Back In Pakistan, Aziz Insists That Kashmir 'tops' List Of Issues

13 July 2015
The Hindu
Suhasini Haidar and Smriti Kak Ramachandran

New Delhi: Under criticism from Pakistani opposition parties over the absence of any reference to the Kashmir dispute in the Ufa joint statement following talks between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif, Islamabad launched what appeared to be an exercise in damage control, saying Kashmir continues to 'top the list' of issues with India. Pakistan asserted that it would continue to 'extend political, moral, and diplomatic support' to the 'legitimate struggle' of the people of Kashmir for self-determination. Speaking to the media in Islamabad, the Advisor to Prime Minister Sharif on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz also said the 'additional information including voice samples' on the Mumbai attacks, mentioned in the joint statement released in Ufa last week, referred to more evidence required by Pakistan to take the trial in Lahore forward, not - as New Delhi has held - to facilitate the handing over of voice samples of LeT commander on bail Zaki Ur Rahman Lakhvi to India. Samjhauta trial In further comments likely to set off a storm in India, Mr. Aziz went on to say that Mr Sharif had brought up 'issues of concern' with Mr Modi, including alleged Indian involvement in Balochistan and the ongoing Samjhauta Express trial in India - an Indian group has been charged with bombing the train in 2007 that left 64 people, mostly Pakistani dead. 'Pakistan has been deeply concerned, not only about hostile statements from Indian Ministers but also about Indian interference in Pakistan, including continuing support for insurgency in Balochistan,' Mr. Aziz added. New Delhi didn't respond to Mr. Aziz's assertions officially, and sources said a decision on whether it would issue a statement would be taken when Prime Minister Narendra Modi returns to India on Tuesday. BJP plays down Aziz outburst on Kashmir, Samjhauta trial The BJP on Monday chose to downplay comments from adviser to Pakistani Prime Minister Minister Nawaz Sharif, Sartaj Aziz, on the July 10 talks between Prime Ministers Modi and Sharif. Party spokesperson G.V. L. Narasimha Rao said only the joint statement would guide bilateral engagements. 'A lot of statements coming from others are also possibly intended to address their domestic constituencies. As far as we are concerned, the discussion, engagement will largely happen on the lines of the joint statement,' he said. The Pakistani NSA, who is expected in New Delhi next month for discussions said the July 10 meeting between the Prime Ministers should not be seen as a formal start of any dialogue process, but was a means to recognise the need for reducing tensions and hostility.' 'Expected response' While no official response has been made to Mr Aziz's comments that Kashmir continues to top the list of contentious issues between the two countries and his strong references to Balochistan and the Samjhauta Express blast, Indian officials said, 'If in fact all these assertions were an important part of the conversation between the Prime Ministers, then why didn't we see them in the joint statement?' A senior official told The Hindu that the government sees Mr. Aziz's statement as 'on expected lines' in order to answer their 'domestic constituency.' The Congress however, said the remarks indicated a 'u-turn' by Pakistan, and questioned the government's reasons for the Sharif-Modi meeting in such circumstances. 'Prime Minister Narendra Modi is answerable to the country, ' said Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma. While some of Mr. Aziz's comments might make the task of reducing hostility more difficult in the coming weeks, another controversy may be set off as Pakistani High Commissioner Abdul Basit confirmed that he has invited leaders of the Hurriyat to an 'Eid Milan' function in Delhi. Mr Basit said there is 'nothing unusual about our invite to Hurriyat leaders. The hype being created by some is unfortunate, to put it mildly.'