ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wants Kashmir atop agenda amid optimism for resumption of dialogue with India, close aides said.

Sharif unexpectedly met his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in Paris this week on the sidelines of the Climate Change summit and the positivity of the body language suggested that both wanted to resolve the issues on the table. The brief conversation between the two leaders came after several months of their earlier meeting in Ufa, Russia. Since then there has been a deadlock over the dialogue.

A scheduled meeting between the national security advisers of both the countries in August was eventually cancelled after India insisted that no third party could be invited to the talks. Pakistan had scheduled a meeting with the All Parties Hurriyet Conference leaders on the sidelines.

The crossfire along the Line of Control and the Working Boundary further spoiled the relations as both blamed each other for violations of the ceasefire agreement.

After the brief but important meeting, Sharif said the talks took place in a “cordial atmosphere, cordial manner. Prime Minister Modi has also expressed the desire for talks to take forward our issues.”

He added, “If both the sides want to take forward the issues, these will be taken forward. Pakistan wants to discuss and resolve the issues which are political in nature. Doors for dialogue should be kept open.” Vikas Swarup, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, travelling with Modi, was not too enthusiastic about the brief meeting, tweeting “This was a brief exchange of courtesies in the Leaders’ Lounge. PM meets many heads of state/government.”

Monday’s interaction was not planned like Ufa where the two leaders had a planned meeting in July on the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. The latest meeting came days after Sharif said in Malta that Pakistan was ready for talks with India without preconditions.

His willingness for a bilateral conversation as he attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was read as a positive signal.

Monday’s meeting also comes in the backdrop of a proposed Pakistan-India cricket series in Sri Lanka in December as has been agreed between the two cricket boards. However, the Indian government has not given its nod, while Sharif has stamped his approval.

The meeting between the two PMs was also significant as Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has been invited to the “Heart of Asia” conference on Afghanistan in Islamabad, which is scheduled to be held on December 9.

India has not so far confirmed its participation and this meeting between the PMs may lead to a decision on New Delhi’s political representation.

Close aides of Prime Minister Sharif said he was committed to the Kashmir cause and, despite being a strong advocate of dialogue, did not want to skip the key issue.

“The PM is optimistic about the dialogue and also hopeful India would not put conditions as it did before resulting in cancellation of the NSA-level talks,” a senior member of Sharif’s cabinet told The Nation. He said the PM was satisfied with the meeting with Modi and confident the brief contact could prove big in improving the bilateral ties.

Another aide of the premier said Sharif felt his Indian counterpart was inclined to talks after months of tension. “Pakistan is always ready for talks, but can’t accept conditions. New Delhi now seems prepared to adopt dialogue for resolving the issues,” he added.

He said India must know Pakistan cannot ignore the Kashmir issue under any circumstances. “The Paris meeting has given hope of a positive dialogue process with India. The engagement may take time,” he remarked.

Senior analyst Dr Huma Baqai said the people of both the countries have cultural and regional ties and want peace. She said the Paris meeting was well received by the people living on both sides of the borders and it should promote friendly relations.

Dr Baqai said Prime Minister Sharif, Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif and others have highlighted Kashmir dispute on all international forums in an effective way. Defence analyst Lt-Gen (r) Amjad Shoaib said Modi was quiet tactful regarding Kashmir. “He is trying to tell the world that there is nothing wrong with Kashmir and there is no issue related to the valley,” he explained.

He recalled shops remained closed and traffic was off the roads during Modi’s recent visit to the held territory. Shoaib said Pakistani flags were waved in different parts of Kashmir, which is a clear sign that Kashmiris resent the policy of India towards them.