India to host Pakistan - India maritime security talks

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India to host Pakistan - India maritime security talks

NEW DELHI: India is all set to host a meeting of the Indian Coast Guard and Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) next month in a sign that while it may not soon formally start the comprehensive bilateral dialogue (CBD) process, it is not averse to talking to Islamabad on important issues.

The last round of talks between Coast Guard and PMSA on maritime security had taken place in July last year in Islamabad.

Official sources here told TOI that the two sides are currently finalising dates for talks through diplomatic channels and that the engagement is likely to take place anytime after April 15.

The visit by Coast Guard to Pakistan last year was the first by any Indian delegation to the neighbouring country after the Pathankot attack. It was seen as a small step to lend a semblance of normalcy to ties, one which could lead to a more substantive engagement later. The strife in Kashmir though, and later the Uri attack, made it impossible for India to engage Islamabad.

The visit to India by PMSA next month will also be the first by any Pakistan security delegation since the Uri attack. This follows India's move earlier this month to send a delegation to Pakistan to hold Indus Water Commission talks.

The government had defended its decision to go ahead with Indus engagement saying that it did not amount to talks between the 2 governments. MEA said last week that so long as India was party to the Indus Waters Treaty, it was under legal obligation to attend all "treaty-mandated meetings".

There have been other signs though that India, without diluting its rhetoric on cross-border terrorism, is warming up to Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif's peace overtures in the wake of former army chief Raheel Sharif's retirement. In the most recent such gesture, it allowed BJP MPs, Swapan Das Gupta and Meenakshi Lekhi, to attend a conference in Pakistan. The two were accompanied by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor.

After an official request from Islamabad, it had last month also released 33 Pakistani prisoners and fishermen. The government had then declared that it attached "highest importance" to addressing all humanitarian issues with Pakistan. It has also sought to promote people to people contact by getting the ICCR to sponsor participation of Indian authors in last month's Karachi Literature Festival.

As official sources here insisted, it is not possible for India to give in to Islamabad's demand that CBD be started until there's some tangible progress in Pathankot attack probe and also also Mumbai trial.

Modi last week wrote to Sharif saying that India wanted to have cordial ties with Pakistan in an atmosphere free of terror and violence. With both Modi and Sharif both likely to attend the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) summit in Astana in June, there's a possibility though that either of the two countries could propose a meeting between the PMs.

The Indian Coast Guard and PMSA signed an MoU in 2005 which envisaged cooperation between the two agencies through exchange of information on Exclusive Economic Zone violations, apprehended vessels, marine pollution, natural disasters and calamities.

The MoU also sought to combat smuggling, illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs and piracy, and coordination in search and rescue and return sea passage. It also established a communication link between them in the form of a hotline which remains operational. The MoU was extended in 2016 for 5 more years.