Backchannel talks with Pakistan likely

Sharif decides to come after consulting powerful military

May 24, 2014 11:07 pm | Updated November 17, 2021 01:01 am IST - NEW DELHI

Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will discuss setting up a secret diplomatic channel to manage any crisis that may erupt between the two nuclear-armed neighbours, official sources have told The Hindu .

The two leaders, who are scheduled to meet for the first time on Tuesday, will also discuss using back-channel diplomacy to address sensitive issues such as cross-border terrorism.

Islamabad announced on Saturday that Mr. Sharif would travel to New Delhi for the swearing-in of India’s new Prime Minister, in response to an unprecedented invitation from Mr. Modi to leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation states. It also announced the release of 150 fishermen, held after straying into Pakistani waters, as a goodwill gesture.

The Pakistani Prime Minister is also expected to invite Mr. Modi to visit Pakistan.

Mr. Sharif’s acceptance of the invitation followed two days of discussion with his aides, as well as Pakistan’s powerful military. Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister of Pakistan’s Punjab province and Mr. Sharif’s brother, also met with Pakistan’s military chief, General Raheel Sharif, to discuss the issue, an official source familiar with the talks said.

Friday’s attack on the Indian consulate in Herat in north-western Afghanistan strengthened Mr. Sharif’s belief that a personal meeting with Mr. Modi was important to pre-empt future terrorism-related crises, the source said.

Prime Minister Singh and President Pervez Musharraf had begun using secret diplomacy in 2005, using retired diplomats Satinder Lambah and Tariq Aziz to explore a resolution of the Kashmir dispute. The Hindu had first revealed that the two diplomats had come close to an agreement, but the mechanism fell into disuse after General Musharraf was swept out of power.

Kashmir off agenda

Kashmir is not expected to be addressed in Tuesday’s discussions.

( With additional reporting by Ahmed Ali Fayyaz )

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