NEW DELHI: Speculation over official level contacts to lay the groundwork for a possible thaw between India and Pakistan mounted Wednesday with Pakistan foreign secretary Sohail Mahmood’s presence in New Delhi.
Mahmood was seen offering namaz or prayers on the occasion of Eid in New Delhi’s Jama Masjid. He was accompanied by acting Pakistan high commissioner to India, Syed Haider Shah.
Mahmood was Pakistan’s high commissioner to India before being appointed foreign secretary in April.
According to two people familiar with the development, Mahmood arrived in New Delhi on Tuesday and is expected to leave on Friday with his family who had stayed back because of his children’s schooling.
Mahmood’s quiet visit has raised speculation that moves could possibly be afoot to facilitate a meeting between Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi—their first ever face to face interaction. Modi and Khan are slated to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, later this month. Indian officials have so far denied the possibility of a meeting between the two Prime Ministers on the margins of the SCO.
It is not immediately known whether Mahmood will meet any Indian official or leader during his stay. Both the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi and the Indian foreign ministry did not comment on the visit.
Ahead of his departure to Pakistan to take up his new assignment, Mahmood was cited as saying that dialogue between India and Pakistan was the only option to ensure understanding of mutual concerns and establishing peace, prosperity and security in the region.
Mahmood said Pakistan was hoping for “re-engagement” with New Delhi after the April-May national polls in India. “Sustained engagement and structured dialogue would enable the two countries to understand mutual concerns and differences, resolve outstanding disputes and build the edifice of durable peace, security and prosperity in the region,” Mahmood told PTI in an interview.
India-Pakistan ties have been tense since the 14 February Pulwama terrorist attack in which 40 Indian security personnel were killed. The attack was claimed by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist group and sparked tensions between India and Pakistan. India struck a terrorist training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot area on 26 February. Pakistan retaliated the next day with an aerial raid on Indian military installations in Kashmir, an attack repulsed by Indian Air Force jets. An Indian fighter aircraft was shot down by Pakistan and its pilot captured causing tensions to rise even further. The return of the pilot on 1 March seemed to cool tensions a little bit.
Pakistan PM Khan’s Twitter message congratulating Modi on his election win on 23 May and his phone call to the Indian Prime Minister is seemed aimed at lowering tensions with Khan expressing his desire to work for peace during his phone call. Modi on his part underlined the importance of creating trust and an environment free of terrorism for peace in South Asia.
But the fact that Modi did not invite South Asian leaders to his swearing-in ceremony on 30 May but instead chose to invite leaders of a grouping of South Asian and South-East Asian nations, leaving out Pakistan, seemed to suggest that New Delhi preferred to wait and watch to see what steps Islamabad would take to tackle terrorism before embarking on a peace process.