NEW DELHI: One speech and relations between India and Pakistan have dipped sharply. In a strong reaction to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attack on Pakistan for encouraging terrorism, Islamabad has responded to the “baseless rhetoric” by pointing out that it itself is the victim of terrorism.

A Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that the “Indian accusations at the highest level are most unfortunate” but reiterated Pakistan’s “wish to establish good neighbourly relations with India.”

The spokesperson maintained that it would be “in the larger interest of the regional peace that instead of engaging in a blame game, the two countries should focus on resolving all issues through dialogue and work together to promote friendly and cooperative relations.”

The spokesperson said that “Pakistan has consistently condemned terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations”. She maintained that Pakistan was the “biggest victim of the menace” and had lost 55,000 as a result of terrorism. “The entire world has, time and again, acknowledged Pakistan’s unprecedented sacrifices, rendered by our valiant armed forces with over 5,000 soldiers having embraced Shahadat. Our Armed Forces remain ready to defend the country’s borders and thwart any threat of aggression,” she said.

Terrorism continues to be the main issue for India, with successive governments keeping Pakistan in the dock on this. Despite recognition of the fact that the guns have been turned inwards, and Pakistan is suffering grave losses as a result, Delhi has remained concerned about the Kashmir centric terror groups that continue to be operative from Pakistan. The Hizbul Mujahideen for instance does not make matters better for Islamabad when it attacks a BSF convoy (The Citizen, Kashmir page) and of course claims the responsibility. New Delhi has also been asking for action against Hafiz Sayeed who lives amidst high security in Lahore.

However, given the commitment by both governments on different occasions to peace it remains imperative that a high level dialogue is flagged off by both sides on a fresh footing. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit for PM Modi’s swearing in ceremony has not improved relations with the BJP still not clear on its Pakistan strategy. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke of the need for talks on the same day that PM Modi soundly attacked Pakistan on terrorism.

This is the first exchange of words between the two sides, with the Indian charge being led by the Prime Minister. Pakistan’s response by its Foreign Office has been strong, but has deliberately left the doors open for reconciliation and talks. This is largely because the Pakistan Army is completely caught up in Operations against terror groups operating in and out of Afghanistan and the front areas, and is not in a position to handle a hostile eastern border.