(IANS) India and Pakistan on Tuesday held their first formal talks since the January 2 Pathankot terror attack with both sides indulging in some plain speak. New Delhi raised the issue of cross-border terror while Islamabad talked of the “core issue” of Kashmir and India’s alleged involvement in Balochistan.
Even as the talks, which began at 11 a.m., between Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and his Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry were going on at his South Block office here, the Pakistani side released photographs of the meeting and a statement on the issues raised by them.
The Indian side released its formal statement nearly two hours after the Pakistani side put out its statement and photographs on Whatsapp – of Chaudhry along with High Commissioner Abdul Basit meeting the Indian officials.
There was no formal joint statement after the meeting, perhaps because Pakistan’s media savvy action was viewed as breach of protocol by India.
Besides Kashmir and Balochistan, Chaudhry also raised the issue of the arrest of alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav, while Jaishankar conveyed that Pakistan “cannot be in denial on the impact of terrorism on the bilateral relationship”.
Jaishankar told his counterpart that “terror groups based in Pakistan targeting India must not be allowed to operate with impunity”.
He also sought “early and visible progress” in Pakistan’s investigation into the attack on the Pathankot airbase in which seven Indian security men were killed. Pakistan-based militants of the Jaish-e-Mohamed are believed to have carried out the attack, which derailed the dialogue process.
Jaishankar also brought up the issue of JeM leader Masood Azhar, mastermind of the Pathankot attack, being listed in the UN Sanctions Committee. India’s effort to get him listed as a terrorist and a ban slapped on him was blocked by China last month.
He also pushed for early probe into the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack trial in Pakistan, the external affairs ministry said in a statement, adding the “discussions were frank and constructive”.
The Indian side also pressed for immediate consular access to Jadhav, a former naval officer who was arrested in Balochistan and labelled as an agent of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) intelligence agency by Pakistan, which India has denied.
Jaishankar firmly rebutted the allegations of India’s involvement in Balochistan or other areas of Pakistan. “In this context, he asked which spy agency would put their agent in the field with their own passport, and without a visa,” a source said.
Both sides also discussed humanitarian issues including on fishermen and prisoners, and people to people contacts including religious tourism.
According to a Pakistani statement, Chaudhry “expressed serious concern over (India’s) involvement in subversive activities in Balochistan and Karachi”.
Chaudhry also raked up the 2007 bombing of the Samjhauta Express cross-border peace train, earlier been blamed on rightwing Hindu activists. However, reports say the suspects are being released citing lack of evidence.
The Pakistan side “underscored the need for early commencement of comprehensive dialogue for which the Indian foreign secretary’s visit to Pakistan is due”.
While both the foreign secretaries were seen smilingly shaking hands in photo-ops, they don’t appear to have found any mutual ground to take the peace process forward.
After External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Islamabad last October for the Heart of Asia ministerial meeting, both sides had said their foreign secretaries would meet to decide on the modalities to take forward the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue.
But on Tuesday, there was no sign of any coming together on that crucial issue.