NEW DELHI: India and Pakistan foreign secretaries will meet in January to thrash out the calendar and other modalities for the renewed and renamed ‘comprehensive bilateral dialogue’ announced in Islamabad.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had announced on Thursday evening, after a long meeting with her Pakistan counterpart Sartaj Aziz — which brought to an end 18 months of deep freeze on relations — that the foreign secretaries will meet ‘soon’ to discuss the schedule. However, she did not give more details as Parliament was in session. She is scheduled to make a statement in the Lok Sabha on Friday.
As per official sources, Foreign Secretary Jaishankar and his Pakistan counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary will meet in January when they will also decide on the interlocutors for the 12 tracks identified under the dialogue.
It will be their third meeting in two months, as both of them not only met in Islamabad, but also attended the four-hour-long discussion between the National Security Advisors in Bangkok. It is learnt that the reason for the Swaraj-Aziz meeting dragging on beyond its time limit to 105 minutes was due to negotiations over the joint statement. Usually, joint statements are drafted much earlier before a bilateral event, but in India and Pakistan relations, the exception is usually the norm.
Talks on the joint statement began only over the dinner hosted by Aziz for the Heart of Asia Conference delegates on Tuesday evening - a few hours after Swaraj landed in Islamabad. Despite being only 180 words long, each word and sentence of the statement was debated by both sides at the meeting between the foreign ministers, particularly on terror and 26/11.
The final document’s second paragraph is related entirely to terrorism. The Indian side had pointed to the Pakistanis that a “strong” statement on terrorism was essential, as domestic public opinion would not accept any less as an outcome. After the inclusion of the sentence that both sides condemned terrorism and that the NSAs’ meeting in Bangkok was successful, the Indian delegation pressed for an assurance on the 26/11 trial. “The Indian side was assured of the steps being taken to expedite the early conclusion of the Mumbai trial,” said the joint statement. Officials said that only after India got the assurance on terrorism, that it went ahead with the dialogue process - which is reflected in the phrasing of the next sentence. “The next line says - ‘both sides, accordingly, agreed to a Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue…’ The word ‘accordingly’ has been specifically put in to provide the link to the earlier paragraph on terror,” said an official.
Indian officials gave a lot of credit to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s personal role in ensuring that roadblocks are cleared for the Dialogue. They pointed out that Sharif had been in a very expansive mood during the one-hour meeting, when Swaraj called on him on Thursday. “He was very chatty,” said an official.