NEW DELHI: Pakistan’s outgoing High Commissioner to India Sohail Mahmood has said that diplomacy and engagement are indispensable to improve ties between the two neighbours, and expressed the hope that a structured dialogue would lay the foundation for a peaceful future in the region, the Press Trust of India reported on Sunday.

“We hope for re-engagement after the elections in India. Diplomacy and dialogue are indispensable,” PTI quoted Mr Mahmood as saying in an interview.

“Sustained engagement and structured dialogue would enable the two countries to understand mutual concerns and differences, resolve outstanding disputes and build the edifice of durable peace, security and prosperity in the region.”

Tensions between the two countries worsened after the Pulwama attack and both countries were almost on the brink of a war after India claimed its military planes struck an alleged terrorist training camp in Balakot on Feb 26 and Pakistani planes carried out a counter-offensive the next day.

High Commissioner says Islamabad is committed to completing physical infrastructure for Kartarpur corridor project

Mr Mahmood, who has been made foreign secretary, said dialogue between India and Pakistan was the only option to understand mutual concerns. He also said that there was a need to review the narrative about Pakistan in India.

“A narrative is needed that captures the reality in Pakistan objectively and more fully. A narrative that also helps recognise opportunities for peaceful, cooperative and good neighbourly relations,” he said.

“We must strive for stable peace, equal security and shared prosperity for ourselves and the region,” the envoy added.

In signs of easing tensions, Pakistan around two weeks ago announced that it was releasing 360 Indian prisoners, mostly fishermen as a “goodwill gesture”.

The initiative was followed by Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi granting visas to 2,200 Sikh pilgrims from India to facilitate their participation in the annual Baisakhi celebrations in Pakistan, PTI said.

Over two weeks after their aerial combat, India and Pakistan held talks to finalise the modalities for setting up a corridor linking the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan’s Kartarpur with India’s Gurdaspur district in Punjab.

Asked about the Kartarpur corridor project, the High Commissioner said that Islamabad was committed to completing the physical infrastructure on its side.

“The government of Pakistan is proceeding in full measures to complete the physical infrastructure on its side and it is hopeful that the modalities will be mutually agreed between the two sides in good time before November 2019,” he said.

Last November, both India and Pakistan agreed to set up the Kartarpur corridor to link the historic Gurdwara Darbar Sahib — the final resting place of Sikh faith’s founder Guru Nanak Dev — to Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur.

Kartarpur Sahib is located in Pakistan’s Narowal district across the River Ravi, about four kilometres from the Dera Baba Nanak shrine.

Relations between India and Pakistan have remained tense since 2016. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had travelled to Delhi to attend Mr Modi’s oath-taking ceremony and PM Modi in December 2015 made a stopover in Lahore to greet his counterpart on his birthday.

However, the ties between the two countries nosedived following a string of alleged cross-border terror attacks in 2016 and India’s claim of subsequent surgical strikes across the Line of Control.

The sentencing of alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav to death by a military court in April 2017 further deteriorated bilateral ties, PTI said.

Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2019