Pakistan is likely to decide this week about whether to send its national security adviser to New Delhi for a conference on Afghanistan, official sources familiar with the development said on Monday.
India extended the invitation to NSA Dr Moeed Yusuf to attend the regional conference being hosted by the Indian NSA on Afghanistan next week.
The Foreign Office confirmed the invitation but said the decision would be taken at an appropriate time. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi earlier said Pakistan’s decision would be based on keeping in view the current state of relationship between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
But the fact that Pakistan is considering the Indian invitation shows that unlike the past Islamabad has not outrightly rejected the Indian invitation.
“The decision will be taken soon,” a senior government official said without dropping any hint on whether the NSA would go to New Delhi.
India’s effort to host the regional conference is seen as an attempt to deflect the domestic pressure and impression that New Delhi has been left out of the Afghan consultations.
At a weekly news briefing, Foreign Office spokesperson Asim Iftikhar said that India seemed to be trying to find “some relevance” in the context of Afghanistan while referring to the upcoming conference in New Delhi.
“As you are aware, various other regional mechanisms and processes are in place, including the one initiated by Pakistan itself – involving the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, as the first meeting was held in Islamabad in September and the second Ministerial Meeting was held in Tehran only yesterday. There were also meetings held in Moscow before that. In this overall context, we are assessing the Indian invitation,” he said, responding to the question about whether Pakistan would attend the conference in New Delhi.
While India was not invited at the conference hosted by Pakistan in September and Iran in October, New Delhi was part of the Moscow Format.
The reference to Moscow Format suggests that Pakistan may be preparing grounds for accepting the Indian invitation, although in principle it has consistently maintained that India has no direct role in Afghanistan.
If Pakistan sends its NSA to New Delhi, it would be seen as a major development in view of the continued tensions between Pakistan and India. Pakistan has downgraded diplomatic relationship with India and suspended bilateral trade in reaction to India’s August 5, 2019 decision of changing the special status of the disputed territory.
Since then, Pakistan has maintained that it would only re-engage after New Delhi would reverse all the changes. It is because of this reason that Pakistan is taking time to make a final call on the Indian invitation.
But despite simmering tensions, Pakistan has allowed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plane to use its airspace for a visit to Italy to attend the Group of 20 summit. Similarly, Pakistan granted permission to India to use its airspace for flights between Sharjah and Srinagar.
While the Foreign Office did not confirm the airspace permission, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) spokesperson Saifullah Khan told The Express Tribune that Pakistan allowed India to use its airspace for Sharjah-Srinagar flights. He said the permission was granted at the Indian request. He, however, added that the permission was for a limited time period and only for certain flights.
Nevertheless, the development is seen as a major shift as far as Pakistan is concerned. In the past, Pakistan denied India to use its airspace particularly for the international flights flying from Srinagar.
In 2009, India wanted to start flights between Srinagar and Dubai but it could not go ahead with the plan as the flight operations became economically not viable after Pakistan did not accept India’s request to use its airspace.
Also Pakistan opted not to react to the recent MoU signed between the Dubai government and India for massive investment in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK).
When asked to comment on the development, the Foreign Office spokesperson offered a vague response. “On the question of flights and some reported investments in IIOJK, there are various dimensions to it, especially in the case of flights that includes technical questions as well as international conventions on air navigation, as the relevant authorities remain seized of the matter,” Iftikhar said.
It is believed that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is trying to seek some kind of rapprochement between Pakistan and India. The Gulf country in the past facilitated direct talks between the senior intelligence officials of the two countries that led to the renewal of ceasefire understanding along the Line of Control (LoC).
But a Foreign Office official while speaking on the condition of anonymity downplayed the developments suggesting there was no possibility of any forward movement on Pakistan and India ties given the current situation.
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