NEW DELHI: The present phase of Indo-Pakistan ties is full of promise and that too without compromising on the Kashmir issue, which is not on the backburner, so to speak, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Salman Bashir has said.
“This present phase of Indo-Pakistan relations is full of promise and hope,” The Sunday Express quoted him as telling its editorial team.
“It was in Thimpu that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had underscored the importance of confidence and trust by prescribing contact at all levels as possible,” he recalled.
Mr Bashir was asked if the Kashmir dispute was on hold to allow less contentious issues to be settled. “It can never be put on the backburner, as it pertains to the lives of the people,” he replied.
At this point in time, he said, the most important objective was to see that space and comfort were created for the Kashmiri people. This explains the steps that have been taken to facilitate intra-Kashmir travel and trade.
The two countries need to change the narrative of their discourse. “You can only do that with a bit of imagination and creativity. The same statements repeated year after year—cordial, constructive, etc.—do not inspire the imagination of people. There is a feel-good sense and an ardent desire on the part of the leadership to move together,” the envoy said.
“The way forward is simple. Let people dream of a better future. Let’s not try to censor those dreams. When you have issues or problems, you can get yourself in a quagmire and keep on sinking, remain bitter and get caught in a self-trap. Or you can think of tomorrow as a better day. There is a need to delineate the way forward in terms of a vision statement.”
India and Pakistan have agreed to play a cricket series at the end of the year, he said. “People are excited. And our President had written a letter of thanks to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as this was one matter that they had discussed when the President was here in April.”
About the terror cases in Pakistan against key suspects in the Mumbai carnage, he said the governments were in touch about a second visit of the judicial commission to India to fulfill key legal requirements.
“Officially, we have asked that the commission visit again and that cross examination be allowed.” He had once described India’s charges against the accused Pakistanis as a piece of literature.
“Well, it was only a manner of speaking,” he clarified.
“If I remember correctly, over 25 documents have been exchanged on Mumbai—13 by our side, around 10 by India. This indicates that both sides have, at the right levels and where it matters, exchanged information in the right spirit.”
Mr Bashir said the text of a liberalised visa agreement was ready and finalised but it awaits signing. “Given the significance that we attach to people-to-people contacts, it may be appropriate that it be signed at the political, rather than the bureaucratic level,” he said.
While no country could afford to lower its guard, there are some agreements governing conventional forces—border ground rules, air space agreements, notification of missile testing and so forth that point to considerable forward movement. “There are other mechanics of communication—from the flag and sector meetings to the more regular contact between the two director generals of military operations.
Issues relating to narcotics, illegal trafficking, etc. are matters that are very much within the realm of what’s taking place. I wish more was known in the public domain to allay the gap that exists between reality and perceptions of relations.”
Like China and India, development is Pakistan’s strategic priority number one. “So we extend a hand of friendship. Our readiness to walk the extra mile is for the sake of our people and the people of this region,” he said. He did not clarify what really walking that extra mile implied.
Mr Bashir cautioned against repeating bitter history if lessons were not learnt from Afghanistan. “We strongly believe that if history is not to be repeated in Afghanistan, then everybody, whether immediate or far neighbours, should keep out. It is for the people of Afghanistan to do what they find necessary to re-establish the societal equilibrium. It’s only when global and regional players come in that you see situations being created, like what happened in the 90s.
So while India, Pakistan, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, China and the entire international community can only facilitate matters, it is quite clear to anyone who has even a cursory knowledge about the history of Afghanistan that you cannot afford to have or play out a strategic agenda in Afghanistan.”
Osama and Omar
The former foreign secretary was asked about the deepened mistrust with the United States over the Osama affair and he also answered a question about the whereabouts of Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
“If 40-plus nations with their most sophisticated technology could not trace Mullah Omar, why pick on Pakistan? What is not so well known or is not projected is Pakistan’s contribution in arresting most of the Al Qaeda men. Abbottabad was not embarrassing but the grudge was that we could have done it together.
“Even the lead that led to Osama’s discovery was given by Pakistan. What we have been saying is that if the operation is on our territory, then it should be done jointly.
“Osama and the likes of him were never created by Pakistan or Afghanistan. There is a history and a context to the making of Osama bin Laden. In a zeal to portray Pakistan as a demon, we tend to believe anything. It is in the interest of the region and the international community as a whole to be objective about Pakistan’s contribution in the campaign against terror.
“We have lost 40,000 civilians in the last few years, plus 5,000 of our armed forces and security agencies.”
He said US-Pakistan relations are important. “They have a long history. At this point in time, our relations are sound, good, cooperative and moving in the right direction.”
Pakistan’s approach to the Iran tangle was based on principles of the charter of the UN which underscore respect for the sovereignty, independence of states in the principle of non-intervention and non-interference in their internal affairs. “Iran is a party to the NPT and ought to fulfill its obligations. And certainly, Iran is a friendly country and we do not want to see any big problems happening there.”