KATHMANDU – Pakistan today sought to put the ball in India’s court for talks between the Prime Ministers of the two countries amidst strong indications of an interaction on the sidelines of the SAARC Summit, reported Press Trust of India.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, on his arrival here, said, “Cancellation of talks was New Delhi’s unilateral decision,” and the “ball is now in India’s court for talks between both the countries.”
When asked about the possibility of talks between the two countries, Sharif said the question should be put to his Indian counterpart. India had cancelled Foreign Secretary-level talks, he said.
On the eve of the summit of the eight-nation regional bloc, diplomatic sources here said it was unlikely that Sharif and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not meet given that they will be at the same conference and attend the retreat together on Thursday.
Significantly, Modi’s official itinerary did not mention any structured meeting with Sharif and only gave details of his meetings with other SAARC heads of the government, including Presidents of Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Maldives as also Prime Ministers of Bangladesh and Bhutan.
Indian officials were tight-lipped on whether there will be a meeting between Modi and Sharif.
Pakistan Prime Minister’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz, when asked repeatedly, did not give any direct answer but only said Sharif will meet leaders of the Maldives and Sri Lanka.
“Two or three more bilateral meetings have been fixed, details of which will be announced in due course,” he added.
Ahead of his visit, Modi said development of close relations with neighbours was a key priority for his government and he was looking forward to holding talks with other South Asian heads of state and government on the margins of the summit.
“Although this is my first SAARC Summit, during the last six months, I have interacted extensively with leaders of SAARC countries beginning with their auspicious presence at my swearing-in ceremony. Development of close relations with our neighbours is a key priority for my government,” Modi said.
Noting that the summit’s theme was “Deeper Regional Integration for Peace and Prosperity”, he said India has always emphasised on the importance of greater regional integration at all levels for the socio-economic development of the South Asian region.
India and Pakistan have been involved in a war of words after New Delhi cancelled a Foreign Secretary-level meeting in August after Pakistan’s envoy in India met Kashmiri separatists ahead of the talks.
Sharif said the SAARC had not made significant progress even after 30 years of its formation while European Union and other regional organisations have come a long way.
Later, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said, “We are for a meaningful dialogue and that meaningful dialogue bilaterally would mean something very specific.”
He said Modi will tomorrow have structured bilateral meetings with Presidents of Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and the Maldives and Prime Ministers of Bangladesh and Bhutan.
“These are structured meetings which we will try to work on as meaningful dialogues with our partners. These were all the meetings that were asked for and we have acceded to every request,” Akbaruddin said.
Asked about Sharif’s comment that the ball is in India’s court to initiate talks, the Spokesperson said India has been favouring meaningful dialogue and it was for Pakistan to ensure that.
“We have been shouting from the top of the roof that we are ready for meaningful dialogue. The emphasis was on meaningful. The meaningful dialogue has a meaning in diplomacy. In Pakistan, they know it very clearly what we mean by meaningful dialogue as they know us and understand us. They know everything,” he said.