‘Concern on both sides over ties’: Ex-Pak foreign secretary

Pakistan informed India directly and through its friends it would be “dangerous” to climb the escalation ladder when the two countries came close to firing missiles at each other during a standoff in February, former Pakistani foreign secretary Riaz Khokhar has said.

Khokhar, who served as Pakistan’s envoy to India, the US and China, and continues to be connected to the foreign policy establishment in Islamabad, said there is no option for the South Asian neighbours but to sit at the table and talk to address their differences and reduce tensions.

As reported by Hindustan Times, India and Pakistan came close to firing missiles at each other on February 27, after Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was captured when his jet was shot down during an engagement along the Line of Control. Tensions between the two sides were then at a high following the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) suicide attack at Pulwama that killed 40 troops.

“Our information was that it was India [that was] preparing a missile attack on two or three cities of Pakistan and our only reaction was to not only inform India directly but also inform India through its friends that we would be climbing the escalation ladder, which we should avoid under all circumstances,” Khokhar said in an interview on the margins of the Astana Economic Forum.

“We are clear that if the chips are down, then there is no holds barred [but] this is utter madness,” he added.

At his recent election rallies, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India warned Pakistan of serious consequences and asked Islamabad to ensure the safety of Varthaman. He also said an official of the United States had remarked that New Delhi was prepared to launch 12 missiles in the aftermath of a February 26 operation of the India Air Force (IAF) targeting a terror camp in Balakot, deep inside Pakistan.

Though Khokhar didn’t mention any other countries, there have been reports that the US, the UAE and Saudi Arabia played a role in reducing India-Pakistan tensions.

Khokhar said there is concern among people on both sides of the border over the “bad turn” in India-Pakistan ties. “We do hope once the Indian elections are over, the temperature would go down and they would realise that there is no other option but to engage in a serious dialogue,” he said.

The two countries haven’t had any “serious dialogue since 2008” and both sides are responsible for ensuring the resumption of contacts, he said. “In a way, the responsibility rests on India because it is a big country and the problems are of such nature that India has to take the initiative,” he said.

“We are ready, our approach is that we have to talk. War is not an option for either India or Pakistan.”

Khokhar pointed to the potential for India and Pakistan to boost trade and transit ties with Central Asia if they improved bilateral ties and the situation in Afghanistan improved.

“The only way Central Asia can be linked to South Asia is through Pakistan and Afghanistan… Unless Afghanistan really settles down, Central Asia cannot open up. The shortest route from South Asia to Central Asia is through Pakistan and Afghanistan,” he said.

First Published:
May 21, 2019 07:24 IST

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