Nepal suspends foreign secretary level talks with Pakistan

KATHMANDU (The Kathmandu Post/ANN) - Decision to call off meeting taken days ahead of Indian foreign secretary’s visit to Kathmandu

Nepal has suspended foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan in the wake of heightened India-Pakistan tension. The move comes just ahead of Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Keshav Gokhale’s visit to Kathmandu this week.

The Nepal-Pakistan Bilateral Consultative Mechanism meeting scheduled for March 25 and 26 in Islamabad--slated to be led by the foreign secretaries of Nepal and Pakistan--has been postponed until further notice, at least two senior officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the Post.

The meeting has not taken place in the past decade. The panel was established to review the third round of bilateral consultations and bilateral relations comprehensively. “Amid heightened tension between India and Pakistan, it is not wise to hold a meeting with Islamabad,” an official at the Foreign Ministry told the Post requesting anonymity.

Tensions between India and Pakistan escalated last month after a suicide attacker killed at least 42 Indian security personnel in Pulwama, a town in the Indian-administered Kashmir.

Officials, however, downplayed as coincidence the decision to cancel the scheduled meeting with Pakistan just days ahead of the Indian foreign secretary’s visit to Kathmandu.

Gokhale is arriving in Kathmandu on March 28 on a two-day visit. Apart from reviewing the status of India-funded projects in Nepal, he is expected to discuss issues related to combating terrorism and to seek Nepal’s firm position against terrorism. 

Tensions between the two South Asian nuclear-armed countries often have their effects on regional ties. 

In September 2016, India decided to pull out of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit slated for November that year in Islamabad after militants attacked an Indian army base in Uri.

The summit has been in limbo since. 

During his visit to Nepal last year, then-Pakistani prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi requested Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to hold regular meetings of various bilateral mechanisms.

Initially, Nepal and Pakistan mooted holding the foreign secretary-level meeting in April-end or in the first week of May but with the request of the Pakistani side, it was decided that the meeting would be held on March 25-26 in Islamabad.

After calling off the meeting, Kathmandu has also suspended all other internal meetings--cross-ministerial meetings to formulate the agendas, a meeting with the Pakistani Embassy in Kathmandu, and a meeting between the Pakistani Foreign Ministry and the Nepali Embassy in Islamabad, according to officials. 

The meeting of the Bilateral Consultative Mechanism covers a wide range of bilateral issues like resuming direct flights between Nepal and Pakistan, extradition treaty, increase in various Pakistani scholarships, expanding trade, investment and industrial joint ventures, trade and commerce, banking and finance, agriculture and livestock, energy, health, education, culture, tourism, telecom and Information and Communication Technology, and civil aviation. Under the Pakistan Technical Assistance Programme, Nepalis receive scholarships in medicine, pharmacy and engineering. There are more than 550 Nepali students pursuing higher studies in the field of medical science, engineering, pharmacy, information technology, social science, management, and mass communication in Pakistan.

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