The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi rebukes Pak for sniping

New Delhi, July 29: In the first signs of hiccups in the peace process, Delhi today protested to the acting Pakistani high commissioner against Islamabad’s critical remarks about Indian officials and consulates in Afghanistan.

Of late, there have been several violations of Afghanistan territorial space by Pakistani border forces as well as attacks on foreign aid workers and government targets. Islamabad has sought to blame Delhi for these, pointing to recently-opened consulates in several key Afghan cities as proof of India’s desire to extend its influence in the country.

India today termed the Pakistani allegations baseless and asked Islamabad to desist from such remarks that go “contrary to the objective of setting in motion positive trends” between the neighbours.

This is the first time since Atal Bihari Vajpayee started the peace process in April that India has lodged a protest with the Pakistani high commission.

But foreign ministry officials pointed out that unlike in the past, the Pakistani official was not “ summoned” but “called” to apprise him of India’s views.

Pakistan deputy high commissioner Munnawar Bhatti, who is acting as head of the mission since high commissioner Aziz Ahmed Khan is not in Delhi, was called to South Block by Arun Singh, joint secretary of the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran division in the foreign ministry this afternoon.

“His (Bhatti’s) attention was drawn to the recurring propaganda articles in the Pakistani media as well as comments of Pakistani officials and leaders targeting Indian consulates in Afghanistan, particularly those in Kandahar and Jalalabad,” a foreign ministry statement released this evening said.

It said the “baseless comments of the official spokesperson of the Pakistani foreign ministry on Saturday, July 26 claiming that there were threats from Indian diplomatic missions in Afghanistan, and that Pakistan needed to counter it” were pointed out to Bhatti.

The diplomat was reminded that even Afghan officials had rejected the Pakistani charges against the Indian missions.

“Such persistent allegations in an atmosphere already full of violence and terrorism threaten the security of our missions and its personnel,” the statement said. It urged Islamabad to take into account “the spirit of the initiative of our Prime Minister, extending once again the hand of friendship to Pakistan, and desist from any comments or reaction that go contrary to the objective of setting in motion positive trends in our bilateral relationship.”

India’s mild reaction indicates that though it is not happy with Islamabad’s allegations, it does not want to do anything that could derail the peace process.

Pakistan’s critical remarks reflect its unease at Delhi’s growing influence and closer ties with the regime in Kabul and the Afghan people. Since the ouster of the Taliban, India has played an important role in the reconstruction of the country.

Islamabad has lobbied with the US and Hamid Karzai to prevent India from opening consulates in key Afghan towns, particularly Kandahar and Jalalabad.

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