External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee left for Colombo on Tuesday on the first leg of a four-nation tour that will see him visit neighbouring Sri Lanka, Maldives, Pakistan and the Philippines.
Mukherjee’s visit comes shortly after detailed consultations with leading opposition parties on India’s neighbourhood policy for the following months. His visits to Colombo, Male and Islamabad are primarily to invite the leadership of those countries for the summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), scheduled to be held in New Delhi on April 3 and 4. But bilateral relations are likely to figure in the meetings Mukherjee will hold with the regional leaders.
Mukherjee has already visited Kathmandu and Thimpu to invite the leaders of Nepal and Bhutan for the SAARC summit.
In Colombo, where he held talks with his Sri Lankan counterpart Mangala Samaraweera, and will briefly meet with President Mahinda Rajapakse and Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake on Tuesday, Mukherjee is likely to urge the government to return to the dialogue table with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). He is also likely to urge the government to formulate a devolution policy to ease the levels of violence in Sri Lanka. He leaves for Male on Wednesday.
The Islamabad leg of the tour, on January 13 and 14, will be the first high level meeting since the former External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh visited Pakistan in October 2005. The visit will also outline the future course of the bilateral dialogue process.
Mukherjee will visit the Philippines on January 11 and 12. There he will attend the ministerial meeting of the India-ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) and also the ministerial meet before the East Asian Summit, where energy security and counter-terrorism cooperation are expected to figure prominently.
Mukherjee will also attend a meeting of the Mekong Ganga Cooperation Group founded in 2001, to facilitate improved cultural, tourism and telecommunication links among member countries that include India, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.