ISLAMABAD, Aug 16: The Foreign Office on Friday all but hinted that a meeting between prime ministers of India and Pakistan on sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session next month could be in doubt following renewed bilateral strains over the Line of Control.

“Should that meeting (between the two prime ministers in New York) take place … it would be a useful opportunity to engage in a constructive dialogue to discuss steps to further build trust and consolidate this relationship,” Foreign Office spokesman Aizaz Chaudhry said at the weekly media briefing.

Escalation in tensions between the two countries after the August 6 ambush on an Indian patrol and subsequent violations of the 2003 LoC ceasefire accord by Indian forces has left the expected meeting between the two leaders, the first since the new government in Pakistan assumed office, in jeopardy.

Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid had earlier indicated that resumption of secretary-level talks could be on hold till calm returned to the LoC. The talks between officials were expected to restart this month after having been previously postponed because of similar incidents on the LoC in January.

Islamabad has, in the meantime, deferred the matter of granting most-favoured nation (MFN) trading status to India till the dialogue resumes.

Mr Chaudhry, responding to a question about the MFN, said: “As soon as the dialogue resumes, all these issues will be discussed in order to move towards a normal trading relationship between the two countries.”

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has already called for de-escalation on the LoC to stop the tense ties from deteriorating further.

Underscoring the importance of the two neighbours engaging in dialogue, the FO spokesman said: “We believe that through constructive engagement and uninterrupted dialogue tensions can be reduced and relations improved.”

A peaceful neighbourhood, Mr Chaudhry added, would enable Pakistan to focus on welfare of its people. In the meantime, Pakistan’s calls for end to skirmishes along the LoC have so far gone unheeded. In latest incidents, Indian troops shelled Pakistani positions in Kotli and Battal sectors on Friday.

The Pakistan Army says Indians had committed 34 violations since Aug 6, firing hundreds of mortar rounds on posts and populated areas and killing at least two civilians. Moreover, four soldiers have been hurt in the attacks.

Parrying a question about the role being played by politicians for defusing the situation, spokesman Chaudhry said all diplomatic and military channels were being employed.

“Pakistan will continue to pursue a policy of restraint and responsibility and we will also continue to pursue the policy of talks and dialogue to address all issues of mutual interest,” he said.

He rejected media reports that Pakistan-based militants were returning to India-held Kashmir to rekindle the insurgency there and said the country, being itself a victim of terrorism and an ally in international fight against terror, would not allow terrorists to use its soil against any other country.


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