Pakistan-India talks: premiers may meet next month

* Official says Modi government’s efforts to narrow focus of comprehensive framework for dialogue will be resisted

ISLAMABAD: The prime ministers of Pakistan and India are likely to meet on the sidelines of general debate of the 69th session of the UN General Assembly in September despite heightened rhetoric from New Delhi and cancellation of secretary-level talks scheduled for August 25, source say. 
Back-to-back provocative statements and heightened tensions along the Line of Control and the Working Boundary have so far failed to dampen Islamabad’s desire to continue engagement with the Modi government. “Unfortunately, the September meeting of the premiers will be in a tense atmosphere with the possible rescheduling of secretary level talks,” said an official, who was other less hopeful of any significant breakthroughs in bilateral talks.
However, some key officials are doubtful about the summit-level interaction on UNGA sidelines. The officials believe that it is too early to talk about any summit at this stage while the prospects do exist and efforts to realise them afoot. India has routinely been adopting tough posture ahead of any bilateral diplomatic engagement. Delhi has suspended the composite dialogue process last year after tensions soared on the Line of Control in Kashmir.
“The New York meeting will also be another ‘outside’ the composite dialogue event, only to talk about talks that have remained fruitless so far,” said a source privy to Track-II diplomatic efforts.
Hurriedly planned visit of Nawaz Sharif to Delhi in May for Modi’s oath-taking ceremony could not result in resumption of the ‘composite’ dialogue. While Pakistan has insisted on resolving outstanding disputes, India’s thrust has been on aspects like terrorism and trade.
A senior official told Daily Times, “Any effort by the Modi government to narrow the focus of the comprehensive framework for the dialogue and normalisation will be resisted. Pakistan won’t let the shape of composite dialogue process to be changed.”
Under pressure from the West, Pakistan had hinted at reviewing ‘architecture’ of the composite dialogue in 2011. The Modi government aims to abandon the composite dialogue process and hold talks with Pakistan with lesser issues on agenda.
Pakistan has already compromised its position on trade with by de-linking it with the resolution of Jammu and Kashmir dispute. However, Islamabad has so far managed to delay the Most-Favoured Nation status, which provides her with non-discriminatory market. Though friendly with India on trade liberation, the PMLN understands that the Punjab’s agriculture sector will be adversely affected by the removal of non-tariff barriers. Monitoring of the Indian media highlights that the Modi government is not as keen on trade with Pakistan as its predecessors were. Rather, Nawaz Sharif has high expectations from India on the trade front.
The last meeting between Nawaz and Modi was a little more than a photo-op. However, that meeting could not get the breakthrough on resumption of dialogue.
Nawaz and his team were accused of not articulating and reflecting Pakistan’s priorities his sole public statement. Indian foreign secretary Sujatha Singh’s press coup rather put the Pakistani delegation on the defensive. However, there was no countering of her accusations.
To keep the environment ‘friendly and cordial’, Nawaz did not mention Kashmir even once after failing to raise it in delegation level talks.
What Sartaj Aziz called a ‘ceremonial trip’ was conducted in such defensive posture that the All Parties Hurriyat Conference leadership was left in the cold without a meeting.
However, recent meetings of Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit with top Kashmiri leaders has removed the mistrust and misgiving while annoying the Modi government which has little interest in the composite dialogue due to inclusion of the Kashmiri dispute as a key point.

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