File picture of flag lowering ceremony at beating retreat ceremony at Attari/Wagah border. (Source: PTI)

India and Pakistan Plan First High-Level Meeting Since 2015

(Bloomberg) -- Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers will meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the first high-level interaction between the two nuclear-armed neighbors in three years.

Sushma Swaraj, India’s Minister of External Affairs, will meet her Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi, India’s foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said on Thursday. Swaraj will also attend a meeting of a regional grouping that includes Pakistan, Kumar said.

India has long said it is open to peace talks if Pakistan stops its covert support for groups that strike inside India. The U.S. has also called on Islamabad to end support for terrorist groups. Pakistan has consistently denied that it supports such groups. Pakistan’s request for the meeting comes after newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan called for peace talks to end violence in disputed Kashmir.

“On the request of the Pakistani side, a meeting between the external affairs minister and Pakistani foreign minister will take place,” Kumar said at a briefing in New Delhi. India and Pakistan have had tense ties since the partition of British India in 1947. The main point of contention is Kashmir, where Indian and Pakistani troops still trade fire across a disputed border.

The last attempt at talks came in December 2015, when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise visit to then-Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif in Lahore. The two nations later called off bilateral talks after attacks on Indian military bases that Indian officials blamed on Pakistani militants.

In his briefing, Kumar said the foreign minister-level meeting should not be confused with a broader dialogue, referring to the now-abandoned process that started after Modi met with Sharif.

“This is a meeting, which we have agreed to based on a request which we have got from the Pakistani side. This does not indicate any change in the policy, as far as our stand on terrorism and cross-border terrorism is concerned,” Kumar said.

Still, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said it was a positive development.

"That’s terrific news for the Indians and Pakistanis to be able to sit down and have a conversation together," she said at a briefing on Sept. 20. "We hope that the conditions will be set for a good, strong relationship."

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