Foreign secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar is likely to visit Pakistan on March 3 as part of his Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) yatra, which will restart the dialogue process between the neighbours.
According to sources, the Saarc yatra is expected to begin with Bhutan — traditionally the first port of call for a new foreign secretary. Jaishankar is likely to travel to Bangladesh before he undertakes the most challenging part of his yatra to Pakistan. He is expected to reach Kabul on March 4 from Islamabad, sources said. However, a formal announcement still awaited.
The visit to Pakistan is crucial in more ways than one. After raising the bar on talks with Pakistan, the Modi government is making a new move in the dialogue process — arguably the biggest foreign policy challenge of the NDA government. Having India and Pakistan mend ties is crucial for the integration of South Asia — one of the world’s least integrated regions.
Jaishankar will also review the progress of the Saarc initiatives announced by PM Narendra Modi at the Saarc summit in Nepal last year — including easing of visa norms for business leaders, funds for a Saarc regional reference laboratory for Tuberculosis and HIV and speedy issuing of medical visa, among others.
In an ice-breaking cricket diplomacy, Modi had called and conveyed his best wishes to leaders of four Saarc nations which, along with India, are participating in the cricket World Cup. Following PM Modi’s conversation with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, it was announced that Jaishankar would visit Islamabad and “push a bilateral agenda”.