ISLAMABAD: In response to a proposal by Prime Minister Imran Khan to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, India on Thursday announced that the foreign ministers of the two nuclear-armed nations would meet on the sidelines of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly session in New York.
“Building on the mutual desire for peace between our two countries, I wish to propose a meeting between Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj before the informal meeting of the Saarc foreign ministers at the sidelines of the upcoming UN General Assembly in New York,” reads PM Khan’s letter to Mr Modi.
The communication from the Pakistani side was in response to the Indian premier’s letter to Mr Khan after he was sworn in as the country’s new chief executive last month.
PM Khan has sought resumption of dialogue between the two countries that were stalled in 2015.
In his letter to Modi, PM Khan says Islamabad ready to discuss terrorism
“Pakistan and India have an undeniably challenging relationship. We however, owe it to our peoples, especially the future generations, to peacefully resolve all outstanding issues, including the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, to bridge differences and achieve a mutually beneficial outcome. Siachen and Sir Creek also need close attention to move towards resolution,” Mr Khan said, adding that Pakistan remained ready to discuss terrorism but discussion on trade, people-to-people contacts, religious tourism and humanitarian issues was also important.
Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Muhammad Faisal in a Twitter posting said that Pakistan still awaited a formal response from India. “PM (Imran Khan) has responded to PM Modi, in a positive spirit, reciprocating his sentiments. Let’s talk and resolve all issues. We await formal response from India.”
But later in the day, a spokesman for India’s external affairs ministry, Raveesh Kumar, confirmed to reporters in New Delhi that “on the request of Pakistani side a meeting between [India’s] external affairs minister and Pakistani foreign minister will take place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly at a mutually convenient date and time”.
He said that PM Khan’s letter, which the Indian side received on Sept 17, was in response to Mr Modi’s communication to him.
It would be the first meeting between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan after Dec 2015.
In the letter, Mr Khan said that he endorsed Mr Modi’s sentiments that “the only way forward for our two countries lies in constructive engagement”.
He stated that it was in this spirit that Pakistan’s law and information minister attended the funeral of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in New Delhi.
He recognised that Mr Vajpayee contributed in trying to bring a positive change in bilateral relations between the two countries and was a major proponent of a strong Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) for building bridges and developing ties.
The PM noted that the two countries could explore the way forward, especially the holding of the Saarc Council of Ministers followed by the Saarc Summit in Islamabad. “The summit will offer an opportunity for you [Mr Modi] to visit Pakistan and for us to re-start the stalled dialogue process. I look forward to working with you for the benefit of both our countries,” Mr Khan said.
But on the question of dialogue, Mr Kumar told reporters in the Indian capital that the meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries “should not be confused with resumption of any dialogue”.
“This does not indicate any change in the policy as far as our stand on terrorism and cross-border terrorism is concerned,” he said. “I think at this stage we have just agreed to a meeting.”
In his victory speech following the July 25 general elections, Mr Khan had said that Pakistan would respond with two steps if India took one.
In July, PM Modi telephoned Mr Khan to congratulate him on his election victory. The most significant aspect of the conversation was said to be Mr Modi’s unambiguous willingness to improve his country’s ties with Pakistan.
“India desires progressive relations with Pakistan”, the Indian PM was quoted by the media cell of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf as telling Mr Khan. Both countries, Modi said, should evolve a joint strategy to develop and strengthen better ties.
On Aug 31, PM Khan said his government wanted to develop good relations with the neighbouring country.
The letter, dated Sept 14, is the first formal proposal by either side for a substantive engagement between the two countries since Mr Khan’s party won the elections and formed its government.
Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2018