ISLAMABAD/Lahore - India has rejected claims it had expressed willingness for talks with Pakistan through the reply to the congratulatory letters of Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to their Indian counterparts on assuming offices following the general elections.

A spokesperson for Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Thursday confirmed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had responded to the congratulatory messages from their counterparts, according to a report carried by India Today.

But, he said, that Modi and Jaishankar in their letters only expressed their wish for peace in the region and made it clear that normalisation between New Delhi and Islamabad required an atmosphere free from the shadow of terror and violence.

To a question, Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said there was no suggestion of resumption of talks with Pakistan and he criticised Pakistani media for “distorting facts” and misinterpreting the letters of Modi and Jaishankar.

PM Imran Khan and his Indian counterpart Narednra Modi exchanged pleasantries last week during the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Bishkek.

It is also learnt that Khan congratulated Modi on his election victory during their first face-to-face interaction, which took place in the Leaders’ Lounge at the SCO venue. However, there was no meeting between the two leaders.

Premier Khan has expressed his sincere wish to improve relations between the two nuclear neighbours a number of times since his assumption of office, but each time the Indian side has responded negatively.

Earlier, a report in the Express Tribune on Thursday claimed that PM Modi and EAM Subrahmanyam Jaishankar responded to Islamabad’s renewed call for dialogue by conveying New Delhi’s desire to engage with all countries, including Pakistan, for the prosperity of the region.

The same impression was given in the coverage of different TV channels of Pakistan throughout the day. Even some diplomatic sources in Islamabad told The Nation that India had shown readiness for peace talks with Pakistan.

“The messages [from Indian PM and External Affairs Minister] are positive,” said a foreign ministry official.

Another official went even further by saying the letters encourage “comprehensive and fresh negotiations” and support Pakistan’s desire for dialogue. India, he added, was also ready to play role in regional peace.

“We always give priority to the development of the people living in the subcontinent. We also appreciate Pakistan’s effort for the revival of talks. However, the negotiation should mainly discuss terrorism,” Modi said in his letter to PM Khan.

The spokesman for Indian ministry confirmed that S Jaishankar and PM Modi in their messages highlighted that India seeks normal and cooperative relations with all neighbours, including Pakistan. But he quoted Modi as saying in his letter, “For this, It is important to build an environment of trust, free of terror, violence and hostility.”

The EAM also emphasised the need for an “atmosphere free from the shadow of terror and violence”, Raveesh Kumar said.

Asked if there was any reference to holding talks in the letters, the MEA said there was no such reference.

“I think we’ve made it clear time and again that Pakistan has to take action which is irreversible. Unless we are convinced that action has been taken on the ground, and not the temporary action which we have seen several times in the past. We won’t be fooled by some cosmetic action,” the spokesperson said.

The MEA spokesperson blamed Pakistani media for distorting facts. “We have seen the mentality of distorting facts in Pakistan media in this case, like how they distorted this simple straight-forward letter,” he added.

 

Giving reaction on the Indian MEA media talk, a diplomat in Islamabad said he believes that Pakistan won’t get discouraged by the negative media messaging.

As per diplomatic protocol, PM Khan and FM Qureshi are expected to write more letters in response to the replies sent by the Indian counterparts.

The foreign ministry officials said that “in line with established diplomatic norms and inter-state practice,” PM Khan and Foreign Minister Qureshi had wrote to PM Modi and Indian Minister S Jaishankar, congratulating them on assumption of office.

“The letters underscored Pakistan’s consistent policy of peaceful neighbourhood and the vision of working for durable peace and stability in South Asia with peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues, including Kashmir dispute,” said an official.

He said the Pakistani leaders emphasised the need to work together, on the basis of mutual respect and trust, to address challenges faced by people of both the countries, including poverty and underdevelopment.

“The need to advance the goals of regional peace, progress and prosperity through collective endeavours was underscored,” he added.

Though Khan and Modi came across at the recent SCO summit in Bishkek and they did shake hands, but no official meeting took place. In fact, there has not been any official meeting between the two leaders since Khan took over as prime minister of Pakistan in August last year.

Pakistan and India have fought several wars since independence from British colonial rule in 1947, with major conflict over Kashmir.

India has not been engaging with Pakistan following the attack on the Air Force base at Pathankot in January of 2016, maintaining that talks and terror cannot go together.

Tensions between the archrivals escalated this year after a suicide attack in occupied Kashmir killed at least 42 Indian soldiers on February 14.

Following that attack, PM Khan said Pakistan was ready to cooperate with New Delhi into the investigation of the bombing, allegedly claimed Jaish-e-Mohammed.

Later, Pakistan Air Force shot down two Indian Air Force fighter jets as they violated the Pakistani airspace and arrested Indian Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. Afterwards, the pilot was handed over to the Indian authorities as a goodwill gesture.

India handed over some record on the bombing to Pakistan, but Islamabad says the dossier contained no compelling evidence.