When Prime Minister Narendra Modi had an animated discussion with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Summit in Paris last Monday, many wondered what they could have discussed.
In the absence of any official release about the talks, the media could only speculate about the contents.
On Sunday, the answer became clear to all and sundry. In an unusual turn of events, the National Security Advisors (NSAs) of the two countries – Ajit Doval and Lieutenant General Naseer Khan Janjua – met in Bangkok, away from media limelight.
This time, there was an official statement. “The discussions covered peace and security, terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir, and others, including tranquility over the Line of Control,” a Ministry of External Affairs statement said.
The statement said the two sides also agreed to carry forward constructive engagement.
What it signals is a possible meeting between external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and her Pakistani counterpart Sartaj Aziz.
Swaraj is set to visit Islamabad on Tuesday for the Afghanistan-related Heart of Asia ministerial conference. A meeting between the two ministers on the sidelines of the conference is highly possible now.
Any forward movement in these talks will also prepare the ground for Modi’s visit to Pakistan, the first one after Vajpayee’s in January 2004. Pakistan is hosting the SAARC summit next year.
Interestingly, the NSA-level Bangkok meeting coincided with the Track-II, 17th Chaophraya.
However, it seems none of them got any hint of the meeting, till the foreign offices of both countries put out a joint statement. The timing and the venue of the meeting were kept a secret, lest it gets derailed.
Last Monday’s meeting between Modi and Sharif in Paris was the first between the two leaders since they met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting in Ufa, Russia, in July this year.
They had then agreed on a meeting between the NSAs of the two countries and had also directed the foreign secretaries to renew talks.
However, talks between NSA Ajit Doval and his then Pakistani counterpart Sartaj Aziz, scheduled in New Delhi in August this year, were cancelled after the Pakistan high commission insisted on inviting Hurriyat leaders for a reception in honour of Aziz.
India also wanted to skip the word Kashmir and other bilateral issues and concentrate only on terrorism during the talks, which was unacceptable to Pakistan.
Last month, on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Valletta, Malta, Sharif had told British Premier David Cameron that Islamabad was ready for unconditional talks with New Delhi.
Though no country will acknowledge it, it seems the Paris meeting, which sparked hopes of a renewal of the dialogue process, was an outcome of nudging by big powers.
Senior journalists at the 17th Chaophraya Dialogue, who met under the aegis of Jinnah Institute (JI) and Australia-India Institute (AII), called upon both the governments to delink confidence-building measures from dialogue process, and called for encouraging cross-LoC interactions.
They expressed the hope that the two countries would meet soon to increase bilateral trade and economic cooperation, and urged Pakistan to give Non-Discriminatory Market Access status to India.