Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Lahore and talks with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif put a seal on a series of engagements that will begin with a meeting between Foreign Secretaries S. Jaishankar and Aizaz Chaudhury likely around January 15-17 in Islamabad.
While many of the discussions on the meeting that will start the new comprehensive dialogue have been going back and forth between Islamabad and New Delhi for two weeks now, the Prime Ministers gave the green signal for the talks to be held at the earliest.
India’s High Commissioner-designate Gautam Bhambawale, whose ‘agrement’ had been held up by Pakistan for two months will now take up the Islamabad assignment on January 12, only a couple of days before the Foreign Secretary arrives.
Striking a cautious note ahead of the talks, Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz, who had confirmed that the talks between the Foreign Secretaries would be held in “mid-January,” said expectations should be kept realistic, according to the official Radio Pakistan .
“Initially, the focus [of the talks] would be the reduction of tension and maintenance of calm on the Line of Control to provide relief to people living across the LoC,” Mr. Aziz said, adding that all issues would be discussed as the dialogue progressed.
During their meeting, the Foreign Secretaries will take up the issues of the comprehensive dialogue under their purview, like peace and security and Jammu and Kashmir.
Red lines around Hurriyat meetings relaxed
Foreign Secretaries S. Jaishankar and Aizaz Chaudhury who are likely to meet around January 15-17 in Islamabad will work out a schedule for the Home Secretaries, Commerce Secretaries, Culture and Tourism Secretaries to discuss issues such as 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.
They will also discuss the possible dates for talks between National Security Advisers Ajit Doval and Gen. (retd.) Janjua who will focus on terrorism. The NSA talks are likely to be held in Delhi, as that was the venue when they were cancelled in August 2015. In addition, pending talks between the Directors-General of Military Operations may be scheduled.
With the push from Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif after they met in Paris on November 30, several issues seem to have been ironed out. India has accepted Pakistan’s desire that the talks be held in Islamabad, as technically, the last official bilateral Foreign Secretary talks that were called off by India in August 2014 were to have been held there.
Officials say the ‘red lines’ around the Hurriyat meetings with Pakistani officials have also been relaxed, and High Commissioner in Delhi Abdul Basit has met the Hurriyat leadership, albeit quietly, around the talks between India and Pakistan in the past month. “There are many ways around the spectacle that we saw on those occasions,” a senior Indian official confirmed to The Hindu , adding that it was possible to have the Hurriyat leadership meet visiting Pakistani dignitaries as they did prior to 2014, but only after the bilateral talks were held.
Hurriyat chairperson Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, who would not confirm any meeting but is expected to see Mr. Basit in the next few weeks, said it was time to change “the perception that meeting the Hurriyat is a hostile act.” Welcoming Mr. Modi’s visit to Pakistan, Mr. Farooq said: “Hurriyat has never claimed to be a third party. We have never said we want to be on the same table with them. But some mechanism must be found to bring our concerns on board.”
In February, New Delhi will also receive the Chief Minister of Pakistani Punjab and Mr. Sharif’s brother Shahbaz Sharif. Mr. Sharif is expected to come to Delhi to attend the Urs or events around the death anniversary of Nizamuddin Aulia, but will most certainly meet Mr. Modi, with whom he chatted during the Lahore visit, and other officials. If ties between India and Pakistan get a fillip, it is Punjab, as the crossover point for bilateral trade, that will benefit the most.
At the end of March, Mr. Modi and Mr. Sharif are expected to be in U.S. for the nuclear security summit to be hosted by President Barack Obama, and a pull-aside is “more than likely,” an official said.