Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn on Thursday lauded Prime Minister Imran Khan’s “gesture” of releasing Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman two days after his capture, saying that he will personally thank him (PM Khan) in a meeting that is scheduled for later today.
Asselborn was addressing a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Islamabad following a meeting between the delegations of Pakistan and Luxembourg.
“The world, I think, is already witnessing too many conflicts,” Asselborn said. “No one wants to see an armed conflict between Pakistan and India.”
He said that the “entire international community has expressed serious concern about the recent dangerous escalation of tension between India and Pakistan following the Feb 14 attack in [Indian-occupied] Jammu and Kashmir and the downing of the two Indian aircraft”.
The Luxembourg foreign minister agreed with Pakistan’s insistence on de-escalating the situation and said that the European Union stands “ready to strengthen its cooperation and dialogue on counter-terrorism both [with] India and Pakistan”.
Highlighting the complex nature of the situation in occupied Kashmir, Asselborn said he agreed with Prime Minister Khan’s statement that the person worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize would be the one who manages to solve the Kashmir conflict.
In response to a question asking if Pakistan would consider letting the EU to be a more “neutral mediator” between Pakistan and India compared to the United Nations, which is “segmented into blocs”, Qureshi said that Islamabad would “welcome” any mediation efforts from the EU.
He said that he had written to the UN chief secretary as well as the Security Council “asking them to play a role in defusing the situation and [help] us de-escalate”.
The foreign minister declared that the UN had a “responsibility” to play a role in solving the conflict in occupied Jammu and Kashmir, which remains one of the key issues on the world body’s “agenda”.
“[A] number of Security Council resolutions… remain unimplemented. So they have a responsibility,” he said.
He expressed gratitude for the EU’s role in helping de-escalate the situation and said that if the bloc wished to act as mediator, Pakistan would welcome it.
“India has always preferred bilateralism, but, unfortunately, they have shied away from bilateralism as well,” Qureshi told the reporters. “When a third party approaches them, they say, ‘no, no, we have got to do it [hold dialogue] bilaterally’. And when we engage them, they say ‘no we are not ready for an engagement’.
“Therefore, Pakistan welcomes third-party facilitation and if the European Union can do it, so be it.”
At this, Asselborn quipped that the EU countries would have to mediate between themselves before deciding if the bloc wished to act as a facilitator or not.
“But if this is a request, I think in the European Union nobody would refuse a role to mediate between India and Pakistan,” he said. However, Asselborn cautioned that the “mediation potential” of the EU will not be “strong enough to solve the conflict in Kashmir”.
“No, no, no, don’t underestimate yourself,” Qureshi told him.
Matters of mutual interest
Earlier, Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Dr Mohammad Faisal had tweeted that Qureshi and Asselborn, in their meeting, had discussed a “wide range of regional and bilateral issues of mutual interest”.
The foreign ministers also discussed the regional peace and security situation, Dr Faisal said.
During the press conference today, Asselborn also lauded Pakistan’s “important influence” in the ongoing peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and the United States government. “This is an historical moment to use its [Pakistan’s] leverage to deliver peace in the region,” he said. He expressed hope that the Afghan Taliban would agree to hold dialogue with the Kabul government as well.
Both foreign ministers also talked about bilateral trade and economic cooperation during their press conference. Qureshi said that Pakistan had a “deep interest” in the EU, of which Luxembourg is a part of. He highlighted the potential for investments in Pakistan as well as bilateral trade. He hoped for increased engagement and cooperation between the economic bloc and Pakistan.
Asselborn also highlighted his country’s contribution to the UN High Commission for Refugees’ programme for the repatriation of Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan, saying that “those in Pakistan know what migration means”.
The Luxembourg minister also mentioned that religious minorities in Pakistan, including the Christian community, “can be the target of escalating attacks in recent years”.
“The EU is concerned that the space for religious minorities might be shrinking,” he said. He acknowledged, at the same time, that the “biggest number of victims [of religious intolerance] are not Hindus or Christians but Muslims.” He said that the EU was engaging with the Pakistani authorities on “promoting the issue of tolerance between freedom and religion”.