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India, Pakistan held secret talks in Dubai over Kashmir: Sources

NEW DELHI: Top intelligence officers from India and Pakistan held secret talks in Dubai in January in a new effort to calm military tension over Kashmir, people with close knowledge of the matter told Reuters news agency in Delhi.

Ties between the nuclear-armed rivals have been on ice since 2019. But the two governments have re-opened a back channel of diplomacy aimed at a modest roadmap to normalising ties over the next several months, the sources told the news agency

Officials from India’s Research and Analysis Wing, the external spy agency, and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence travelled to Dubai for a meeting facilitated by the United Arab Emirates government.

Ayesha Siddiqa, a top Pakistani defence analyst, said she believed Indian and Pakistan intelligence officials had been meeting for several months in third countries. “I think there have been meetings in Thailand, in Dubai, in London between the highest level people,” she said.

Such meetings have taken place in the past too, especially during times of crises but never been publicly acknowledged. “There is a lot that can still go wrong, it is fraught,” said one of the people in Delhi. “That is why nobody is talking it up in public, we don’t even have a name for this, it’s not a peace process. You can call it a re-engagement,” one of them said.

Both countries have reasons to seek a rapprochement. India has been locked in a border stand-off with China since last year and does not want the military stretched on the Pakistan front.

Pakistan, mired in economic difficulties and on an IMF bailout programme, can ill-afford heightened tensions on the Kashmir border for a prolonged period. It also has to stabilise the Afghan border on its west as the United States withdraws.

Following the January meeting, India and Pakistan announced they would stop cross-border shooting along the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Kashmir which has left dozens of civilians dead and many others maimed. That ceasefire is holding, military officials in both countries said.

The two have also agreed to dial down their rhetoric, the people Reuters spoke to said.  “There is a recognition there will be attacks inside Kashmir, there has been discussions as to how to deal with it and not let this effort derailed by the next attack,” one of the people said.

“Pakistan is transiting from a geostrategic domain to a geo-economic domain,” said Raoof Hasan, a special assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan. “Peace, both within and around with its neighbours, is a key constituent to facilitate that.”

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