“Potrayed incorrectly”: Pakistan clarifies Foreign Minister’s remarks on re-engagement with India

Pakistan on Friday said there was no change in its policy towards India, as it sought to clarify Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s strong pitch for re-engaging with New Delhi, asserting that his remarks were “portrayed incorrectly”.

Bilawal on Thursday said cutting ties with India would not serve Pakistan’s interests as Islamabad was already “internationally isolated and disengaged”.

Responding to media queries and press reports on Bilawal’s remarks, the Foreign Office in a statement said, “There is no change in Pakistan’s policy on India on which there is national consensus. Pakistan has always desired cooperative relations with all its neighbours, including India. We have consistently advocated constructive engagement and result-oriented dialogue to resolve all outstanding issues, including the core Jammu and Kashmir dispute.”

Bilawal’s remarks, the statement said, were “interpreted out of context” and “portrayed incorrectly”.

Addressing the Founding Day ceremony at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad, Bilawal had said that engaging with India and especially with its people was in the interest of Pakistan, which was apparently a feeler to test Indian response as Islamabad has been insisting that it would not talk to New Delhi until it reversed its unilateral steps in Kashmir.

“We have our issues with India. Pakistan and India have a long history of war, conflict. Today, where we have serious disputes, the events of August 2019 cannot be taken lightly,” he had said.

The ties between India and Pakistan nose-dived after New Delhi abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019.

India’s decision evoked strong reactions from Pakistan, which downgraded diplomatic ties and expelled the Indian envoy.

The Foreign Office statement said the onus “remains on India to take the necessary steps to create an enabling environment conducive for meaningful and result-oriented dialogue”.

The statement said the foreign minister clearly articulated his perspective on India’s actions in Kashmir since August 5, 2019.

His remarks are better understood in the overall context of his key message of conflict resolution that he emphasised in his address at the think-tank event, it said.

On the Kashmir issue, Bilawal in his address had said it has formed a “cornerstone of any conversation that I’ve had since becoming the foreign minister”.

Bilawal, 33, assumed charge as Pakistan’s top diplomat in April.

“In May, we had the delimitation commission and then just recently, the Islamophobic remarks of officials create an environment in which engagement is very difficult for Pakistan, if not impossible,” the minister said, referring to re-engaging with India.

Bilawal asked those present at the think tank event whether cutting ties with India was serving Pakistan’s interests, be it on Kashmir, be it on the rising Islamaphobia or the emphasis on Hindutva narrative in India.

“That I, as foreign minister of Pakistan, as the representative of my country, not only don’t speak to the Indian government but I also don’t speak to the Indian people. Is that the best way to communicate or achieve Pakistan’s objective?” the minister explained.

India has repeatedly told Pakistan that Jammu and Kashmir “was, is and shall forever” remain an integral part of the country.

India has said it desires normal neighbourly relations with Pakistan in an environment free of terror, hostility and violence.

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