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India, Pak. NSAs met 4 times, are keeping phone links live: officials

Indian and Pakistani National Security Advisors Ajit Doval and Gen. (Retd) Naseer Janjua have been meeting and speaking on the telephone more regularly than they have officially confirmed. They held at least three meetings in Bangkok, and one in Russia, sources in Delhi and Islamabad told The Hindu.

According to the sources, the NSA’s have been meeting in Bangkok, as it is a convenient hub for flights from both countries, and speaking “regularly” over the phone.

They also held talks on the sidelines of an international security summit in the Russian town of Zavidovo in the Tver region during May 25-26, 2017. Engagements for contacts this year are still being worked out, but diplomatic sources said the upcoming Davos World Economic Forum on January 22-23, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi are scheduled to attend, could be the next venue for the NSA or other foreign office officials to meet.

The talks in Russia were particularly significant as they came days after India moved the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the case of Kulbhushan Jadhav, the former Indian Navy commander arrested and sentenced to death by Pakistan, who has been denied consular access. The last known meeting between the NSAs took place on December 26, 2017 a day after Mr. Jadhav was allowed to meet his wife and mother in Islamabad.

While the Jadhav family reunion turned into an acrimonious issue between India and Pakistan, and New Delhi expressed outrage over the insensitive treatment of his kin, the NSA meeting in Bangkok was held in a “friendly and positive” atmosphere, Pakistani officials said. The Pakistani side was unhappy over the public statements in India, as it viewed the granting of visitation to Mr. Jadhav’s family as a “constructive and humanitarian” gesture.

India accused Pakistan of violating its commitments on access to Mr. Jadhav and of humiliating his family by making them change clothes and remove their jewellery. India’s subsequent decision to cancel grant of visas to Sufi pilgrims from Pakistan to attend the urs at the Nizamuddin shrine was seen as a response to Pakistan’s actions on the Jadhav case.

Since then, however, officials said humanitarian gestures such as the release of prisoners and fishermen as well as visas for upcoming religious pilgrimages are back on track, with Pakistan releasing more than 300 Indian prisoners in the past few weeks.

The NSA channel that was set up by Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif after their meeting on the sidelines of the Climate Change conference in Paris in November 2015, has been “very useful” said one official and has continued despite acrimony and attacks in Jammu and Kashmir.

While the first conversations focussed on the investigation in Pakistan into the Pathankot attack, subsequent contacts have focussed on curbing rising incidents of infiltration, ceasefire violations, and cross-border terrorism, as well as the Jadhav case.

On January 11, the Ministry of External Affairs acknowledged that the NSAs met in Bangkok on December 26, weeks after reports appeared in newspapers in India and Pakistan. This is the first time the government has admitted the NSAs had talked since December 2015 when they had met at Bangkok’s Novotel Hotel, holding the public line that “no talks are possible until Pakistan ends the export of terrorism.”

Modifying that line in reply to questions from journalists, MEA spokesperson Ravish Kumar said on Thursday that “terror and talks cannot go together but talks on terror can definitely go ahead.”

However, when asked about other such meetings Mr. Kumar said, “These are operational-level mechanisms like we have for DGMOs and Pak Rangers. We don’t announce such visits. So as and when these meetings take place you will get to know.”

In a separate reply to The Hindu about the other meetings between the NSAs, the spokesperson said he could only confirm the one that took place on December 26 last year and not those in Thailand and Russia.


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