Starting a new phase in India-Pakistan ties, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said on Tuesday in Islamabad, “The message that I have come with is that India-Pakistan ties should become much better and should move forward.”
Ms. Swaraj, who is >visiting Pakistan to participate in the >Heart of Asia conference on Afghanistan, proceeded to a dinner with her Pakistani counterpart Sartaj Aziz, along with her team of diplomats — Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar, spokesperson Vikas Swarup and MEA’s Pakistan desk in-charge Gopal Baglay.
Shortly before the departure of Ms. Swaraj, P.L. Punia of the Congress said: “The need of the hour is to address terrorism. Hafiz Saeed and Dawood Ibrahim who are hiding in Pakistan should be discussed during the talks.”
The U.S. State Department hailed the revival of talks, with its spokesperson saying that the “normalisation of relations” is vital to both countries and the region.
Opening the conference, Mr. Aziz said the “Heart of Asia process” is contributing to greater coherence to the work of other regional organisations, projects and processes.
The theme of the conference jointly hosted by Pakistan and Afghanistan, is ‘Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process: Enhanced cooperation for countering security threats and promoting connectivity in the Heart of Asia region.’
Ms. Swaraj’s presence has heightened the sense of drama in Islamabad. “The presence of an important Minister from New Delhi has turned the Heart of Asia conference into a platform where both India and Pakistan can discuss many other bilateral issues apart from their future roles in Afghanistan. All eyes are therefore on India-Pakistan talks,” said Sirmed Manzoor, veteran commentator and Islamabad-based General Secretary of South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA).
The conference is already being noted for bringing together President Ashraf Ghani with the top handlers of Pakistan’s Afghanistan strategy. Mr. Manzoor suggested both sides could restart the exchange of media representatives. “We do not expect miracles from Ms. Swaraj’s visit but small gestures will help ties,” he said.
Pakistani journalist Sabir Shakir pointed out that while the meetings between Ms. Swaraj and Mr. Aziz and her meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday would attract attention, there is a need to lower expectations.
(With PTI inputs)