Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit, in his first interview on Indian television since becoming High Commissioner, has told Karan Thapar from Headlines Today on the showTo The Point that Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Chaudhary’s statement in Parliament that India does not know where Dawood Ibrahim is located is vindication of Pakistan’s stand that Dawood Ibrahim is not in Pakistan. The High Commissioner said Mr. Chaudhary’s statement also raises critical and disturbing questions about the veracity of India’s dossiers which he described as “self-serving”. Most importantly of all, the High Commissioner revealed that to the best of his knowledge India has never requested in writing the extradition of Dawood Ibrahim. This question was put to the High Commissioner at least 2 times and on both occasions he explicitly and forcefully said that to the best of his knowledge India has never requested in writing the extradition of Dawood Ibrahim.
This interview with High Commissioner Basit will be broadcast tonight by Headlines Today on To The Point at 8.00 p.m.
Below are some of the other newsworthy points made by High Commissioner
1) High Commissioner Basit said there have been no substantial improvement in the prospects for political dialogue between India and Pakistan since August when the Foreign Secretary level talks were called off. Any hopes that Foreign Secretary Jaishankar’s SAARC yatra visit to Islamabad might rekindle the stalled dialogue process have turned out to be still born. Pakistan was, he said, disappointed but not frustrated. Pakistan would continue to try to resume the dialogue process but the High Commissioner agreed there was no prospect of immediate success.
2) Speaking about Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s interview last week to the Saudi Gazette where he said “India unilaterally called off our bilateral dialogue process on a frivolous pretext”, the High Commissioner said that even 9 months after the talks were called off, because he met with Hurriyat, Pakistan continues to view the excuse as frivolous. The High Commissioner clearly suggested that Pakistan’s understanding of India’s attitude had not improved over the last 9 months. The High Commissioner said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had invested a lot of effort and taken a big step by coming to Mr. Modi’s swearing-in in May and felt let down by the way the relationship thereafter had failed to develop.
3) The High Commissioner made it clear that Pakistan does not believe that India had good, leave aside serious, reasons for calling off the talks in August.
4) However, the High Commissioner appeared to hint that a report in the Indian Express in February that India and Pakistan had worked out a solution to permit Pakistan to talk to Hurriyat in such a way as not to offend India could be correct. The paper had said the High Commissioner can meet Hurriyat any time but not before official level talks. The High Commissioner said he has since August been meeting Hurriyat and the Indian government has not objected and when asked if this proves the Indian Express report was correct the High Commissioner said he would let India speak for itself and then added that the press could draw its own conclusions.
5) Speaking about Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi the High Commissioner said it was India’s right to raise his release with the UN Sanctions Committee on the grounds it breaches UN resolution 1267 if that is what India wants to do. The High Commissioner added that if the Sanctions Committee raises the issue with Pakistan his country will fully co-operate.
6) The High Commissioner refuted reports from BBC Urdu that the Pakistani government was not serious about prosecuting Lakhvi. He said we must not question how the Court chooses to hear a case and what process the trial takes. He said India must respect both the Pakistani legal system as well as the legal outcome.
7) The High Commissioner refuted and denied the veracity of reports in BBC Urdu that Lakhvi had a TV, mobile phones, internet and dozens of visitors while in jail. Similarly he refuted and denied reports in Pro Republica that Lakhvi had conjugal rights or that Gen. Kayani had rejected an American request to confiscate his phone.
8) The High Commissioner didn’t accept the legitimacy of Indian fears that after the Islamabad High Court has set a 2 month deadline for completing Lakhvi’s trial this is likely to lead to his acquittal rather than conviction. He also didn’t accept the charge that Pakistan’s system, both legal and political, had not done anything like enough to tackle the technical grounds on which transcripts of Lakhvi’s instructions to the 26/11 killers, given by UK, USA as well as India, cannot be accepted as evidence because Lakhvi refuses to give a voice sample to match against the recordings.
9) The High Commissioner repeatedly said that India should wait for the end of the trial without commenting on the process or speculating about the outcome.
10) Speaking about Hafiz Saeed the High Commissioner, under repeated questioning, said Hafiz Saeed was wrong to claim, in April, to Pakistani news channels that the Pakistan army was carrying out “jihad” against India’s Kashmir. However, when asked why Pakistan had not acted against Saeed for this statement he said it was not necessary to act against every foolish statement.
11) The High Commissioner said there were no grounds for Pakistan to arrest Saeed either under the Anti-Terrorist Act or the Maintenance of Public Order Act.
12) The High Commissioner said that by allowing Saeed to travel freely in Pakistan his country had not breached the terms of UN Resolution 1267 which requires countries not just to block funds and ensure designated terrorists do not acquire arms but also that they can’t travel “through their territory”. The High Commissioner insisted this restriction in travel only apply to foreigners who are designated as terrorists and come to Pakistan and not to Pakistan’s own citizens.
13) The High Commissioner ended the interview by saying that Pakistan viewed Jammu and Kashmir as the core issue. He pointedly said that all the other issues, including terror, were a sub-set of the bigger and central Jammu and Kashmir issue. This restatement that Jammu and Kashmir is a core issue harks back to a position taken by Pakistan many years ago but which, in recent years, was less frequently and less openly stressed. It seems to suggest a return to an earlier hardline position.
14) Finally, when asked whether the huge gap and differences over Lakhvi and Saeed and, now, over the importance of terror vis-à-vis Kashmir as the core issue meant that it’s virtually impossible for the political dialogue process to start the High Commissioner seemed to agree. However, he added, he would continue to strive for the process to resume.