Modi, Saudi Prince discuss restarting Indo-Pak talks

Modi, Saudi Prince discuss restarting Indo-Pak talks

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman during a banquet at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on Feb 20, 2019. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman on Wednesday agreed on the need to create conditions necessary for restarting the stalled dialogue between India and Pakistan.

Modi and Mohammad bin Salman, aka MbS, met in New Delhi at a time when the tension between India and Pakistan escalated over the recent killing of 49 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in a terror attack at Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir. Jaish-e-Mohammed, which is based in Pakistan and has been carrying out terror strikes in India, has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Crown Prince joined the prime minister in condemning the terror attack. He told Modi that terrorism and extremism were “common concerns” for both Saudi Arabia and India. He promised that Saudi Arabia would cooperate with India on all fronts to combat terrorism, including by sharing of intelligence.

MbS lauded Modi's consistent efforts to restore normalcy in India's troubled ties with Pakistan, including his personal initiatives, beginning with an invitation to the then prime minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif to New Delhi to attend his government's swearing-in ceremony in May 2014. “In this context, both sides agreed on the need for creation of conditions necessary for resumption of the comprehensive dialogue between India and Pakistan,” T S Tirumuri, secretary (Economic Relations) at the Ministry of External Affairs, told journalists after the meeting between the two leaders at Hyderabad House in New Delhi.

The formal bilateral dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad remained suspended since January 2013, when two Indian Army soldiers were brutally killed by Pakistan army personnel along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. An attempt to restart the dialogue was aborted after the terror attack on the Indian Air Force base at Pathankot in Punjab in January 2016.

Modi's discussion with MbS on restarting India-Pakistan dialogue was unusual as New Delhi has since long been opposing Islamabad's moves to involve a third party in resolving bilateral disputes. India has also been maintaining that Pakistan must stop exporting terror to create a conducive atmosphere for resumption of talks.

Tirumurti, however, said that the Saudi Arabian crown prince on Wednesday had not offered to play the role of a mediator between India and Pakistan.

The prince had a two-day tour to Pakistan before he embarked on his visit to India. His back-to-back visits to the two South Asian nations were overshadowed by the escalating tension between New Delhi and Islamabad in the aftermath of the Pulwama attack.

Modi recently said that the Indian Army and paramilitary forces had been given “full freedom” to avenge the attack. Speculation was rife that India might go for yet another surgical strike on terror camps inside Pakistan, just as it did after the terror attack on a brigade headquarters of the Indian Army at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir in September 2016. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, too, warned of retaliation in case of any military offensive by India.

Modi and MbS discussed the need for creating conditions necessary for resumption of talks between New Delhi and Islamabad just hours after US President Donald Trump subtly nudged both India and Pakistan to de-escalate tension by saying that it would be “wonderful” if the two South Asian neighbours “got along”. A spokesperson also quoted Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, stressing the importance of both sides to exercise maximum restraint and take immediate steps for de-escalation.

Modi and MbS also agreed to work together for the early adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism by the United Nations. They also underlined in a joint statement the need for “comprehensive sanctioning” of terrorists and their organisations by the United Nations.

The JeM, which claimed responsibility for the February 14 attack on CRPF personnel, has long been under United Nations' sanction. But New Delhi's earlier move to bring its leader Masood Azhar, who lives in Bahawalpur in Pakistan, under UN sanctions was blocked by China.

After the latest attack by the JeM in India, the US, the UK and France promised New Delhi to make a fresh move to impose UN sanctions on Azhar.