Pakistan’s defence minister Khawaja Asif issued a barely veiled threat of a potential nuclear attack against India on Wednesday and yesterday a BSF trooper was killed in cross-border firing in Jammu and Kashmir. In this backdrop, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is faced with the unenviable task of sitting and trying to talk peace with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif. The irony of the situation is not lost on anyone in India.

“It is confirmed. PM @narendramodi and PM Nawaz Sharif will have a bilateral meeting in Ufa tomorrow at 9.15 am (9.45 am IST) on sidelines of SCO Summit,” Indian external affairs ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup tweeted on Thursday.

The Pakistani Foreign Office also confirmed the meeting.

A previous meeting between the two leaders. PTI imageA previous meeting between the two leaders. PTI image

A previous meeting between the two leaders. PTI image

“I can confirm that Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi will be having a bilateral meeting tomorrow (Friday) morning in Ufa and there is no ambiguity about it,” Foreign Office spokesman Qazi M. Khalilullah said in his media briefing in Islamabad.

Khalilullah said “all important issues would come under discussion.”

All issues, including terrorism and trade, are expected to be on the table when the two leaders meet, but the problem as always will be whether either side is prepared to concede any ground. India’s concerns about Pakistan’s move to curb terrorism and bring the 2008 Mumbai attackers to book have been cited as an imperative for the NDA government to take the process forward.

The Indian Army’s precision attack on a northeast militant camp in Myanmar last month had provoked sharp words from Pakistan, including its military, with the message that “Pakistan is not Myanmar”. The Pakistani parliament also passed a resolution condemning India’s ‘hegemonic’ mindset and former president Pervez Musharraf went to the extent of issuing nuclear threats.

The meeting also comes in the backdrop of India raising objections against China for blocking a move by the UN to censure Pakistan for the release of 26/11 mastermind and Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi.

As The Telegraph noted, Modi, like his predecessor Manmohan Singh, has come to the realisation ‘that talks with Pakistan remain a key option that can no longer be ignored.’ India made the first move in this case when Modi telephoned Sharif on 16 June to convey Ramadan greetings and stressing the need for peaceful and bilateral ties.

“That’s an argument straight from the policy school of Modi’s predecessor Manmohan Singh,” noted The Telegraph.

“‘You can’t choose your neighbours’ was Singh’s refrain when questioned about persistent criticism he faced as Prime Minister from the then Opposition BJP for attempting to hold talks with Pakistan,” The Telegraph report further added.

The fact that Modi has to follow a similar path to Singh also indicates how tricky maintaining a relationship with Pakistan really is. There are too many loose cannons beyond the border and many of them seem to be beyond the control of Sharif. So even if Sharif and Modi do come to any sort of agreement, it will mean little until we actually see it come to fruition. So as such, the talks are no guarantee of any diplomatic breakthrough. But it is at least an attempt to get things moving again.

Modi and Sharif met in November last year during the SAARC Summit in Kathmandu, but they did not hold any bilateral meeting. Pakistan had stymied a SAARC agreement on Motor Vehicles during the summit that was intended to improve connectivity between the South Asian nations.

The two leaders last held a bilateral meeting on 26 May last year during the swearing-in of Modi. The two had exchanged gifts, there was sari-shawl diplomacy, and there were tweets, which had given rise to hope of improvement in ties between the two nuclear powers.

But continuing incidents of firing on the border that claimed the lives of security personnel, and the Pakistani envoy hobnobbing with Kashmiri separatists last August, saw India calling off foreign secretary-level talks at the last moment.

Ties have deteriorated since then, and Pakistan raising the Kashmir issue at international forums did not help. The release of Lakhvi, despite India voicing concerns, also added to India’s concerns as has Pakistan’s decision to take no action against Jamaat-ud-Dawah, after it was banned by UNSC in 2008.

With inputs from IANS

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When Modi meets Sharif: Lakhvi, trade, terrorism all on the agenda