PM again offers talks to India on Kashmir, terrorism

Updated June 08, 2019

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Imran felicitates Modi on assuming office for a second term; New Delhi says meeting between two PMs not expected at SCO. — Creative commons
Imran felicitates Modi on assuming office for a second term; New Delhi says meeting between two PMs not expected at SCO. — Creative commons

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday renewed its offer to hold dialogue with India to resolve contentious issues, including the Jammu and Kashmir dispute and terrorism, to restore peace in the region and address the problems confronting the people of the two countries.

The offer was made by Prime Minister Imran Khan in a letter written to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to felicitate him on assuming office for a second term after a thumping victory of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the recent national elections.

In his letter, PM Khan has emphasised that the two sides should shun their differences. In his previous letter, he had agreed to hold talks on the issue of terrorism on India’s demand.

According to the state-run Radio Pakistan, the prime minister in his letter has underscored Pakistan’s consistent policy of peaceful neighbourhood and the vision of working for durable peace and stability in South Asia with peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues, including the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.

The prime minister also emphasised the need to work together on the basis of mutual respect and trust to address challenges faced by the people of both the countries, including poverty and underdevelopment.

Imran formally felicitates Modi on assuming office for a second term; New Delhi says meeting between two PMs not expected at SCO

Mr Khan has emphasised the need for advancing the goals of regional peace, progress and prosperity through collective endeavours.

Talking to Dawn here on Friday, Foreign Office Spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal while confirming that the prime minister had sent a fresh letter to Mr Modi reiterated Pakistan’s resolve that Islamabad was ready to hold fresh round of talks with New Delhi, “if India is ready to do so”.

On the other hand, the External Affairs Ministry of India announced that there was no bilateral meeting planned between the prime ministers of Pakistan and India on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting next week.

Both Mr Khan and Mr Modi are scheduled to attend a summit of the regional bloc, which is to take place in Kyrgyzstan on June 13-14.

It is expected that the two leaders will come face-to-face and might even have a handshake when the world leaders at the summit gather for a photo session at its conclusion.

“We are ready to meet the Indian prime minister during the summit, if India agrees to do so,” said Dr Faisal.

He reiterated that negotiations were the only solution to all the problems confronting the two countries.

Mr Modi was re-elected prime minister for a second consecutive time when his Hindu nationalist BJP-led National Democratic Alliance secured highest-ever 303 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha (lower house of the parliament) after the recent polls.

The main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, got 52 seats.

Soon after coming to power last year, PM Khan had expressed the hope that sour relations between the nuclear neighbours would become normal after the Indian elections and was of the view that Indian leaders were giving anti-Pakistan statements to gain people’s support in the polls.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has also written a letter to newly-appointed Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and congratulated him on assuming office.

A war-like situation emerged between Pakistan and India in February after a suicide bombing in India-held Kashmir’s Pulwama district killed more than 40 Indian security forces personnel. India immediately hurled allegations of Pakistan’s involvement, whereas Islamabad strongly rejected the claim and asked for “actionable evidence”.

The situation aggravated on Feb 25 when Indian fighter jets conducted an airstrike on Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in retaliation of the Pulwama attack and New Delhi later claimed that it had targeted a Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) madressah in the area. The claim was denied by Pakistan.

The next day, two Indian Air Force MiG 21 aircraft were shot down by the Pakistan Air Force in Kashmir and an Indian pilot named Abhinandan Varthaman was captured. However, as a goodwill gesture announced by PM Khan, the pilot was later handed over to Indian authorities.

Last month, Foreign Minister Qureshi had a chance meeting with the then Indian external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

It was the first face-to-face meeting between the two ministers and the highest-level interaction since the post-Pulwama standoff.

Although Pakistan had closed its airspace for flights to and from India on Feb 26 after the Balakot standoff, Islamabad reportedly made a rare exception for Swaraj to fly directly through Pakistani airspace to attend the SCO meeting.

After the meeting, Mr Qureshi had said: “We made it clear to her that we want all the matters resolved through dialogue, and that Prime Minister Imran Khan had said in his very first speech that if India takes one step forward, we would take two steps forward. Even today we are ready for a dialogue.”

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2019