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Sushma Swaraj to meet Pakistan foreign minister in New York later this month

The meeting between external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and her Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi will be the first such high-level contact between the two sides since India snapped all formal talks with Pakistan following the terror attack on Pathankot airbase in 2016.

india Updated: Sep 21, 2018 00:00 IST
Jayanth Jacob
Jayanth Jacob
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Sushma Swaraj,Pakistan,New York
Sushma Swaraj will leave for New York on September 24. She and Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi are heading the delegations of their countries to the UN General Assembly.(HT File Photo)

India confirmed on Thursday that external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj will meet her Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi in New York later this month in response to a letter from Prime Minister Imran Khan to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking such a meeting.

As the neighbours struggle to shake off their accumulated trust deficit, India made it clear the meeting would not amount to resumption of bilateral dialogue or any change on its stated position on cross-border terrorism.

This will be the first such high-level contact between the two sides since India snapped all formal talks with Pakistan following the terror attack on Pathankot airbase in 2016.

“I can confirm that on the request of the Pakistani side, a meeting between EAM and Pakistani foreign minister will take place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly at a mutually convenient date and time,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar told a news briefing.

“This is just a meeting, too much should not be read into the proposed meeting,” Kumar said. “This is not a resumption of dialogue. They asked for a meeting, we said ‘yes’.”

He added: “I must distinguish between a meeting and a dialogue. This does not indicate any change in policy as far as our stand on cross-border terrorism is concerned.”

Swaraj will leave for New York on September 24. She and Qureshi are heading the delegations of their countries to the UN General Assembly. The two foreign ministers will attend the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) foreign ministers lunch and get-together on September 27. The meeting between Swaraj and Qureshi, expected to be held the same day, will be a stand-alone affair.

Khan’s letter to Modi, dated September 14, facilitated the meeting. Khan had proposed a meeting between the foreign ministers on the sidelines of the UNGA meeting as he batted for the two sides to resume the comprehensive dialogue to discuss all contentious issues.

Significantly, Khan wrote: “Pakistan remains ready to discuss terrorism.”

While endorsing Modi’s suggestion for “constructive engagement”, Khan acknowledged that the two countries have “an undeniably challenging relationship”. The two sides, he added, should peacefully resolve all outstanding issues, including Kashmir, to bridge differences.

Khan suggested Swaraj and Qureshi could “explore the way forward”, including the holding of the stalled Saarc Summit, which would “offer an opportunity for (Modi) to visit Pakistan and for us to restart the stalled dialogue process”.

India has blamed Pakistan-based groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed for cross-border attacks that derailed the peace process and stalled the Saarc Summit, which was to be hosted by Islamabad in November 2016.

New Delhi clarified its position on the Saarc Summit hasn’t changed. Bhutan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India walked out of the last summit, saying the situation was “not conducive” for the meeting.

The external affairs ministry had then said “regional cooperation and terror don’t go together”, after a major terror attack on an Indian Army camp at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir on September 18, 2016.

Though Khan has called for resumption of dialogue, India would like to see progress by the neighbour in addressing the issue of terrorism, officials indicated.

They said a development such as Pakistan moving ahead with the prosecution of those behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks would be proof of its sincerity in addressing India’s concerns.

Bilateral relations were strained by the terror attacks by Pakistan-based groups in 2016 and India’s surgical strikes along the Line of Control. The death sentence given by a Pakistani military court to former Indian Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav for alleged espionage in April last year further hit ties.

In his letter, Khan also said the two countries need to pay “close attention” to resolving the Siachin and Sir Creek issues.

Modi had conveyed India’s commitment to build good neighbourly relations and pursue constructive and meaningful engagement last month, the day the cricketer-turned-politician was sworn in as Pakistan’s 22nd premier.

“If there is an opening, we must use it for at least an exchange of views. But I remain skeptical about the two sides initiating a formal dialogue at this stage,” former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh said. He added little has changed on the ground and Pakistan’s India policy, along with a few other issues, remain firmly under the control of the army.

First Published: Sep 20, 2018 23:58 IST