India, Pakistan foreign ministers to meet on UNGA sidelines next week

India, Pakistan foreign ministers to meet on UNGA sidelines next week

The Indian government's accepted Pakistani PM Imran Khan's proposal.

By Shahab Jafry

Published: Fri 21 Sep 2018, 11:52 PM

The Indian government's acceptance of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's proposal - that the two countries' foreign ministers meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session next week - has sparked an optimistic debate in the Press and social media.
Imran wrote in reply to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's communiqué of August 18, which called for resetting ties through "meaningful and constructive dialogue". The Pakistan prime minister proposed a host of measures leading to normalcy, including resumption of the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue, and starting with the UNGA meeting.
Though the Indian side readily accepted the offer, their external affairs ministry also clarified that "this is just a meeting, not talks or resumption of dialogue."
Yet the quick exchanges, sometimes indirect, between the two prime ministers since Imran's July 25 election victory suggest a seriousness not seen since president Pervez Musharraf and prime minister Manmohan Singh tried to tackle core issues in 2006-7.
Imran got the ball rolling with his first speech after his election, when he was still the PM-elect, by promising "If they (India) take one step towards us, we will take two."
Modi immediately responded with the 'reset' offer, and sent his ambassador with the same message for good measure. Then the communiqué and letter followed, with the foreign ministers' meeting now on the horizon.
In Pakistan, Modi's outreach that risks upsetting his Bharatiya Janata Party's core vote bank in the general election, is seen as a bold step which reflects his conviction.
"We understand their compulsions but it is clear that both sides have realised the importance of dialogue if we are to move forward," Pakistani Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary told Khaleej Times.
The Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue was launched in 2015 and led to Indian external affairs minister's landmark visit to Islamabad, for the Heart of Asia Conference, in December the same year. But it was effectively shelved after the Pathankot incident in January 2016. India has since put the responsibility of creating the proper environment for talks on Pakistan's shoulders.
Now with the change of guard in Islamabad, and the Pakistani government and military clearly on the same page, it seems New Delhi is beginning to understand just why Islamabad believes real, quantifiable progress is within reach.
"There's no reason why we cannot make progress on all outstanding issues," Fawad added. "The main reason is complete alignment of views between government and military."
The idea, initially, is to rebuild enough trust to improve commercial ties.
"The best way to alleviate poverty and uplift people of the subcontinent is to resolve differences through dialogue and start trading," Imran Khan said last week.
Yet for any real progress both sides will have to overcome long years of disappointment. Luckily both countries are experiencing the biggest youth bulges of their 70-year history, which will make selling peace to the electorate easier than before.
Since most core issues are rooted in a time before most of the Subcontinent's voters were born, they should be willing to give commerce centre stage while their leaders iron out the long lasting problems. It's now for the first minister-level engagement between these two administrations at the UNGA to nudge the process in the right direction.

More news from WORLD