Foreign secretaries of Pakistan and India are expected to formally meet in New Delhi today (Tuesday) to discuss the current impasse in the bilateral dialogue.
A bilateral meeting -- the first between the two top diplomats since the dialogue process was derailed following the Pathankot attack in January -- will take place on the sidelines of the regional conference on Afghanistan and being hosted by New Delhi, diplomatic sources said.
Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry is leading the Pakistani delegation at the meeting of senior officials of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul process.
Diplomatic sources told The Express Tribune that Foreign Secretary Chaudhry and his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar will review the current situation and explore the possibility of reviving the stalled bilateral dialogue.
Incidentally, it was the last Heart of Asia-Istanbul meeting in Islamabad in December 2015 that helped the two neighbours to break the impasse in the peace talks.
Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Sawaraj, who attended the Islamabad meeting, held bilateral talks with Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz following which the two countries announced the resumption of comprehensive bilateral dialogue.
Under the agreement, the respective foreign secretaries were scheduled to meet in Islamabad in mid-January to draw up a plan regarding the series of meetings between officials on issues ranging from Kashmir, peace and security, Siachen, Sir Creek, trade and commercial ties and tourism.
However, just days before the key meeting, at least four armed militants stormed the Indian airbase in Pathankot near the border with Pakistan, killing at least seven security personnel.
India accused the Pakistan based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) responsible for the attack. Islamabad not only registered a case against the unknown attackers but also sent a five-member Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to India to help New Delhi in the probe. However, the JIT, according to the foreign office, was given a limited access.
The Pathankot incident effectively derailed the comprehensive dialogue and the two countries have since been struggling to fix a date for their top diplomats to meet, with suggestions from either sides that talks are either ‘suspended’ or ‘blocked’.
But just ahead of the Pakistani foreign secretary’s visit, the Foreign Office and India’s External Affairs Ministry spokespersons dismissed the perception that dialogue between the two countries was suspended and that ‘doors for talks were open’.
Sources said the meeting between Chaudhry and Jaishankar may help break the apparent stalemate in the comprehensive bilateral dialogue. A statement issued by the foreign office here on Monday, however, did not say if the foreign secretary will have any bilateral meeting with his Indian counterpart.
“Pakistan has continued to play an active role in the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process, which was established in 2011 as a platform to discuss regional issues including security, economic cooperation and connectivity among Afghanistan, its neighbours and regional countries with a view to promote lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan,” the statement added.
Meanwhile, Indian government sources told NDTV that the two sides will hold a bilateral meeting where New Delhi is likely to raise the Pathankot probe and reiterate its concerns on JeM chief Masood Azhar. The comprehensive bilateral dialogue is not likely to be taken up.
Pakistan hosted the fifth Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference in Islamabad on 9 December where member countries adopted a forward looking Islamabad Declaration entitled “Emphasising Enhanced Cooperation for Countering Security Threats and Promoting Regional Connectivity”.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2016.