New Delhi: Calling for “uninterrupted” dialogue, Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi initially indicated that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had extended an offer of dialogue in a letter to newly sworn-in Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, but later, he retracted the statement and blamed the media for misinterpreting him.
In his first press conference as foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi said there was a need for “continued, unhindered dialogue”.
But at the end of his introductory speech, he was pulled aside by foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua. Following a quick tête-à-tête, Qureshi announced that he had just been told that Indian prime minister had sent a letter congratulating Khan.
“…Unhone Guft-e-shuneed ke raaste ke aagaz ka paigam kiya hai… (He has given a message to initiate dialogue),” said Qureshi, adding, “this is a positive development”.
In New Delhi, Indian official sources did not comment directly on Qureshi’s contention that Modi had made an offer of dialogue.
Rather, they said that Modi wrote about “India’s commitment to build good neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan and pursue meaningful and constructive engagement for the benefit of the people of the region”.
Modi had spoken to Khan on July 30 after the results of Pakistan’s parliamentary elections became clear, which was recalled in the formal letter. The Indian leader referred to “their shared vision to bring peace, security and prosperity in the Indian subcontinent, in order to make it free of terror and violence, and to focus on development”.
With India refusing to confirm the contents of the letter, there was a bit of confusion on whether an offer of dialogue had been actually extended.
By evening, Pakistan foreign office also agreed with the limited explanation provided by Indian officials.
Laying the blame entirely on “sections” of the India for “unnecessarily” creating “controversy”, Pakistan foreign office spokesperson Mahmud Faisal claimed that Qureshi had “not stated that the ‘Indian prime minister had made an offer of a dialogue’.”
Rather, Faisal said that the foreign minister had claimed that Modi had only mentioned “that the way forward was only through constructive engagement”, echoing the language used by Indian sources.
However, Qureshi’s call for an unhindered dialogue with India was reiterated. “Pakistan looks forward to a mutually beneficial, uninterrupted dialogue with India to resolve all issues,” said the spokesperson.
Taking a dig at the Indian media, he advised that “any attempts to instigate controversy and vitiate the environment are counter-productive and against the spirit of responsible journalism”.
The Pakistan foreign office also announced that Qureshi was briefing about the “same positivity and constructive environment” prevailing between the meeting of the Pakistan law minister and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj during the visit to attend funeral of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Earlier during the press conference, Qureshi had directly addressed his Indian counterpart. “I want to tell the Indian foreign minister that we are not just neighbours, we are also nuclear powers… We need to stop the adventurism and come together,” he said.
He noted that there Kashmir is a topic that both countries will have to sit down and resolve. “Yes, we have outstanding issues. Kashmir is a reality; it is an issue that both our nations acknowledge”.
“We need a continued and uninterrupted dialogue. This is our only way forward,” he asserted.
This is not the first time that Qureshi is heading the foreign ministry. He had been the foreign minister from 2008 to 2011 in the PPP-led coalition government. In fact, Qureshi had been in India during the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and had to face the brunt of the Indian government’s anger.
Interestingly, Imran Khan’s first address to the nation on Sunday night barely had any foreign policy component. He simply mentioned that Pakistan needs a peaceful periphery as “we need peace to bring prosperity to pull up people from poverty”.
However, Khan’s speech did not mention Kashmir, which has so far been a ubiquitous subject in all of his recent statements related to India.