Pakistani diplomat Abdul Basit offers olive branch to India

Abdul Basit’s call for formalizing the 2003 ceasefire agreement is being seen as an effort to retrieve an otherwise worsening situation

Pakistan high commissioner to India Abdul Basit. Photo: HT
Pakistan high commissioner to India Abdul Basit. Photo: HT

New Delhi: Has Pakistan blinked?

This is the question which came to mind after Pakistan urged India on Monday to formalize a ceasefire understanding reached in 2003 to stop firing along the border of the two countries.

Pakistan’s surprise offer came in an interview to India Today TV by Islamabad’s envoy to India Abdul Basit.

Basit said the escalating tensions along the de facto Line of Control or LoC border in Kashmir was not in Pakistan’s interest. The Pakistan Army, he said, was heavily committed in fighting insurgent groups in Pakistan in an operation code-named Zarb-e-Azb launched some years ago.

“It is wrong to say that the escalation is being fuelled by Pakistan. We would like that hostilities along the LoC come to an end and the 2003 ceasefire understanding is turned into a formal agreement between India and Pakistan,” Basit said.

The high commissioner’s remarks come in the backdrop of some of the fiercest shelling and firing along the India-Pakistan border since 2003; many civilians and soldiers from both countries have been killed in the cross-border firing.

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The move is been seen by analysts and sections of the Indian government as an effort by Islamabad to retrieve an otherwise worsening situation.

In a statement last week, the Indian Army’s director general of military operations Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh warned of an “appropriate response” if the shelling did not stop.

Significantly, Basit’s remarks come ahead of a regional summit in Amritsar on 3-4 December. The list of attendees includes the adviser to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz. As it stands, Aziz is expected in Amritsar on Sunday morning and will leave the same evening.

However, Basit hinted that Pakistan was willing to rework Aziz’s schedule if India signalled its willingness to talk peace. Calling for a resumption of the stalled dialogue process between India and Pakistan, Basit said, “We can delay talks for months or even for years. But ultimately, a solution to the problems between India and Pakistan can only come through dialogue, and therefore, both nations must sit and discuss all the issues that confront them.”

Peace talks between the two countries have been stalled since 2013.

The Indian foreign ministry declined to comment.

Analysts argued that there has been a rethink by Pakistan.

“This is true that Indian forces are on the offensive against Pakistan and therefore Pakistan is looking for an exit option,” said former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh, noting that the LoC had been quiet for the past few days after a heavy exchange of gunfire last week.

“It could also be a clever move to change the international narrative on the crossfire, showing Pakistan to be reasonable and seeking a formalization of the 2003 understanding,” Mansingh said.

T.C.A. Raghavan, a former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan, said the formalization of the 2003 understanding was not as important as “honouring” it.

“The form is less important than the intention to honour it,” he said.

India claims that the 1972 Simla agreement contains commitments on ceasefire. It was against this backdrop that the two countries did not go in for a separate pact on the subject in 2003.

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