Karachi, Pakistan – The Pakistani foreign minister threw the gauntlet at India to restart the direct dialogue between the two countries, affirming that “the responsibility lies [them]“To reverse the steps in the disputed region of Kashmir and end the alleged rights violations there before the two countries can sit down at the table.
Speaking to Al Jazeera in a broad exclusive interview, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi accused the Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of adopting “aggressive rhetoric” and “acting irresponsibly”.
“Who spoiled the climate? Obviously, the Indians. Now, if things are to improve, it is up to India, ”he said, referring to steps taken by Modi’s government to revoke a special constitutional status for Indian administered Kashmir in August 2019. and a subsequent security crackdown in the region, which lasted for several months.
Pakistan and India have fought two of their three full-scale wars since gaining independence from the British in 1947 against Kashmir, and the Himalayan territory remains at the heart of lingering tensions between neighbors with nuclear weapons.
Bilateral relations between the two rivals stalled around September 2016 after India said its army carried out a “surgical strike” on Pakistani territory. Islamabad rejected the request but admitted that two Pakistani soldiers died in the attack.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan tried to rekindle dialogue after winning the July 2018 elections.
Qureshi said there are currently “no formal or informal talks going on” between the two countries, including meetings between former officials that are commonly referred to as “Track II dialogues.”
In February 2019, India carried out air raids on Pakistani territory following an attack on Indian security forces in Pulwama, Kashmir that killed more than 40 people.
India blamed Jaish-e-Muhammad, a Pakistan-based armed group, for the attack and said its airstrikes targeted a “training camp” in the town of Balakot on their northwest border.
The airstrikes brought the two countries to the brink of another war, with Pakistan shooting down an Indian fighter jet in the ensuing stalemate and capture Indian air force pilot, who was released two days later as a “goodwill gesture” by Islamabad.
‘An accidental war could be horrible’
In December, Pakistan warned the international community that it had information that India was planning another attack on Pakistani territory and that the Pakistani military would respond “a cut above” if necessary.
At the time, Qureshi said India had sought “tacit approval” from world powers for possible attacks.
Pakistani foreign minister told Al Jazeera he believes the international community has intervened to reduce tensions between the two countries, although he does not have “first hand information” about such communications. .
“Past practice has been that international actors have played a role in easing tensions because they are aware that South Asia is a nuclear environment and that if things go wrong, even an accidental war… could. be horrible and would have consequences that extend beyond the region, “he said.
In November, Pakistan announced that it had prepared a folder with specific intelligence, including intercepted telephone conversations and documentary evidence, showing that Indian intelligence services, to Prime Minister Modi’s knowledge, were sponsoring armed groups targeting Pakistan.
Such allegations are common between the two neighbors, with both sides routinely denying the charges.
The November dossier, however, was unusual due to the specificity of the information, with Pakistan’s foreign ministry making audio recordings and some documents available to journalists.
In a report, India has denied the allegations, saying that “the so-called ‘evidence’ claims against India have no credibility, are fabricated and are figments of the imagination.”
Qureshi reiterated the allegations to Al Jazeera, and asserted that the international community with whom the file had been shared “was certainly looking at things very carefully and they were looking at what we presented very seriously”.
Islamabad-based diplomats for three countries with which the intelligence was shared told Al Jazeera the case was still being assessed and no action had been taken on the charges.
Afghan peace process
Since 2019, Pakistan has also facilitated the ongoing peace process in neighboring Afghanistan, with which it enjoys strained relations.
Qureshi underscored the need for the intra-Afghan negotiations, which currently continue in the Qatari capital Doha, to focus on moving forward.
“Pakistan is playing the role of facilitator,” he said. “The ultimate responsibility… rests with the Afghan leadership. It is their country, it is their future.
Last month a delegation of the Afghan Taliban Political Commission (TPC) met with Qureshi and other senior Pakistani officials in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
“I had a number of meetings [with them], and I told them… and convince them, please get into the mainstream, ”Qureshi said.
“You came to the table, and by coming to the table, you gained great respectability in the international community.”
Qureshi said he urged TPC leader Abdul Ghani Baradar, who had previously spent years in Pakistan detention, to “embrace change” in Afghanistan.
“Accept this new reality and accept this change. You cannot go back. Understand what happened, live with it and see what can be done. “
On discussions with Afghan government counterparts, Qureshi said Pakistan had urged the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to accept the “reality on the ground” of Taliban support among some Afghans.
“The Taliban and the people who are sympathetic to them are a reality,” he said. “Who are they? They are Afghans. Talk to them, tell them, persuade them that they should give up violence and pass the ball to the ballot.
Qureshi said Pakistan aims to have extensive ties with Afghanistan, and its ultimate goal is regional connectivity after peace has been established in its northwest neighbor.
“It won’t be an easy race. It’s going to be difficult, the road will be bumpy and it will take time, you have to understand all that, ”he said.
“And yet there are opportunities, we must not miss these opportunities.”
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.