India-Pak FS to meet today; to talk Pathankot terror strike, NIA visit


India and Pakistan gave themselves another opportunity to get going with the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue (CBD), launched last year in December, by announcing a bilateral meeting between Indian foreign secretary S Jaishankar and his Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry here on Tuesday.

While the meeting will take place only on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia senior officials’ meeting on Afghanistan, which India is hosting, both countries are expected to aggressively pursue their agenda – notably for India, the progress in the Pathankot attack investigation. This will be the first high-level engagement between the two countries since PM Modi’s famous Lahore “drop by” on his counterpart Nawaz Sharif’s birthday on December 25, 2015. Chaudhry is expected to land here late in the morning, and will fly back to Pakistan immediately after a dinner for Heart of Asia delegates.

Indian officials said terrorism was going to be the main focus area for them at the meeting, and the possibility of India making an official request for a visit by the NIA to Pakistan in connection with the Pathankot attack could not be ruled out. They, however, also said the two foreign secretaries were going to talk about the possibility of finally starting the CBD, which has failed to take off since it was launched on December 9, 2015, again on the sidelines of a Heart of Asia conference, attended by foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, in Islamabad.

 Simultaneously, both the countries are also looking to launch a back-channel dialogue mechanism with a visit to India later this week by five former Pakistan high commissioners to India, including Salman Bashir, Shahid Malik and Ashraf Qazi.

They will meet some of their counterparts from the past, led by India’s former special envoy to Pakistan Satinder Lambah. They are also expected to meet Swaraj on April 29. Bashir, Malik and Qazi are important players in Pakistan’s India policy and they had been consulted before Pakistan decided to participate in the game-changing NSA dialogue in Bangkok last year.

 According to sources in Islamabad, the CBD will only be considered “on track” only after Jaishankar makes his trip to Pakistan, as decided when the PMs met in Lahore. Pakistan is also expected to ensure that J&K is mentioned prominently as one of the main issues discussed in the meeting Tuesday.

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