File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif during a meeting in New Delhi.
India non-committal, Sushma to meet Pakistan counterpart
Nepal, host of the 18th South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation summit here, is playing peacemaker, to try and ensure Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif have a bilateral “pull-aside” during the summit, even as both governments kept everyone guessing.
Speaking to a Nepali television channel, Nepal’s Foreign Minister said that officials were trying “crack the nut “ or break the logjam between both the countries, even as tensions between the two biggest SAARC member countries threatened to overshadow the summit.
In an exclusive interview to The Hindu, Nepal’s Commerce Minister Sunil Thapa said he was “absolutely sure” the two leaders would hold talks during the summit. “It is the need of the hour that the region must go forward, especially on economic issues,” Mr. Thapa said. “And for that, all leaders must speak to each other during the SAARC summit.”
He said that a pull-aside would probably occur during the leader’s retreat on Thursday at the Dwarika resort in Dhulikhel, outside Kathmandu. “Whether it is over a cup of coffee, or a mulligatawny soup, Mr. Modi and Mr. Sharif will find many opportunities to speak to each other, and I am sure they will do that.”
However, Indian officials remained non-committal. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will meet her Pakistani counterpart Sartaj Aziz during the Foreign Minister’s consultations on Tuesday, and any plans for a bilateral meeting would only follow discussions between them.
“Wait till tomorrow,” Ms. Swaraj told reporters on Monday when they asked her about the speculations.
Meanwhile, Mr. Aziz said “Pakistan is ready for talks if India initiates the request.” No meeting between the two sides had been scheduled as of Monday evening, when he landed in Kathmandu, he said.
The SAARC summit will mark the first time the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers will come together since May 2014, when Mr. Sharif attended Mr. Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in Delhi. The two leaders failed to meet when they visited New York for the UNGA, after India called off Foreign Secretary talks. According to one official, it will be very difficult for the two leaders to avoid each other during the plenary session, and impossible to do so during the Dhulikhel retreat.
“The difference between 2002 [when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and General Pervez Musharraf did not have a bilateral] and 2014 is that there will be a retreat where only the leaders will meet.” In 2002, the Nepali government had to cancel the planned retreat in Pokhara because of India-Pakistan tensions.