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September 21, 2018

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PM’s letter to Modi seeks talks resumed, ties improved

ISLAMABAD: In a long awaited ice breaker, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj will meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York later in September, spokesman at Indian Ministry of External Affairs said.

The agreement from New Delhi which came after a request by Prime Minister Imran Khan in a letter to his Indian counterpart has been met with complete silence from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The PTI government has stressed that India and Pakistan need a continued and uninterrupted dialogue, which is the only way forward.

“I can confirm that on the request of the Pakistani side, a meeting between Indian minister for external Affairs and Pakistani foreign minister will take place on the sidelines of UNGA at a mutually convenient date and time,” said Indian Ministry for External Affairs Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar adding that this was not a resumption of a dialogue nor talks but just a meeting for which the agenda is still being worked out.

“I must differentiate between meeting and a dialogue,” said the Indian official. “This is a meeting and not a dialogue. This is a meeting which we have agreed to, based on a request which we have got from the Pakistani side.”

While there are no dates for Qureshi’s visit, Swaraj will leave for New York on September 24, and both the foreign ministers will also meet the SAARC foreign ministers lunch on September 27.

There is no indication as yet whether Qureshi will host a reception for foreign ministers attending UNGA which in the past saw an Indian foreign minister attending one hosted by his Pakistani counterpart.

Earlier on Wednesday when questioned about a possible meeting, spokesman at the Foreign Office had said, “No decision has yet been taken on it. We are engaged in the matter,” he said. The breakthrough announced by New Delhi came immediately after it had made public a letter from Prime Minister Imran Khan to his Indian counterpart with the Foreign Office refusing to comment till hundreds of Tweets awoke it from its slumber, with the spokesman in a vague manner without mentioning Khan’s letter said in a Tweet, “PM has responded to PM Modi, in a positive spirit, reciprocating his sentiments. Let’s talk and resolve all issues. We await formal response from India.”

If Delhi had not made public Khan’s letter no one in Pakistan would have been aware.

“The letter we have received (from Khan) was a response to that letter which was handed over to us by Pakistan's High Commissioner to India on Sept 17. Another letter was handed over from Pakistani FM to our external affairs minister, basically reiterating the PM of Pakistan's proposal for a meeting between the external affairs minister and the Pakistani FM”, Indian spokesman said.

Khan’s letter to Modi was in response to the one earlier received in which Modi had sent his felicitations on Khan’s victory at the hustling and taking the prime minister’s office. “India is looking for constructive and meaningful engagement,” Modi wrote in August.

Khan has now in his letter asked for peace talks by calling for the resumption of the comprehensive dialogue process between the two countries. Khan wrote that India and Pakistan should resolve all outstanding issues, including terrorism and Kashmir, through dialogue.

Qureshi too after taking office had said that talking peace was the only option.

“We need to stop the adventurism and come together. We know the issues are tough and will not be solved overnight, but we have to engage. We cannot turn our cheeks. Yes, we have outstanding issues. Kashmir is a reality; it is an issue that both our nations acknowledge”, he had said.

Even before he took office Khan had reached out to India saying that he wanted to improve relations with India, if their leadership also wants it.”

“If they take one step towards us, we will take two, but we at least need a start,” he had said.

This was followed by a phone call from Modi in which he appeared inclined to engage, by being, “ready to enter into a new era of relations with Pakistan”.

He did not repeat the mantra of talks only if there was no terrorism and militancy from Pakistan.

Khan also used the social media after the controversy over inviting an old cricketer friend Navjot Singh Sidhu for his oath-taking ceremony where Sidhu raised eyebrows by hugging General Bajwa.

“To move forward, Pakistan and India must dialogue and resolve their conflicts, including Kashmir,” the premier was quoted as saying. The best way to alleviate poverty and uplift the people of the Subcontinent is to resolve our differences through dialogue and start trading. “Dialogue only way forward”, Khan had tweeted.

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