Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif held crucial meetings with Pakistan’s powerful military leadership on Tuesday to frame a strategy for talks with visiting Indian external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and a multilateral meeting on Afghanistan.
The meetings -- a day ahead of Swaraj’s talks with Sharif and his foreign affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz -- signalled that the Pakistani military was firmly in the driving seat as far as the country’s policy towards India was concerned. Aziz was delinked in October from the role of national security adviser, a position that was then given to retired general Nasir Janjua.
Swaraj arrived in Islamabad on Tuesday evening to attend the Heart of Asia conference on Afghanistan. She is scheduled to hold separate meetings on Wednesday with Sharif and Aziz, and observers believe the parleys could lead to broader engagements between the two countries.
EAM Sushma Swaraj in Islamabad (Pakistan), meets Pak Foreign Min Sartaj Aziz at dinner for Heart of Asia delegates. https://t.co/LikeOsePAP— ANI (@ANI_news) December 8, 2015
“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,” Swaraj said in a brief video message tweeted by the external affairs ministry.
Ahead of Swaraj’s arrival, Pakistan Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif called on Prime Minister Sharif at the PM House in Islamabad. A brief official statement said the two leaders had discussed “issues of national and regional security” and reviewed progress in Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the ongoing military offensive against militants.
The Prime Minister also chaired a meeting at the PM House that was attended by the army chief, Janjua, finance minister Ishaque Dar, interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Sartaj Aziz and special adviser to the Prime Minister Tariq Fatemi.
Janjua briefed the meeting about progress made in recent talks between the NSAs and foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan in Bangkok, an official statement said. The agenda of the Heart of Asia conference and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Pakistan was also discussed during the meeting.
Sources in Islamabad said Sharif’s consultations with the army chief and other leaders was aimed at forging a strategy for the Heart of Asia conference and bilateral talks with Swaraj.
Swaraj’s visit is being seen as the first significant engagement between the two sides since the meeting between Prime Minister Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in the Russian city of Ufa in July. It is also the first visit by an Indian foreign minister to Pakistan since 2012.
The Indian delegation at the fifth Heart of Asia ministerial meeting on Wednesday will be led by Swaraj. Fourteen countries, including Pakistan and China, are part of the initiative launched in 2011 to work for peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Foreign Office officials said Swaraj is expected to return to India on Wednesday evening, making her visit last not more than 24 hours.
Earlier in the day, Sartaj Aziz addressed a meeting of senior officials from countries involved in the Heart of Asia initiative and called for greater cooperation to counter security threats and promote connectivity in the region. In his opening remarks, Aziz said: “Our region is mired in dire security challenges which are hampering our socio-economic development.”
The theme of the conference, jointly hosted by Pakistan and Afghanistan, is “enhanced cooperation for countering security threats and promoting connectivity in the Heart of Asia region”.
Aziz and Afghan deputy foreign minister Khalil Hekmat Karzai expressed hope the conference will help evolve a strategy against terrorism and extremism.
Prime Minister Sharif and Afghan President Ghani will jointly inaugurate the Heart of Asia meeting on Wednesday.