The pitch for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cricket diplomacy was laid over two months and after several rounds of meetings between NSA AK Doval and Pakistan high commissioner Abdul Basit.
Before Modi called up his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif on February 13 to wish him luck for the World Cup, which got underway the next day, a lot of back-end preparatory work had been done, sources on both sides told HT.
After speaking to all Saarc leaders whose teams were headed to the cricket’s biggest event, Modi tweeted, “Would be sending our new Foreign Secretary on a SAARC Yatra soon to further strengthen our ties.”
In at least two under-the-radar meetings, Doval and Basit spoke at length about breaking the stalemate and creating an opportunity for re-engagement, sources said.
Ties between the two countries had nosedived when India called off foreign secretary-level talks in August after Basit met Kashmiri separatists in Delhi, ignoring India’s request not to go ahead with the meetings.
The first meeting between Doval and Basit on December 9 followed a short and quiet away-from-cameras conversation between Modi and Sharif at the Saarc retreat in Dhulikhel in Nepal on November 27. The two had talked about finding ways to end the diplomatic impasse.
“Basit and Doval spoke frankly about sensitivities on both sides," a senior official said.
India on its part raised concerns over the timings of Pakistan’s meetings with Hurriyat leaders but offered a way out: have such meetings either on the sidelines of Iftar get-togethers or during the annual Pakistan national day celebrations at the high commission in Delhi. Hurriyat leaders are routinely invited for both.
Both men met again in third week of December, a few days after the horrific terror attack on an army school in Peshawar in which 132 children were killed.
The NSA had by then visited the Pakistan high commission in Delhi and said, “I have never seen or heard in my life that people can be so inhuman and brutal that they can descend to such low levels of beastly behavior and target innocent children in a school.”
Modi’s call to Sharif a few hours after the December 16 attack had paved the way for the second meeting.
At this meeting, Doval expressed concern over the slow-pace of 26/11 trial. He also raised the issue of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi — the Lashkar-e-Taiba commander and the architect of the three-day Mumbai siege — being granted bail.
Soon after the meeting, Pakistan, keeping Indian sensitivities in mind, invoked the maintenance of public order law to ensure Lakhvi did not walk out of jail. As part of his “Saarc yatra”, newly appointed foreign secretary S Jaishankar is expected in the Pakistani capital later this month or in early March.
Doval couldn’t be reached for his reaction while the Pakistan high commission declined comment.