Pakistan High Commisioner Abdul Basit, who met with Kashmiri separatist leaders on Tuesday in defiance of India's protest and calling off of secretary-level talks, defended his meet, stating that Kashmiris are "legitimate stakeholders", and that Kashmir is a "bilateral" issue.
Asked at a press conference on Wednesday as to why he went ahead with the meeting despite India taking the unprecedented decision of calling off talks over Pakistan's engagement with separatists, Basit said that it was necessary to engage the "stakeholders". "Kashmiris are legitimate stakeholders. We have been meeting the leaders for decades. The objective of these interactions is to engage all stakeholders," he said, stating that the issue had to be looked at "dispassionately".
"This has been a long-standing practice, as was articulated by our foreign office. This was in the larger context of exploring peaceful means towards resolving the (Kashmir) issue. Both India and Pakistan agree that J&K is a bilateral dispute, whether it is UN resolution or the Simla accord," he added at the presser in Delhi.
The Indian government had reportedly given Basit an ultimatum that if he went ahead with the meeting with separatists, the secretary-level dialogue that was scheduled for 25 August would be cancelled.
"It was not an 'either-or' question," Basit said. "Pakistan is committed to finding peaceful solutions to the (Kashmir)problem. Though it is a setback that the secretary meeting has been cancelled, we will persevere in finding peaceful solutions in line with the leadership vision on both sides of the border."
Asked about repeated cross-border violations by the Pakistani troops, Basit said that there have been 57 violations from India's side since July. "We had asked the Indian government ten days ago to end unprovoked firing," he said.
According to Indian reports, Pakistan troops have violated cross-border ceasefire over 20 times since May till July, and 12 times this month itself.
Basit added that Indo-Pak relations had improved since the Modi government came to power.
"Since our prime ministers met in May, we have come a long way. Business ties have improved, we are arranging single country exhibitions in India and Pakistan, and we are also having sporting events," he said.
"We in Pakistan are optimistic that this positivity will sustain, and we would not allow obstructions. There is no reason we should lose hope of building strong bilateral relations."