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Pakistan Makes U-turn on Its Foreign Minister’s Claim That PM Modi Willing to Resume Dialogue

New Delhi: Pakistan has walked back on newly elected foreign affairs minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s claim that PM Narendra Modi had written to his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan expressing interest in resuming the peace process.

The volte-face came after sources in the Indian government said PM Modi’s letter to the newly sworn-in Pakistan prime Minister was a congratulatory note and there was no offer of dialogue.

The letter said, according to sources, that India was committed to peaceful neighbourly relations and a terror-free region. It went on to say that India is willing to constructively engage with Pakistan on that count.

The spokesperson for Pakistan’s foreign ministry now said the minister had not said “the Indian Prime Minister had made an offer of a dialogue”, but had said that the Indian Prime Minister in his letter had mentioned something similar to what the foreign minister elucidated earlier – that the way forward was only through “constructive engagement”.

The foreign minister was also briefed about the same positivity and constructive environment prevailing during the meeting of the former law minister with India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj during his visit to India on August 18 to attend the funeral of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, he said.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had in her annual press conference this year asserted that ‘terror and talks’ cannot go together but ‘talks on terror’ can take place referring to the engagement between the NSAs of the two countries.

But Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi interpreted engagement on terror as comprehensive dialogue, something the India side denied PM Modi’s letter had offered.

Addressing a press conference after taking charge of his country’s foreign affairs department, Qureshi had said, “India and Pakistan have to move forward keeping realities before them.”

In his press conference, which he held just an hour after swearing in as the Foreign Affairs Minister, Qureshi had claimed, “The Indian Prime Minister issued a letter yesterday in which he has congratulated Imran Khan and has sent a message of dialogue [between the two countries].”

He also stressed the need for dialogue between the two countries, saying that Pakistan has no option but to talk to India. “We cannot afford adventurism,” Qureshi said during his press conference.

Underlining a different approach in dealing with India, he said that Pakistan was looking “to change how we behave”.

Directly addressing the Indian Foreign Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Qureshi said, “We are neighbours and both of us are aware of our mutual issues. We have no option but to talk to each other, to engage.” He also added, perhaps referring to ‘surgical strikes’, “We cannot afford any adventurism.”

Everyone knows that the problems are complex as are their solutions, Qureshi said, and knowing this we cannot turn our faces away.

“We have to acknowledge that there are some outstanding issues between us. Whether we want it or not Kashmir is a reality, a problem, which the now deceased former Prime Minister of India, AB Vajpayee, had also acknowledged in his trip to Pakistan,” Qureshi said.

He called for a “continued, uninterrupted” dialogue between the two countries.

Qureshi is one of the most seasoned Pakistani political leaders with previous experience in dealing Pakistan’s foreign affairs. He served as Pakistani foreign minister between 2008-13 under then president Asif Zardari and former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

He also once served as provincial finance minister in the cabinet of Nawaz Sharif when he was the chief minister of the Punjab during the military rule of Gen Zia-ul Haq.

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