India, Pak Held Secret Talks On Kashmir: Report

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Srinagar: Before a surprise ceasefire announcement by India and Pakistan on February 25, the top intelligence officers from the two nuclear countries held secret talks in Dubai in January in a new effort to calm tensions over Kashmir, the Reuters news agency reported.

Quoting two unnamed people with close knowledge of the matter, the report said that officials from India’s Research and Analysis Wing, the external spy agency and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) travelled to Dubai for a meeting facilitated by the United Arab Emirates government.

“There is a lot that can still go wrong, it is fraught,” one of the people in New Delhi told Reuters. “That is why nobody is talking it up in public, we don’t even have a name for this, it’s not a peace process. You can call it a re-engagement,” one of them said.

Both countries have reasons to seek a rapprochement.

The report also said that the Indian foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment. Pakistan’s military, which controls the ISI, also did not respond.

“There is a recognition there will be attacks inside Kashmir, there has been discussions as to how to deal with it and not let this effort derailed by the next attack,” said one of the people Reuters talked to.

There is as yet, however, no grand plan to resolve the 74-year-old Kashmir dispute. Rather both sides are trying to reduce tensions to pave the way for a broad engagement, all the people Reuters spoke to said.

Quoting Ayesha Siddiqa, a noted Pakistani defence analyst, the report said that she believed Indian and Pakistan intelligence officials had been meeting for several months in other countries.

“I think there have been meetings in Thailand, in Dubai, in London between the highest-level people,” she told Reuters

Such meetings have taken place in the past as well, especially during times of crises but never been publicly acknowledged.

UAE Helped De-Escalate Tensions: Envoy

Earlier the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba said Abu Dhabi played a role in bringing down the tension between India and Pakistan and getting their bilateral ties back to a "healthy functional relationship".

"They might not sort of become best friends but at least we want to get it to a level where it's functional, where it's operational, where they are speaking to each other," al-Otaiba said during a virtual discussion with Stanford University's Hoover Institution on Wednesday.

India and Pakistan in a surprise announcement said on February 25 that they have agreed to strictly observe all agreements on ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir and other sectors.

Al-Otaiba himself brought up the issue while responding to a question, acknowledging his country's role in "bringing Kashmir escalation down" between the two neighbours.

"We try to be helpful where we have influence with two different countries. So, India and Pakistan was the most recent one , he said.

"We don't think they are going to become the most favoured nation to each other, but I think it's important for them to have a healthy functional relationship," he added.

In New Delhi, asked about media reports that backchannel talks between India and Pakistan were going on for more than a year, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi did not give a direct reply.

"If you talk about channels of communication on this issue, let me just recall that our respective high commissions exist and are functioning. So that is a very effective channel of communication," Bagchi said on April 9.

India has told Pakistan that it desires normal neighbourly relations with Islamabad in an environment free of terror, hostility and violence. India has said the onus is on Pakistan to create such an environment.

On the same day, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman stopped short of categorically denying its involvement in some kind of backchannel talks with India.

Foreign Office spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhry at the weekly press briefing on April 9 was asked by several journalists about reported backchannel talks with India.

Instead of rejecting it outrightly he said: States have their ways and means to communicate which remain available even during wars. Therefore, whether any talks are taking place between India and Pakistan is not important.

He added that the real issue was what should be discussed between the two countries and how the dialogue could be made meaningful and result-oriented dialogue.

Ties between India and Pakistan nose-dived after a militant attack on the Pathankot Air Force base in 2016 by militants.

Subsequent attacks, including one on Indian Army camp in Uri, further deteriorated the relationship.

The relationship dipped further after India's war planes carried out an airstrike at Jaish-e-Mohammed training camp on February 26, 2019 in response to the Pulwama suicide attack in which 40 CRPF jawans were killed.

The relations deteriorated after India announced withdrawing special powers of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcation of the state into two union territories in August, 2019.

Last month, Pakistan's powerful Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa said that it was time for India and Pakistan to "bury the past and move forward as he asserted that the peace between the two neighbours would help to unlock the potential of South and Central Asia.

The powerful army, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 70 plus years of existence, has hitherto wielded considerable power in the matters of security and foreign policy.

Gen Bajwa's remarks came a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan made a similar statement.

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