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Pak Foreign Minister says Article 370 is India’s internal matter, opening door for dialogue

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Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, formally declared that Islamabad was okay with India's abrogation of Article 370 (Pic: Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

By Mrityunjoy Kumar Jha and Atul Aneja

The blow-hot blow-cold thaw between India and Pakistan has meandered yet again, with Pakistan’s normally hawkish foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, formally declaring on his country’s national channel, Islamabad was okay with India's abrogation of Article 370. On August 5, 2019 India had erased Jammu and Kashmir’s special states anchored by Article 370 and Article 35 A. Hell broke loose and soon after Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan became the vanguard of a campaign to vilify the Modi administration in the international fora including the United Nations General Assembly.

In less that two years, Pakistan has formally accepted abrogation of Article 370, but with a loaded caveat.

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Qureshi lobbed his bombshell during a TV interview with Pakistan’s Shaama Channel. He said: “For us Article 370 is not important. The people are asking them (Indian government) that you have promised that statehood of the state will be restored and people are frustrated. People have challenged it and the matter is in the Supreme Court.”  In doing so, Qureshi accepted the legitimacy of India’s Supreme Court on the abrogation of Article 370, which is a huge development. He also indirectly demanded the restoration of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir (J and K). J and K had become a Union Territory after the fateful decision of August 5, 2019.

But here comes the major qualifier. Qureshi said that for Pakistan it is Article 35A which is of utmost concern. “By invoking article 35A of their constitution, India is making demographic changes in Jammu and Kashmir and it is a violation of international law,” Qureshi observed. “India is trying to make demographic structural change there and this will create an imbalance in Jammu Kashmir. We have been opposing this move of implementation and in future also we will oppose it,” he observed. In other words, Qureshi had laid down Pakistan’s red lines: restoration of the J and K assembly and rejection of article 35 A.

Significantly, this interview was recorded before Foreign Minister Qureshi and Prime Minister Imran Khan’s important visit to Saudi Arabia. Pakistan army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa is already in the Kingdom. That in itself is highly significant. From the Pakistani side, Bajwa is the chief architect of the revival of 2003 ceasefire accord between India and Pakistan, on February 25, 2021.

The Gulf countries have apparently played a crucial background role for backchannel contacts between India and Pakistan, with the United Arab Emirates playing a leading role. But Saudi Arabia the chief patriarch of the Gulf region and beyond is not likely to step into a role that could go beyond a thaw between India and Pakistan.

"There is no option other than dialogue. These are two nuclear powers with outstanding issues which need to be resolved either today, tomorrow, or the day after. War is not an option,” Qureshi said in his interview, signalling Islamabad’s intention to open a full-fledged dialogue.

This latest statement by Qureshi is departure of Pakistan’s earlier stand that there cannot be normalization of ties until the Centre restores Article 370.  Pakistan has further softened its tone by mentioning the need for an “enabling environment” and discuss all “outstanding” issues including Jammu and Kashmir, leaves space for diplomacy.

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Despite the positive signalling, official sources told India Narrative that from an Indian perspective, Pakistan would have to durably and verifiably demonstrate that it has terminated all support for terrorism in India including Jammu and Kashmir. Once this is done a step-by-step advance is possible including trans-LoC trade and people-to-people contacts, as well as resumption of cross border trade the Wagah/Atari border in Punjab.

There have been other signs as well that India and Pakistan maybe positioning for a dialogue. After the agreement to revive the ceasefire accord along the Line of Control (LoC) and all other sectors’, India allowed Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s aircraft to fly through its airspace when he had to travel to Sri Lanka on February 24, just two days before the armed forces of the two countries agreed to maintain peace along the LoC. This was a significant departure from the recent past. In 2019, Islamabad had turned down similar request from New Delhi for President Ram Nath Kovind to overfly Pakistani airspace for a visit abroad. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also been denied overflight permission. has also before aircraft carrying President Ram Nath and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Also Read: Modi's greetings to Imran Khan--thaw in India -Pakistan ties can no longer be ruled out

Pakistani PM Imran Khan said in Islamabad on March 17 that India would be economically benefited by having peace with Pakistan, which could give it direct access to Central Asia. The Chief of Pakistan Army, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, on March 18 said that it was time for his country and India to bury the past and move forward. Modi wrote to his counterpart in Islamabad on March 23 conveying greetings on the occasion of the Pakistan Day. Modi wrote to Khan that India, being a neighbouring country, desired “cordial relations” with the people of Pakistan. Khan wrote back to Modi on March 30, thanking him for his greetings and conveying that people of Pakistan also desired “peaceful, cooperative relations” with “all neighbours, including India''. When Khan was tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 infection on March 20, Modi tweeted to wish for his speedy recovery. Pakistan of late also offered to provide ventilators and Bi-PAP machines to India, which was hit hard by the raging second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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