External Affairs

India-Pakistan Foreign Secretaries to Meet Tomorrow; Pathankot, Peace Process on the Agenda

India is not ready to brand this meeting, which will come on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process, as a direct replacement for the postponed January encounter between the two diplomats.

Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and his Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry at a previous meeting. Credit: Reuters

Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and his Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry at a previous meeting. Credit: Reuters

New Delhi: For the first time since their postponed meeting in January, the Indian and Pakistan foreign secretaries will sit down for a bilateral meeting in Delhi on Tuesday. The top diplomats will meet with the agenda to take forward the process that has been stalled as New Delhi awaits Pakistani action on the terror attack against the Indian Air Force base at Pathankot earlier this year.

Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhury will lead his country’s delegation to the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process, the regional summit over Afghanistan, to be held on April 26. The confirmation of Chaudhury’s trip to India came on Monday morning, with Pakistan’s foreign office issuing a press release.

“Pakistan delegation will also hold bilateral meetings with other leading delegations attending the meeting,” said the communique.

While the Pakistani foreign ministry was shy of mentioning a meeting with India, official sources here confirmed that Chaudhury will have a bilateral meeting with Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar on late Tuesday afternoon.

However, India is not yet ready to brand this sideline meeting as a direct replacement for the postponed January encounter. Sources indicate that the two top diplomats will explore how to restart the comprehensive bilateral dialogue, with options of beginning some channels. Both will also take a call on whether they need to have a stand-alone bilateral visit to formally launch the dialogue.

With India likely to raise the Pathankot probe at the talks, Pakistan will certainly bring up Kashmir, and investigations on the Samjhauta Express blasts may also come up. Sources say Pakistan may not necessarily bring up the arrest of Indian national Kulbhushan Yadav, who is being held on charges of being a spy, as it would mean that India will get the chance to remind them that consular access was still awaited.

A recent ebb and flow

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi revived his rapport with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the leader’s lounge at the Climate Change conference in Paris, the country’s national security advisors (NSA) were quick to meet in Bangkok without any prior announcement.

However, it was External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj who went to Islamabad and worked out the contours of the renewed and renamed Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue with her counterpart Sartaj Aziz. Swaraj was in Pakistan to attend the December 9 ministerial conference of the Heart of Asia, which India will be hosting this year.

It had been announced at that time that the countries’ foreign secretaries would meet in January to decide the interlocutors and the calendar of talks for the eight tracks identified by the political leadership.

Then on Christmas day, Modi made a sudden detour to Lahore on his way back from Afghanistan, giving rise to a rare sense of optimism.

The date was set for the two foreign secretaries to meet on January 15 in Islamabad. On January 2, six terrorists sneaked into India’s sensitive forward air base in Pathankot near the India-Pakistan border and fought with Indian security agencies for three days, killing seven soldiers. India pointed the finger of accusation at Pakistan, with Masood Azhar’s Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) identified as the perpetrators based on call records and other physical evidence.

The peace process faltered again, with India delaying the foreign secretaries-level talks, and NSA Ajit Doval passed on ‘evidence’ of JeM’s role to his counterpart, Naseer Janjua.

In between, the two prime ministers kept in touch with strategically timed phone conversations – Modi calling Sharif to express condolences over the Lahore blast and Sharif reciprocating during the Kerala temple tragedy.

During a trip to the sylvan surroundings of Pokhara, Nepal, Swaraj and Aziz once again picked up the reins of bilateral engagement. They announced the date for the visit of the Pakistan joint investigation team (JIT), who would have unprecedented access to an Indian military installation.

The five-member Pakistan JIT was in India for a week in late March-early April. They met NIA officials, questioned civilian witnesses and visited the air force base, with most of the area blocked out by visual barriers.

The sudden announcement of an Indian national being arrested on charges of being a ‘RAW official’, with a video ‘confession’ could have been once again disrupted the dialogue – but despite strong statements from both foreign ministries, it does not seem to have derailed the process.

But roadblocks crop up constantly. A Pakistani media report claiming that the JIT probe had concluded that the Pathankot terror attack was a ‘false flag’ operation garnered great attention – but was implicitly refuted by both countries.

Then, there was a flap over the statement of the Pakistan’s Ambassador to India Abdul Basit. His description of the state of the peace process as “suspended” got some eyeballs, but it was Pakistan dragging its feet over a ‘reciprocal’ visit by the National Investigation Agency NIA that was more contentious.

Tuesday’s meeting is, therefore, potentially portentous. India and Pakistan will discuss formally re-launching the peace process, seven years after the Mumbai 26/11 terror attacks.

  • vineet kabeer dixit

    what’s the use of?

  • JJJackxon

    Play whatever official games are necessary, but the one true focus of Indian diplomacy (and military planning) should be a laser-like focus to regaining the PoK Northern Provinces including Gilgit and Baltistan. India must have a land border with Afghanistan again and India must deny Pak a land border with China again. As for PoK Kashmir, it can rot forever.