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Pakistan-India secretly explored chances of bilateral talks

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and India were hoping that their frosty relations could thaw as their prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi kept running into each other in New York last week. It has now emerged that both sides secretly explored chances of bilateral talks on the sidelines of the 70th UN General Assembly session.

A senior Pakistani official speaking on the condition of anonymity said on Monday that New Delhi had proposed a meeting between national security advisors (NSAs) of the two countries in New York, but the agenda would be restricted to terrorism-related issues.

With Islamabad having already rejected a similar precondition just four weeks ago when the bilateral meeting between the NSAs in New Delhi collapsed, it instead proposed a meeting between their foreign ministers to discuss all outstanding issues.

It may have been neutral venue, but the familiar story of a deadlock persisted.

Prime Minister’s Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz also confirmed the back-channel efforts in an interview with Indian news channel CNN-IBN on Sunday, revealing that there was some ‘messaging’ between the Pakistani and Indian camps in New York.

Aziz said India wanted an NSA meeting, though with the precondition that only issues related to terrorism would be discussed. That condition was not acceptable for Pakistan.

In August, the much-hyped NSA-level talks were called off at the eleventh hour after key differences on the meeting’s agenda as well as a deadlock over Pakistan’s insistence on meeting Kashmiri leaders.

Since then relations between the two countries have further deteriorated with an increase in exchange of fire along the Line of Control (LoC) and working boundary leaving scores of civilians dead and injured on both sides of the border.

The worsening ties also echoed in the UN General Assembly session where the neighbours exchanged allegations, holding each other responsible for the current impasse.

While Islamabad presented three dossiers to the UN chief containing ‘evidence of Indian involvement in perpetrating terrorism in Pakistan’, New Delhi alleged that Pakistan was the prime sponsor of terrorism.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in his speech at the UN had proposed a four-point peace initiative to India for defusing tensions. But Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj took the podium to reject it, insisting ‘talks and terror’ cannot go together.

Aziz rules out cricket series

Aziz on Monday ruled out a potential cricket series against India in December, saying he saw no chance of a revival of cricketing ties between the arch-rivals under “the current situation”.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) had been for a final response from their Indian counterparts on a series due to be played in December-January in United Arab Emirates.

“I see no chance of cricket between Pakistan and India under the current situation,” Aziz told Pakistani media in Islamabad. “We need to make (the) situation favourable for cricket and other things.”

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