‘No change in policy’: FO clarifies FM Bilawal remarks on ties with India

Speaking at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad, a government-funded think tank, in his first major foreign policy speech since taking office at the end of April, Bilawal had identified India and the United States as countries with which Pakistan’s relations were problematic.

The foreign minister had put greater emphasis on engaging India, saying it was time for pivoting to economic diplomacy and focusing on engagement. His argument was that despite a “long history of war and conflict” and the Indian government’s actions in occupied Kashmir and its anti-Muslim agenda, it was not in Pakistan’s interest to remain disengaged.

In its statement today, the FO said these comments by the foreign minister were “being interpreted out of context and portrayed incorrectly”. “The foreign minister’s remarks are better understood in the overall context of his key message of conflict resolution that he emphasised in his address at the think tank event,” the FO added.

It said Pakistan had “always desired” cooperative relations with all its neighbours, including India, and had “consistently advocated” constructive engagement and result-oriented dialogue to resolve all outstanding issues, including the Kashmir dispute.

“However, India’s unabated hostility and retrogressive steps have vitiated the environment and impeded the prospects of peace and cooperation. The onus, therefore, remains on India to take the necessary steps to create an enabling environment conducive for meaningful and result-oriented dialogue.”

The FO statement said that Bilawal had “clearly articulated” the above perspective in his speech.

FM Bilawal’s comments had attracted strong criticism from former FM Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

“Giving statements on the need to build bonds with India, all while the fascist Indian state persecutes our brothers and sisters in [occupied] Kashmir is irresponsible.

“I urge our imported FM to please stop treating the Foreign Office like his first professional internship,” Qureshi had lashed out.

Former federal minister and PTI leader Shireen Mazari had also taken exception to FM Bilawal’s comments, saying that “it seemed the foreign minister is trying to get close to [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi at a time when Muslims in India are being harassed and targeted and the occupying Indian forces are exceeding all limits of oppression and exploitation in IoK.”

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