As Reported by Sachin Parashar for The Times of India
On a day when Pakistan foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s offer for talks received lukewarm response here, Pakistan high commissioner Salman Bashir turned out be the real game-changer as he said that Islamabadwas willing to address all Indian concerns over LoC, including its demand for a probe into the mutilation of the bodies of Indian soldiers.
In an exclusive interview to TOI, Bashir said: “Essentially, what the Pakistan foreign minister has said is that Pakistan is willing to discuss all Indian concerns, especially those related torecent LoC developments with a clear objective to ensure respect for ceasefire along LoC.” It was Pakistan’s refusal to give any such assurance that had forced India to harden its stand and provoked PM Manmohan Singh to say that it can’t be business as usual with Pakistan.
Asked if his assurance included India’s demand for investigations into the beheading of soldier Hem Raj, Bashir said, “When we say all concerns, we are not excluding anything…I believe all civilized people, no matter where they are, would be appalled by the gruesome incident”. However, Bashir added that for India to accuse Pakistan of the act without any probe was still not “understandable” for Pakistan.
Bashir reached out to the Indian people saying that they should not look upon the Pakistanis as “insensitive” or “inhuman”. In what is likely to soothe frayed nerves here further, Bashir did not mention any international role, including the UN, while talking about investigations into the incident.
“We want that both sides at the military level undertake their own investigations and use bilateral channels to get to the bottom of the incident. We are also concerned about ceasefire violations that have resulted in several casualties on our side but for peace to prevail we believe that the way forward is to talk to each other instead of getting into mutual recrimination,” he told TOI.
He added: “Pakistan foreign minister’s offer for talks with her counterpart is of considerable significance as it shows Pakistan’s desire to steer the process of reengagement in the right direction and at the same time address the issues of concern through the dialogue process. We hope that this sincere gesture will be reciprocated.”
While doubts have been raised about Pakistan’s commitment to MFN status for India, Bashir also brushed that aside saying that the “in principle” decision still stands and Islamabad will continue to seek better trade ties with India. He, however, added that for this it was important the positive atmosphere prior to the LoC flare-up was not vitiated.
Bashir said that he found developments like the return of Pakistan hockey players and move by India to stall visa-on-arrival for senior citizens “troubling”. “I think when there are multiple issues, both sides need to communicate more and not allow iron curtains to descend”.
As he pointed that there have been no “impulsive” reactions from Pakistan authorities to the statements made by Indian leaders, including Manmohan Singh. He said Pakistan still looked upon Singh as a man of peace who is very well respected in his country for his initiative for dialogue between the two countries.
Bashir said Pakistan was not proposing any time frame for Khar-Khurshid dialogue. “We have made an offer and the two most important words are ‘dialogue’ and ‘de-escalation’ – the rest is a question of form and modality,” he said.
Talking about the deep sense of hurt in India over the LoC incident, Bashir called upon people in position of responsibility and opinion makers to act responsibly and “not play with raw emotions”. “People of Pakistan are not insensitive to the sentiments of the people of India. Whenever there is a tragic incident – be it an earthquake or a terror attack or some heinous crime – ordinary people suffer from the same sentiment. But what I object to is the instinctive reflexes for Pakistan bashing and whipping up of emotions which has almost turned into a stereotype. It is important for saner voices to realize that neither Pakistan can wish India away nor India can do the same to Pakistan,” he said.
Bashir ended by recalling what Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar had said on his visit to Pakistan recently: “Our people have shared geography and history and there is no reason why they can’t share their future too.”