Imran Govt Mulls Backchannel Talks Revival With India

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ISLAMABAD — The Imran Khan-led Pakistan government is actively considering appointing a national security adviser to revive backchannel diplomacy with India to iron out issues hindering the resumption of peace talks between the two nuclear-armed neighbours, official sources said on Sunday.

Since assuming office in August last year, Prime Minister Imran Khan repeatedly reached out to India for the resumption of peace talks on all outstanding issues.

But India has made it clear to Pakistan that terrorism and dialogue will not go hand-in-hand.

The likely appointment of the NSA is meant for reviving backchannel diplomacy with India to sort out some of the pressing issues between the two nuclear-armed neighbours, official sources privy to the development were quoted as saying by the Express Tribune.

A senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the government was likely to appoint a retired military official as the national security adviser. He said certain names were under consideration, but no final decision has been taken yet.

The relationship between the two neighbouring nations currently is at all-time low after a Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) suicide bomber attacked a CRPF convoy in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir on February 14 that killed 40 soldiers.

Amid mounting outrage, the Indian Air Force (IAF) carried out a counter-terror operation, hitting what it said was a JeM training camp in Balakot, deep inside Pakistan on February 26. The next day, the Pakistan Air Force retaliated and downed a MiG-21 in aerial combat and captured IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was later released and handed over to India on March 1.

Now, with the almost two-month long election exercise in India getting over, the Pakistan government is considering options on how to resume talks with India.

Pakistan believes that the new government in India after the general elections would be more receptive to Khan’s offer of peace talks. When asked about the prospects of resumption of talks given the current hostilities, the official said Pakistan was optimistic.

The reason for this optimism stems from the fact that new government, whether it is formed by the ruling BJP or the Congress, is unlikely to follow the pre-election rhetoric, he said.

One of the options include the appointment of an NSA to revive the backchannel with India.

In the past, the two countries often used backchannel talks through the NSAs to prepare ground for any talks.

In 2015, Pakistan’s NSA Lt General (retd) Naseer Khan Janjua and his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval were instrumental in breaking the ice.

The two held meetings in Bangkok, leading to the agreement between the two foreign ministers for the resumption of the composite dialogue.

The leadership of the two countries used their respective NSAs to communicate on important issues.

Talking to foreign journalists last month, Khan had said that there might be a better chance of peace talks with India if Modi returned to power.

“If the next Indian government is led by the opposition Congress party, it might be too scared to seek a settlement with Pakistan over Indian-occupied Kashmir (IoK), fearing a backlash from the right,” the prime minister told a small group of foreign journalists in an interview.

“Perhaps if the BJP, a rightwing party, wins, some kind of settlement on Kashmir could be reached,” Khan revealed.

Khan’s statement stirred a heated debate both in Pakistan as well as in India, where Modi’s opponents mocked him as Pakistan’s ally.

In Pakistan, opposition parties criticised Khan for making an ‘undiplomatic statement’ and also supporting Modi despite his hostile policies.

 


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