As world leaders struggled to hammer out a consensus deal on global warming in the French capital on Monday, ice melted on Pakistan’s eastern and western borders when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met leaders of India and Afghanistan to mend his country’s fractured ties with the two neighbours.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi approached Premier Nawaz Sharif and had a brief meeting with him, according to a statement issued by the Prime Minister House in Islamabad. “Both the leaders appeared to be in a friendly mood and there seemed to be great warmth during their interaction,” it added. “The two leaders parted with a warm handshake.”
“The meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere,” Premier Nawaz told journalists. Television images showed the two leaders seated casually on a sofa without diplomatic subtleties and talking to each other candidly. However, he would not say what exactly was discussed in the meeting. “I don’t have the right to disclose what we talked about,” he said.
Nawaz said the meeting was too brief to discuss anything of substance. “It was not possible to talk on everything in such a short time,” he said when asked if the Kashmir dispute was discussed. “The Indian prime minister said he wanted to take things forward, I also expressed the same desire.”
Though it did not spring any surprise, the unscheduled meeting itself was a pleasant surprise given the hostilities between the two countries triggered by frequent border skirmishes and bitter exchanges between politicians from both sides. Last time the two prime ministers met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in the Russian city of Ufa in July. In the recent UN General Assembly session, they waved to each other but did not meet.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the meeting. “We obviously welcome any direct contacts between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric, told APP at the UN Headquarters in New York. The UN chief said on Sunday dialogue was the only way forward for Pakistan and India to resolve their differences.
In his meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Premier Nawaz reaffirmed his country’s desire to establish a friendly cooperative relationship with Afghanistan. “Pakistan remains committed to working with Afghanistan as an equal, sovereign state,” he added.
The two leaders agreed to jointly promote the Afghan peace and reconciliation process with ‘legitimate political actors’ and take action against irreconcilable elements. The meeting is significant because relations between the two countries have been strained by mutual recrimination and mistrust. Kabul blamed Islamabad for an uptick in Taliban violence triggered by a bitter succession in the Taliban after the confirmation of death of their longtime leader Mullah Omar.
Kabul was reluctant to reengage with Islamabad despite exhortations from key world leaders. However, a delegation of Pakistani Pashtun political leaders met President Ghani on Thursday and convinced him to meet Premier Nawaz in Paris.
In Monday’s meeting the two leaders discussed possible resumption of the Afghan peace and reconciliation process with Premier Nawaz offering Pakistan’s good offices to support an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process, according to a statement issued by the Prime Minister House in Islamabad.
Pakistan had brokered the first-ever direct contact between the Afghan government and the Taliban in July this year. The initiative, officially called Murree Peace Process, was, however, suspended after the news of Mullah Omar’s death was leaked to the media by some Afghan officials a day before Afghan officials and Taliban representatives were to have their second round of talks.
“Both leaders agreed to work with all those who would enter such a process as legitimate political actors and act, alongside the Afghan gov’t, against those who refuse to take the path of peace,” according to the statement.
Premier Nawaz reiterated support for the Afghan president, saying that “Pakistan regarded the National Unity Government as the only legitimate, democratically-elected partner for Pakistan.” He affirmed his desire to establish a friendly cooperative relationship with Afghanistan and stressed that Pakistan remained committed to working with Afghanistan as an equal, sovereign state.
“The prime minister emphasised that peace and stability in Afghanistan remained our key goal and Pakistan has committed to building a long-term partnership with its neighbours, to build a stable Afghanistan, in the interests of the entire region.”
President Ashraf Ghani reciprocated the sentiments, saying his country wanted to work with Pakistan to develop peaceful, friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries, the statement said.
The prime minister briefed the Afghan leader on the robust military campaign against all terrorists under way in Pakistan through Operation Zarb-e-Azb, including those who use violence against Afghanistan. “Pakistan and Afghanistan face a common threat,” he said and assured that Pakistan would make all efforts to tackle the menace of terrorism in the two countries.
After their bilateral talks, Premier Nawaz and President Ghani were joined by British Prime Minister David Cameroon for a trilateral meeting, where the Pakistani leader told his Afghan counterpart that a “warm welcome awaited him in Islamabad at the Heart of Asia meeting on December 9”.
The British prime minister “assured both leaders that the UK would remain available with its support and assistance in their common endeavour to promote the reconciliation process in Afghanistan,” Premier Nawaz’s office said.
“The British prime minister spoke of his great admiration for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Ashraf Ghani and lauded their strong commitment to working closely for the common objective of peace and stability in Afghanistan,” it added.
During the course of exchanges, the prime minister stressed the need for all parties to remain committed to the promotion of peace and stability in Afghanistan, notwithstanding the obstacles and impediments in the pursuit of this objective.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 1st, 2015.