India’s top diplomat to head on SAARC mission

jai-fs1India’s South Asian diplomacy is set to acquire a renewed momentum during Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar’s planned visit to all SAARC nations in March.

Mr Jaishankar, who took charge as India’s top diplomat on January 28, will kick off his SAARC mission with a visit to Bhutan, followed by other South Asian countries.

The idea of sending Mr Jaishankar germinated with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Mr Modi had called Afghan President Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to convey that he would be sending the new foreign secretary on a Saarc ‘yatra’ soon to advance regional cooperation.

In conversations with his Pakistani counterpart as well as other SAARC leaders, Mr Modi also engaged in a spot of ‘cricket diplomacy’, and conveyed his best wishes for their teams in the Cricket World Cup 2015 currently underway in Australia and New Zealand.

“Cricket is a metaphor for connectivity in the SAARC countries and Prime Minister Narendra Modi practices multi-layered diplomacy,” said Syed Akbaruddin, the spokesperson of India’s external affairs ministry.

Mr Jaishankar is also likely to visit Pakistan, an important strip that could thaw a freeze in diplomatic ties between the two estranged neighbours.

Bilateral relations between the two nations had nosedived when India called off foreign secretary-level talks in August 2014 after Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit met Kashmiri separatist leaders in Delhi, ignoring India’s request not to go ahead with the meetings.

The prickly relations between India and Pakistan has, however, recently shown signs of improving. National Security Adviser Doval is reported to have met his Pakistani counterpart Basit in December 2014 to break the stalemate and create an opportunity for re-engagement between two countries. “Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar may visit Pakistan in March for talks and all issues including Kashmir will be part of the dialogue,” Pakistan Prime Minister’s Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz has said in Islamabad.

The meeting followed a quiet away-from-cameras conversation between Mr Modi and Mr Sharif at the SAARC leaders’ retreat in Dhulikhel in Nepal on November 27.

Mr Jaishankar will be looking to advance proposals of greater regional integration unveiled by Mr Modi in his speech at South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit in Kathmandu in November 2014.

Signalling his neighbours first mantra, Mr Modi had invited all the leaders of the SAARC countries, including Pakistan’s prime minister to attend his oath-taking ceremony on May 26, 2014.