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NEW DELHI: Even as he underlined the significance of talks with India, Pakis­tan’s High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit has said Islamabad doesn’t want dialogue with New Delhi “just for the heck of it”.

He said it was high time the two countries moved from symbolism to substance.

In an interview to the Times of India, he also said that while Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was firmly in charge, the Pakistan Army had an important role to play in Islamabad’s India policy. In response to a question about an impasse in talks between Pakistan and India, Mr Basit said: “We do not have any impasse as far as the framework for dialogue is concerned.

“The two countries agreed in December 2015, when Sushma Swaraj sahiba travelled to Islamabad for the Heart of Asia conference, on the framework. That is a balanced and comprehensive framework.... Now the question is how to start the process.

“Whenever that dialogue process begins, it has to be on the basis of the agreement we were able to have in December last year.”

See: Pakistan and India's 2015 journey: From nightmare to 'breakthrough'

Mr Basit said that in matters concerning India, Afghanistan and other security-related issues “obviously our army or military has an important role to play. It has important inputs to give”.

“So to expect that it will not have any role in Pakistan’s India policy or Afghanistan policy and other such issues is incorrect,” he said. “The fact of the matter is that PM Nawaz Sharif is the elected head of the government. Period. He is in the driving seat. The rest is our decision-making process.

“Do you believe India can have a Pakistan policy without consulting its armed forces or the US can have a Pakistan or Afghanistan policy without consulting Pentagon?”

Asked if Pakistan and India were moving towards a full-blown conflict, the diplomat said he would not like to think along those lines.... “I would never entertain such thoughts.”

In reply to a question about the “surgical strikes” that the Indian forces claimed to have carried out in Azad Kashmir, he denied them and said: “I can assure you that had there been any surgical strike, Pakistan would have responded immediately and proportionately. And we do not need time for preparation.”

But he said he tended to agree with the analysts who were asking for “such serious terms to be not used so loosely because of the inherent dangers in doing that”.

Asked why Pakistan was “reluctant” to investigate the evidence on the Uri attack in India-held Kashmir that New Delhi was willing to provide to Islamabad, Mr Basit said: “We have already suggested an international probe to ensure we have conclusive and irrefutable findings. Our offer is still there... because we need to get out of this blame game.”

When he was asked to name the reasons why Prime Minister Sharif called militant leader Burhan Wani a martyr, Mr Basit said: “Are you suggesting that the hundreds of thousands who came out for his funeral were supporting a terrorist? Over 100 people have been killed, more than 14,000 injured since July 9. Were they also terrorists?

“If you look at the Kashmiri struggle through the prism of terrorism, you would arrive at the wrong conclusion. Do you want to declare all people of J&K terrorists? This is an indigenous movement as has been proved time and again.

"Both the countries have agreed since 1947... from the UN resolutions to December 2015 joint statement, that this is a dispute, or core dispute, which needs to be resolved.”

He said Pakistan found it difficult to understand why India was not serious in addressing the dispute. “Even the Simla Agreement mentions that this dispute has to be resolved. But how can we resolve the issue without talking?”

Published in Dawn, October 10th, 2016