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Shah Mahmood Qureshi: The Significance of Resuming Trade and Pursuing Dialogue with India

Former Pakistani Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, has said that although trade between India and Pakistan makes “economic sense”, it cannot be viewed in isolation. In an interview with the Times of India, Qureshi discussed several aspects of Pakistan-India relations. His remarks come as his successor, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, attends a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Council of Foreign Ministers in Goa – the first visit by a Pakistani foreign minister to India in over a decade.

The Benefits of Trade

Qureshi acknowledged the economic benefits of trade between Pakistan and India but emphasized that it cannot be seen in isolation. He stated that trade must go hand-in-hand with other measures, as trade alone will not be enough to improve relations. He explained that while his party is not opposing Bilawal’s visit to Goa, it “might be useful” if there was a meeting on the sidelines to examine Pak-India ties.

Outstanding Issues

Qureshi emphasized that Pakistan desires peace with India but it can only be achieved through dialogue. He noted that diplomatic relations were downgraded after the Pulwama incident and the Balakot misadventure, referring to the shooting down of two Indian planes that had violated Pakistani airspace in 2019. Qureshi pointed out that there are no trade or cultural ties between the two countries, and they are looking for neutral venues for cricket matches. He urged India to recognize that outstanding issues must be addressed through dialogue, as military solutions are not the answer.

Human Rights Issues

Qureshi encouraged Bilawal to raise relevant issues during his visit, including human rights issues and the treatment of minorities, particularly Muslims. He also urged him to raise the issue of water, which is becoming increasingly challenging between the two countries. While the SCO is a multilateral forum where bilateral issues cannot be raised, Qureshi noted that on the sidelines, Bilawal should not miss the opportunity to discuss these issues.

Pakistan Bashing

When asked about the Pulwama attack in 2019, Qureshi noted that “Pakistan bashing” was very popular in India and urged India to come out of the groove that they will not sit until and unless Pakistan gives up terrorism. He emphasized that Pakistan has fought terrorism and is in the process of defeating extremism and terrorism. Qureshi urged India not to use this as an excuse and to let things simmer.

Backchannel Talks

Qureshi stated that during his tenure as foreign minister, he did not believe there was a formal backchannel, but intelligence chiefs stayed in touch.

Held Kashmir

Qureshi emphasized that the abrogation of Article 370 in held Kashmir was an “internationally recognized dispute” that cannot be brushed aside as India’s internal matter. He called for recognizing the issue and stated that the region needs peace and stability. Qureshi acknowledged that there are no quick fixes, but there can be some movement.

What does this mean for Pakistan-India?

The situation between Pakistan and India remains complex and contentious, with deep-seated issues and historical grievances complicating any potential progress towards improved relations. The recent comments by former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi highlight the challenges of reconciling economic interests with other factors such as political tensions, security concerns, and human rights issues.

While trade between Pakistan and India could have significant economic benefits, it cannot be viewed in isolation from other factors that impact the overall relationship between the two countries. This is particularly true in the wake of the Pulwama incident and the Balakot misadventure, which led to the downgrading of diplomatic relations and the suspension of trade and cultural ties.

Despite these challenges, there are signs of potential progress. The visit of Pakistani foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari to Goa for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Council of Foreign Ministers marks the first visit by a Pakistani foreign minister to India in over a decade and could provide an opportunity for dialogue and the discussion of outstanding issues.

However, any progress towards improved relations between Pakistan and India will require a willingness to address difficult issues such as the situation in Kashmir, human rights concerns, and the underlying historical tensions that continue to fuel mistrust and suspicion between the two nations. Additionally, any attempts to improve relations must account for the potential role of outside actors, such as China and the United States, who have their own strategic interests in the region.

Overall, the situation between Pakistan and India remains complex and challenging, with no easy solutions or quick fixes. However, continued engagement and dialogue and a focus on shared economic interests could help build a foundation for improved relations in the years ahead.

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