Did India consider smoking the peace pipe with Pakistan when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar responded to congratulatory messages from their Pak counterparts recently? Yes, claimed a Pakistani news report on Thursday. Certainly not was the swift Indian response.
Accusing Pakistan of peddling fake news, a fulminating external affairs ministry on Thursday maintained there was no reference to any talks between the two sides in the missives of the PM and EAM.
In the constant battle for one-upmanship which marks the fraught ties between two next-door neighbours, the newspaper report suggesting that New Delhi wanted to engage with Islamabad and its prompt denial by the former came as no surprise. Rather, it was yet another episode in the never-ending India-Pak saga where every breath, every sneeze, every hand-shake, every word and even silences are scrutinised, interpreted and analysed by the media on both sides of the border.
It’s also a saga that sees New Delhi and Islamabad often scrambling to give their version of events, leaving the media none the wiser or enlightened. And veracity is the casualty.
What set the ball rolling this time was a report that Pakistani English daily, The Express Tribune, carried on its home page under the ‘Top News’ category late Thursday morning. ‘India’s Modi reciprocates PM Imran’s message of peace’ read the headline with the story by Khalid Mehmood, claiming that Modi and Jaishankar had “responded to Islamabad’s renewed call for dialogue by conveying New Delhi’s desire to engage with all countries, including Pakistan, for the prosperity of the region.”
The Express Tribune story, however, made no reference to any officials or sources who might have shared details of the missives sent by the two Indian leaders with the journalist. It’s also noteworthy that the story was not in today’s print edition of The Express Tribune, having been carried only on the newspaper’s website.
Given the current prickliness in bilateral relations, the MEA was quick to respond saying, “This is absolutely incorrect,” adding that “As per the established diplomatic practice, PM and EAM have responded to the congratulatory messages received from their counterparts in Pakistan. In their messages, they have highlighted that India seeks normal and cooperative relations with all neighbours, including Pakistan.
The MEA noted that the PM’s missive also said: “For this, It is important to build an environment of trust, free of terror, violence and hostility.” EAM Jaishankar emphasised the need for an “atmosphere free from the shadow of terror and violence,” said the MEA.
The Pak foreign ministry spokesperson in a statement late on Thursday night regarding the Indian leaders’ responses “cautioned against media speculation” and underlined that it was an established diplomatic practice for the leadership to congratulate new office holders and for them to respond.”
The spokesperson further said that Pakistan’s position on the way forward in bilateral relations was clear and well-known and did not require repetition.