NEW DELHI: Diplomats are working hard to make it possible for Indian and Pakistani prime ministers to end their aloofness so as to be able to meet in Kathmandu this month during the 18th Saarc summit, diplomatic sources said on Wednesday.

“A useful opportunity is coming up in Kathmandu. It would be unfortunate if we cannot get the two leaders to sit together,” a source close to the quiet negotiations said on condition of anonymity.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif are scheduled to participate in the eight-nation November 25-27 summit, but both sides have fought shy of going public with the “first request” not the least because India is thought to have set stiff conditions.

Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, when he was wearing the defence minister’s hat, said a week ago that New Delhi wanted to talk to Pakistan but only if Islamabad first gave up its parallel dialogue with Kashmir’s Hurriyat leaders and reined in the military along the border in Kashmir.

Pakistani sources say Islamabad could consider ways to stay in touch with Hurriyat without offending India. Pakistan is also prepared to restrain its border guards from getting into a spiral of tit-for-tat responses in order to calm down what has been a tense standoff over several weeks.

“Do they want to speak to the government of India or they want to speak to those who want to break India?” Mr Jaitley’s reference to the Hurriyat last week echoed the Chinese formulation on the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s India-based spiritual leader, who Beijing describes as a “splitist”.

Mr Jaitley stuck to India’s tough line on talks between the Hurriyat and Pakistan when he said Pakistan must make a “conscious” choice for peace. India, he said, was “ready to speak to Pakistan” and is “willing to normalise the relationship” but “then there are a few red lines”, he said to a group of Indian and international investors at the India Economic Summit in Delhi.

Mr Jaitley’s comments came days after India officially denied any plans for a meeting between Mr Modi and Mr Sharif during the Saarc summit in Kathmandu.

External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin, in answer to a query at a briefing, was quoted as saying there was “no such proposal at hand” and that the issue of a meeting in Kathmandu was not under discussion.

He added that no request had been received from Pakistan for such a meeting and that “there is no request that we intend to give”.

“That is where we are,” he said, adding that there was still a month before the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit in Kathmandu where the heads of the eight member states would be present.

It was in Kathmandu during a previous Saarc summit that then military ruler Pervez Musharraf took Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee by surprise by walking up to a sulking Indian leader to shake hands with him amid loud applause from the other leaders.

Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2014

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