India and Pakistan on Tuesday agreed to work together on narrowing their differences and finding common ground on mutual concerns, the first tentative step towards resuming dialogue after a six-month freeze in ties following the cancellation of foreign secretary-level talks last year.
Foreign secretary S Jaishankar, who arrived in Islamabad on Monday as part of his “SAARC Yatra”, raised India’s concerns about cross-border terror during his talks with his Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry. The two sides agreed to work together to address issues of mutual concern but did not set any timeframe for their next engagement.
Jaishankar also called on Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to whom he delivered a letter from his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. The contents of the letter could not immediately be ascertained and Chaudhry did not provide details during a media briefing on Tuesday evening.
“Today we engaged on each other's concerns and interests in an open manner. We agreed to work together to find common ground and narrow differences," Jaishankar said about his talks with Chaudhry.
“I reiterated our known concerns on cross-border terrorism, including on the Mumbai case. We agreed that ensuring peace and tranquillity on the border was vital,” he said.
Chaudhry said at his media briefing that the two sides had agreed to “work in areas of convergences and address divergences”. He said the Pakistani side had raised its concerns about alleged “Indian involvement” in the country’s restive Balochistan province and the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan but did not give details.
The Pakistani foreign secretary said both sides would reflect on Tuesday’s discussions and “proceed accordingly”. He added no timeframe had been set for the next step in bilateral engagements and both sides would move when they “are ready”.
“The two sides will remain in contact to see when and how to take the next step,” Chaudhry said.
Foreign office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said both sides raised their concerns and described the visit as “an ice-breaking development.”
Jaishankar made it clear that he was in Islamabad primarily as part of Prime Minister Modi’s initiative of a "SAARC Yatra" and to convey the Indian leadership’s determination to forge cooperative relations with all neighbours. He added: “Naturally, my visit provided an opportunity to discuss our bilateral relations.”
Chaudhry said Pakistan was firmly committed to the 2003 ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir and believes existing mechanisms should be optimally used to see that the truce is observed. He added that Pakistan is also committed to eradicating terrorism.
During the talks, Pakistan suggested steps to boost people-to-people contacts and to promote religious tourism and sports and media contacts.
Jaishankar also met Pakistan’s de-facto foreign minister Sartaj Aziz and Prime Minister's special assistant, Tariq Fatemi.
This was the first meeting between India and Pakistan at the foreign secretary-level since India called off talks in August last year after the Pakistani envoy met separatist Hurriyat leaders despite being asked not to do so.
Sartaj Aziz, the PM’s advisor on foreign affairs, told the media he was hopeful of the resumption of talks as this was the only way to settle outstanding issues. "We would like the dialogue to resume so we can discuss all issues, including Kashmir," he said.