A banquet hosted by the Pakistan Prime Minister’s adviser on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz for his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday set the ball rolling for their much-anticipated talks on the sidelines of a multilateral conference on Afghanistan on Wednesday.
“I have come with the message that ties between the two countries should be good and move forward,” Swaraj said after her arrival in Pakistan’s capital to take part in the ‘Heart of Asia’ meet on Afghanistan.
Swaraj’s visit is being seen as the first significant engagement between the two sides since the meeting between Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz 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.
Her visit comes after talks between the National Security Advisers of the two countries in Bangkok on Sunday, where they discussed terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir and a range of key bilateral issues apart from agreeing to carry forward the “constructive” engagement.
Aziz too said he was expecting a “good and positive” outcome from the meeting and both sides should take forward the engagement to improve ties.
“My expectations are good and positive from talks tomorrow (on Wednesday),” Aziz said, adding, “My message is also that we should take our engagement forward and improve ties.”
Sushma Swaraj in Pakistan: What’s on the agenda?
The fifth ‘Heart of Asia’ conference, an annual gathering of Asian and other countries, is aimed at enhancing cooperation for countering security threats and promoting connectivity in the region.
Besides holding talks with Aziz, Swaraj will also call on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday.
Earlier on Tuesday, Sharif held crucial meetings with Pakistan’s powerful military leadership on Tuesday to frame a strategy for the talks with Swaraj and the meeting on Afghanistan.
The meetings, a day ahead of Swaraj’s talks with Sharif and his foreign affairs adviser 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.
Ahead of Swaraj’s arrival, Pakistan Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif called on 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 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.