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ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Wednesday that tensions with India were receding after last week’s escalation for which he credited the “private diplomacy” of the US as well as efforts made by China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the UAE, Turkey and Jordan.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a conference on “Pakistan-China Economic Cooperation: Next Level”, Mr Qureshi said: “We can see lessening of tensions, which is a positive development.” He expected further improvement in the situation over the next few days.

“I would especially like to thank US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. By utilising private diplomacy, the US has played a very positive role,” the foreign minister said. “I’d also like to mention the efforts of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan and the UAE for trying to defuse the situation through diplomacy.”

The State Department had previously said Secretary Pompeo played an “essential role” in de-escalating the situation. Deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino in his news briefing in Washington said: “Secretary Pompeo led diplomatic engagement directly, and that played an essential role in de-escalating the tensions between the two sides.” He further said: “A lot of private diplomacy is going on right now.”

Shah Mehmood Qureshi also mentions efforts made by China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and other countries to defuse situation

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono was the latest foreign leader to call Foreign Minister Qureshi to discuss the situation.

Mr Qureshi urged Japan to play its role for lowering tensions in the region.

Sharp escalation was witnessed between Pakistan and India after Indian Air Force fighter jets intruded into Pakistani airspace on Feb 26 and claimed to have carried out strikes against alleged militant bases on Pakistani territory. The tensions went further up when the next day Pakistan carried out reprisal strikes in India-occupied Kashmir and also downed two Indian aircraft when they again intruded into Pakistani airspace and captured one of the pilots. Afterwards heavy exchanges were witnessed along the Line of Control and there were also reports of India planning a missile attack against Pakistan.

Pakistan’s measured response to provocative Indian actions and intervention by influential countries prevented further escalation.

Mr Qureshi said Pakistan had now stepped up its diplomatic offensive.

The Foreign Office had a day earlier announced that Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Sohail Mahmood, who had been ‘called back for consultations’, was being sent back and a Pakistani delegation would visit New Delhi for negotiations on Kartarpur Corridor agreement on March 14.

Furthermore, the minister said that Pakistan was open to resumption of weekly contact between military officials.

“The directors general military operations of both the sides used to contact each other every Tuesday. We are ready for resumption of that contact,” he added.

Earlier speaking at the seminar, the foreign minister said: “In the wake of the Pulwama attack, the Chinese provided sound counsel to both Pakistan and India for de-escalating the crisis. “Pakistan regards China highly in its foreign policy and, now, the leadership of two countries is looking at a new vision. I would call it CPEC Plus, a new agenda of development and partnership,” he said.

NA committee briefed

Pakistan’s response to Indian aggression was driven by its policy of peaceful neighbourhood, Mr Qureshi said while briefing the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee on the latest crisis with India in the aftermath of Pulwama attack at the Foreign Office.

The foreign minister recalled that Pakistan had condemned the Pulwama incident and rebutted baseless Indian allegations about Pakistani nationals’ involvement and offered cooperation if credible evidence was provided to it.

Recounting the events of the past week, he said that however, because of domestic compulsions India opted for belligerent path and its aircrafts violated the Line of Control. “The Indian act of aggression was in blatant violation of United Nations Charter, international laws and all inter-state norms and conduct,” he maintained.

The foreign minister told the NA body that on Feb 27 the PAF targeted non-military targets in occupied Kashmir, deliberately avoiding human loss and collateral damage, to demonstrate its capacity, capability and resolve.

“Two Indian military jets were shot down by Pakistan Air Force for violating Pakistani air space. One pilot was captured,” he said.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, the foreign minister recalled, in his statement reiterated the offer of cooperation in investigating Pulwama attack to India and resolving issues through dialogue. Pakistan, he said, also briefed the ambassadors of the five UN Security Council permanent member countries on the recent developments.

The captured Indian pilot, he said, was released as “a goodwill gesture to de-escalate tensions”.

Mr Qureshi also informed the committee members of his correspondence with the UN secretary general and the president of the UN Security Council to apprise them of the threats to regional peace posed by Indian aggression.

He said that Pakistan’s decision to send back High Commissioner Sohail Mahmood to Delhi and send a delegation for negotiating Kartarpur agreement was in line with its consistent desire for regional peace and de-escalation.

Pakistani delegation, he said, would visit New Delhi on March 14 followed by the return visit of the Indian delegation to Islamabad on March 28 to discuss the draft agreement on Kartarpur Corridor.

Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2019