The mission of S. Jaishankar, who will visit all Saarc nations, will be to take forward proposals made by PM in his speech at Saarc Summit in November
New Delhi: India-Pakistan ties, in limbo since India called off official dialogue in August, seem headed for a thaw with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modiannouncing plans on Friday to despatch India’s foreign secretary S. Jaishankarto all neighbouring countries.
Modi, who called Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharifand Sri Lankan President Maithipala Sirisenaon Friday said in a post on his Twitter account that he “would be sending our new foreign secretary on a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) yatra soon to further strengthen our ties," he said.
Saarc groups together Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka besides India. “The foreign secretary will visit all Saarc countries including Pakistan," foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddintold reporters later at a press conference.
“Diplomats and leaders utilize every opportunity to push their agenda. So India will push its agenda," Akbaruddin later said when asked if the foreign secretaries would be discussing bilateral issues bedevilling ties between the two countries, including the Kashmir dispute and terrorism. According to analysts, the effort was a clear attempt to reach out to Pakistan under the Saarc umbrella. “The Prime Minister is trying to anchor his Pakistan policy within that of the outreach to all Saarc countries," said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal. “Prime minister Modi is throwing one more political lifeline to Pakistan but going from past experience, it is more likely that they will use this rope to hang themselves."
The context of the phone calls was the start of the cricket World Cup co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. Modi called those leaders who countries were participating in the tournament. India is to take on Pakistan in a match on Sunday. “Spoke to President @ashrafghani, PM Sheikh Hasina, PM Nawaz Sharif and President Sirisena. Conveyed my best wishes for the Cricket World Cup. 5 Saarc Nations are playing and are excited about the World Cup. Am sure WC will celebrate sportsman spirit and will be a treat for sports lovers," he said in a post.
Modi’s conversations with each leader lasted about 5-7 minutes. “Cricket was the main theme of each of his discussions," said a person familiar with Modi’s conversations with the leaders. “With the Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Modi brought up the all round abilities of Shakib Al Hasan. With the Sri Lankan president, he discussed Lasith Malingaand his performance with the Mumbai Indians (cricket franchise)," the person said. In his conversation with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Modi “noted that the Pakistani Premier’s passion for cricket was well known. The Prime Minister (Modi) recalled that Sharif had played a warm-up match with (now Pakistan opposition leader) Imran Khan in 1987," ahead of the cricket World Cup tournament, the person cited above said.
According to Akbaruddin, Jaishankar’s mission will be to take forward proposals made by the Prime Minister in his speech at the 18th Saarc Summit in Kathmandu in November. These included the launch of a Saarc satellite, a Saarc business travellers’ card and partnership between the South Asian University and a university in each of the eight Saarc countries. This would be the “agenda with which he travels", Akbaruddin said.
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