In the first visit by a Cabinet Minister of the Modi government to Pakistan, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will travel to Islamabad on Tuesday to attend an Afghanistan conference, and meet Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and her counterpart Sartaj Aziz.
The two-day visit, which puts the suspended dialogue process on track, has drawn flak, even from the BJP and ally Shiv Sena.
The announcement of the visit, that had been speculated on for days, and was confirmed by The Hindu last week, was made by the Ministry of External Affairs in a tweet on Monday morning.
Officials said the announcement was delayed because they were awaiting the completion of talks between the National Security Advisers in Bangkok on Sunday.
The Minister will lead India’s delegation at the ‘Heart of Asia’ conference which will include Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar, Joint Secretary for Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, Gopal Baglay, the official spokesperson Vikas Swarup and Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan T.C.A. Raghavan.
Deadlock in India-Pakistan ties partly ends: Aziz
“The deadlock in India-Pakistan ties has ended to some extent,” Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz was quoted as saying in Islamabad on Monday, adding that he “looked forward” to his Indian counterpart Ms. Swaraj’s visit.
The Ministry of External Affairs made no comment on the expectations from the Minister’s first visit to Pakistan.
However, the fact that it comes just days after the meeting between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif in Paris, and the four-hour talks between NSAs and Foreign Secretaries, means the groundwork would have been laid on discussing the way forward in the dialogue.
“The least one would hope for is an agreement on how to proceed in a structure for talks,” former diplomat Aziz Ahmad Khan told The Hindu . “In Pakistan we understand that India no longer wants the composite dialogue, but we hope they will suggest an alternative.”
Other discussions that could be held would be on enhancing trade ties and liberalising the visa regime, sources in Islamabad told this correspondent.
In New Delhi, however, the government faced a barrage of criticism for reviving the dialogue process that caught many even within the government by surprise.
While BJP leader Yashwant Sinha was particularly critical, ally Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut demanded the government’s reason for shifting its position on talks, adding that “the nation awaits an answer as well.”
Raising the issue in Parliament, Congress leader Anand Sharma called for an explanation for the “fundamental departure from the position” the government had articulated in the monsoon session. The government has committed to a full reply from Ms. Swaraj after her return from Pakistan on December 10.
In a joint press release issued in Bangkok on Sunday, NSAs Ajit Doval and Lt. Gen (Retd) Nasir Janjua had said they had “agreed to carry forward the constructive engagement,” and “were guided by the vision of the two leaders for a peaceful, stable and prosperous South Asia.”