On a day the NDA government decided to boycott the Pakistan National Day reception at its High Commission's lawns, Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan disclosed that he had received a message from Prime Minister Narendra Modi where he said that it is time that people of the sub-continent "work together for a democratic, peaceful, progressive & prosperous region, in an atmosphere free of terror and violence".
Within hours of Pakistan's National Day reception wrapping up, Khan tweeted: "I welcome PM Modi's message to our people. As we celebrate Pakistan Day I believe it is time to begin a comprehensive dialogue with India to address & resolve all issues, esp the central issue of Kashmir, & forge a new relationship based on peace & prosperity for all our people."
Received msg from PM Modi: "I extend my greetings & best wishes to the people of Pakistan on the National Day of Pakistan. It is time that ppl of Sub-continent work together for a democratic, peaceful, progressive & prosperous region, in an atmosphere free of terror and violence"
- Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) March 22, 2019
Almost an hour earlier, Khan had tweeted, "Received msg from PM Modi: "I extend my greetings & best wishes to the people of Pakistan on the National Day of Pakistan. It is time that ppl of Sub-continent work together for a democratic, peaceful, progressive & prosperous region, in an atmosphere free of terror and violence".
While Modi's message emphasized terrorism, Khan's response stressed on Kashmir. This came on a day when, drawing a new red line, India decided not to send an official representative to Pakistan High Commission's National Day reception on Friday, as reported by The Indian Express.
I welcome PM Modi's message to our people. As we celebrate Pakistan Day I believe it is time to begin a comprehensive dialogue with India to address & resolve all issues, esp the central issue of Kashmir, & forge a new relationship based on peace & prosperity for all our people.
- Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) March 22, 2019
Confirming the government's decision, the Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said: "This decision was taken after the Pakistan High Commission decided to invite representatives of the Hurriyat Conference to the reception."
He also said that Indian diplomats in the Indian High Commission in Islamabad will also not attend the Pak National Day celebrations. Kumar said that India is very clear that any attempt by Pakistan High Commission or Pakistan's leadership to engage with the Hurriyat Conference "will not be taken lightly".
While no Hurriyat leaders were present at the National Day reception, no Indian official was present either. With the government appearing to speak in two voices, sources said that Prime Minister sends a customary message on national days to other Heads of State or Government. "His message to PM Imran Khan highlighted the importance of a terror-free South Asia."
Speaking at the National Day function, Pakistan's High Commissioner Sohail Mahmood said that one key takeaway from recent developments is that the "lack of engagement creates dangerous vacuum and serious risks for the relationship". "As we limp back from the brink, we must make sure that we act with wisdom to find a way forward - for our countries, and for our peoples. Coercive measures have not worked in the past; they will not work in the future," he said with Indian and Pakistan flags fluttering behind him, and his wife Mahwaish Sohail Mahmood by his side.
"The founding fathers of Pakistan and India had envisaged amicable relations between the two countries. However, the relationship has remained challenged, for most part of our history as free nations. In particular, the two countries passed through a very difficult time recently." He said that Prime Minister Imran Khan's decision to release Wing Commander Abhinandan, return of the two High Commissioners to their respective Missions, and bilateral meetings to develop modalities for operationalization of the Kartarpur Corridor are steps in a "positive direction".
"There is, however, still the need to reassure concerned citizens in both countries, to consolidate the process of de-escalation, and to stabilize the ties against further shocks," he said.
"We do hope the long winter in India-Pakistan relations would come to an early end…We must remember that, ultimately, hope always triumphs over fear," the Pakistan envoy said. In the last five years, while the NDA government has always objected to the Pakistan High Commission engaging with the Hurriyat leadership, it did not boycott the National Day although Hurriyat leaders were always invited.
Sources said the decision to boycott was driven by Delhi's objection to Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi calling up the Hurriyat leaders in February. India objected to Qureshi calling up Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq ahead of an event organised in London to mark Islamabad's solidarity with a Kashmir-related event.
Since August 2014, the Pak High Commission's engagement with Hurriyat leaders ahead of official talks with India led to cancellation of talks at least twice. However, Delhi still sent its ministers to attend the National Day reception despite the presence of Hurriyat leaders.
In 2015, Minister of State (External Affairs) V K Singh attended the reception; in 2016, it was then MoS (independent charge), Environment Ministry, Prakash Javadekar; then MoS (External Affairs) M J Akbar in 2017; and MoS (Agriculture) Gajendra Singh Shekhawat in 2018.