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WASHINGTON: Foreign Ministers of Pakistan and India may meet in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly’s (UNGA) annual meeting next month, diplomatic sources in the US capital said.

“Such a meeting is possible but no decision yet,” said a senior Pakistani diplomat when asked if Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Sushma Swaraj were meeting in New York next month. Both are attending the 73rd UNGA which opens on Sept 18.

The first report of a possible meeting between the two foreign ministers came from India days after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote to Prime Minister Imran Khan, congratulating him on his swearing-in.

The Pakistanis are reluctant to confirm their agenda for the 73rd UNGA also because it is still undecided who will represent the country at the world body.

India has already announced that it is sending Ms Swaraj as Mr Modi cannot leave the country in the middle of an election campaign.

Islamabad had indicated last week that PM Khan may also skip the UNGA as part of his efforts to cut down government expenses.

But since then a number of senior Pakistani diplomats and political commentators have urged Mr Khan to reconsider his decision.

They argued that representing Pakistan at a forum like the UNGA was not a waste of funds, particularly when there’s a new government in Islamabad and the international community wanted to know its views on key issues like Kashmir and Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials, however, feel that the prime minister’s presence in New York will add a new dimension to an India-Pakistan meeting, even though he will not participate in minister-level talks.

Diplomatic sources in Washington argue that Islamabad would also like to see how productive this meeting could be, particularly because India has already said that it’s not ready to resume bilateral or formal talks with Pakistan.

They point out this week India strongly rejected a suggestion that in his letter to Mr Khan, the Indian prime minister had expressed interest in resuming talks.

The Indian reaction forced Islamabad to clarify that the suggestion was a media interpretation of the letter and Foreign Minister Qureshi, in his comments on Mr Modi’s letter, never said that “the Indian Prime Minister had made an offer of a dialogue”.

Since then, reports in the Indian media have suggested that while New Delhi had ruled out formal talks, it “does not preclude interactions with Pakistan leaders at multilateral events”.

“For the Modi government, UNGA offers a great opportunity to break the ice with the new government in Pakistan before it seriously considers moving on to more substantive engagement,” The Times of India newspaper reported.

The Indian media noted that the new Pakistani prime minister also expressed his willingness on to re-start the stalled India-Pakistan peace process, stressing that the two countries must engage in dialogue to resolve their differences, including on the Kashmir issue, and start trading.

Last week, a key US official said that the United States welcomes Mr Khan’s statement emphasising the importance of peace on both sides of Pakistan’s borders. “We welcome the words of Prime Minister Imran Khan in which he discussed the importance of peace on both sides of Pakistan’s borders,” said Alice Wells, who heads the Bureau for South and Central Asian affairs at the State Department.

Published in Dawn, August 27th, 2018