New Delhi: The brief and informal meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif seems to have led to a thaw in bilateral relations.

India government officials on Wednesday sounded positive about sending a high-level government representative to Islamabad on 9 December to attend the fifth Heart of Asia regional conference on Afghanistan.

Modi and Sharif had met on Monday on the sidelines of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris. The two leaders shook hands and sat down for a brief conversation without their aides.

India had already officially accepted Pakistan’s invite for the conference but was yet to decide on the level of representation.

People familiar with the development said on Wednesday that foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, her deputy and junior minister V.K. Singh or foreign secretary S. Jaishankar would visit Islamabad. However, many new reports said India could send Swaraj.

The Heart of Asia series of conferences started in 2011 and are aimed at bringing together regional countries to promote peace and prosperity in Afghanistan. The participating countries include Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan.

A bilateral meeting between Swaraj or Jaishankar with their Pakistani counterparts will afford Pakistan the opportunity to convey to its people that it has been able to discuss the Kashmir dispute with India, which was seemingly not given primacy in a press statement released in the Russian city of Ufa at the end of a Modi-Sharif meeting in July.

The Ufa agreement reached on 10 July had laid out a three-tier dialogue—between the national security advisors (NSAs) of India and Pakistan on terrorism, between the border security chiefs and the director generals of military operations. The later two meetings were to ensure that a 2003 ceasefire agreement between the two nations holds given the many violations in the last two years.

The NSA-level talks were called off after India conveyed to Pakistan that New Delhi would not allow Pakistan’s then NSA Sartaj Aziz to meet Kashmiri separatists leaders in New Delhi ahead of his meeting with his Indian counterpart.

Pakistan’s insistence on meeting Kashmiri separatists followed an intensely negative domestic response to the Ufa agreement that did not mention any immediate discussions on Kashmir that Pakistan considers the core dispute with India.

But India had then left a door open with Swaraj saying that “Dialogue processes will start and stop and start and stop... I had said once before that in diplomacy, there are no full stops."

According to analysts, should Swaraj visit Pakistan and have a bilateral conversation, it need not be read as India backing away from its position of talking terrorism and peace on the border first.

“It need not be seen as a climb-down, it can be taken as the Indian government reviewing its position," said C. Uday Bhaskar, director at the Society for Policy Studies, a think tank in New Delhi.

Following the talks between the two prime ministers in Paris and news reports last week quoting Sharif as saying that Pakistan was ready for unconditional talks with India, “the situation seems more conducive for a resumption of the disrupted dialogue," Bhaskar said.

But he doubted whether Pakistan’s policies with respect to India would change. “Nawaz Sharif does not seem to be the more relevant Sharif in India-Pakistan relations in being able to deliver on issues of prime concern to India," Bhaskar said, referring to Pakistan’s powerful army chief Raheel Sharif.

Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal agreed. “I think this is a tactical move by the Indian government to show that we are making efforts to engage Pakistan," Sibal said. “Strategically, Pakistan will not yield on its position and India cannot cede to Pakistan’s demands."

Close