NEW DELHI: India and Pakistan are looking at the possibility of a meeting between their foreign ministers, Sushma Swaraj and Shah Mehmood Qureshi respectively, on the sidelines of UNGA in New York next month. Both leaders are likely to be present at the 73rd session of the UNGA which will open on September 18.

Diplomatic sources said there was no official proposal yet for a meeting. They, however, added there's an understanding among both sides that they should make use of this first available opportunity for a significant contact between the two countries in line with the call by both PM Narendra Modi and his counterpart Imran Khan for constructive engagement.

While India has ruled out formal talks, or the start of comprehensive bilateral dialogue, the government’s position does not preclude any interaction with Pakistan leaders at multilateral events.

Modi had written to Khan after his swearing-in expressing commitment for "constructive and meaningful’’ engagement with Pakistan. For the Modi government, UNGA offers a great opportunity to break the ice with the new government in Pakistan before it seriously considers moving on to more substantive engagement.

In the absence of any formal dialogue, Swaraj has worked hard, with assistance from Pakistan high commissioner Sohail Mahmood and his counterpart in Islamabad Ajay Bisaria, to maintain at least a semblance of normalcy by addressing humanitarian issues between the two countries. This has resulted in the release of fishermen and other prisoners by both sides at regular intervals this year.

In May this year, the government allowed a delegation of former Indian diplomats, military veterans and academics to travel to Pakistan to discuss ways to break the stalemate in ties.

As a former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan had then told TOI, the revival of Neemrana dialogue suggested that the policy of not having any engagement at all with Pakistan had run its course. Until then, talks between the two countries were mostly restricted to phone conversations between the National Security Advisers which were never made public. The government justified these saying that while talks and terror couldn’t go together, the two countries could always have talks on terror.

A substantive bilateral engagement though, which means having comprehensive dialogue, may still have to wait until the Khan government shows some inclination to bring the perpetrators of Pathankot and Mumbai attacks to justice, according to government sources. 

The Pathankot attack was particularly damaging as it came weeks after India showed signs of, as an official accompanying Swaraj to Pakistan in December 2015 put it, moving on from its position on 26/11 by agreeing to start the dialogue process. 

Khan is likely to reach out to Modi in the next few weeks to get him to drop India’s opposition at the Saarc summit which Pakistan is keen on hosting this year. If the meeting at UNGA materialises, Swaraj is certain to seek a public assurance from Qureshi reiterating Pakistan’s commitment to act against cross-border terrorism. And if that happens, Modi could consider doing a Vajpayee, who travelled to Pakistan in 2004 for Saarc summit, months ahead of general elections, and managed to get an assurance from then Pakistan ruler Pervez Musharraf that Pakistan would not allow its territory to be used for terrorism. India continues to cite that assurance to Pakistan even now. 

After the death of Vajpayee, the Indian high commission in Pakistan tweeted pictures from the former PM’s several visits to Pakistan describing these as "glimpses of his intimate association with Pakistan". It also recalled how Vajpayee had worked relentlessly to forge "new relations" between India and Pakistan.