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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has expressed disappointment over the Indian decision to backtrack on its commitment and cancel a meeting between foreign ministers of the two countries on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session in New York.

“We believe, by its ill-considered cancellation of the meeting, India has once again wasted a serious opportunity to change the dynamics of the bilateral relationship and put the region on the path of peace and development,” read a statement issued by Foreign Office spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal on Saturday.

Announcing the cancellation of the meeting, Indian external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar earlier told a press briefing in New Delhi that Islamabad’s “evil agenda” behind the proposal for talks and the “true face” of Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan was “exposed” to the world. He said: “The latest brutal killings of our security personnel by Pakistan-based entities and the recent release of a series of 20 postage stamps by Pakistan glorifying a terrorist and terrorism confirm that Pakistan will not mend its ways.”

FO says New Delhi has wasted opportunity to change the dynamics of bilateral relationship

In response to the presser, PM Khan tweeted: “Disappointed at the arrogant and negative response by India to my call for resumption of peace dialogue. However, all my life I have come across small men occupying big offices who do not have the vision to see the larger picture.”

The Pakistan’s FO spokesman, in a detailed reaction over the reversal of the decision for the meeting between Foreign Ministers Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Sushma Swaraj, said the reasons cited by the Indian side for the decision to cancel the meeting, within 24 hours of its public confirmation, were entirely unconvincing. The so-called ‘disturbing developments’ alluded to in the Indian statement pre-dated the Indian agreement to hold the bilateral meeting in New York, he pointed out.

He said the Border Security Force soldier’s killing had taken place two days prior to the Indian announcement of its agreement to hold the bilateral meeting. When the allegation of Pakistan’s involvement had first appeared, the Pakistan Rangers clearly conveyed to the BSF through official channels that Pakistan had nothing to do with it, he disclosed, adding that the Rangers had even extended help to India in their efforts to locate the soldier’s body. These facts were known to the Indian authorities. A part of the Indian media also reported that Pakistan had refuted its involvement, yet this motivated and malicious propaganda continued, he added. “Pakistan takes this opportunity to categorically reject these allegations once again. Our authorities would be prepared to conduct a joint investigation to establish the truth,” the FO spokesman said.

It was also pointed out that the postage stamps mentioned in the Indian statement had been issued before the July 25 elections. The stamps highlight the gross and systematic human rights violations in India-held Kashmir, which were extensively documented also in a comprehensive report issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as recent as June 2018.

“By falsely raising the canard of ‘terrorism’, India can neither hide its unspeakable crimes against the Kashmiri people nor can it delegitimise their indigenous struggle for their inalienable right to self-determination,” he remarked.

The FO spokesman said it was most unfortunate that the reference in the Indian ministry of external affairs statement to the person of the Prime Minister of Pakistan. “We choose not to further comment beyond saying that these comments are against all norms of civilised discourse and diplomatic communication”.

He said PM Khan had, in his first public comments after his electoral success, outlined a forward-looking vision of Pakistan-India relations. He had clearly stated that if India took one step forward, Pakistan would take two. In the same spirit, PM Khan in his letter endorsed Mr Modi’s call for “constructive engagement” and proposed the meeting of the two foreign ministers in New York to discuss a way forward on bilateral and Saarc-related matters.

He said Pakistan always desired peaceful and good-neighbourly relations with India, on the basis of sovereign equality, mutual respect and mutual benefit. In our view, dialogue and diplomacy are the only constructive way forward for the two countries to address mutual concerns, rebuild trust, resolve longstanding disputes, and establish durable peace in South Asia.

“For its part, Pakistan will persist with its quest for peace and development. But as we have consistently emphasised, our approach will continue to be guided by the aforementioned principles and the dictates of national dignity,” the spokesman said.

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Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said he was “deeply saddened” by how New Delhi first accepted and later backtracked on the meeting.

Before leaving for the US, the minister told reporters it was their understanding that it would be beneficial for the entire region if the two countries sat down for dialogue and find solutions to the outstanding issues.

“It was an opportunity that I think India’s domestic circumstances did not allow to materialise,” FM Qureshi said. He said the abrupt change of decision was apparently a tactic to appease electorates ahead of elections. “There is no precedent of how diplomatic norms were trampled” by India in the cancellation of the meeting, he added.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry while talking to a private TV channel said India seemed to be stuck in domestic politics. He said there was a division within the Indian government where some were in favour of talks while some hawks were a stumbling block in the way of dialogue and peace. He said the entire world saw that Pakistan took an initiative for peace and development in the region, but some elements within the Indian government blocked the move for constructive engagement.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2018