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NEW DELHI: The government this week pulled out of a multilateral Asian coast guard event in Islamabad in a sign that it remains chary of any engagement with Pakistan. India this week hosted Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and terrorism sponsored by authorities in Pakistan dominated the government’s dialogue agenda with both leaders.
The Indian Coast Guard (ICG), which protects India’s offshore wealth and is responsible for enforcement of maritime laws, was supposed to participate in the event which was held on October 24-25 and which saw participation from 13 countries.
In a sign of government’s initial ambivalence over the issue, MEA had sought and acquired visas from Pakistan for top ICG officers, including the DG. The defence ministry though decided at the last moment that this wasn’t the right time for an Indian security agency to participate in any event in Pakistan at a high level.
“ICG did not participate in the event and I have nothing more to say about it,” said ICG spokesperson R K Singh when contacted by TOI.
India’s composite bilateral dialogue with Pakistan launched in December 2015 failed to take off because of the Pathankot airbase attack which was followed later in 2016 by the strife in J&K and the terror attack at an army camp in Uri. The death sentence to Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav earlier this year proved to be the final straw as India called off an engagement on maritime security between ICG and Pakistan’s Maritime Security Agency in April this year and effectively put all such exchanges on hold.
While it has appointed an interlocutor for Kashmir, the government seems to believe that the domestic situation in Pakistan, which is expected to go to polls next year, does not call for any serious engagement with Islamabad. The only engagement with Pakistan has come in the form of talks on issues related to the Indus Waters Treaty and the government has justified it by saying that as long as it is party to the Treaty, it remained under legal obligation to attend all meetings mandated by the same.
Official sources here clarified though that not having any engagement with Pakistan will not have a bearing on India’s position on humanitarian issues. In another, as an official described it, goodwill gesture, India is likely to release a number of Pakistan prisoners who have served their sentence in early November.
This was evident also from foreign minister Sushma Swaraj’s announcement last week that India will provide medical visas to Pakistan nationals in all, as she said, deserving cases. After the announcement of death sentence to Jadhav, India had tweaked the eligibility criteria for such visas by making mandatory an endorsement from the Pakistan foreign minister.