The Pakistani envoy justified on Wednesday the invitation to the Hurriyat Conference for a meeting with their national security advisor as he shifted the focus of the dialogue from terrorism to Kashmir which he said was the main issue between India and Pakistan.
The separatists will meet Sartaj Aziz on August 23, probably before Aziz sits down for talks with his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, to discuss all issues connected to terrorism in line with an agreement between the prime ministers of the two countries in the Russian city of Ufa in July.
“Meetings between our leaders and the separatists are a long held practice. It is neither unprecedented nor unusual. I see no reason why you term it as provocative. We see it from a positive perspective. I have met Hurriyat leaders on many occasions including on Pakistan National Day and at an Eid Milan hosted by me,” the Pakistani high commissioner, Abdul Basit, told HT in an exclusive interview.
“It has been our principled position that the Hurriyat is the main representative of the Kashmiri people … We don’t hide our meetings with the Hurriyat. We believe it’s important to meet them because they are important stakeholders. It wasn’t Pakistan which called off the talks,” he said. “There are many issues that need to be settled and resolved between India and Pakistan, and Kashmir is the main one.”
Pakistan’s move to shift the focus from terrorism to Kashmir by inviting leaders of the Hurriyat is likely to rile the Indian government which called off scheduled talks between the foreign secretaries of the two countries last year after the Pakistani envoy met Kashmiri separatists in New Delhi.
While Pakistan is seeking to broaden the agenda of the NSA dialogue, India is likely to focus on terrorism being exported from Pakistani soil. Doval has asked for a dossier that contains evidence collected from the last two terror attacks in Gurdaspur and Udhampur, where Mohammad Naveed, a Pakistani national was captured alive.
Basit defended Pakistan’s move to take the discussion beyond terrorism.
“There is no other country more serious than Pakistan when it comes to addressing this menace. We have suffered hugely and want to settle this scourge,” he said. “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 on it and fought three wars. It is a very important issue from our standpoint.”
Basit hoped Aziz and Doval would discuss ways of resuming the larger dialogue process, saying Pakistan wanted “co-operative relations with India” and remained committed to the Ufa joint statement issued after a meeting between prime ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif on July 10.
“We will not engage in accusations and counter accusations. We are approaching the meeting with an open mind and don’t want it to be a slanging match. Let there be no cherry picking,” Basit said. “We have to look at possibilities of resuming foreign secretary-level talks. In the NSA meeting, we also have to look at future engagement.”