India and Pakistan agreed on Sunday to a constructive engagement on bilateral issues after marathon meeting between the national security advisers of both countries in Bangkok, reviving the possibility of a thaw in frosty ties.
The closely-guarded four-and-a-half hour long meeting between NSA Ajit Doval and his Pakistan counterpart, Nasir Janjua, also paved the way for external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s Islamabad for a regional conference on Afghanistan on December 8 and 9.
Top officials flew in using commercial airlines for the carefully-calibrated meeting at Bangkok’s Novotel hotel and described the event as “very engaging, discussing every issue threadbare” but sources said the proposed India-Pakistan cricket series in Sri Lanka was not on the agenda.
“The discussions covered peace and security, terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir and other issues, including tranquility along the line of control. It was agreed to carry forward the constructive agreement,” said a joint statement issued after the event.
The meeting came days after a brief huddle between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Paris on November 30, after which officials were instructed to find an amicable way to break the diplomatic impasse.
The joint statement showed New Delhi was willing to walk the extra mile and not limit NSA-level dialogue to just terrorism as was agreed after Modi and Sharif met earlier this year at the Russian city of Ufa.
The two sides were “willing to engage and focus on convergences” with “no confrontation” and no dossiers were exchanged, sources said.
“Discussions were held in a candid, cordial and constructive atmosphere. They were guided by the vision of the two leaders for a peaceful stable and prosperous South Asia”, the statement said.
Experts said the mention of Jammu and Kashmir would give Sharif some cover from domestic opponents who had criticised the Ufa meeting after the “core issue of Kashmir” wasn’t reflected in the joint statement.
India’s position that the NSAs should meet before other engagements has also been met, but the Opposition may criticize the NDA for inconsistency in foreign policy.
Both the BJP and the Congress welcomed the talks.
“The NSA-level talks is in continuation of the implementation of the joint statement signed by the two prime ministers at Ufa,” BJP spokesman GVL Narsimha Rao said.
Congress spokesman Tom Vadakkan described the meet as a “forward movement but said due diligence and calibration should be inbuilt. “Issues such as terrorism fomented from Pakistani soil and repatriation of fugitives protected by the Pakistani establishment to meet the judicial process in India should dominate any such talks. Engaging with Pakistan is important for peace in this sub continent,” he said.
Foreign secretary S Jaishankar and Prime Minister’s special envoy on counter-terrorism, Asif Ibrahim, were present in the meeting with Doval. Sources said the two sides are also willing to engage each other to address the larger security issues in the region like the rising threat of the jihadist terror group, Islamic state.
In his recent visit to the US, Pakistan army chief Raheel Sharif had briefed his American interlocutors about the steps Pakistan was taking against extremism.
Janjua’s background as an army commander and a confidant of Raheel Sharif helped the two sides engage meaningfully as he had the approval of the Pakistan establishment.
The breakthrough came after months of hostility following the last-minute cancellation of NSA-level talks in August. While India accused of Pakistan from running away from the talks, Islamabad alleged New Delhi was ‘concocting terror incidents’ and raking up ‘non issues’ meeting with separatist Hurriyat leaders. Swaraj had then accused Pakistan of raking up the Kashmir issue against the ‘spirit of Ufa’. But Kashmir was discussed on Sunday.