ISLAMABAD: After months-long bickering between Pakistan and India, their national security advisers and foreign secretaries secretly met in Bangkok yesterday and discussed peace and security issues between the two countries. This meeting, which was followed by a joint statement, was agreed on by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi when they met in Paris last week. Bangkok was chosen as it was a convenient location for both sides.

The joint statement issued by Pakistani Foreign Office as well as by Indian Ministry of External Affairs said NSAs Nasir Khan Janjua and Ajit Doval held discussions “in a candid, cordial and constructive atmosphere”. “Pursuant to the meeting of the prime ministers… the national security advisers, accompanied by the foreign secretaries, met in Bangkok today,” said a statement issued by the Foreign Office. Issues related to peace and security, terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir, including tranquillity along Line of Control (LoC) came under discussion during the meeting, the statement said. “It was agreed to carry forward the constructive engagement.”

“They were guided by the vision of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a peaceful, stable and prosperous South Asia,” it added. Quoting government sources, Indian media reported that the discussions lasted for over four hours and that all subjects discussed have a security dimension, including Jammu and Kashmir. These sources said Prime Minister Narendra Modi took initiative on the security advisers meeting, which they say builds on the Ufa declaration on NSA-level dialogue. The sources further said the security advisers will meet again. The sources also told NDTV Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj is all set to travel to Pakistan on Tuesday for an Afghan conference. According to Times of India, both countries climbed down to make Bangkok meeting happen. India needed talks to be on terrorism, which it was. Doval and Janjua discussed all aspects of terror and instability. On the other hand, India gave in to a Pakistan demand to hold simultaneous foreign secretary-level talks on Kashmir.

The paper said the meeting in Bangkok overcomes the Hurriyat hurdle. The Pakistanis are spared the pressure of meeting the Kashmiris and the Indians are spared the necessity of shutting that down. Last month, Pakistan extended an invitation to the top Indian diplomat for a ministerial meeting of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process to be held in Islamabad on December 8 and 9. Although there is no official confirmation as to who will represent India at the conference, diplomats in Pakistan’s Foreign Office are optimistic that Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will most likely attend the conference. Indian media also quoted official sources saying Sushma was all set to travel to Pakistan on Tuesday.

On November 30, Modi had approached Nawaz and both held a brief meeting on the sidelines of a UN climate summit in the French capital. “Both the leaders appeared to be in a friendly mood and there seemed to be great warmth during their interaction. The two leaders parted with a warm handshake,” a statement issued by the PM House had said about that brief encounter. Earlier, security adviser level talks between India and Pakistan, scheduled for August 23 and 24 were cancelled because India wanted only to discuss terrorism-related issues. Pakistan sought a wider agenda, including the status of Kashmir.

Both nations reached a deadlock over India’s disallowing a meeting of Pakistani NSA Sartaj Aziz with Kashmiri Hurriyat leaders on August 23 during his visit to New Delhi for bilateral talks. Pakistan on August 22 said that it had come to the conclusion that the proposed National Security Adviser (NSA) level talks would not serve any purpose if conducted on the basis of the two conditions laid down by Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.

Sushma had said in a presser that India had made clear on August 18 that the NSAs meeting will only discuss issues related to terrorism. “No other topic will come under discussion,” she said, adding that all outstanding issues including Kashmir are part of the composite dialogue between the two countries which had not yet resumed. She had also said India did not recognise a third party in talks with Pakistan, referring to Pakistan’s invitation to Hurriyat leaders for a meeting in Delhi. The announcement came hours before NSA Sartaj Aziz was to leave for India on August 23. New Delhi also rejected a four-point peace plan for Kashmir proposed by PM Nawaz Sharif in the UN General Assembly in October but said talks among officials of both countries on terrorism that collapsed in August should be revived.

Nawaz had presented his proposal, saying the two nuclear-armed countries should formalise a ceasefire in Kashmir and take steps to demilitarise the divided region. India issued a rebuttal, accusing Pakistan of claiming to be the primary victim of terrorism while, “in truth, it is actually a victim of its own policy of breeding and sponsoring terrorists.”

Sushma told the General Assembly that India remained open to dialogue, “but talks and terror cannot go together… We don’t need four points, we need just one: Give up terrorism and let us sit down and talk.” She said the NSAs talks on all issues related to terrorism should be held, as well as an early meeting of senior military officials to address the situation on the border. “If the response is serious and credible, India is prepared to address all outstanding issues through a bilateral dialogue,” she said. Meanwhile, Congress Party termed the secret meeting of security advisers a “grand betrayal” of the Modi government and reflection of “flip-flops” over its Pakistan policy.

“It’s a grand betrayal. It’s a betrayal of everything that this government has ostensibly, publicly espoused,” Congress leader Manish Tewari said. 

“If you look at the track record of this government over the past 18 months, their Pakistan policy has been an extravaganza, a somersault, flip-flops and 180-degree U-turns and this is absolutely the crowning glory,” he said. Welcoming the talks, former chief minister of Occupied Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah tweeted, “Paris was more than the officially termed “courtesy meeting”. Good to see India and Pakistan resume the dialogue process.”