Karachi, Pakistan – The Pakistani Foreign Minister has dropped the fight against India in order to resume direct dialogue between the two countries, stating that “the responsibility rests [them]“To reverse steps in the controversial Kashmir region and end alleged violations of law there before the two countries can come to the table.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi spoke to Al Jazeera in a comprehensive, exclusive interview and accused the Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “adopting aggressive rhetoric” and “acting irresponsibly”.
“Who has affected the climate? Obviously the Indians. If things need to get better, India is responsible, ”he said, referring to the steps the Modi government had taken to grant special constitutional status to Indian-administered Kashmir and a subsequent security measure in August 2019 Region that took several months to cancel.
Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars in full since gaining independence from the British over Kashmir in 1947, and the Himalayan territory remains at the heart of ongoing tensions between their nuclear-armed neighbors.
Bilateral relations between the two rivals came to a standstill around September 2016 after India said its military had carried out a “surgical strike” on Pakistani territory. Islamabad denied the claim, but admitted that two Pakistani soldiers were killed in the attack.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan tried to resume the dialogue after winning the July 2018 election.
Qureshi said there are currently “no formal or informal parleys” between the two countries, including meetings between former officials commonly referred to as “Track II dialogues”.
In February 2019, India launched an air strike on Pakistani territory following an attack on Indian security forces in Pulwama, Kashmir, killing more than 40 people.
India blamed Jaish-e-Muhammad, a Pakistan-based armed group, for the attack, saying its air strikes targeted a “training camp” in the town of Balakot on its northwestern border.
The air strikes brought the two countries to the brink of yet another war. In the ensuing stalemate, Pakistan shot down an Indian fighter jet and captured an Indian Air Force pilot who was released by Islamabad two days later as a “gesture of goodwill”.
“Accidental war could be terrible”
In December, Pakistan warned the international community that it had information that India was preparing another attack on Pakistani territory and that the Pakistani military would respond “one step up” if necessary.
At the time, Qureshi had said India had asked the world powers “tacit approval” for the possible attacks.
The Pakistani foreign minister told Al Jazeera that he believed the international community had stepped in to ease tensions between the two countries, although he had no first-hand information about such communications.
“In the past, international actors have played a role in defusing tensions because they are aware that South Asia is a nuclear environment. If something goes wrong, even an accidental war can be … horrific and have ramifications beyond the region. ” he said.
In November, Pakistan announced that it had prepared a dossier containing specific information, including intercepted phone calls and documentary evidence, showing that Indian intelligence services, with Prime Minister Modi’s knowledge, are supporting armed groups targeting Pakistan.
Such allegations are common between the two neighbors, with both sides routinely rejecting the allegations.
However, the November dossier was unusual for the specificity of the information as the Pakistani Foreign Office provided journalists with audio recordings and some documents.
In a statement, India denied the allegations, saying that “the so-called” evidence claims “against India have no credibility and are made up and represent fantasy figures.
Qureshi reiterated the allegations against Al Jazeera, claiming that the international community with which the dossier was shared “have certainly looked at things very carefully and they are taking what we have presented very seriously”.
Islamabad-based diplomats for three countries with whom the information had been shared told Al Jazeera that the dossier is still being examined and that no action has been taken on the allegations.
Afghan peace process
Since 2019, Pakistan has also facilitated the ongoing peace process in neighboring Afghanistan, with which it has a strained relationship.
Qureshi stressed the need for intra-Afghan negotiations, which are currently continuing in the Qatari capital, Doha, to focus on further development.
“Pakistan is playing the role of a mediator,” he said. “The ultimate responsibility… rests with the Afghan leadership. It’s their country, it’s their future. “
Last month, a delegation from the Afghan Taliban Political Commission (TPC) met Qureshi and other top Pakistani officials in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
“I had several meetings [with them]and I told them … and convinced them, please get mainstream, “said Qureshi.
“You have come to the table, and in coming to the table you have achieved a great deal of prestige in the international community.”
Qureshi said he had urged TPC chief Abdul Ghani Baradar, who had previously served years in Pakistani custody, to accept the change in Afghanistan.
“Accept this new reality and accept this change. You can’t turn back the clock. Understand what happened, live with it, and see what can be done. “
Speaking to fellow Afghan government officials, Qureshi said Pakistan had asked the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to accept the “basic reality” of Taliban support among some Afghans.
“The Taliban and the people who sympathize with them are a reality,” he said. “Who are you? They are Afghans. Talk to them, tell them, convince them to give up violence and move from the bullet to voting.”
Qureshi said Pakistan seeks wide-ranging ties with Afghanistan and that its ultimate goal is regional connectivity after peace is made in its northwestern neighbor.
“It won’t be an easy journey. It will be difficult, the road will be bumpy and it will be time consuming, you have to understand all of this, ”he said.
“And yet there are opportunities that we shouldn’t miss out on.”
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweeted @AsadHashim.