The foreign ministers of Pakistan and India met informally Wednesday on the sidelines of a meeting of regional countries in Kyrgyzstan, the first contact between the two nuclear-armed South Asian rival nations since they stepped back from the brink of war in February.
Pakistani officials said Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi briefly interacted with his Indian counterpart, Sushma Swaraj, at the end of a two-day ministerial meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a China-led security bloc, in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek.
“We made it clear to her that we want to resolve all the issues amicably through negotiations. … Even today we are ready for negotiations,” a Foreign Ministry statement quoted Qureshi as telling Swaraj.
He noted his Indian counterpart had a complaint that “we [Pakistan] sometimes talk bitterly and she brought sweets so we could also speak sweetly.”
Officials in New Delhi offered no immediate comment, but Indian media quoted their Foreign Ministry sources as saying Swaraj only exchanged pleasantries with Qureshi and “there was no meeting between them.”
In mid-February, a suicide bomber struck an Indian paramilitary convoy in the disputed Kashmir territory, killing 40 security personnel. Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) reportedly claimed responsibility for the bombing, fueling tensions between the two countries. Islamabad denied responsibility for the attack.
Indian fighter planes on Feb. 26 flew into Pakistan and carried out airstrikes against what New Delhi alleged was a JeM training camp in the mountainous town of Balakot. The next day, Pakistan responded with airstrikes of its own, shooting down an Indian plane and capturing its pilot in an ensuing dogfight over the disputed Kashmir border.
The aerial clash was the first between Pakistan and India in five decades, raising fears of another full-scale war. Pakistan returned the Indian pilot two days later, and the tensions have since eased.
The Kashmir dispute has sparked two of the three wars between the two countries and it remains the primary source of mutual tensions. Both India and Pakistan claim the Himalayan region in its entirety.
Wednesday’s informal interaction between the two foreign ministers came a day before the announcement of the results of Indian general elections. Most exit polls have predicted Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance will return to power for a second term.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said last month that he saw a better chance of peace talks with India and “some kind of settlement in Kashmir” if Modi’s nationalist BJP were to win the elections.