Bishkek: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj (L) attends the meeting of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Council of Foreign Ministers, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Wednesday, May 22, 2019. (Twitter/PTI Photo)
Bishkek: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj (L) attends the meeting of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Council of Foreign Ministers, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Wednesday, May 22, 2019. (Twitter/PTI Photo)

Swaraj, Qureshi exchange pleasantries on sidelines of SCO meeting

  • This comes amid a serious strain in ties following a major uptick in tensions in recent months
  • The two merely 'exchanged pleasantries' with nothing substantial discussed

NEW DELHI: Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi were seen sitting next to each other and exchanging a few words on Wednesday on the sidelines of a regional meet in Bishkek.

This comes amid a serious strain in ties following a major uptick in tensions in recent months.

According to a person familiar with the developments, the two merely “exchanged pleasantries" with nothing substantial discussed.

But the interaction — seen in pictures put out by Pakistani media outlets — adds to speculation that the two countries could possibly be exploring opportunities to thaw ties strained badly by recent tensions.

"Today [I] met Sushma Ji. She had a complaint that we sometimes talk in a bitter manner. She brought sweets today so we could also speak sweetly," Qureshi was quoted as saying by the Foreign Office according to the Pakistani Dawn newspaper.

"We made it clear to her that we want all the matters resolved through dialogue, and that Prime Minister Imran Khan had said in his very first speech that if India takes one step forward, we would take two steps forward," Qureshi was quoted as saying.

India and Pakistan have fought three of their four wars since 1947 over Kashmir that Pakistan also claims in its entirety. India accuses Pakistan of fanning insurgency and terrorism in Kashmir — a charge Pakistan denies.

Tensions between the two countries have been running high since the 14 February suicide attack in Pulwama in Kashmir in which 40 Indian paramilitary personnel were killed. The attack was claimed by the Pakistan based Jaish e Mohammed terrorist group. India launched an air strike on Pakistan’s Balakot area in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on 26 February on what it said was a terrorist training camp. In retaliation Pakistan targeted Indian military installations in Kashmir on 27 February, a raid that Indian fighter jets successfully thwarted.

Talks between India and Pakistan have not been on since 2013. Since prime minister Narendra Modi took office in May 2014, there were several attempts to restart the dialogue process but with no success.

With exit polls predicting a decisive victory for Modi in the just concluded national polls, there has been speculation of a possible engagement process starting between the two countries. With Swaraj and Qureshi both being present at the regional Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s Council of Foreign Ministers’ meeting on Wednesday, it was speculated that the two may have a meeting that could possibly lead to engagement in the future.

The SCO foreign ministers’ meet in Bishkek is aimed at paving the way for an SCO leaders’ summit in June where the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers are expected to come face to face.

People familiar with the matter however said that the brief interaction that took place was not a meeting. They also clarified that Swaraj and Qureshi, seen seated next to each other in some pictures, were so seated for a formal interaction with the president of Kyrgyzstan.

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