Deadlock in India-Pakistan ties partly ends: Aziz

“The deadlock in India-Pakistan ties has ended to some extent,” Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz was quoted as saying in Islamabad on Monday, adding that he “looked forward” to his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj’s visit.

The Ministry of External Affairs made no comment on the expectations from the Minister’s first visit to Pakistan.

However, the fact that it comes just days after the meeting between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif in Paris, and the four-hour talks between NSAs and Foreign Secretaries, means the groundwork would have been laid on discussing the way forward in the dialogue.

“The least one would hope for is an agreement on how to proceed in a structure for talks,” former diplomat Aziz Ahmad Khan told The Hindu . “In Pakistan we understand that India no longer wants the composite dialogue, but we hope they will suggest an alternative.”

Other discussions that could be held would be on enhancing trade ties and liberalising the visa regime, sources in Islamabad told this correspondent.

In New Delhi, however, the government faced a barrage of criticism for reviving the dialogue process that caught many even within the government by surprise.

While BJP leader Yashwant Sinha was particularly critical, ally Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut demanded the government’s reason for shifting its position on talks, adding that “the nation awaits an answer as well.”

Raising the issue in Parliament, Congress leader Anand Sharma called for an explanation for the “fundamental departure from the position” the government had articulated in the monsoon session. The government has committed to a full reply from Ms. Swaraj after her return from Pakistan on December 10.

In a joint press release issued in Bangkok on Sunday, NSAs Ajit Doval and Lt. Gen (Retd) Nasir Janjua had said they had “agreed to carry forward the constructive engagement,” and “were guided by the vision of the two leaders for a peaceful, stable and prosperous South Asia.”

According to the release, the two sides had spoken about “peace and security, terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir, and other issues, including tranquillity along the LoC.”

The reference to Jammu and Kashmir marked a departure from the government’s earlier position when NSA talks scheduled in August 2015 were cancelled, where Ms. Swaraj had made it clear that “terrorism and only terrorism” could be discussed by the NSAs, and was seen as a concession to Pakistan in exchange for holding the talks in a third country to avoid Pakistan’s policy on meeting Hurriyat leaders.

Ms. Swaraj’s visit to Pakistan comes at the end of a year that has seen many stops and starts in bilateral relationship, marred by a significant increase in cross-LoC firing, and a number of terror attacks that India had traced to Pakistan.

It also saw a visit by Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar to Islamabad for the ‘SAARC yatra’, and the joint statement that arose from the PM’s Ufa meeting in July. However, after the last-minute cancellation of the NSA talks in August, relations came to a standstill, and the PMs didn’t meet despite being in New York at the same time in September.

Addressing a think tank last week, a senior Indian official said, “In this environment, we see the Pakistan invitation for the Heart of Asia conference as an opportunity to take the situation forward.”

Next year is likely to see more opportunities for high-level engagements, as India will host the Heart of Asia conference in New Delhi, and Pakistan will host the SAARC summit in Islamabad.