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External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj heads to Pakistan today, will meet Nawaz Sharif

Talks to focus on resumption of dialogue, says Sartaj Aziz

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi |
Updated: December 8, 2015 7:29:25 am
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A DAY after the National Security Advisors of India and Pakistan met in Bangkok, the NDA government confirmed on Monday that External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will meet Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his advisor on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz in Islamabad this week.

Swaraj will visit the Pakistan capital to attend the ministerial segment on Afghanistan during the annual Heart of Asia conference on December 9.

In Islamabad, Aziz said that Swaraj would arrive on Tuesday and their talks would focus on the resumption of the composite dialogue process. Confirming that Swaraj would also call on Sharif, Aziz said that the deadlock in Indo-Pak ties has eased to some extent.

Sources said that Swaraj’s meeting with Aziz will be the culmination of a meeting between the “top four” in the Indian establishment meeting their Pakistani counterparts in a matter of 10 days — the Prime Minister in Paris last week, External Affairs minister, NSA and Foreign Secretary.

“This is probably one of the most intense high-level engagements in a 10-day period in the relations between India and Pakistan,” sources told The Indian Express.

It also marked a huge step forward from the bitter exchange of words in August when the NSA talks in Delhi were called off due to differences over the Pakistani delegation meeting Hurriyat leaders and confining the talks to the issue of terrorism.

South Block sources said that about 10 days ago, the Ministry of External Affairs recommended a “Cabinet minister’s” presence at the Heart of Asia conference because it felt that India should be represented at the political level during the discussions on Afghanistan, a key neighbour.

The matter was deliberated at the Prime Minister’s Office — since a “political call” had to be taken — before a decision was taken at the highest levels to break the logjam.

Sources pointed out that the significance of this development was evident from the presence of at least four officials linked to the PMO — NSA Ajit Doval, the Prime Minister’s special envoy on counter-terrorism Asif Ibrahim, joint secretary (PMO) Vinay Kwatra and his predecessor Jawed Ashraf — at the meeting in Bangkok.

Incidentally, there was an indication of Swaraj’s visit in the joint press release issued after Bangkok meeting, which said, “It was agreed to carry forward the constructive engagement.”

Once it was felt that Swaraj should attend the conference, it was imperative that the NSAs pave the way for her visit, sources said. “It was important that the NSAs meet and resolve the issues. Otherwise, the External Affairs Minister’s visit would have been overshadowed by the bitterness between the two sides,” an official told The Indian Express.

The Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson Vikas Swarup confirmed Swaraj’s visit to Pakistan with a tweet on Monday: “External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to lead Indian delegation for ‘Heart of Asia’ 5th Ministerial Meeting on Afghanistan on December 9 in Islamabad.”

The last visit to Islamabad by an External Effairs Minister was in September 2012, when S M Krishna signed a visa liberalisation agreement.

While the NSAs have already discussed terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir and tranquility along Line of Control, Swaraj’s visit is expected to “talk about talks”.

During her visit, Swaraj will be accompanied by Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, who was also present during the four-hour-long meeting between National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and his Pakistani counterpart Naseer Janjua in Bangkok.

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