist has added to tensions.
“I would say the dialogue is suspended,” Basit said during an interaction at the Foreign Correspondents Club, responding to a question on the status of the comprehensive dialogue announced by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Pakistan’s foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz last December.
“There is no meeting scheduled between the foreign secretaries... Let’s see if we are able to commence the dialogue process,” he said.
Basit created a stir by saying a Pakistani joint investigation team’s (JIT) visit to India to probe the Pathankot attack was not based on reciprocity — the complete opposite of what external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said several times though the day.
“The visit of the Pakistan JIT was not based on reciprocity, but on a spirit of cooperation,” Basit said when asked whether an NIA team would be allowed to visit Pakistan.
Asked specifically if this meant Pakistan wouldn’t allow the NIA to visit, he said, “You can draw your own conclusions.”
Pakistan has said there is no evidence against the JeM chief. An Indian move at the UN Security Council to designate Azhar a terrorist was blocked by Pakistan’s close ally China, which said more evidence is needed. China has also blocked previous attempts to sanction Azhar.
The NIA wants to send a team to Pakistan to question the JeM chief and his brother Rauf Azhar for their alleged role in the Pathankot attack.
Swarup said the Pakistani JIT’s visit was on a reciprocal basis. Indian officials said Basit’s statement went against the terms of reference for the JIT’s visit.
“The work of the JIT in India was as per the terms of reference that were agreed between the two governments through their respective foreign offices. They are on reciprocal basis and in accordance with existing legal provisions,” Swarup said.
Any Pakistani decision not to allow a visit by an NIA team would give the Opposition an opportunity to target the government for giving the green signal to the trip by the Pakistani team, which included an ISI operative.
On Basit’s remarks that the peace process stands “suspended”, Swarup referred to the press conference of Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Nafees Zakaria in which he said, “… Both countries are in contact and it has been reiterated from both sides that modalities are being worked out. I will again state that negotiations are the best means to resolve the issues.”
Government sources said if Basit’s comments reflected a shift in the Pakistan government’s policy, this should have been “conveyed to India through appropriate channels”.
A source said: “This should have been conveyed through Pakistan’s Foreign Office, rather than the envoy’s statement to the media.”
The sources said the only contact between the two sides was at the level of the national security advisers and there is no proposal for a meeting between the foreign secretaries in the near future.
Basit spoke on several other issues, including the arrest of the alleged RAW operative and the Kashmir issue.
“The recent arrest of Kulbhushan (Jadhav) in Pakistan irrefutably corroborates what Pakistan has been saying all along. We all are aware of those who seek to create unrest in Pakistan and destabilise the country,” he said.
India and Pakistan, he said, should be “realistic” about the Kashmir issue and attempts to put it on the backburner will be counterproductive.
“It is the Jammu and Kashmir dispute that is the root cause of mutual distrust and other bilateral issues. Therefore, its fair and just resolution, as per the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, is imperative.”
Basit said there could not be any “short cut to achieving a lasting peace”. He added, “Nor does cherry-picking work. What we need is to engage uninterruptedly, comprehensively, and meaningfully.”