ISLAMABAD: In yet another unilateral peace initiative, Pakistan on Tues­day said its high commissioner to India would return to New Delhi within a couple of days and bilateral negotiations on an agreement for the opening of Kartarpur Corridor would proceed as per schedule.

High Commissioner to India Sohail Mahmood would leave for Delhi on Thursday (March 7).

The information about HC Mahmood’s return to India was conveyed to acting Indian High Commis­sioner Gaurav Ahluwalia when he was ‘invited’ to the Foreign Office by Director General (South Asia and Saarc) Dr Mohammad Faisal.

“Pakistan’s High Com­missioner to India will be returning to New Delhi, after completion of consultations in Islamabad,” the FO later announced through a media statement.

The announcement came a week after crisis gripped the region with the intrusion by Indian Air Force jets into Pakistani airspace following the killing of Indian troops in a suicide blast in India-held Kashmir. Two intruding IAF jets were later downed by Pakistan and a pilot was captured only to be released as a unilateral goodwill gesture.

While intervention by world powers prevented further escalation, India has so far not shown any flexibility. It is said the decision to send back HC Mahmood was also unilaterally taken by the Pakistan government. India had recalled its High Commissioner in Islamabad Ajay Bisaria for consultations on Feb 15, a day after the Pulwama blast. On Feb 18, Islamabad called back HC Mahmood amidst deafening war drumming in India.

The practice of “calling back envoys for consultations” is a diplomatic way of conveying strong protest to the host country.

It is unclear if India too would be sending back HC Bisaria to Islamabad.

A senior FO official, while talking to Dawn, looked optimistic about India and Pakistan bilaterally containing the row that took them to the brink of war.

Kartarpur corridor

The FO said the talks for an agreement to govern the opening and operations of Kartarpur Corridor would also go ahead as planned.

“The Pakistan delegation will visit New Delhi on March 14, 2019, followed by the return visit of the Indian delegation to Islamabad on March 28, 2019, to discuss the draft agreement on Kartarpur Corridor,” the FO statement added.

It should be recalled that Pakistan and India had on Feb 7 agreed on reciprocal visits of their officials for negotiating and finalising the agreement.

The negotiations on the agreement looked uncertain because of the latest escalation in tensions between the two arch rival neighbours.

The corridor, which would provide visa-free access to Indian Sikh pilgrims to the temple in Kartarpur, is planned to be opened this year in commemoration of the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.

Work on the construction of the corridor had commenced last year in November after both sides agreed to the passage.

MO contact

The FO also reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to continued weekly contact at the Military Operations (MO) directorate level.

The DGMOs hotline was originally established after the 1971 war as a direct channel of communication during crisis. It ended sometime later and was re-established in 1990. The two countries agreed to upgrade it during the 1999 Lahore summit.

Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2019