Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise stopover in Pakistan sent the neighbours to the drawing board for their comprehensive bilateral dialogue (CBD) in January that would test the resolve of both sides in improving ties.
Foreign secretary S Jaishankar and his Pakistan counterpart Aizaz Ahmed Chowdhury are likely to meet in Islamabad on January 15 and announce the talks schedule to cover every possible substantive issue between the two countries.
It was India’s turn to host the foreign secretaries but since the meeting is taking place in Pakistan, it will address a thin red line India had drawn and keep the Hurriyat separatists of Kashmir from gaining an audience with the delegation from Islamabad.
Sources said both sides are keen on high-level interactions between the leaderships of the two countries whenever such meetings are possible, especially on the sidelines of multi-lateral meetings.
The CBD agreed between the two nations during foreign minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Pakistan early December has a host of issues on the table, such as peace and security, confidence building measures, Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, Wullar Barrage or Tulbul navigation project, economic and commercial cooperation, counter-terrorism, narcotics control, humanitarian issues, people to people exchanges and religious tourism.
Humanitarian issues and religious tourism are the two additions to the composite dialogue format which India had called off after the Mumbai terror strike in 2008.
Modi’s visit to Lahore, 16 days after Swaraj’s trip, has displayed New Delhi’s political intent in ample measures for meaningfully engaging Pakistan.
Indian officials said Pakistan too has agreed to “engage in a meaningful dialogue with India” and they “fully understand” Indian sensitivities, including the need for a speedy conclusion of the trial of culprits in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
New Delhi has been pushing to move ahead with its Pakistan policy in a manner not to attract too much media interest, an approach which experts are supporting.
“In the past, the excessive media interest and public expectations haven’t worked to the advantage of improving India-Pakistan ties,” former foreign secretary Salman Haider said.
What gives hopes is the fact that Modi’s gesture to break away from the beaten path of protocol-dictated foreign policy was well-received in Pakistan.
Sartaj Aziz, advisor to the Pakistani Prime Minister on foreign affairs, said Modi and Nawaz Sharif had agreed during their meeting in Lahore on Friday that the foreign secretaries will meet in Islamabad in the middle of January to finalise the schedule and modalities for the comprehensive dialogue.
Indian sources said the way the two prime ministers warmed up to each other in Lahore is indicative of their chemistry, which could augur well in normalising ties.
“The Lahore visit was the Prime Minister’s way of reciprocating the gesture of Sharif in attending his swearing-in in May 2014. It was out-of-the box, and a surprise,” said an Indian official.
For his part, Sharif spoke about how well-received was Swaraj’s visit to Islamabad on December 8-9, sources said. The two leaders talked about the region and the need to make travel easy among the South Asian countries.