New Delhi: In the midst of some intense verbal sniping between India and Pakistan, a Pakistani newspaper has quoted the Indian envoy to Islamabad as saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Islamabad for a summit meeting of South Asian heads of state and government in November.
“I can’t say about the future but as of today, Prime Minister Modi is looking forward to visiting Islamabad for the Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) summit in November this year," high commissioner Gautam Bambawale was cited as saying by the Dawn newspaper on Tuesday.
In New Delhi, however, foreign ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said in a Twitter post: “As I stated in my weekly briefing (some days ago), decisions and announcements of such nature are not made so far in advance."
Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said he did not view Bambawale’s comments as a faux pas.
“It was a safe enough response. When asked such a question he could have said he has not heard anything to the contrary. Perhaps he could have added that Pakistan could work to make conditions favourable for the visit," Sibal said. “There is no harm in keeping the suspense on this," he said.
According to Sibal, the Saarc charter does not allow bilateral issues on the agenda. “If the prime minister does not travel to Pakistan due to bilateral tensions, then it will send a wrong signal to Saarc," Sibal said.
India-Pakistan ties have soured in recent weeks after Indian security forces killed Burhan Wani, who was identified as a militant of the Hizbul Mujahideen group in Kashmir. Pakistan described him as a Kashmiri leader which riled New Delhi. India has also accused Pakistan of stoking unrest in Kashmir which has seen many days of protests and the deaths of some 70 people as Indian security forces tried to quell the unrest.
Pakistan, on its part, has accused India of human rights violations in Kashmir and written letters to UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon to highlight the situation in the region. Pakistan also observed a Black Day in solidarity with the people of Jammu and Kashmir and also appointed 22 envoys who have been told sensitise countries about India’s alleged human rights violations in Kashmir.
In response, Modi said last month that India would highlight Pakistan’s violent suppression of a separatist movement in Balochistan and alleged human rights violations there.
Modi referred to Balochistan in his Independence Day speech on 15 August, underlining a foreign policy strategy shift vis-a-vis Pakistan.
The heightening of tensions and war of words between the two countries had put a question mark over Modi’s visit to Pakistan for the Saarc summit.
However, given Modi’s commitment to improving ties with India’s immediate neighbours under his neighbourhood first policy, enunciated within days of getting elected as prime minister, analysts say Modi would likely visit Pakistan but restrict any bilateral interactions with Sharif.