Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar had an almost 100-minute meeting Tuesday with visiting Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary but there was no indication that the two countries had been able to unlock the diplomatic deadlock and resume the comprehensive bilateral dialogue process.
The foreign secretaries met in Jaishankar’s South Block corner office where they raised “issues of concern”, sticking to stated positions and rhetoric. The bilateral took place on the sidelines of a meeting of senior officials of the Heart of Asia conference.
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Although there were expectations that they would discuss modalities to roll out the dialogue process, that did not happen because both sides hardened their positions.
While Pakistan raised Kashmir, R&AW’s alleged involvement in subversive activities in Balochistan, Kulbhushan Jadhav’s capture and “the environment being created in India” for release of the Samjhauta Express blasts accused, India strongly took up the issue of the attack on the Pathankot airbase, the delay in the Pakistani trial of the Mumbai 26/11 accused and Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar’s listing at the United Nations. New Delhi also rejected allegations of R&AW’s involvement inside Pakistan.
“The discussions were frank and constructive,” the Ministry Foreign Secys talk — Samjhauta, Jaish, R&AW of External Affairs said in a statement. An official, privy to the meeting, told The Indian Express that it was a “heated but candid” meeting.
The Indian Express spoke to Indian and Pakistan diplomats to get an account of the meeting, and the following sequence emerged.
At the start of the meeting, Chaudhary raised the Kashmir issue, calling it a “core issue” for Pakistan. He said Kashmir remains the core issue that requires a just solution, in accordance with Security Council resolutions and wishes of the Kashmiri people.
Sources said that Jaishankar did not waste time, and conveyed to Chaudhary that Pakistan “cannot be in denial on the impact of terrorism” on the bilateral relationship. “Terrorist groups, based in Pakistan, targeting India must not be allowed to operate with impunity,” he was quoted as having said.
Jaishankar stressed the need for “early and visible progress” on the Pathankot terror attack investigation as well as the Mumbai case trial in Pakistan. Sources said the Pakistan Foreign Secretary gave no clear commitment on the reciprocal visit by the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
At this point, Jaishankar brought up the listing of JeM leader Masood Azhar in the UN 1267 Sanctions Committee. Sources said that this was done after top Chinese functionaries in recent weeks told Indian counterparts — from the Foreign Minister, Defence Minister and NSA — to take it up with Pakistan.
Then, Chaudhary brought up the “capture of R&AW officer Kulbhushan Jadhav and expressed serious concern over R&AW’s involvement in subversive activities in Balochistan and Karachi”. According to the Pakistanis, Chaudhary told Jaishankar that “such acts undermine efforts to normalise relations between the two countries”.
Jaishankar, at this point, “firmly rebutted allegations of India’s involvement in Balochistan or other areas. In this context, sources said, “Jaishankar asked Chaudhary: Which spy agency would put their agent in the field with their own passport, and without a visa?”
Jaishankar pressed for “immediate consular access” to Kulbhushan Jadhav who, he said, was a former naval officer who had been abducted and taken to Pakistan. The Indian side cited the Vienna Convention on consular relations and the India-Pakistan agreement on consular arrangements to strengthen its case.
Bringing up the Samjhauta Express blasts, Chaudhary also conveyed concern over “the efforts by Indian authorities” for the release of the prime suspects. He was referring to recent reports on weakening of terror cases involving alleged Hindu extremists. He also said that despite repeated requests, India had not shared investigation reports in which 42 Pakistanis had lost their lives.
Officials said that with the better part of the meeting gone in reiteration of stated positions and putting the other side on the backfoot, the discussions then moved towards humanitarian issues including those pertaining to fishermen and prisoners, and people-to-people contacts including religious tourism.
Sources said there was hardly any “common ground” on the contentious issues. The Ministry of External Affairs said that the two foreign secretaries exchanged ideas on taking the relationship forward and agreed to “remain in touch”.
According to the Pakistan government, Chaudhary expressed confidence that the two countries, building on the goodwill generated by recent high-level contacts, would remain committed to a sustained, meaningful and comprehensive dialogue process.
“In this spirit, the Foreign Secretary underscored the need for early commencement of comprehensive dialogue for which the Indian Foreign Secretary’s visit to Pakistan is due,” the Pakistan Foreign ministry said.
Sources said that the fact that the Pakistan High Commission started putting out their rhetoric on Kashmir — barely 30 minutes into the conversation — showed that Islamabad was “desperate to control the narrative”.
After the meeting of the prime ministers in the Russian city of Ufa last year, when Kashmir was not mentioned in the joint statement, it had provoked a hostile reaction in Pakistan, forcing the Nawaz Sharif government to harden its position. “They did not want that to happen this time,” an Indian government source said.