ISLAMABAD: While speaking in the Senate during Question Hour, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar on Thursday said that “ever since the incumbent government came to power, there has been no backchannel diplomacy between Pakistan and India untold to the rest of the world”.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Office spokesperson mirrored the minister’s response to a question about Pakistan-India dialogue, while adding that no decision had been taken yet on the invitation extended to Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari by India to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in that country in May.

Ms Khar told the Senate that back-channel diplomacy was going on during the days of the PTI government, while noting that there was no harm in backchannel talks if these were result-oriented.

The minister’s remarks came around a week after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif offered his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi serious talks to resolve burning issues, including Kashmir, and said the United Arab Emirates’ leadership could play an important role in bringing India and Pakistan to the negotiating table.

Decision on FM’s participation in SCO moot in India will be taken in due course, says FO

However, a day later the Prime Minister’s Office clarified that talks with India could only take place after the country reverses its “illegal action of August 5, 2019”, meant to alter the demography of India-held Kashmir. Answering a question in the Senate, Hina Khar said Pakistan had entered into two agreements with India after Aug 5, 2019 both during the previous PTI government. “It is inappropriate to do something and say something else,” she remarked.

In the last four years, relations between Pakistan and India have been marred by a number of provocative steps by the other side. Presently, diplomatic relations between the two countries are limited and people-to-people exchanges are at a minimal level. Despite the current difficulties in the relationship, two agreements have been signed during the last four years.

She said in keeping with Pakistan’s abiding commitment to facilitate religious harmony and building interfaith relations, Pakistan signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with India to open the Kartarpur Corridor on October 24, 2019.

She said another significant bilateral understanding is the Directors General of Military Operations (DGMO) agreement of February 2021. The understanding was announced on Feb 25, 2021 through a joint statement issued after consultations between the DGMOs of both Pakistan and India.

Discussions were held over the established mechanism of hotline contact. Before this understanding was entered into, the two countries had a previous ceasefire understanding in 2003 which was violated by India 13,500 times, leading to the death of 310 citizens and injuring at least 1,600. She stated that Pakistan had always taken initiatives to promote peace. “However, right now, the cross-border hostility [from India] is of a unique type.”She went on to say that often at international forums, Pakistan was asked to normalise its ties with India. “To them, our response is that they should look at the messages we have received from India.

“The messages that we are getting are all conflagratory. Pakistan has the largest interest in unleashing [the potential of] this region but when you have a government on the other side whose prime minister says that their nuclear assets are not for Diwali...”, she regretted.

She stated that despite New Delhi’s negative attitude, Islamabad would continue on the path of peace, and the tension between the two on the Line of Control had decreased.

Separately, when asked to comment on reports that the UAE was hosting backdoor talks between Pakistan and India, the Foreign Office spokesperson said there is no dialogue taking place between Pakistan and India at this stage.

“I would just say that Pakistan has been very clear about its policy regarding dialogue and peaceful settlement of all outstanding issues with India. To answer … the question you have raised, as you know very well, no dialogue is taking place between Pakistan and India right now,” observed the spokesperson.

Replying to a question about the foreign minister’s participation in the SCO ministerial meeting in India, the spokesperson said that “as per standard procedures... a decision will be taken in due course.”

Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2023

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