Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has written to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi seeking resumption of dialogue between the two countries, Times of India reported. More specifically, and significantly, Khan has sought a meeting between Sushma Swaraj and Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the Indian and Pakistan foreign minister respectively, on the sidelines of UNGA in New York later this month.
Khan’s letter was in response to Modi’s own communication to him seeking a “meaningful and constructive” engagement between the 2 countries. This was after Khan said in his victory speech that Pakistan would respond with two steps to any step taken by India for normalization of ties.
There has been intense speculation in the past few weeks on whether or not Swaraj and Qureshi were going to meet at UNGA. Khan’s letter is also the first formal proposal by either side for a substantive engagement between India and Pakistan since government formation in Pakistan last month.
In his letter, diplomatic sources said, Khan has called for resumption of the comprehensive bilateral dialogue process which was launched in December 2015 but which couldn’t take off because of the Pathankot airbase attack. In that context, Khan said India and Pakistan should look at resolving all major outstanding issues, including terrorism and Kashmir, through dialogue.
It was in December 2015, when Swaraj travelled to Islamabad for a Heart of Asia conference, that India had its last substantive engagement with Pakistan.
The joint statement issued then said that foreign secretaries should work out the modalities and schedule of the meetings under the comprehensive dialogue on issues including “Peace and Security, CBMs, Jammu & Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project, Economic and Commercial Cooperation, Counter-Terrorism, Narcotics Control, Humanitarian Issues, People to People exchanges and religious tourism”.
Khan’s letter also comes in the middle of disillusionment which had started to set in India in the past few weeks with the Pakistan government. Several ministers have gone on record saying that they didn’t expect things to change under Khan, not least because of his links with the Pakistan army.
This was made manifest most in the controversy over the announcement by Pakistan that it will allow Indian Sikh pilgrims to visit Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara. Islamabad though never communicated the same officially to Indian authorities leading to the perception here that the new government’s outreach to India was limited to speeches and media statements.
After he received Modi’s letter last month, Khan had tweeted that “To move forward Pakistan and India must dialogue and resolve their conflicts incl Kashmir”.
The best way to alleviate poverty and uplift the people of the subcontinent, he had said, was to resolve differences through dialogue “and start trading”. A couple of days later, he had again reached out to India by offering assistance for Kerala flood victims.