Swaraj to meet Sharif in Pakistan: What’s on agenda?

EAM

ISLAMABAD: With the world and the region watching closely the latest initiative by India and Pakistan to restart their stalled dialogue, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj struck a cautiously optimistic tone as she arrived in Islamabad on December 8, saying the two sides will focus on improving their bilateral relations.

“I will meet Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and my counterpart Sartaj Aziz. We will talk about improving and taking forward the relations between the two countries,” Ms Swaraj said in terse remarks in Islamabad.

Ms Swaraj will be attending the Heart of Asia Istanbul process security conference which will discuss the way forward for Afghanistan. India, which has pledged over $2 billion for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, is expected to pitch for a regional approach and enhanced international commitment in stabilizing Afghanistan through its transition process, following the withdrawal of foreign combat troops.

This is the first visit by an Indian foreign minister to Pakistan since 2012.

All eyes will be, however, on the tone and content of talks between Ms Swaraj and her Pakistani interlocutors in the Pakistani capital on December 9. The agenda for the talks has been kept under wraps in a bid to shield it from the prying eyes of the high-decibel media, but informed sources indicated that all issues, including terrorism and Jammu and Kashmir, will be on the table.

The visit of Sushma Swaraj to Pakistan was cleared by Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the breakthrough in talks between the national security advisers and foreign secretaries of the two countries in Bangkok on December 6. The stage for reviving engagement was set by Prime Ministers Modi and Sharif during their brief but significant meeting in Paris on the sidelines of the global climate summit over a week ago.

The outcome of Ms Swaraj’s talks in Islamabad will determine the course of India-Pakistan engagement, which has remained embroiled in deepening trust deficit and mutual recriminations, in the near term. It’s not clear yet what form the dialogue will take place, if both sides decide to resume the engagement process.

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