India, Pakistan engage in ‘back channel’ talks to break impasse: Report

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NEW DELHI — India and Pakistan have been engaged in “back channel” talks in order to break the stalemate in the relationship between the two nuclear-armed neighbours, a media report said citing official sources.

The Express Tribune report said that relations between the two countries have remained strained for years now and took a turn for the worse in August 2019 when India revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

“Since then, diplomatic ties have been downgraded, bilateral trade suspended and there has been no structured dialogue. But even before the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif took charge, the two countries were talking to each other, albeit quietly,” the report said.

Those contacts have led to the renewal of the ceasefire understanding in February 2021 and since then the truce is holding, with no major incident of ceasefire violation. But the process could not lead to a breakthrough in terms of resumption of dialogue between the two countries.

Since the new government came to power in Islamabad, there has been a renewed push by the two sides to find some way out.

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“Call it back channels, Track-II or behind-the-scene talks, I can only confirm that relevant people in both countries are in touch with each other,” The Express Tribune report quoted of the official sources as saying.

The source, however, said that he did not have the exact details of those contacts, adding that it was precisely the purpose of “back channels” to keep the discussions under wraps until something tangible had been decided.

Chances of an immediate breakthrough are slim given the political uncertainty in Pakistan and tough preconditions attached by both sides for any resumption of dialogue.

India, the sources said, is inclined to the re-engagement but reluctant to offer something that would help Pakistan resume the dialogue, The Express Tribune reported.

“Our policy is clear. We want to engage with everyone, including India,” said a senior member of the coalition government, while requesting anonymity.

The sources said that the Western powers, including the US and the UK, were also pushing for defusing tension and opening some formal channels of communications between the two South Asian neighbours, The Express Tribune reported.

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India is said to be eager to first resume trade and then other ties with Pakistan. New Delhi is willing to meet the wheat shortage in Pakistan by entering into a government-to-government agreement, the report said.

India is one of the top 3 wheat producers in the world and Pakistan this season plans to import 4 million metric tonnes of wheat to meet its domestic shortage.

Pakistan could import wheat from India at a much lower cost, given the less transportation and other logistic charges.

Pakistan is currently in talks with Russia to import at least 2 million tonnes of wheat. The commodity price in the global market has shot due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

However, Pakistani officials are ruling out the possibility of importing wheat from India given the current status of bilateral ties, The Express Tribune report added.

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