Preposterous: India on allegations over delay in confirmation of Pak envoy to US

India on Thursday described as “preposterous” allegations that it is trying to scuttle the acceptance by the Biden administration of Pakistan’s ambassador-designate to the US Masood Khan.

“It is preposterous to blame a third country for the delay in the appointment of an ambassador from one country to another,” Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said at a media briefing.

His comments came when asked about Pakistan’s allegations that India was instrumental in blocking Khan’s confirmation by the US.

Khan, who served as the “president” of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) until August last year, was nominated as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US in November. He is still awaiting confirmation from the Biden administration.

A US Congressman has urged President Joe Biden to reject Pakistan’s nomination and described Khan as a “bona fide terrorist sympathiser” working to undermine America’s interests in the region.

Asked about Pakistani billionaire Mian Muhammad Mansha’s claims that India and Pakistan are engaged in back-channel contacts, Bagchi declined to respond, saying the MEA does not react to observations by private individuals.

The businessman had reportedly said the contacts will hopefully yield good results and even suggested that there could be a major visit to Pakistan from India.

To a separate question on a new proposal by the Pakistan Hindu Council to allow pilgrims to travel to India by air, Bagchi suggested that it has to be discussed under the framework of India-Pakistan protocol of 1974 on visits to religious shrines.

“Visits by pilgrims to religious sites are governed by the 1974 bilateral protocol between India and Pakistan and such visits are facilitated regularly. During the year 2021, visits by 3,500 pilgrims were facilitated under the protocol,” he said.

“We have noted interests on both sides to expand the agreed lists of such shrines and the mode of travel. This would need to be mutually agreed under the protocol,” Bagchi said.

He said India has sent an official response to Pakistan’s recommendation on the matter.

Bagchi said given the current restrictions on movement and gatherings in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, the two sides can use the time to hold discussions under the bilateral protocol.

It is learnt that the proposal by the Pakistan Hindu Council was sent to the MEA by the Pakistan High Commission in India.

On Pakistan’s readiness to host the SAARC summit, Bagchi said there was “no material change” for India to change its position on the matter.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is a regional bloc comprising India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

SAARC has not been very effective since 2016 as its biennial summits have not taken place since the last one in Kathmandu in 2014.

The 2016 SAARC Summit was to be held in Islamabad. But after a terrorist attack on an Army camp in Jammu and Kashmir’s Uri on September 18 that year, India expressed its inability to participate in the summit due to the “prevailing circumstances”.

The summit was called off after Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan also declined to participate.

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