More than six months after Foreign Secretary-level talks were cancelled, India and Pakistan picked up the threads on Tuesday and agreed to work together to “find common ground” and “narrow differences” as Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar met his Pakistan counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry in Islamabad.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reiterated his vision of “peace for development” when Jaishankar called on him, Pakistan envoy Abdul Basit tweeted on Tuesday night. Jaishankar also handed over a letter from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Sharif.
“Both the countries need to start a new chapter in their relationship by working towards resolving all outstanding issues through dialogue… we must think together, act together and move forward with the spirit of bringing the two nations closer to each other,” Sharif told Jaishankar, according to the Pakistan PMO statement.
Although Jaishankar was visiting Pakistan as part of his SAARC yatra, he raised the twin issues of cross-border terrorism, including the Mumbai terror trial, and violations along the Line of Control which have been on the bilateral agenda as part of the composite dialogue. The Pakistan side too raised the issues of Kashmir, the Samjhauta Express attack and the Indian involvement in Balochistan and FATA.
Despite the differences, this is the first clear signal that talks — cancelled in August 2014 — will resume in the coming months. The last Foreign Secretary-level talks were held two-and-a-half years ago, in September 2012, ahead of the Foreign Minister talks in Islamabad.
Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tasneem Aslam termed the meeting between the two Foreign Secretaries as an “ice-breaking development” while Jaishankar said the talks were “constructive and positive”.
After meeting Chaudhry over lunch at the Pakistan Foreign Ministry, Jaishankar said: “Naturally, my visit provided an opportunity to discuss our bilateral relations. We engaged on each other’s concerns and interests in an open manner. We agreed to work together to find common ground and narrow differences.”
The term to “find common ground and narrow differences” was used by Chaudhry as well. The Pakistan Foreign Secretary underlined that they needed to work together in areas of convergence and address each other’s concerns in areas of divergence. “The importance of maintaining dialogue was also stressed,” Chaudhry said in a statement.
“I reiterated our known concerns on cross-border terrorism, including on the Mumbai case,” said Jaishankar. Over the past six years, India has consistently conveyed its concern over the delay in the trial.
Noting that terrorism has afflicted the entire region, Sharif told Jaishankar that Pakistan is “waging a valiant struggle against all terrorists by dismantling their hideouts and network.”
“I underlined that Pakistan was desirous of cooperation from its neighbours… We also raised the issue of Samjhauta Express terrorist attack and Indian involvement in FATA and Balochistan,” said Chaudhry.
The two sides agreed to adhere to the 2003 ceasefire agreement. “We agreed that ensuring peace and tranquillity on the border was vital,” said Jaishankar.
“I underscored Pakistan’s firm commitment to the 2003 ceasefire, and the need to make optimal use of existing mechanisms to maintain ceasefire,” said Chaudhry.
“I told my Indian counterpart that the leadership and people of Pakistan were deeply attached to the cause of Jammu & Kashmir and we need to make a concerted effort to resolve this dispute and indeed other disputes like Siachen, Sir Creek and water issues that could also be addressed through dialogue,” he said.
“I conveyed the expectations of our leadership on SAARC and the determination to forge a cooperative relationship with all our neighbours… We discussed ideas and initiatives to take SAARC forward. Pakistan will be the next SAARC chair and India would like to work with Pakistan to help SAARC achieve its potential,” said Jaishankar. This is expected to pave the way for Modi’s visit to Pakistan for the SAARC summit in 2016.
On bilateral trade and economic relations, Chaudhry affirmed Pakistan’s commitment to enhancing “mutually beneficial” trade and economic relations. “I also underlined the importance of greater people-to-people contact and friendly exchanges in building a relationship of trust and friendship between the two countries. In this regard, I suggested that the two sides should encourage increased people-to-people exchanges, promote cooperation in various fields including religious tourism, and discourage hostile propaganda against each other. I also emphasised the need to promote media and sports contacts,” he said.
The Foreign Secretaries held an hour-long discussion before they broke off for Jaishankar to call on Pakistan Prime Minister’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz and PM’s Special Assistant Tariq Fatemi. They resumed their discussions over a working lunch which lasted for over an hour.
This was Jaishankar’s third stop on his SAARC yatra — he has already visited Thimphu and Dhaka. He will leave for Afghanistan on Wednesday to complete the first leg of the yatra aimed at firming up India’s ties with members of the grouping while reviewing regional and bilateral cooperation.
— With agency inputs from Islamabad