Pak envoy meets Sushma in 1st high-level contact in months

In what is effectively the first high-level contact between India and Pakistani in months, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj has met Pakistan High Commissioner Sohail Mahmood, official sources confirmed to TOI.

Swaraj discussed the current state of affairs in bilateral relations with Mahmood, who officially took charge as Pakistan’s envoy to India only last month. Swaraj also touched upon India’s concerns over cross-border terrorism and asked for Islamabad to quickly bring to book the accused in Mumbai and Pathankot terror attacks.

Sources said the meeting with Mahmood took place earlier this week on Monday after her office was approached by the Pakistan envoy. Swaraj is also learnt to have mentioned the need for Pakistan to review its position on Kulbhushan Jadhav, the alleged Indian spy who remains in Pakistan’s custody.

The government believes that for any progress in bilateral relations Pakistan must drop all charges against Jadhav and send him back to India. Jadhav’s case is currently being heard by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which earlier this year put a stay on the death sentence awarded to him by a Pakistan military court.

This was Mahmood’s first meeting with a top government functionary after arriving in India. He is expected to meet NSA Ajit Doval and foreign secretary S Jaishankar in the next few days.

It is perhaps significant that days after the meeting – on Diwali – Swaraj announced that India will clear all medical visas sought by Pakistan nationals as a goodwill gesture. “On the auspicious occasion of Deepawli, India will grant medical Visa in all deserving cases pending today,” tweeted Swaraj on Diwali.

Swaraj has also appealed to Islamabad to allow Jadhav’s mother to visit Pakistan and see her son. Pakistan is yet to grant visa to her. The government had earlier decided to entertain only those medical Visa applications which were endorsed by the Pakistan foreign minister. Under Swaraj, earning a lot of goodwill for India internationally, MEA has taken a more compassionate view of visa applications from Pakistani nationals who genuinely need medical assistance.

This is significant also because it comes after the ugly spat at the UNGA where India described Pakistan as ‘terroristan’. For India though, any engagement with Pakistan, according to official sources, is impossible until Pakistan takes some tangible action on terrorism and until it softens its stand on Jadhav.

Pakistan has just extended the detention of Mumbai attacks mastermind Hafiz Saeed but his unchecked ability to operate freely and Islamabad’s refusal to charge him for those attacks in November 2008 will likely stifle any chance of rapprochement between the 2 countries. Both countries are preparing to host US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson next week and Pakistan’s support to cross-border terrorism will be on top of New Delhi’s agenda for talks with him.

While the government acknowledges Pakistan’s strategic significance for Washington, made manifest by US President Trump’s recent tweet thanking Islamabad for cooperation on many fronts, it remains confident that the US will not allow the same to undermine the India-US “shared commitment to a rule-based international order”.