India minister to lead delegation to Pakistan

Indian external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj will visit Pakistan in the first such high-level visit in three years, signalling a fresh push by the nuclear-armed neighbours to improve ties.

Ms Swaraj will lead an Indian delegation for the Heart of Asia 5th Ministerial Meeting on Afghanistan tomorrow in Islamabad, tweeted Mr Vikas Swarup, spokesman for the ministry of external affairs, yesterday.

She is expected to call on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and meet her Pakistani counterpart Sartaj Aziz on the sidelines of the multi-lateral conference that will also deal with the developments in Afghanistan, a country where Pakistan has been wary of India's presence.

Ties between India and Pakistan have been tense in recent times.

Two attempts to initiate talks over the past year fizzled out with India - which blames the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba group for the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks - demanding that Islamabad crack down on militants. Islamabad has countered New Delhi's focus on terrorism, saying it wants disputed Kashmir to be the core issue in talks.

But in a surprise climbdown, the national security advisers of the two countries met in Bangkok on Sunday and discussed both the issue of terrorism and Kashmir.

The two sides agreed "to carry forward the constructive engagement between the two countries" and paved the way for Ms Swaraj's visit to Pakistan.

The thrust for the latest engagement came from a meeting between Mr Modi and his Pakistani counterpart, Mr Sharif, on the sidelines of the climate change summit in Paris.

Still, analysts said that it was too early to determine the course of volatile India-Pakistan ties.

"I think on the whole there is a movement which is a positive, but to what extent it will go one can't say at this point," said Mr S. D. Muni, a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi.

Mr Modi has shown keenness to initiate dialogue with Pakistan but also has to deal with his right-wing supporters who oppose engagement, resulting in policy inconsistencies, said analysts.

"There is confusion on Modi's policy on Pakistan. The dialogue is going on at all levels with Pakistan, without insisting on the terms Modi laid down on terrorism, so what was the fuss about over the last year," said former Indian foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2015, with the headline 'India minister to lead delegation to Pakistan'. Print Edition | Subscribe