NEW DELHI - Pakistan’s outgoing High Commissioner to India says the two countries need to continue engagement on terror and other issues.

Reiterating Pakistan’s position that talks and pre-conditions could not go together, he was optimistic these would resume in the near future. As he ends his stint, he talked about the need for a structured initiative on the ‘front channel’. He also called for keeping the door open to all possibilities.

In an interview with The Hindu newspaper, Abdul Basit referred to defeating India in Champions Trophy and said the two countries should play cricket and other sports too.

“If we put off all sporting ties until we solve our problems, that wouldn’t be wise. These events do help create a better environment and we need that,” he said.

Answering a question, Abdul Basit said Pakistan was very hopeful because Premier Nawaz Sharif took a very bold decision to travel to India in May 2014 at the inauguration of Prime Minister Modi but after that the process got stuck. Notwithstanding all the problems, the two countries were able to agree on a framework to restart talks in December 2015 and on the comprehensive bilateral dialogue, which was the biggest achievement in the last three years.

“In diplomacy, you cannot simply lock the door and throw the key away. You have to keep the door open for possibilities. I am hopeful that Pakistan and India will talk to each other, but whether it happens now or two years down the road, I do not know,” the seasoned diplomat said.

Asked about his contacts with the APHC leadership, he said,” Pakistan’s position is that the Hurriyat represents the political aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and that’s why these talks are necessary.”

He said, “We, in Pakistan, strongly feel that talks and pre-conditions do not go together. India has a different position. Now terrorism is also a big issue for us, and in Pakistan, Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav’s conviction has proven our concerns. We aren’t shying away from issues like terrorism. But even when you look at the Mumbai or Pathankot attacks, if you want to conduct a proper trial, the two countries would need to cooperate with each other. And this cooperation cannot take place in a void or a vacuum.”

“Without talking, how can you realistically expect these issues to come to a close? I feel now that we have a framework under which to resume talks, it is just a matter of time.”

To a question that was he confident that the framework agreed to when Sushma Swaraj travelled to Pakistan in December 2015 would be taken forward if and when talks resume, as so much has changed since then, he said, “The issues remain the same. No matter how much you fiddle with this framework, you will end up coming to the same issues. Obviously we don’t expect overnight results, but our engagement must not be interrupted. Only then can we move beyond this environment of accusations.” He said talks and pre-conditions could not go together. “We have no qualms about solving our problems bilaterally, and we have been trying to do that.”

To a question about mediation, he said, “Well, we have not seen much progress in the 40-plus years since the Shimla Agreement (1972) on bilateral talks, on the core dispute. If there is no movement on the bilateral front, you cannot expect Pakistan not to even discuss that with the rest of the world. Jammu and Kashmir is central to Pakistan-India relations, and we feel that is the root cause of all our problems.”

Basit said, “Well the UN Security Council in its resolution 1172 of June 1998 states that Pakistan [and India] should resolve their bilateral disputes, including Jammu and Kashmir. So the international community is aware of the problem. In a recent interview to The Hindu too, the Saudi Ambassador here showed an interest in facilitating dialogue between India and Pakistan.”

Basit said, “This is the impression we get, that there is no hope for a breakthrough at present. But that is not what we hope will happen. We do not see any move on the part of New Delhi to reach out for a structured dialogue with us.”

To questions about Pathankot attack, so called surgical strikes, and Indus Water Treaty, he said, “But issues remain the same. These are offshoots of the same problems we have been grappling with. You mentioned that India brought up Balochistan; we raised (India’s support to) Balochistan in 2009 at Sharm el-Sheikh.”

“In our view, the surgical strikes never took place, and it was Delhi’s decision to take the Jadhav issue to an international court, let’s see what happens. All these new issues only complicate the path to addressing the root causes: terrorism, Kashmir, Siachin, Sir Creek and others.”

About Hafiz Saeed he said, “No individual in Pakistan is above the law. It is not the first time he has been put under house arrest, the law will move against him. At the end of the day it is for the courts to decide.”

To another question about Saarc, he said, “I haven’t seen any move to hold the Saarc summit yet. This hasn’t happened for the first time, and Saarc has been held up before. We wouldn’t like the process to suffer, as all the countries in South Asia have invested a lot in it. There is no proposal under consideration to move the venue, and Pakistan will host the 19th Saarc summit, whenever that happens.”

On Kulbhushan Jadhav issue, Basit said, “There is a process that is ongoing, and if Jadhav’s appeal were rejected [by the court], that would be the time for the army chief or the president to reconsider the sentence against him. He has been tried, he has been convicted, and he has the right to appeal. If that is rejected, then he has the right to submit an application for clemency to the army chief, and if he denies it, then to the president. So there is room for a rethink there.”

On back channel diplomacy, Basit said, “There is no back channel between our two countries. We must first think of a formal structured dialogue and then we can think of a back channel.”

To a question about four-step formula for Kashmir, he said, “As far as Islamabad is concerned, no solution is acceptable unless it is acceptable to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Any other solution will fall apart very quickly.”

Talking about his highest point of his tenure, he said, “Well the highest was our decision to resume the dialogue and agree on a framework for the comprehensive bilateral dialogue in December 2015. As far as the lowest point, I don’t yet know. Even after the Pathankot attack, we were able to maintain relations for a few months.”