SAARC meet to allow India-Pak. interface

SAARC meet to allow India-Pak. interface

Swaraj, Qureshi tohave a meetingin New York

The first face-to-face engagement between the new Pakistani government and India could come later this month when External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi attend the SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) Council of Ministers’ meeting in New York, officials in Delhi and Islamabad confirmed.

However, they said there were no plans “so far” for a one-on-one meeting between the two Ministers on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), which begins on September 25.

The SAARC meeting, which will most likely include a lunch attended by the Foreign Ministers of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, is scheduled for September 27.

Ms. Swaraj is slotted to address the UNGA on September 29, as will her Pakistani counterpart.

The informal Council of Minister’s meeting was also held last year on the sidelines of the UNGA, and is expected to be chaired by Nepal Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali, and organised by Pakistani diplomat Amjad Sial, who is the SAARC Secretary-General.

Sources confirmed to The Hindu that preparations for the informal meeting of Ministers of the grouping are being made by the SAARC secretariat in Kathmandu. External Affairs Ministry sources confirmed the meeting would be attended by Ms. Swaraj “as in previous years”, as did the Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson in Islamabad, who also said several unspecified steps may be taken by the two countries.

“In the wake of recent overtures by both Pakistan and India to lessen the ever-widening gulf between the two neighbours, some future steps are under consideration. I will share details with you, in due course,” spokesperson Mohammad Faisal told presspersons on Thursday.

Constructive overtures

In the past month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has telephoned Prime Minister Imran Khan to congratulate him on his win and followed the call with a letter calling for “constructive and meaningful engagement with Pakistan.”

In his speeches Mr. Khan has promised to meet every step India takes with “two steps” from Pakistan, and Islamabad sent a Ministerial team to Delhi to attend former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s funeral.

Despite the “overtures”, there has been little movement in scheduling the SAARC summit due to be held in Pakistan, after it was called off in 2016 following the Uri attack.

Nepal, which hosted the last SAARC summit in Kathmandu in November 2014, has been keen to pass on its chairmanship of the regional grouping, which it can only do once India and other members agree to attend the summit in Islamabad.

Inaugurating the BIMSTEC summit on Thursday, Mr. Oli reiterated that the newly revived BIMSTEC grouping would not replace the SAARC group.

“Nepal stands for meaningful regional cooperation. We believe that SAARC and BIMSTEC do not substitute but complement each other,” Mr. Oli said.

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