Islamabad: Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have an excellent opportunity next month to break the ice and ease tensions that have been on the rise between the two countries.
Both countries are currently locked in a dispute over the death sentence handed over to an Indian “spy”, support for Kashmiri agitators by Pakistan, and India’s threat to isolate Pakistan and cut off its water resources.
Border violations and killings of civilians and border guards are claimed by both sides.
According to diplomatic sources, Sharif and Modi will attend the June 8-9 Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Kazakhstan’s city of Astana where a meeting between the two, though brief and informal, may take place.
However, a Pakistan foreign office official who refused to be named said that no meeting had been planned as yet but “I would not reject the possibility of a brief meeting if SCO players play a role and urge both sides to control the rising tension”.
The sources claimed that neither Pakistan nor India can outrightly reject suggestions to resolve their urgent issues if the host of the SCO, Kazakhstan’s president, and the ‘Big Two’, China and Russia, desire this.
“After all Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi are considered as ‘personal friends’ and have met on several occasions, including [at] a meeting at the residence of Nawaz near Lahore”.
A report by Radio Pakistan on May 10, 2017 quoted Sartaj Aziz, Adviser on Foreign Affairs, as saying that a meeting between the leaders of Pakistan and India could not be ruled out on the sidelines of the SCO summit.
“Pakistan could consider the meeting if interest was shown from the other side,” he was quoted as saying.
The SCO Astana summit June 2017 is also a welcoming occasion for both Pakistan and India as they become full SCO members, strengthening the organisation’s regional and international influence and credibility.
On April 22, 2017 in Astana, SCO foreign ministers, during their preparatory meeting for the summit, discussed strengthening regional security, fighting terrorism and extremism, combating drug trafficking and developing cooperation.
The SCO Development Strategy 2025 stresses the need to improve regional security — in addition to developing economic cooperation, unlocking transit and transport capacity and deepening cultural and humanitarian ties — an obligation for both Pakistan and India to follow.
Although public opinion in Pakistan and India may not be favour such a high-level meeting, people in general do not want to see heightening of tensions and desire an end to the race to undermine each other.
On April 27, an Indian delegation led by Sajjan Jindal held a private meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif but the meeting was termed by Maryam Nawaz as a “meeting between friends”.
Indian business tycoon Sajjan Jindal is also a close friend of Indian Modi, which led to speculation about a possible high-level meeting between the top leadership soon.
The Express Tribune, one of Pakistan’s leading newspapers, speculated on April 28, 2017 that “although nothing has officially been shared about the context of this meeting, it is believed it was part of back-channel diplomacy to arrange a meeting between the Pakistani and Indian prime ministers on the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit to be held in June in Astana.”
But officials refused to issue any comment on possible high-level interaction at a time when the situation is very tense between the two nuclear-armed countries.