ISLAMABAD - A combination of efforts by Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif, Narendra Modi the United States has put Pakistan and India back on track for top-level dialogue to resolve the bilateral disputes.

Only a few weeks earlier, it was hard to imagine the two taking the table amid declining trust levels after the January 2 Pathankot airbase attack that India blamed on elements in Pakistan.

The Pathankot incident struck when the two nations were riding high on a surprise visit by Prime Minister Modi in late December that promised to open doors for dialogue at different levels.

However, Pakistan’s pledge to investigate the possibility of any non-state actors’ involvement in Pathankot backed by efforts on both the sides to build confidence and revive the talks. The recent meeting between the two countries’ top diplomats Sartaj Aziz and Sushma Sawraj was helpful to revive the talks.

The first step was to bring the foreign secretaries back on the talks table – months after the original schedule of January. The two sides are in contact to finalise a new date – possibly next month for the secretaries meeting.

During all this time, the National Security Advisors of the nuclear armed neighbours were in touch with each other and New Delhi wanted to see a “credible” action from Pakistan against Pathankot attackers, before the two sides could take a step forward. Pakistan investigators will be in India in the next few days to collect evidences on the Pathankot incident.

Pakistan has also invited PM Modi to participate in this year’s South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit and there were indications the Indian premier would attend the moot.

Reports said the US, Pakistan and India were “quietly exploring” the possibility of a meeting between Prime Ministers Sharif and Modi on the margins of a nuclear security summit in Washington next month.

Sharif and Modi have accepted US President Barack Obama’s invitation to attend the summit he is hosting on March 31 and April 1.

This will be the first time Sharif and Modi will be attending the nuclear security summit that Obama initiated in 2010. The summit is aimed at preventing terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons.

The first summit was held in Washington in April 2010. The second summit was organised in South Korea in 2012 and the third in The Hague in 2014.

Since this is Obama’s final year in office, the US administration is pushing hard for concrete results during the fourth summit. US officials have recently expressed concern at the proliferation of small nuclear weapons in South Asia.

Sharif and Modi last met in December, when the Indian leader made a surprise visit to Lahore to wish his Pakistani counterpart on his birthday while flying from Kabul to New Delhi.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Modi sent a message to PM Sharif greeting him on Pakistan Day to be celebrated today (Wednesday). In his message, Modi wished Pakistan, PM Sharif and the people of Pakistan well.

Importantly, he said, “I would like to reiterate India’s desire to build good neighbourly relations with Pakistan. India remains committed to resolving all outstanding issues with Pakistan through a peaceful bilateral dialogue in an atmosphere free from terrorism and violence”.

A senior government official told The Nation that the recent contacts have been very positive paving the way for dialogue between the two countries. “The process is on. We are back on talks to resolve bilateral issues. PM Modi’s visit would be an icing on the cake,” he said.

The official said the two sides were finalising the dates for foreign secretaries meeting and the Pakistan investigators were set to land in India in the coming days.

He said Pakistan, India and US were working together to find time for a bilateral meeting between Sharif and Modi on the sidelines on the nuclear summit.

“There have been positive signals and at this point we are very much optimistic about the meeting. This would set the stage for the foreign secretaries meeting,” he added.

Another official said Washington had been convincing both the countries to hold talks and avoid falling to the extremist elements who wanted confrontation.

“Better sense has prevailed. The two sides are now marching towards talks. The ties are much warmer and we hope it will stay this way. Pakistan has assured India it will not spare anyone guilty of involvement in Pathankot incident,” he said.

The official said even Washington had acknowledged Pakistan’s seriousness in investigating the Pathankot attack. “We have asked India to be realistic as Pakistan cannot punish anyone without evidence. If there is a conviction on the basis of the evidence, the convict will be punished no matter who he is,” he maintained.

Earlier, the United States welcomed efforts by Pakistan and India for reducing tension and resolving outstanding issues.

US State Department spokesperson John Kirby said the US government was looking forward to having Pakistan represented at the Nuclear Summit and to being able to continue to have meaningful dialogue about issues of nuclear security.

Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leader Senator Abdul Qayyum said peace was equally important for both Pakistan and India, so both should sincerely work for the maintenance of peace in the region.

He said non-state actors could be involved in the Pathankot incident and Pakistan was investigating the case.

Defence analyst Dr Mohammed Khan said Pakistan had always tried to maintain peace in the region seeking to resolve all disputes on the negotiations table.

“We (Pakistan and India) need to change our behaviour if we want to succeed in a positive way in the future. Blame game should end,” he remarked.

Meanwhile, yesterday, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi said Pakistan wanted peace in the region and has been active to achieve the goal.

In a meeting with outgoing ambassador of Nepal in Pakistan, Bharat Raj Paudyal, Fatemi highlighted Prime Minister Sharif's initiatives for regional peace and stability, and his strong commitment to maintaining cordial relations with all neighbouring countries.

He said Pakistan regarded Nepal as an important friend and a close regional partner.