In a bid to restart dialogue with Pakistan, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar is all set to travel to Islamabad on March 3 as part of the SAARC Yatra, sources told The Indian Express on Tuesday.
This comes days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi called up Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on February 13 to wish him ahead of the Cricket World Cup and inform him about the Foreign Secretary’s SAARC Yatra.
Besides holding talks with Pakistan’s Foreign secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Jaishankar is also expected to meet with Pakistan PM’s Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, and Special Assistant to the PM Tareq Fatemi. He is also likely to call on Sharif.
This bilateral conversation is expected to be about the “process” ahead, as sources said, “they are going to talk about talks”.
However, with the Foreign Secretary visiting Pakistan within two days of the first-ever BJP-participated government in J&K taking charge, a government source said it is an “interesting coincidence”.
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The two sides are expected to make a formal announcement about the visit this week, sources said. They are waiting for Jaishankar to return from the US — where he had gone to wind up from his last assignment as the Indian envoy.
This will be Jaishankar’s first visit to Pakistan. It is reliably learnt that Jaishankar will start his SAARC Yatra from Bhutan, then go to Dhaka, then Islamabad and followed by Kabul. His Islamabad trip may spread over March 3 and 4.
Sources said that the decision to schedule the India-Pakistan Foreign Secretary-level talks “at the earliest” was taken at the highest level, since the two sides did not want any hurdle to crop up at the last-minute.
One major consideration from the Indian side was that the talks had to take place “substantially before or after” Pakistan Day which falls on March 23. On that day, the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi invites the Kashmiri Hurriyat leaders for the official reception and the Hurriyat leaders always attend the event. Since talks were cancelled in August last over Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit’s meeting with the Hurriyat leaders, New Delhi was determined not to let it act as a “spoiler” for the talks again.
While some felt the talks should be held after the March 23 reception, majority felt that the PM’s initiative of restarting the talks should not be delayed – lest some unfortunate incident takes place before the talks. Some also felt that the talks taking place after the Hurriyat leaders meeting the Pakistan envoy would have been seen as a softening of their stance since last August.
As reported by The Indian Express on February 14, this issue of “sequencing” was the formula agreed upon between the two countries in the last few months to resolve the deadlock. According to the broad understanding, the Pakistan envoy can meet the Hurriyat leaders at the Pakistan Day or any other time of the year, but not “before” the official talks.
While the process of re-engagement started with Modi’s 15-minute one-on-one conversation on the sidelines of the SAARC summit in Nepal, officials have been asked to moderate the expectations this time about the “outcome”.