The 18th Saarc summit may see a thaw in India and Pakistan ties that have nosedived in recent months, with New Delhi Sunday not ruling out an informal meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif.
The two leaders will come face-to-face when eight members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation meet in Kathmandu on November26 and 27 though there is a no formal proposal from either side for a meeting.
The PM, who leaves for the meeting Tuesday, “was keen to have meaningful dialogues with as many south Asian colleagues as possible”, external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said Sunday.
Even a small chat in an informal setting could prove to be an ice-breaker, said sources. Modi had invited Sharif for his swearing-in but the ties have taken a hit ever since. Nineteen civilians were killed last month in the worst exchange of border fire in Jammu and Kashmir in a decade. In August, foreign secretary-level talks were called off when the Pakistan high commissioner went ahead and met Kashmiri separatists, ignoring India’s reservations.
“The visit, which is essentially for the Saarc Summit, will also have a substantial bilateral component,” Akbaruddin said.
But India again stated the red lines for bilateral engagement with Pakistan. It said talks should be guided only by the framework of Shimla agreement and Lahore declaration, which rules out India’s concession to Islamabad’s dealings with the separatist Hurriyat Conference.
“This would mean taking into account all aspects of relationships,” Akbaruddin said. The schedule for the bilateral meetings was a work in progress, he said. Sharif had recently said Pakistan would talk to Hurriyat leaders before talking to India.
Speaking at the Hindustan Times 12th Leadership Summit on Saturday, home minister Rajnath Singh had said terrorism in India was “completely Pakistan-sponsored” and while India was open to resuming dialogue, Islamabad must take the first step.
To a question on the talks between the two side, Akbaruddin said India was for cooperative and peaceful ties with Pakistan.
“Our view is very simple. There is a simple two-way street to promote peaceful cooperative ties between India and Pakistan and that is through meaningful bilateral dialogue any deviation from this path is not going to lead us to a common destination,” he said.
The external affairs ministry said India was ready to engage and sign agreements should there be consensus among the Saarc countries in the areas of transport and energy, especially electricity.
India, Akbaruddin said, saw Saarc as a regional cooperative framework for promoting active collaboration in economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields to accelerate regional growth and development. The PM would lay out his vision for cooperation in south Asia and India’s approach to harnessing the developmental potential of the region as a whole, he said.
Modi will be lead a power-packed delegation that will include external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and national security adviser Ajit Doval.