New Delhi: India on Thursday, August 3, reiterated that an “environment free of terror and hostility” was necessary to restart talks after Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif expressed readiness for engagement with the “neighbour”.
India’s response echoed its customary stance, reiterating what it had also expressed earlier this year when Sharif had extended an offer for talks.
On Tuesday, August 1, Sharif said at an economic summit in Islamabad that Pakistan was “prepared to talk to them, provided that the neighbour is serious to talk [on] serious matters … because war is no more an option”. He didn’t name India, but the inference was obvious.
While responding to media queries at the weekly briefing on Thursday, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson said, “We have seen reports regarding comments by the Pakistan prime minister… India’s clear and consistent position on this issue is well-known. We desire normal neighbourly relations with all our neighbours, including Pakistan. For this, an environment free of terror and hostility is imperative.”
He pointed out that this was not a new stance. “We have said it before several times and I will repeat it again today.”
In his speech, Sharif had noted that Pakistan has fought three wars in the last 75 years, which resulted in economic deprivation and a shortage of resources. “Is this the way that we adopt or have economic competition?”
He also felt that it was up to the “neighbour [who] has to understand that we cannot become normal neighbours unless abnormalities are removed, unless our serious issues are understood and addressed through peaceful and meaningful discussions”.
In January, Sharif had made an offer to hold talks with India on all unresolved matters. However, his office later clarified that such talks could only occur after the retraction of the August 5, 2019 decision to alter the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir.
India’s response was that the timing was not suitable because there “should be a conducive atmosphere which does not have terror, hostility or violence”.
Diplomatic relations have been downgraded since Pakistan expelled the Indian high commissioner and severed trade ties in response to the announcement on status of Jammu and Kashmir made on August 5, 2019.
Pakistan’s foreign minister, Bilawal Bhutto, made a rare trip to India to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) foreign ministers’ meeting in Goa earlier this year. However, the ministerial summit was overshadowed by a verbal exchange between the Indian and Pakistani ministers.
It was highly unlikely that Sharif’s offer to India was a serious one, especially since he is going to give over the reins of the government to a caretaker cabinet this month. Pakistan has to go to elections within 60 to 90 days after the caretaker government takes charge, but there has been speculation that polls could be delayed.