NEW DELHI: Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale will come face to face with his Pakistani counterpart, Tehmina Janjua, in Kabul this week for the Kabul conference, the Hindustan Times said on Tuesday.

Mr Gokhale will attend the conference on Wednesday in which 25 countries will be participating.

Though an official one-to-one meeting between the foreign secretaries hasn’t been confirmed by either of the two countries, if it takes place, the paper said, it would be the first such meeting between India and Pakistan since National Security Adviser Ajit Doval met his Pakistan counterpart in December 2017 in Bangkok.

The speculated meeting of the top diplomats at the Kabul conference comes in the backdrop of recent attacks on an army camp in Jammu and Kashmir’s Sunjwan, which India blames on Pakistan. The attack claimed the lives of five soldiers and one civilian, India claims.

Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said at the time that Pakistan will “pay for the misadventure”. According to NDTV, Ms Sitharaman had alleged that three militants of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, who atta­cked the army camp, were controlled by handlers in Pakistan.

Pakistan is “expanding the arch of terror to areas south of Pir Panjal ranges and resorting to ceasefire violations to assist infiltration”, she said.

The “Kabul Process” meeting is an Afghan government-led initiative with stakeholders to find lasting peace in the war-torn country, including the contours of engaging with Taliban outfit. This is the second such meeting of the Kabul Process and is taking place amid stepped up prospects that the elusive TAPI gas pipeline connecting Turkmenis­tan and India through Afghan­istan and Pakistan could be taking shape.

Earlier, in the first stand-alone trip by the India’s foreign secretary to China after last year’s tense standoff in Doklam, Mr Gokhale quietly paid a visit to Beijing last week.

Indian Express reported both sides agreeing on a roadmap for the coming year, including discussions on visits by respective foreign ministers and other officials.

It quoted sources as saying that the brief for Mr Gokhale, a fluent Mandarin speaker who had played a key role in the disengagement at Doklam, was to lay the ground for normalising India-China ties, which have been strained recently, ahead of Prime Minister Narendra

Modi’s likely visit to Qingdao in China in June this year for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisa­tion Summit.

Mr Gokhale was in Beijing on the day China lifted its objections to grey-listing of Pakistan with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) over terror financing, in what the paper saw as a major achievement for Delhi.

It said the FATF was on the table in the talks Mr Gokhale held in Beijing, apart from other contentious issues such as Maldives, Masood Azhar and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), and scheduling of working level meetings.

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2018

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