The foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan will meet in January to finalise the schedule and modalities of the new comprehensive bilateral dialogue process, the Pakistani prime minister’s foreign policy adviser Sartaj Aziz said on Friday.
Speaking in Pakistan’s national assembly or lower house of parliament, Aziz defended the decision to resume dialogue with India and dismissed the opposition’s criticism that the joint statement issued on Wednesday after his meeting with Indian external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj favoured New Delhi.
The agreement between the two countries to launch the new dialogue process is being seen as a key breakthrough following years of ups and downs in ties. Swaraj had said the foreign secretaries would meet to give shape to the contours of the proposed talks but did not set any date for the meeting.
Aziz told the national assembly the two sides had decided that the foreign secretaries “will meet next month to work out the details of the comprehensive bilateral dialogue and the level of interaction in various working groups”. He added, “The foreign secretaries will also decide the modalities and schedule of the meetings under the dialogue.”
He said he had discussed the issue of bilateral cricket matches with Swaraj at a dinner and she had replied that the improvement in bilateral relations would ensure smooth cricket ties.
Aziz gave details of recent contacts that were behind the decision to launch the comprehensive dialogue process. After a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Paris on November 30, the two national security advisers and foreign secretaries had a “candid and constructive” meeting in Bangkok on December 6.
During the talks in Bangkok, the delegations were guided by the vision of Sharif and Modi for a peaceful, stable and prosperous South Asia. They discussed peace and security, Jammu and Kashmir, terrorism, tranquillity along the Line of Control and the international border in Kashmir, Aziz said.
“Following the successful meeting of the NSAs, the Indian external affairs minister visited Pakistan to attend the 5th ministerial conference of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process,” he said. “It was decided to continue the constructive engagement between Pakistan and India.”
The comprehensive bilateral dialogue will cover peace and security, CBMs, Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project, economic and commercial cooperation, counter-terrorism, narcotics control and humanitarian issues, people to people exchanges and religious tourism. The new process includes all components of the earlier composite dialogue with some additions, Aziz said.
Aziz further said the two sides had decided that terrorism will be discussed by the two NSAs “as part of this comprehensive bilateral dialogue”.
“We had emphasised that Pakistan is a victim of terrorism. We have lost tens of thousands of lives in the fight against terrorism. Zarb-e-Azb is the largest counter-terrorism operation of its kind and is being internationally acknowledged and appreciated,” he added.
Aziz’s remarks came a day after opposition lawmakers asked the government to take them into confidence over the outcome of the talks with India.