Sartaj Aziz exchanges pleasantries with Narendra Modi, talks uncertain

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AMRITSAR: Pak Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz had an opportunity to shake hands with Narendra Modi amid the chill in bilateral ties when he along with few other Foreign Ministers of the Heart of Asia (HoA) process jointly called on the PM here late on Saturday night.

Aziz who was earlier scheduled to arrive on Sunday morning arrived here on Saturday evening to attend dinner organised on the eve of HoA.

Modi who was present for HoA dinner will jointly inaugurate HoA with the Afghan President on Sunday morning.

ET has learnt that Aziz is seeking a brief pull aside meet with Modi to break ice in ties less than a week after Nagrota attack and change of guard in Pak Army the key institution that decides Islamabad’s Pak policy.

The Ministers who jointly called on PM were the Foreign Ministers of Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Afghanistan, and Slovakia (which holds the European Union Presidency this month) and the Foreign Affairs Advisor to the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

During that meet Modi stressed it was the collective responsibility of all in the region to work together to help Afghanistan out of its current difficulties.
Pointing out that his several interactions with both the common people of Afghanistan and the country’s leadership had convinced him that the people of Afghanistan were tired of the continuing violence and terrorism, PM stressed the need to end terrorism and violence for fostering stability, security and development in Afghanistan and South Asian region.

In this context the PM hoped that discussions in the Ministerial Conference on Sunday will produce good results.

Agreeing with the PM on the need to end violence in Afghanistan the Ministers shared PMs view that Afghanistan’s stability, security and prosperity are integral to the region’s. “They greatly appreciated the continued commitment and engagement of India and its leadership for these ends. The Ministers warmly thanked India for hosting the Conference and expressed confidence that all friends of Afghanistan will work together for realising the aspirations for peace and development,” informed MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup.

While Pakistan earlier said that the ball is in India’s court for a dialogue on sidelines of the Heart of Asia (HoA) meet amid rising tensions along the Line of Control, India asserted it has not received any communication from Islamabad to hold stand-alone bilateral talks in Amritsar.

Aziz is leading the Pakistani delegation to the meeting of the HoA process that focuses on regional cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours for improving connectivity and tackling security challenges including cross border terror.

“Pakistan has not requested for any bilateral meeting so far,” Gopal Baglay, who heads the Ministry of External Affairs division dealing with Pakistan, told media in Delhi earlier this week. This was further elaborated by MEA Spokesperson Vikas Swarup when he said on Thursday, “India has always been open to talks but obviously it cannot be that talks take place in an atmosphere of continued terrorism. India will never accept continued terrorism as the new normal of the bilateral relationship.”
Swarup also said, “We are awaiting detailed information on the specifics of the Nagrota attack before we decide on the next steps. But I do wish to emphasise that the Government takes this incident very seriously and will do what it feels is required for our national security.” If Aziz meets Modi PM is expected to raise the recent terror attacks and violations of ceasefire along the Line of Control.
This was indicated when Swarup pointed out, “Pakistan is a country which has a long record of carrying out cross border terrorism which it regards as an instrument of state policy. This puts Pakistan at odds with the rest of the international community. Over the years, India has suffered many heinous terrorist attacks which have been supported and sponsored by Pakistan. This has been a calculated strategy on the part of Pakistan for many years…an imminent threat from Pakistan was successfully neutralized through the surgical strikes.”

The trip by Aziz would be the first high-level visit from Pakistan after the announcement of Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue in December last year, which never took off in the wake of terror strikes, including the Pathankot airbase attack, Kashmir crisis, Uri strikes and subsequent incidents along LoC leading to intense in bilateral tensions. The Nagrota terror strike has taken ties to a further low. Over the past few months India has also attempted to build narrative against Pak-sponsored terror globally both through bilateral and multilateral mechanisms.

Pushing for a dialogue Pakistan’s High Commissioner in India Abdul Basit recently told a news channel of Islamabad’s willingness to speak. The envoy, while participating in BBC Urdu’s ‘Facebook Live’ interaction on Wednesday, again said Pakistan was ready for unconditional resumption of dialogue.

Aziz sent a bouquet on Saturday evening to Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj wishing her a speedy recovery.