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In what is a rare cross-border interview since last year's illegal annexation of Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) by the Narendra Modi government, Prime Minister Imran Khan's Adviser on National Security and Strategic Policy Planning Moeed Yusuf dilated on the desire for talks between Pakistan and India while at the same time identifying the roadblocks to this critical step. He surprised audiences in both countries by claiming Pakistan had been receiving messages over the past year for talks. Without spelling out who sent such messages, through whom and to whom, Pakistan, Moeed said, would assess the intent behind such overtures to ensure it was not just a ploy to show to the world that all was well between the two countries, and especially on IHK. He underlined the necessity of an enabling environment for such talks. Dilating on this point, Moeed urged India to reverse its unilateral measures in IHK by releasing all political prisoners, lifting the military siege, reversing the domicile Bill and stopping all human rights violations before a dialogue can begin. In other words, Pakistan wants a restoration of the status quo ante before the August 5, 2019 illegal annexation of IHK. In a clarification, Moeed's office stated that despite the reversion demand, Pakistan had never accepted the special status of IHK under the repealed Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, therefore reverting to that special status was not a precondition for talks. This means that Pakistan is holding out only for an easing of the repressive measures in IHK in order to provide the enabling environment required for a resumption of the interrupted dialogue. But Pakistan's insistence was that the Kashmiris must be the third party at the talks, something that has always proved a non-starter for India. Moeed said Pakistan was open to discussing terrorism with India, but rejected the accusation that Pakistan was delaying the Mumbai attacks case, arguing instead that it was India that was delaying the provision of evidence and witnesses. However, Pakistan now sees the issue of terrorism through its own prism, in which, India has been fostering terrorism within Pakistan. As 'evidence', Moeed promised a detailed dossier based on lengthy investigations to show that India gave the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (based on Afghan soil now) one million dollars to help it merge with four other militant groups, was involved in the Army Public School Peshawar massacre of students and teachers in 2014, the attacks on the Chinese Consulate and Stock Exchange in Karachi, and the attack on a five-star hotel in Gwadar. As 'proof' of Indian support to the Baloch insurgents, Moeed quoted the treatment of their leaders in a New Delhi hospital.

Having thus put India on the terrorist-support mat, Moeed reiterated Imran Khan's formula that if India took one step forward towards peace, Pakistan would reciprocate with two. At the very least, without exaggerating the importance of this media interaction, it is encouraging to hear that a revival of the stalled dialogue has once again, after a long hiatus, entered the conversation. There are of course considerable obstacles in the path of such a development, but the mere fact that there is a reiteration of the need for a dialogue must be clutched as a slim hope. If the two countries are talking, the track record shows that hostile rhetoric from both sides subsides, and, as Moeed put it, both sides sit down to talk like adults. One only hopes the interview finds resonance in India, riven as it is by communal right wing Hindutva frenzy. India in its own interests, just as Pakistan, needs to reach out for rational and acceptable solutions to the two countries' long-standing problems without reducing the people of IHK to the status of sacrificial lambs. Peace with honour is the only acceptable outcome, but one that must be pursued despite all the difficulties associated with the process.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020