India-Pakistan meet likely soon after Lok Sabha polls

Leaders of two nations may meet on sideline of SCO summit in Bishkek

India may engage with Pakistan soon after its parliamentary elections get over – notwithstanding the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's high-pitched poll-time rhetoric against the neighbouring country.

Though the formal dialogue, which remained stalled since January 2013, may not restart immediately, India and Pakistan are likely to have some engagements after the Lok Sabha elections, beginning with a bilateral meeting between the leaders of the two nations on the sideline of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Bishkek – the capital of Kyrgyzstan.

If incumbent Narendra Modi retains the office of Prime Minister after the Lok Sabha elections, he is likely to attend the SCO summit in Bishkek on June 14 and 15. In case the poll results in a change of guard in New Delhi, his successor may take part the summit of the eight-nation bloc, which admitted both India and Pakistan as its newest members in 2017. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is also likely to attend the conclave.

Pakistan is learnt to have informally conveyed to India through China and Russia that the opportunity presented by the presence of the leaders of the two South Asian neighbours at the SCO summit in the capital of Kyrgyzstan could be utilized for a bilateral meeting between them so that they could at least explore the possibilities of further engagements.

The top brass of the government in New Delhi did not turn down the proposal outright but asked for an assessment on the pros and cons of having a meeting between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan in Bishkek. A source told the DH that the “political leadership” of the current dispensation in New Delhi might not be averse to have a bilateral meeting between the leaders of India and Pakistan on the sideline of the SCO summit, but would like to make it sure that such engagements would not be misconstrued as resumption of the formal bilateral dialogue.

New Delhi would never budge from its stand that talks and terror could never go together, the source said, underlining that the onus to set the stage for resumption of the structured bilateral dialogue would remain on Imran Khan's Government, which would have to take “credible, effective and verifiable actions” to address India's concern over cross-border terrorism from Pakistan.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will attend a meeting of the SCO Foreign Ministers in Bishkek on May 21 and 22 – just after the final phase of polling for the Lok Sabha elections on May 19 and before the counting of votes on May 23. Her counterpart in Pakistan Government Shah Mehmood Qureshi is also likely to take part in the meeting. It is still not clear if Swaraj and Qureshi are going to meet on the sideline and explore the possibility of a meeting between the leaders next month.

Another source in New Delhi said that the possibility of a bilateral meeting between the leaders of India and Pakistan on the sideline of the forthcoming SCO summit could not be ruled out, but much would depend on the political situation that would emerge after the Lok Sabha polls. If a new government with a new Prime Minister takes office after the poll, it would possibly like to review the status of India-Pakistan relations before deciding on such a meeting, he told the DH.

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