- Info minister terms India’s decision ‘unfortunate’, says citizens should not suffer
Despite the refusal of the Indian government to resume dialogue with Pakistan, Pakistani authorities are willing to open the Kartarpur border crossing for the Sikh pilgrims to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib without a visa, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said in an interview to Hindustan Times on Saturday.
Talking to the Indian publication, Chaudhry said that while India’s decision to cancel the meeting was “unfortunate” and that citizens should not suffer.
The meeting was to be held between both countries’ foreign ministers on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
“This is an issue of the ordinary people, Sikhs and other Indian pilgrims, and an issue of faith,” he said in a phone interview. “They shouldn’t suffer and we want to formalise the informal proposal the Pakistan army chief made to [Punjab State Minister Navjot Singh] Sidhu.”
Chaudhry further reiterated the government’s stance to look for a “peaceful solution to the Kashmir issue” — which he said was the basic issue between Pakistan and India — and said that New Delhi had “wasted a wonderful opportunity [for peace] by rejecting the prime minister’s offer”.
“There are several ways we can handle things. One way is we could go to war, both countries have atomic weapons and those who survive can handle the outstanding issues. But it is foolish to think we can go to war,” said Chaudhry, adding that “can’t we look for a solution to our problems through dialogue?”
He also rubbished India’s accusations of Pakistan’s interference in held Kashmir.
“It is wrong to hold Pakistan responsible for the ongoing struggle in held Kashmir,” he said, but reiterated that: “Pakistan supports Kashmiris’ struggle for freedom.”
He further said that Pakistani authorities had “solid evidence” of Indian interference in Balochistan.
He said that Pakistan was ready to hold talks on every issue, but the efforts cannot remain one-sided.
“We cannot change our neighbours,” the information minister said. “India has to decide [its future strategy].”
On Saturday, Fawad Chaudhry issued a response backing the DG ISPR’s statement and said, “Pakistan and India are nuclear powers; a war is out of the question.”
The information minister had termed the Indian army chief’s statement an attempt to divert the attention of Indian public from the mega corruption scandal and the subsequent calls for resignation faced by PM Modi-led BJP government.
Chaudhry had said that the Indian army chief’s statement was inappropriate and that the general must refrain from using statements as a political tool.
“The Indian army chief needs to understand that he is not a BJP leader,” Chaudhry had remarked, adding that “the world stands witness to who wants war and who wants peace”.
“As a peace-loving nation, Pakistan desires peace [with India],” he stressed, highlighting the fact that peace will be in the benefit of billions across both nations.
He had said that Pakistan had reached out in hopes for peace and will continue its efforts to that end.
Earlier, Pakistan had expressed its “deep disappointment” after New Delhi announced to cancel the meeting of foreign ministers of India and Pakistan — which was to be held on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York — and blamed India for “once again wasting an opportunity to change the dynamics of the bilateral relationship”.
On Friday, India called off the meeting between the Pakistani and Indian foreign ministers just a day after confirming the development.
Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar cited “unclean intentions” on Pakistan’s side.
Last month, Sidhu had visited Pakistan to attend Prime Minister Imran Khan’s oath-taking ceremony. He had also met Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, who told him that “when [Sikh community] celebrates the 550th birthday of Baba Nanak […] we’ll open the Kartarpur-Sahib Corridor.”
Commenting on India’s volte-face, Pakistan’s Foreign Office had said in a statement that the reasons cited by the Indian side for the decision to cancel the foreign ministers’ meeting are entirely unconvincing.
“The so-called ‘disturbing developments’ alluded to in the Indian statement predated the Indian agreement to hold the bilateral meeting in New York,” the FO said.
The other reason cited by the Indian ministry referred to the issuance of 20 special postage stamps by Pakistan Post on July 24, highlighting the gross violation of human rights by Indian forces in held Kashmir.
Islamabad clarified that the postage stamps mentioned in the Indian statement were issued before the July 25 elections, following which Prime Minister Imran Khan assumed office.
The Foreign Office had also expressed disappointment over the “reference in the Indian MEA statement to the person of the Prime Minister of Pakistan”, and termed it “unfortunate”.
“We choose not to further comment beyond saying that these comments are against all norms of civilised discourse and diplomatic communication,” read the statement.
Putting the record straight, the FO had mentioned that PM Imran Khan had, in his first public comments after his electoral success, outlined a forward-looking vision of Pakistan-India relations.
Prime Minister Imran Khan took to Twitter on Saturday to respond to India’s cancellation of the meeting, calling New Delhi’s response “arrogant and negative”.
“Disappointed at the arrogant and negative response by India to my call for the resumption of the peace dialogue,” said PM Khan. “However, all my life I have come across small men occupying big offices who do not have the vision to see the larger picture.”
Separately, Foreign Minister Qureshi had said he was “deeply saddened” by how New Delhi first accepted and later backtracked from a meeting between him and his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj.
PAKISTAN ARMY RESPONDS:
Pakistan Army had also warned India that the nuclear-armed country is capable of defending its borders if a war is waged on it, moments after Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat made inflammatory remarks against Pakistan.
“We [Pakistan Army] are ready for war but choose to walk the path of peace in the interest of the people of Pakistan, the neighbours and the region,” Major General Asif Ghafoor, director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), said in reaction to Gen Rawat’s comments.
While addressing the Indian media, the Indian army chief had said, “We need to take stern action to avenge the barbarism that terrorists and the Pakistan Army have been carrying out. Yes, it’s time to give it back to them in the same coin, not resorting to similar kind of barbarism. But I think the other side must also feel the same pain.”
On questions of talks with Pakistan, Gen Rawat had reiterated the government’s stand that “talks and terrorism cannot go together”.
Gen Ghafoor had said Pakistan has a long-standing record of fighting terrorism, adding “we know the price [that is paid] for peace”.
As far as the issuance of postal tickets is concerned, the UN released a human rights violation report following which the then interim government issued those tickets highlighting the plight of Kashmiris.
“To turn this into an excuse that the peace process has been tainted or that Pakistan has somehow changed its stance is inappropriate,” the ISPR chief had said.
“They [India] should come forward for a dialogue. Whenever attempts for dialogue have failed, it is because India had run away from the table.
“The government of Pakistan’s offer still stands for India to come forward and hold talks with us,” the ISPR chief had said.
Gen Rawat’s comments came shortly after Prime Minister Imran Khan took to Twitter to respond to India’s cancellation of the meeting between the Pakistani and Indian foreign ministers.
PM Khan had earlier written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing his desire for talks between the two countries and also suggested a meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries.
On Friday, the Indian government had cancelled a meeting between the Pakistani and Indian foreign ministers, scheduled to be held on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, just a day after confirming the development.