x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Pakistan’s envoy to India sees ‘light at end of tunnel’

Pakistan's outgoing envoy to New Delhi says he sees 'light at the end of the tunnel' in diplomatic relations and predicts improvement will survive next year's Indian elections.

NEW DELHI // Pakistan’s outgoing envoy to New Delhi has said he saw “light at the end of the tunnel” in diplomatic relations and predicted the improvement would survive next year’s Indian elections.

High commissioner Salman Bashir said calm had returned to the neighbours’ de facto border in the disputed Kashmir region after a deadly flare-up earlier in the year and both sides were committed to improving ties.

“I do not want to sound over-optimistic or exaggerate but what I am saying is that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Mr Bashir told a farewell press conference in the Indian capital on Monday.

“We have constantly worked for the improvement in relations between the two countries and at this point of time I am personally optimistic that we will be on the upward trajectory in the coming months.”

Some observers have predicted ties between the nuclear rivals could be hit if hardline Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi emerges as prime minister after elections due in India by next May.

Mr Modi, who is ahead in the polls, has been an outspoken critic of Pakistan and has accused the current Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, of not being tough enough towards Islamabad.

But Mr Bashir said the outcome of the Indian elections was “not material” to Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s stated goal of improving ties.

“The improvement in relations with India is very emphatically a state policy. We believe it’s in our interest and we believe it’s in the interest of the region,” said the high commissioner.

“Our prime minister is on record as having very emphatically stated that improvement of relations with India is a priority.

“An improvement in relations with Pakistan is also something that is of importance to India and the Indian leadership.”

Mr Bashir refused to be drawn on the impact of a Modi premiership, saying Pakistan would “respect whatever is the decision of the people of India”.

Mr Sharif and Mr Singh both pledged to ensure calm along their border in Kashmir when they met in New York in September, the highest-level talks between the two sides for three years.

As well as tensions over Kashmir, ties have also been blighted during Mr Singh’s premiership by the 2008 Mumbai attacks, when Islamic militants from Pakistan laid siege to a luxury hotel and other sites and killed 166 people.

* Agence France-Presse