Pakistan’s top diplomat Sartaj Aziz will arrive in Amritsar on Saturday to attend a key meet of Asian leaders, advancing his trip by a day in a surprise move even as New Delhi and Islamabad struggled to improve frosty ties.
It was also learnt the bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani could now take place on Sunday instead of Saturday, on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia conclave.
The Heart of Asia initiative, launched in 2011, includes 14 countries including China and Russia and is aimed at encouraging economic and security cooperation.
Aziz, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s foreign policy adviser, was to arrive in Amritsar on Sunday to attend the ministerial meet on Afghanistan but will now land at around 7.30 pm by a special flight. However, there was no formal reaction from the external affairs ministry on the change in plan.
Aziz is expected to attend the dinner for the participants of the Heart of Asia conference.
“The adviser is coming by a special flight. He will likely attend the dinner. This is because there is a change in his schedule at the last moment,” a source told HT.
Ties between India and Pakistan have deteriorated sharply in recent months after a series of attacks on Indian military bases in Kashmir and Punjab, which New Delhi says have either been carried out by militants sneaking in from Pakistan or orchestrated by groups based there. Pakistan denies the charges.
Ahead of the Amritsar conference, India said cross-border terrorism cannot be the new normal in India-Pakistan ties, signalling in a hardening of posture against the neighbour.
However, surprises never eluded India-Pakistan ties which many times went against a predicted script including an unannounced visit of Modi to Lahore to meet Sharif. But whether a gesture by Aziz to attend the dinner would dramatically change the current hostile India-Pakistan narrative remains to be seen.
The last two Heart of Asia conclaves had India-Pakistan bilateral meetings. In December 2015, Sushma Swaraj attended the Heart of Asia ministerial in Islamabad. And early this year foreign secretary S Jaishankar met his Pakistan counterpart in the meeting of the senior officials grouping in New Delhi.
A regional counter-terror mechanism and plans to boost connectivity and investments to Afghanistan will be the likely outcome of the ministerial meeting to be inaugurated by Modi and Ghani on Sunday.