Will they? Won’t they? The India-Pakistan relationship often gets reduced to this one question. As the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in Bishkek looms large on June 13 and 14, so does speculation about whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Imran Khan will meet and talk.
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What adds to the possibility of progress is Pakistan foreign secretary Sohail Mahmood’s presence in New Delhi on Eid. Mahmood, who offered prayers at the Jama Masjid on Eid this Wednesday, is here on a “personal visit’’, it has been emphasised. “His children study in New Delhi and he is here to take them back,’’ said a source in Pakistan.
Mahmood was the high commissioner to India till recently and has been vocal in trying to normalise relations between the two countries. The timing of his visit, though, is telling.
The ministry of external affairs claimed that there were “no meetings planned with Indian officials’’ for Mahmood. “To the best of my knowledge, there is no bilateral meet planned,’’ said ministry of external affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar at the media briefing.
It might be too early to refer to a thaw, but there seems to be a slight softening on the Pakistan issue. There has been backchannel communications and Pakistan opened up its airspace for the former external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj to travel to Bishkek last month. This exception was made for her flight to and fro from Bishkek. Swaraj and her counterpart S.M. Qureshi were also seen seated across, exchanging pleasantries. This was not a meeting, MEA clarified, but a photo-op in a holding room. However, post the elections, Imran Khan called PM Modi to congratulate him for his landslide victory in the general elections.
On a question about Hafiz Saeed not leading the prayers on Eid, like it has happened in the past, and India’s reaction to it, the spokesperson said: “We have to see whether it was genuine action or an eyewash. We have seen this in the past. Pakistan has to walk the talk.’' The tone and tenure in which questions on Pakistan were responded to in the briefing also indicated the possibility of a certain softening.
Then, there was S. Jaishankar’s first public address after taking over as minister at an event organised by the CII, signalling there might be something in the offing. While he emphasised regional connectivity and BIMSTEC’s role, he also said India has the "responsibility to play a more active role and incentivise cooperation in the region." Could this also mean Pakistan?