ISLAMABAD  -  There is no confirmation yet about a bilateral meeting between Pakistan and Indian foreign ministers on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly this month, officials said.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry told The Nation that efforts were underway for holding the meeting between Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj on the sidelines of the UNGA but there had been no decision so far.

One official said the two countries agreed that a bilateral meeting in New York would be beneficial for both the sides but it was yet to be finalised. “There is a desire from both the sides. We are working on it. We hope it will take place but both the countries need to agree first,” he added.

Prime Minister Imran Khan is expected to skip the UNGA session to focus his attention on the country’s economy. Qureshi will head the Pakistani delegation at 73rd UNGA session set to open on September 18. “No, the prime minister is not going. I will lead Pakistani delegation,” Qureshi had recently said.

There was a debate in Pakistan whether the new prime minister would attend the UN session or stay home as part of his austerity drive and focus on economic issues. “The prime minister thinks that the present situation in country needs attention,” FM Qureshi said.

About the Qureshi-Swaraj meeting, Foreign office spokesperson Dr Mohammed Faisal said: “In the wake of recent overtures by both Pakistan and India to lessen the ever-widening gulf between the two neighbours, some future steps are under consideration.” He said the Informal Session of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Council of Ministers take place every year on the sidelines of the UNGA Session in New York. “So, this year too, the Informal Session will be held,” he added. Faisal said the Kartarpura Corridor can be one of the moves to improve Pak-India ties, however, it cannot be considered in isolation.

He said Pakistan-India relations were a complex conundrum. “There are no easy solutions to the difficult problems facing both the countries.  Any move for peace will definitely ensure tranquility on the Line of Control and the Worming Boundary and resolution of all outstanding issues, including the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.  The road would be difficult, but I can assure you that we, both India and Pakistan, have to take this journey,” the spokesperson said.

Pak-India ties turned frosty after the Pathankot attack in January, 2016 and another strike by the Kashmiri freedom fighters on an army camp in held Kashmir’s Uri area in September that year.

The nuclear armed neighbours have fought three wars since gaining independence from the British in 1947. The two also regularly trade allegations of harassment and espionage against diplomats. Reports said the cross-border clashes between nuclear-armed Pakistan and India had reached the highest levels in 15 years. Hundreds of people have been killed or wounded in the clashes instigated by India.

The Line of Control and the Working Boundary had remained relatively peaceful after the 2003 ceasefire agreement but India violated the deal numerous times in the recent months, prompting response from Pakistan. Islamabad claims 1,970 violations in 2017 against 168 two years earlier, and 415 until the beginning of March 2018. 

Lately, Pakistan is active to de-escalate tension with India as Islamabad plans to host a group of Indian doctors to treat Indian prisoners detained here. India had proposed that a group of 20 doctors be allowed a visit to Pakistan to examine women, children, elderly and mentally-unsound prisoners. The two countries have already agreed for the release of these prisoners.

Last month, India accused Pakistan of inciting the Sikh community to intensify the ‘Khalistan’ campaign. The foreign ministry categorically rejected the Indian allegations. This month, Pakistan held talks with the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia and China as their top diplomats and cabinet members visited Islamabad.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi completed his visit on September 9. During his visit, Wang Yi held delegation level talks with Foreign Minister Qureshi. He also called on President Arif Ali, Prime Minister Imran Khan, Speaker National Assembly Asad Qaiser and Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa.

State Councillor Wang Yi was a special guest at the oath-taking ceremony of President Alvi and was the first foreign dignitary to call on him after his inauguration on the same day- September 9. The two sides had in-depth exchange of views on all issues of mutual interest. The visit provided an opportunity to the two sides to reaffirm their “all-weather strategic cooperative partnership,” the foreign ministry said.

During the meetings, Pakistani leadership conveyed that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor was a national priority for the Government. Pakistan remains committed to the successful implementation of CPEC. There was complete consensus on the future trajectory of CPEC between Pakistan and China, said the ministry.

The two sides agreed to work together towards implementation of the ongoing projects and agreed to expand CPEC to new areas of cooperation including socio-economic development; poverty alleviation, anti-corruption, agricultural cooperation and industrial development as per the needs and priorities of the government of Pakistan. “The visit had a special significance as it came right after the installation of new government and on the day of the oath-taking ceremony of the new President. From the substantive point of view it helped in further strengthening the strategic cooperative partnership between the two countries,” the statement said.

 

 

SHAFQAT ALI