India responded angrily on Thursday after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif pointed to human rights violations in held Kashmir and repression of minorities in the country at a regional conference, while reiterating the offer of dialogue for the sake of regional peace and prosperity.

Addressing the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures (CICA) in Astana, PM Sharif said: “Indian democracy is known less for its rights and freedoms and more for its repression and brutality. The truth is the hard and harsh fact that India today is a threat to its minorities, to its neighbours, to its region and to itself”.

“Yet… we are willing to engage with India for the sake of peace, prosperity and progress in the region because we cannot afford to have more poverty and unemployment on both sides of the border,” he said, adding the meagre resources available to the two countries could not be wasted on fuelling tensions.

Bilateral dialogue between the two neighbouring countries, which have been to war thrice in the past, has been suspended since 2016. Pakistan later downgraded diplomatic ties with India in 2019 after the latter unilaterally annexed occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Subsequent events in occupied Kashmir and Hindu supremacists’ actions against Muslims in India prevented any progress towards re-engagement.

The two sides had, however, last year agreed on the restoration of the 2003 ceasefire agreement on the Line of Control, separating the two parts of disputed Himalayan region, through back-channel diplomacy.

The ceasefire is holding since then, but not much progress could be made subsequently.

It has been Islamabad’s longstanding position on normalisation that it is for India to provide conducive environment for that to happen.

Reaffirming that position, Mr Sharif said: “I am absolutely ready and willing to have serious dialogue and discussion with our Indian counterparts provided they show sincerity of purpose and they show that they are ready to discuss issues which have really kept us at a distance over decades, created tensions, prevented trade and investment. This has to come to a stop.”

Indian Minister of State for External Affairs Meenakshi Lekhi, who was representing India at the conference, hit back by asking Pakistan to end the alleged cross-border terrorism and create suitable conditions for dialogue.

Ms Lekhi accused Pakistan of misusing the event to “propagate false and malicious propaganda” against India and diverging from the main focus of discussions.

She contended that PM Sharif’s remarks were not only tantamount to “gross interference in India’s internal affairs, sovereignty and territorial integrity”, but also violated CICA’s principles.

Ms Lekhi said Pakistan must “immediately cease anti-India cross-border terrorism and shut down its infrastructure of terrorism”.

She asked Pakistan to show sincerity in its offer by taking credible, verifiable and irreversible actions for preventing alleged cross-border terrorism against India.

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