New Delhi: India and Pakistan could upgrade their diplomatic ties, which had witnessed significant reduction after the Narendra Modi government revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated the state into two union territories in 2019, multiple sources have told ThePrint.
According to highly placed official sources, India and Pakistan are now likely to reinstate high commissioners in each other’s capitals, after having downgraded their missions in 2019.
The sources added that New Delhi may allow the SAARC Summit, which has been pending since 2016 following tensions between India and Pakistan over the Uri attack, to take place in Islamabad later this year. In such a scenario, Prime Minister Modi is likely to visit Islamabad to attend the meet.
Thursday, a day before the second anniversary of the Balakot air strikes, India and Pakistan issued a joint statement, following talks between the directors general of military operations (DGMOs) of both countries, who agreed to “address each other’s core issues and concerns which have propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence”.
“Both sides agreed for strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the Line of Control and all other sectors with effect from midnight 24/25 Feb 2021,” the statement read.
The DGMOs’ talks took place in the wake of a series of dialogues held between National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Prime Minister Imran Khan’s aide on national security, Moeed Yusuf, according to the sources.
The sources also said while the talks were happening intermittently, they gained momentum following Pakistan Army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa’s statement on 3 February that “it is time to extend hand of peace in all directions”.
Anurag Srivastava, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, reiterated Thursday that India desires normal neighbourly relations with Pakistan. “We have always maintained that we are committed to addressing issues, if any, in a peaceful bilateral manner. On key issues, our position remains unchanged,” he said.
Following the abrogation of Article 370 by the Government of India, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan took the decision to downgrade diplomatic ties, leading to the recall of the countries’ respective high commissioners.
Pakistani diplomat Moin-ul-Haque, who is now the country’s ambassador to China, was supposed to take charge in New Delhi at the time. India’s then-high commissioner to Pakistan, Ajay Bisaria, has since been posted to Canada.
In June 2020, India had asked Pakistan to halve its staff strength at the high commission in New Delhi within a week. The Pakistan government asked the Indian High Commission in Islamabad to make a reciprocal move.
Ties taking new shape
According to sources, the latest move is also a reflection of the ongoing disengagement that is taking place between India and China at the eastern Ladakh sector of the Line of Actual Control.
Indian Army chief Gen. M.M. Naravane’s Wednesday statement on Pakistan was an indication that ties between New Delhi and Islamabad are beginning to take “new shape” in the coming months, the sources said.
Addressing a webinar Wednesday, Gen. Naravane said there was “no overt sign” of any collusion between Pakistan and China during the Ladakh stand-off, and whatever they were doing, they continued to do.
“There was no large mobilisation that would say any help is being given,” he said.
Sources said this was also “demonstrated” by Pakistan when it did not bring up the Jammu and Kashmir issue in some recent international meetings, most notably during the last meeting on Covid-19 that was hosted by PM Modi on 18 February.
According to the sources cited above, New Delhi is also contemplating attending the summit-level meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, which has been pending since 2016.
At that time, India was able to convince members such as Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Bhutan not to participate and “diplomatically isolate” Pakistan. However, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, it was India that invited all SAARC leaders to cooperate on the challenges of the pandemic, while it pledged $10 million in a Covid-19 Emergency Fund.
Pakistani author and military affairs expert Ayesha Siddiqa said it was “good news” that some talks have started between her country and India.
“One had always suspected that there was something going on, which we now know is some conversation. The question is, will it lead to more, like going back at some stage to the Manmohan-Musharraf formula?” Siddiqa said.
“It seems that the Pakistan Foreign Office is not a front-seat driver in this, and things are managed between the National Security Division, the GHQ (general headquarters) and the PM house,” she added.
(This report has been updated to reflect that Moin-ul-Haque is Pakistan’s ambassador to China, not France. The error is regretted)