ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s decision to attend the sixth edition of the Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference in India next month is uncha­nged despite an escalation of tension along the Line of Control (LoC) and the Working Boundary (WB).

Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz told reporters about this decision at the end of a seminar on Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) reforms which he attended on Tuesday.

“I will participate in the Heart of Asia meeting in Amritsar,” he confirmed, adding that the prime minister had also held a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the situation on the LoC. He said that Pakistan had vociferously protested the killing of seven of its soldiers and 26 civilians in ceasefire violations, shelling on civilian populations and the use of artillery cannons by India over the past two months.

Islamabad describes the tension, especially the use of artillery for the first time since the two countries reached a ceasefire on the LoC and the WB in 2003, as a major escalation and has repeatedly expressed the fear that India might commit a ‘strategic miscalculation’.

The adviser noted that there was pressure on India from several countries (which he did not identify) to end cross-LoC shelling.

Tensions between the two countries has soared since the beginning of an uprising in held Kashmir. India refused to participate in the Saarc summit that was to be hosted by Islamabad, forcing its cancellation. “India sabotaged Saarc, but Pakistan will not do the same,” Mr Aziz said.

The Heart of Asia process focuses on regional cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours to improve connectivity and tackle security threats. The initiative was launched in 2011 and includes organisations from Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and the UAE.

Reaffirming that the decision to participate in the regional ministerial meeting signals Pakistan’s desire to de-escalate, Mr Aziz added that there was no talk of a bilateral meeting on the side so far.

“Neither side has so far sought a meeting,” a diplomatic source separately told Dawn.

However, Mr Aziz said it would premature to say whether or not a bilateral interaction would take place.

PM’s meeting

Earlier, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chaired a meeting at his official residence to take stock of the deteriorating situation at the LoC.

Mr Aziz briefed the prime minister on the situation. National Security Adviser Nasser Janjua and Special Assistant Tariq Fatemi, among other officials, also participated.

Mr Sharif said that Pakistan was exercising maximum restraint in the face of Indian violence, which should not be misunderstood as weakness.

“Pakistan cannot be bullied by such tactics. We are capable of defending our soil against any belligerence,” the prime minister said, adding that escalation of tensions at the LoC was a threat to regional peace and security.

He urged the United Nations to take notice of the ceasefire violations.

Published in Dawn November 16th, 2016

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