India, Pakistan foreign ministers likely to hold talks in New York

09/19/2018

New Delhi, Sept. 19: India and Pakistan are in discussion through their respective missions and ministries for a possible meeting between the two foreign ministers.

India and Pakistan are in discussion through their respective missions and ministries for a possible meeting between the two foreign ministers.

Official sources on both sides told The Tribune that a formal proposal is on the table for Sushma Swaraj and Shah Mehmood Qureshi to meet on the sidelines of the SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in New York.

The SAARC meeting, an annual event on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session, is slated for September 27.

“Both sides are in touch. It is a work in progress. Though nothing has been scheduled yet,” a senior official privy to discussion told The Tribune.

The possibility of a separate bilateral engagement a day prior to the SAARC meeting between Swaraj and the new Pakistan Foreign Minister in the Imran Khan cabinet is being looked into, say sources.

The meeting could help break the deadlock on the SAARC summit which Pakistan is to host, but an India-led boycott continues since the Uri terror strike of 2016.

Qureshi is currently travelling with Imran Khan on the Pakistani PM’s maiden overseas visit to Saudi Arabia.

The Pakistan Army chief and Indian ministers, including Nirmala Sitharaman and Gen VK Singh, however, have indulged in provocative statements against each other recently on Kashmir and cross-border infiltration.

The two sides have also put the ball into each other’s court on the issue of opening the Kartarpur corridor which has snowballed into a political row in Punjab.

On Pakistan, the BJP government has stated that “talks on terror are possible, but talks and terror cannot go together”. The two countries have not had a sustained official dialogue since 2012.

Following the bilateral meeting between Narendra Modi and former Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the Ufa SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) summit in July 2015, Swaraj had travelled to Islamabad later that year for the Heart of Asia meeting. She had held talks with her then counterpart Sartaj Aziz.

The two sides had agreed to the resumption of a renamed Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue, but it got derailed with the Pathankot terror attack early next year.

Indian NSA Ajit Doval had stayed in touch with his former counterpart Nasser Janjua and met him at overseas locations, including in Thailand and Russia.

However, a formal dialogue between the neighbours has not resumed. Indian Prime Minister Modi’s congratulatory telephone call to Imran Khan after he won the election and the subsequent letter following his oath-taking ceremony raised hopes of a positive climate in ties.

The US recently said it would support a peaceful dialogue between India and Pakistan. Top serving diplomat, South and Central Asian Affairs, Alice Wells, who was part of the delegation of Secretary of State Pompeo during his visit to Pakistan and India, in a media interaction said, “In general, the US supports dialogue between India and Pakistan that can reduce tensions. We understand and have had frequent conversations with our Indian partners on the expectation that there be demonstrable reduction in the cross-border terrorism and infiltration that will help create confidence for a dialogue to take place.” The Tribune

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