• Bilawal hits back after Jaishankar repeats cross-border attacks allegation at SCO ministers’ meeting
• New Delhi told to reverse August 2019 action in held Kashmir for revival of negotiations

KARACHI / NEW DELHI: Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Friday called ‘a sense of insecurity’ as the reason behind incensed remarks by his Indian counterpart soon after he returned from Goa after attending an SCO conference.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari said he had succeeded in “countering the false narrative” of Narendra Modi’s government that every Muslim was a terror suspect and exposing Delhi’s history of defiance of bilateral and international agreements.

The statement upon his return home from India follows an exchange at the SCO meeting of foreign ministers.

India’s Minister for External Affairs S. Jaishankar, in his remarks at the meet, said terrorism in all its forms, including cross-border terrorism, must be stopped, usually a reference to Pakistan.

“… We firmly believe that there can be no justification for terrorism and it must be stopped in all its forms and manifestations, including cross-border terrorism.”

In Goa earlier, Mr Jaish­a­nkar and Mr Bhutto-Zar­dari posed for a protocol picture but didn’t shake hands. There was shrill Indian media commentary about why there should not be talks and why the two shouldn’t even shake hands.

 Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar pose for a photograph during the SCO Council of Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Goa, India on May 5, 2023. — Handout via Reuters.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar pose for a photograph during the SCO Council of Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Goa, India on May 5, 2023. — Handout via Reuters.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari resp­o­nded to his counterpart: “The collective security of our peoples is our joint responsibility. Terrorism continues to threaten global security.”

The remarks came before the punch line. “Let’s not get caught up in weaponising terrorism for diplomatic point-scoring.”

Pakistan has suffered greatly from terrorism. “When I speak on this topic, I do so not only as the foreign minister of Pakistan whose people have suffered the most in terms of number of attacks and number of casualties. I also speak as the son whose mother was assassinated at the hands of terrorists,” the Pakistani FM stated.

Separately, he raised the Kashmir issue and demanded restoration of statehood for resumption of talks.

In an interview with The Hindu in Goa, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said India’s decision to break up Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019 made it “difficult” for those in Pakistan who advocated engagement in the past.

“The onus is on India to create a conducive environment for talks,” he said.

Mr Jaishankar respo­nded by saying that India-held Kashmir’s special status was “history” and alle­ging that Pakistan backed terrorists in Kashmir.

In his interaction with media at the old terminal of Quaid-i-Azam Interna­tional Airport, Mr Bhutto-Zardari referred to Pakis­tan’s principled position linking any change in policy towards India to the reversal of unilateral and illegal actions of August 2019.

When asked about his thoughts about Mr Jaishankar’s harsh comments about Pakistan, he responded with a broad smile on his face.

“There’s nothing but insecurity behind it,” he said. “The propaganda, which he [Indian FM] is toeing being a representative of the same party which has built all this narrative, is actually exposed by us. They have built this narrative full of lies which clubs every Muslim with a terrorist.”

He said whether there are Muslims from Pakistan or India. “But when the son of BB Shaheed [Benazir Bhutto] sits before them and world leaders as foreign minister of his country, this narrative fizzles out.”

He mentioned another reason behind the Indian FM’s angry tone and words, saying that was Pakistan’s successful advocacy of Kashmir cause and proving the history of neighbouring country’s defiance of the UN Security Council, international laws and bilateral agreements.

“Another lie of India which we exposed is its attitude of defiance,” said Mr. Bhutto-Zardari. “This isn’t possible that one fine morning you wake up, mark a circle on the map and then claim that Kashmir is ours. No, it can’t be. Whether it’s a resolution of the UN general assembly or its Security Council, you defy every agreement and international law. You never fulfil your bilateral or multilateral commitments. With our Kashmir cause perspective, we countered all these lies and propaganda which definitely hurts them.”

In his interview with The Hindu, Mr Bhutto-Zardari clarified that he had not requested any bilateral meeting with Mr Jaishankar as a result of the action in India-held Kashmir.

“There is genuine willingness on the Pakistan side, to address all issues and resolve all issues through dialogue. But the actions on August 5 really slammed the door shut on that process,” he said.

“We would like India, the Indian government to create an environment conducive to talks and as soon as we return to the status quo of August 4 2019, I believe we can engage in a meaningful dialogue.”

Several opposition parties in India have demanded the restoration of statehood for Jammu and Kashmir.

A recent addition to the list was former governor of the occupied territory Satya Pal Malik who said it was a mistake to break up the state.

To India’s contention that there can be no talks without an end to terrorism, and when asked about the recent attack on an Army vehicle that left five Indian soldiers dead in Poonch area of occupied Kashmir, the Pakistani FM said he condemns all terrorist acts “from India to the US”, and that no Indian official had blamed Pakistan for the attack in Poonch.

“The new unity government in Pakistan has taken this issue by the horns, we have rejected [former prime minister Imran] Khan’s policy of appeasement when it comes to this issue”, he said. But actions against LeT chief Hafiz Saeed and JeM chief Masood Azhar, wanted for the 2008 Mumbai attacks and 2000 Parliament attack, respectively, as had been demanded by the Financial Action Task Force, were pending as they are under trial and the matter is sub judice.

However, he raised the acquittals of suspects accused in the 2007 Samjhauta Express blasts in India, where Pakistani citizens died, asking why the government had not prosecuted the case further.

He denied that there were any back-channel talks ongoing between India and Pakistan at present, although he conceded that these had been “productive” in the past.

Our Correspondent in New Delhi also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2023

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