India's Foreign Minister to Visit Pakistan Amid Fragile Ties

  • Swaraj visiting Pakistan to attend conference on Afghanistan
  • Initiative an attempt to revive talks between nuclear rivals

India’s foreign minister will travel to Pakistan this week to attend a conference on Afghan peace, the highest-ranking leader in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to cross the border in a region marked by fragile ties.

Sushma Swaraj will lead India’s delegation to the ministerial meeting, called the "Heart of Asia," on Wednesday in Islamabad, India’s Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Vikas Swarup said in a Twitter post. She will also meet Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz on the sidelines, Press Trust of India reported without citing where it got the information.

Swaraj’s trip, after a meeting between Modi and Sharif last month, and an unannounced interaction between the national security advisers of the two nations in Bangkok over the weekend, signals a thaw in relations between the nuclear-armed rivals. Talks between officials have repeatedly been canceled in the past year amid the worst fighting along their disputed border in a decade.

Seasoned Move

“It’s a seasoned move by India to signal to the world that it is not shying away from any engagement with Pakistan and also is concerned about the future of Afghanistan,” said Ashok K. Behuria, an analyst at the New Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. “But the visit may not lead to any restoration of dialogue between the rivals” as neither side has softened its stance, he said.

Over the weekend, national security advisers and foreign secretaries from India and Pakistan met in Bangkok, where they discussed terrorism, the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir claimed by both sides, and border issues, according to a joint statement released after the talks.

The momentum comes after a meeting a week earlier between Modi and Sharif on the sidelines of the Paris climate change summit, the first interaction since formal talks were canceled in August. Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan too are frosty, with President Ashraf Ghani accusing Pakistan of waging an “undeclared war” against his country.

“The global mood about terrorism has put Pakistan in the hot-seat to do something, so there’s now some global pressure for India and Pakistan to get on the same page," said C. Uday Bhaskar, director at the Society for Policy Studies in New Delhi.

Attempts to restart dialogue have stalled previously because India wants to restrict any discussion to terrorism, while Pakistan demands an open agenda that includes Kashmir. The neighbors have fought two of their three wars over the mountainous area that’s split between them and claimed by both.

“Having a framework for the dialogue to resume, however bitter and unsatisfactory, is progress," said Bhaskar.

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