Pakistan won’t say ‘no’ to any talks invitation: FO

ISLAMABAD -  Pakistan has not yet received any request from India for bilateral talks on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia Conference but Islamabad will not say ‘no’ to any such offer, officials here said.

The officials at the foreign ministry told The Nation, Pakistan would not run away from dialogue however, Pakistan would raise the Kashmir issue in any bilateral dialogue.

“We are all for talks but this has to be initiated by India in case of the upcoming Heart of Asia Conference. They are the hosts and must invite any country for talks on the sidelines. If they were here for such a summit, we could have considered inviting them for talks,” said a senior official.

He said that Pakistan had not made any move for a sideline meeting in India.

“In fact we are not supposed to do so. India is the host and we will welcome any request from them and hopefully accept it,” he added.

Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz will participate in the two-day Heart of Asia Conference scheduled for December 3-4, amid continuing skirmishes between the two nuclear-armed neighbours at the Line of Control (LoC) and the Working Boundary.

Officials said Sartaj Aziz would travel to India via Wagah border on December 4 and would return to the country on the same day.

Amritsar will host the two-day Sixth Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process.

The key element of the conference will be the challenge of terrorism in the region, especially Afghanistan, countering extremism, exploring cultural similarities, and cooperation in the educational sector.

When Sartaj Aziz travels to India, it would be the first high-level visit from Pakistan after the announcement of Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue in December last year, which never took off in the wake of the Pathankot airbase attack in January, which led to intense tension between the two countries.

Recently Sartaj Aziz said:  “Unlike India, that had sabotaged the Saarc summit in Pakistan by pulling out, Pakistan will respond by participating in the Heart of Asia being held in India. It’s a good opportunity to defuse the tension,” he added.

India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who was expected to host the conference, is suffering from kidney failure and is on dialysis at All India Institute of Medical Science.

Since she will not travel to Amritsar, the two state ministers VK Singh and MJ Akbar are set to play host to the visiting foreign dignitaries.

Another foreign ministry official said Pakistan was sending its top diplomat to India which showed “our desire for peace” and “our commitment to stability in Afghanistan.”

“We have never said no to talks and will be ready to hold a sideline meeting if we are invited for it. We will of course not request for such a meeting,” he said.

The official said some other countries were also pressurising Pakistan and India to resume the dialogue process to defuse tension.

Yesterday, the United States said it was aware of the border tensions between Pakistan and India and Washington supported a dialogue between the two countries.

“We continue to want to see dialogue and discussion between India and Pakistan to improve cooperation, to improve communication, and improve shared efforts against a common threat,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

Foreign Office spokesman Nafees Zakaria said that peace in Afghanistan was vital for regional stability.

He said Pakistan would participate in Heart of Asia Conference in India because it was related to Afghanistan.

“Pakistan firmly believes in peace and stability in Afghanistan,” he said.

Zakaria urged India to stop bloodshed in occupied Kashmir immediately, and said Pakistan believed in peaceful resolution of every outstanding issue with India.

He said as Pakistan was advocating for peaceful solution of all issues, India was continuing bloodshed in held Kashmir and threatening to sabotage Indus Water Treaty.