PM Shehbaz’s talks overture draws ‘usual’ Indian reply

Published August 5, 2023
This photo combo shows Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (L) and Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Shri Arindam Bagchi (R). — Twitter
This photo combo shows Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (L) and Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Shri Arindam Bagchi (R). — Twitter

NEW DELHI: India has said that an “environment free of terror and hostility” is necessary to restart talks after Pakistan’s prime minister expressed readiness for engagement with the “neighbour”.

India’s response echoed its customary stance, reiterating what it had also expressed earlier this year when PM Shehbaz Sharif had extended an offer for talks.

On Tuesday, Mr Sharif said at an economic summit in Islamabad that Pakistan was “prepared to talk to them, provided that the neighbour is serious to talk [on] serious matters… because war is no more an option”. He didn’t name India, but the inference was obvious.

While responding to media queries at the weekly briefing, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson said, “We have seen reports regarding comments by the Pakistan prime minister… India’s clear and consistent position on this issue is well-known. We desire normal neighbourly relations with all our neighbours, including Pakistan. For this, an environment free of terror and hostility is imperative.”

He pointed out that this was not a new stance. “We have said it before several times and I will repeat it again today.”

In his speech, PM Shehbaz noted that Pakistan has fought three wars in the last 75 years, which resulted in economic deprivation and a shortage of resources. “Is this the way that we adopt or have economic competition?”

He also felt that it was up to the “neighbour [who] has to understand that we cannot become normal neighbours unless abnormalities are removed, unless our serious issues are understood and addressed through peaceful and meaningful discussions”.

In January too, the Pakistani PM had made an offer to hold talks with India on all unresolved matters, The Wire said. However, his office later clarified that such talks could only occur after the retraction of the August 5, 2019 decision to alter the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir.

India’s response was that the timing was not suitable because there “should be a conducive atmosphere which does not have terror, hostility or violence”.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2023

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