Pakistan is willing to engage with India in the interest of de-escalating the tensions in their relations, Ambassador Masood Khan has said in an interview with Newsweek, a prominent American weekly magazine.
If peace continues to fail, especially over the contentious issue of Kashmir, he warned the consequences could be disastrous for both nuclear-armed South Asian countries as well as the international community, the Pakistani envoy to the United States was quoted as saying.
In this regard, Masood Khan warned that “the state of affairs is abysmal” in the Indian-occupied Kashmir.
Newsweek correspondent Tom O’Connor, who interviewed the Pakistani envoy, noted that the tensions between India and Pakistan spiked in August 20129 when India revoked Article 370 of its Constitution, which had granted special status to Indian-occupied Kashmir. The move was followed by a crackdown on dissent in the disputed region.
Masood Khan, who also served as President of Azad Kashmir, said that a “precarious situation” still exists along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir, as long as diplomatic endeavors are not successful in resolving the decades-old dispute.
“There could be accidents, there could be miscalculation, and the sole point is Kashmir,” Khan said. “It’s about Kashmir. It’s an unfinished agenda from the partition of India and Pakistan after the British left. So, what is diplomacy for if it doesn’t invest time and energy for resolving such hot issues that affect the destiny of millions of people?”
The magazine’s correspondent also referred to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s recent interview with Dubai-based Al Arabiya in which the Pakistani leader expressed a desire for talks with India to resolve burning issues, like Kashmir, between the two neighbours, noting that New Delhi has rejected the offer.
Ambassador Masood Khan acknowledged that, before talks could be held, “there would be conditions” put forth by both sides.
Echoing PM Sharif, Khan said that, for Pakistan, this means “that the actions that were taken in August 2019, should be held in abeyance,” a call he said has been echoed by those within Kashmir itself, where activists have accused New Delhi of instituting media lockdowns, conducting arbitrary arrests and attempting to change the demographics of the overwhelmingly majority-Muslim region of more than 12 million people by allowing non-residents to purchase properties there.
Khan recounted these allegations, describing Jammu and Kashmir as an effective “mass prison.”
As such, he argued that, without addressing these matters ahead of time, “if we resumed talks, this would be an inadvertent legitimization of India’s actions in 2019, so the hesitation stems from there.”
About political unrest in Pakistan, Masood Khan said he was confident that his country will “bounce back” from its current hardships, citing ongoing efforts to secure an International Monetary Fund (IMF) package as among the “positive signals” Pakistan has recently witnessed.
He also said these challenges did not serve as a “handicap” for the work of Pakistani envoys in Washington, D.C. and other capitals abroad. In fact, he said U.S. officials have said they are further investing in ties with Islamabad as a “standalone, broad-based relationship” not solely tied to other regional foreign policy issues such as Afghanistan, India and China.
As regards Pakistan facing its own spike of terrorist attacks in the wake of the U.S. exit from Afghanistan, Masood Khan denied any association with the militants with which India was contending across the border today.
On this matter, he urged Indian officials to “revise their narrative, because that narrative about Pakistan using terrorism as an instrument of war is hackneyed and anachronistic, because it dates back to the 1990s when there was asymmetric warfare.”
“Since then, the movement is indigenous,” he added. “India’s headache is from an internal rebellion from Kashmir, not external support.”
Acknowledging the gravity of the situation, however, Khan argued that, “if there are no opportunities for some sort of communication, they must be created, understanding the compulsions and imperatives that the two parties have.”
But, Correspondent O’Conner noted, “there appears to be little appetite among the international community for taking on the issue, especially as the West focused on countering Russia’s war in Ukraine and increasingly invested in ties with India as a means to challenge the rise of China.”
The lack of interest among major powers could largely be summed up by U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price’s succinct response to a question in a press briefing last week as to whether or not Washington was planning to voice its position on the Kashmir issue and calls for the region’s self-determination, it was pointed out. “This is a question for India and Pakistan,” Price said.
About India’s invitation to Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to attend a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting in Goa in May, Ambassador Khan said,
“I think that this is good. We would be under one roof and in one conference hall, so there’s a bit of proximity. But the point is that India must discard its condescension.”
“Their attitude is very dismissive, and this does not help,” he added, as the Newsweek report noted that Pakistan has not yet confirmed its participation in the upcoming meeting.