Both Sartaj Aziz and Sushma Swaraj will be travelling to the picturesque Pokhara city of Nepal for the Saarc Council of Foreign Ministers’ meeting on March 16 and 17. Senior officials, including foreign secretaries of the two countries, will accompany them.
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Although a bilateral meeting in Nepal has not been confirmed as yet, diplomatic sources told The Express Tribune that the two neighbours were exploring the possibility of meetings between their foreign ministers and foreign secretaries.
The meetings, if held, will provide an opportunity to the two sides to discuss the much-delayed talks between the foreign secretaries, who were to meet in Islamabad in January. The key foreign secretary-level talks are meant to draw up a roadmap for a series of meetings between the two countries on a range of issues, including Kashmir, peace and security, Siachen, Sir Creek, water, and trade and commerce.
The two neighbours apparently hit a deadlock in resuming the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue after the Pathankot airbase attack that India claimed was carried out by militants from Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammad militant group.
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A senior Pakistani official, while speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Islamabad was ready to resume the dialogue at any time, and was also open to a meeting between Aziz and Swaraj in Nepal. “There is no proposal as of now for the meeting in Nepal but Pakistan will respond positively if India approaches us for this purpose,” he added.
India has already confirmed that its external affairs minister and the foreign secretary will participate in the Saarc ministerial meeting but did not say if any bilateral meeting with Pakistani delegates was planned.
Asked if Swaraj and Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar would meet their Pakistani counterparts, India’s external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said no schedule of bilateral meetings had been drawn up with Pakistan or any other country.
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However, official sources said the two countries were in touch with each other, and there was ‘every likelihood’ that meetings between foreign ministers and foreign secretaries will take place.
Sources said Aziz and Swaraj, if they meet, will discuss the possibility of an interaction between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi later this month in Washington. Nawaz and Modi are scheduled to travel to the United States to attend a nuclear security summit.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 14th, 2016.