(Delhi) An interview with HE Abdul Basit Pakistan High Commissioner to India
Question1. What is the path do we expect Pakistan to follow to change the course of bilateral engagement and to give a new energy and direction to dialogue between the two countries?
Answer: First of all it is necessary to underline that peace between our two countries is in our mutual interest. And not only that, peace will also change this region as a whole for the better. It makes no sense that South Asia should continue to be the least integrated region of the world economically. Let’s admit this is working to our mutual disadvantage. But the question is how to achieve bilateral peace and stability. We in Pakistan are convinced that peace can only be achieved through a peaceful process. And it is a matter of satisfaction that bilateral frameworks already exist. And given the political will, much more can be achieved and achieved quickly. What I am trying to say is that our two countries have been talking to each other on all the bilateral issues. There has been progress in many areas including CBMs related to peace and stability, Jammu and Kashmir, trade, people-to-people contact, and cultural cooperation. Understandably, some issues are more difficult than others, but we cannot cherry-pick.
I think as we move forward to reengage with each other, two things would be important. First, let us revert to comprehensive engagement; discuss all the bilateral issues and disputes without preconditions and disruptions and with the sincerity and seriousness of purpose to make our engagement meaningful and fruitful. Otherwise, we will never be able to cleanse our bilateral relations and the bilateral narrative of misgivings and mistrust. Second, we must abide by what has so far been achieved and build on it. The complexity of our relationship warrants to be more steadfast and mutually flexible if we are to move from conflict management to conflict resolution achieving a lasting peace to our mutual benefit.
Question – 2 India will have a new government in place post-May 2014. What are your expectations form the new government and does Pakistan foresee any issues with a Narendra Modi led government in New Delhi.
Answer: Regardless of which party or coalition forms the next government in India, Pakistan is looking forward to engaging with that comprehensively and meaningfully. On both sides of the border and the LoC, people want peace and stability and a cooperative relationship. Our expectations will be to work together to come together in our mutual interest. We want to have conflict-free relations with India.
Question 3 – Pakistan and its people have very fond memories of former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Do you think an NDA government at the Centre will pursue that line and take engagement between the two nations to a new level? What are your expectations on this front?
Answer: Let’s wait for May 16 to know who will form the next government. As I said earlier, we need to build on the bilateral progress made so far. We hope the next government in India would be forthcoming, and willing to move decisively towards attaining a viable peace. The new government in India would not find Pakistan wanting in this regard.
Question 4 – Pakistan Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif has been very keen on not only improving bilateral relations between India and Pakistan but also encouraging trade and people to people exchanges. Do we foresee positive signals from him to continue if an NDA government takes charge in Delhi?
Answer: Yes, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has a very clear vision when it comes to our two countries and this region. His region-first policy envisages a region that is connected through road and rail networks; have free trade and people-to-people contact; cultural exchanges and cooperation; extensive sporting links and tourism. He is conscious of the fact that security and development are interlinked. If there is no peace there is no development. Imagine how enormously our two countries would benefit if there is peace between our two countries. Our present bilateral trade which is around $2.6 billion can increase manifold. Opportunities also abound for bilateral investments In short, it makes no sense not to harness the bilateral potential and lift our people out of the economic morass. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will do whatever is possible, but it takes two to tango.
Question 5: There has been hold up in making progress on trade across the borders between India and Pakistan and also opening up of new land routes. Certain steps need to be announced by Pakistan on allowing more items through the Wagah-Attari road route. How do you see trade getting a fillip with a new government taking over in India?
Answer: I know you are referring to Non-Discriminatory Market Access on Reciprocal Basis (NDMA). Let the new government take over in India. Pakistan is committed to making concrete progress in liberalizing bilateral trade to our mutual benefit.
Question 6:India and Pakistan have huge trade potential and currently the official trade is around $2.75 billion but trade through third countries is around $10 billion. Don’t you think time has come to break the barriers and both sides open up to exploit this huge potential to help eradication of poverty and ensure fruits of prosperity and development to people on both sides of border?
Answer: I cannot agree more. Let’s work together to have free trade. Tariffs and non-tariff barriers both need to be eliminated. We need banking facilities in each other’s countries, better mobile connectivity as well as a further liberalized visa regime. We should aim at beyond trade and look for bilateral investment opportunities. Pakistan is one of the richest countries when it comes to natural resources. Why not first take advantage of opportunities in our own region rather than looking beyond. That makes no economic sense.
Question 7: With the US moving out of Afghanistan post 2014, what do you think should be the level of engagement between India and Pakistan in shaping a better future for Afghanistan and ensuring peace and peace in the region.
Answer: Your readers will appreciate that Pakistan will benefit the most from peace and stability in Afghanistan as we have been suffering the most, after Afghans, since the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979. Since 9/11 we have suffered hugely both in blood and treasure, losing over 50,000 people and according to a World Bank report economic losses of close to $100 billion. We, therefore, want a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. And this would also help over 2 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan to return to their homeland.
Pakistan is doing whatever it can to promote an Afghan-led peace process, as well as reconstruction and development in Afghanistan. We have already spent $330 million in several infrastructure, education and health projects in Afghanistan. We strongly believe what is good for Afghanistan is also good for Pakistan.
I think all of us need to contribute in whatever way we can to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan. The presidential election held in Afghanistan recently was a great accomplishment and we salute the people of Afghanistan for their vigour and resilience. All of us need to work in harmony to solidify the gains made, strictly abiding by our commitment of non-interference in Afghanistan.
Question 8: There have often been questions asked in India about tacit support of Pak establishment to non-state actors in provoking terror against India. What do you think would the Pakistan government needs to do to do away with this perception or impression?
Answer: No other country has suffered more than Pakistan at the hands of terrorism. Terrorism is a global challenge and our common enemy and we can defeat it only if we work together rather than become victim of our own propaganda. Pakistan is a responsible member of the international community and committed against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. We have been encouraging India to share information/evidence with us but there is nothing beyond seemingly self-serving media reports.”
(English version of High Commissioner Mr Abdul Basit’s interview to the Indian Hindi Daily Amar Ujala)