‘I’m ready for talks ─ are they?’: FM Qureshi throws down gauntlet on dialogue with Delhi

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Wednesday said that the Pakistani government is ready for talks with India.

In an exclusive interview with Sky News, Qureshi was asked by Dominic Waghorn on World View whether Pakistan had plans to liberate Kashmir.

“The prime minister is saying ‘wake up’. The situation in Indian-occupied Kashmir is deteriorating by the day. And it isn’t just the prime minister ─ the United Nations and the All-Parties Parliamentary Group constituted by the House of Commons are all saying that; voices in India are talking about how they’re losing, how they’re alienating Kashmiris and that it’s a lost cause. So this voice is growing all over,” the foreign minister responded.

Waghorn noted that “there are many in Kashmir who don’t want freedom on Pakistani terms”, to which Qureshi said: “Fine, let’s have a plebiscite. Let the people decide. That’s a commitment, that’s a commitment by India as part of the UN agenda. Give the people the right to self-determination, and whatever they decide, Pakistan will accept.”

The host observed that the back and forth between Pakistan and India had continued “for decades”, and asked why both sides “won’t sit down in the spirit of friendliness”.

“Through your programme, I’m telling the Indians ‘Let’s sit and talk’. I’m ready. Are they?” Qureshi challenged.

‘Everyone needs to realise Afghanistan has changed’
Waghorn, referring to the ongoing Afghan peace talks, asked Qureshi what he expected to happen in the current situation ─ “When the Taliban get into power, will they allow the Al Qaeda back in under their coattails?”

Qureshi said he didn’t think so. “It’s not in their interest to do that. They are smart people, they want to get on, they want to rebuild their country,” he explained.

“It’s been ravaged ─ for decades they’ve been in a war situation. Any nation, any people would want reconstruction, education, health, happiness, prosperity, livelihoods. They’re not any different from us,” he told Waghorn.

The interviewer was curious as to whether re-integrating the Taliban back into the Afghan political system meant “women back under the burqa”.

The foreign minster was quick to dispel this notion. “Not at all. Afghanistan has changed over the years … The sooner everyone realises this, the better.”

“You cannot lock women up anymore, you cannot bar them from education. Those days are gone,” he asserted.

Waghorn wondered whether it was a “naive expectation” to assume the Taliban were “new and improved”.

“I think they’re realistic, pragmatic, and that they’ll move on,” Qureshi stated.