Exclusive: At Idea Exchange, Pak High Commissioner Salman Bashir says UN mission played 'important role'

India Tuesday declined Pakistan's offer for talks to resolve tensions that flared after two Indian soldiers were killed on the Line of Control this month, a day after the Pakistani foreign ministry formally conveyed its offer for a meeting to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad.

The two countries also sparred over involving the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) in their latest face-off which has hurt some of the diplomatic gains made in recent years.

"The situation had, unfortunately, because of certain unacceptable incidents, come under a severe question mark. The atmospherics were deteriorating considerably," External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said when asked about the talks offer.

"Therefore, it was important for us that we first ensure that the atmospherics return to normal or near normal, that the expectation that we have in context of the unfortunate incidents that took place be honoured and responded to, and that in totality the situation becomes more amenable and acceptable in terms of public perceptions and the general support that one needs to build when one takes these strong decisions and important decisions," he said.

"Only then we will be able to take these decisions. We would advisedly not want to do anything in haste that would not lead to a constructive and creative outcome. So, it is a situation in which we have to be careful. We have to watch and analyse before we take any steps in the direction that would be a meaningful one," the minister said.

Sources said that the formal communication from Islamabad was a copy of the January 16 media statement by Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar proposing talks. New Delhi, which had last week said that the offer needed to come through diplomatic channels and not the media, was surprised that a copy of Khar's same media statement was forwarded Monday as it was again not a regular format of diplomatic communication.

Khurshid also said that the issue has to be dealt with bilaterally and there was no scope of any third-party involvement, hours after the two countries sparred at the UN in New York over the UNMOGIP's role.

"We did hear some statements about giving access to third parties in this affair. I think we have moved away from that...I think that the contacts between the DGMOs of both sides have indicated that the bilateral process remains in a sustained and steady manner," he said.

"We haven't heard anything more about statements that obviously are not acceptable to us. We do reiterate our position that these are bilateral issues and they should be settled bilaterally. We have a history of being able to work bilaterally and would want to maintain that. We need to contain this in the bilateral purview," Khurshid added.

But Pakistani High Commissioner Salman Bashir, speaking at the Idea Exchange interaction at The Indian Express, said that the UN mission had played an "important role" for the last six decades and the recent flare-up has "underscored the need" for the mechanism.

"I know that the incident of January 6 as well as previous times, violations of the ceasefire on the LoC, are a matter of course regularly reported by Pakistan to the UNMOGIP...this is one of the oldest peacekeeping missions of the United Nations, and as far as the reference made by Pakistan to the UNMOGIP is concerned recently in the context of what was alleged regarding Pakistan, in response to that, we had said, that if required, this matter could be investigated by UNMOGIP," Bashir said.

"The fact is that UNMOGIP is a UN Security Council-mandated peacekeeping set-up. We feel that for over six decades, it has played an important role and like any other peacekeeping mission, it provides an avenue, if required at times, to address concerns which cannot be sort of resolved through the mechanisms that I have earlier emphasized, like the India-Pakistan mechanisms," the envoy said.

"I think, if anything, the recent flare up of tensions and incidents will only underscore the need for having - whatever is required - done to reinforce the mechanisms which contribute to lowering of tensions and preventing ceasefire violations. So, if the LoC is peaceful and tranquil, then of course the UNMOGIP has a relatively easy time," Bashir said.

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