NEW DELHI: India’s neighbourhood is set to remain a key foreign policy priority, with Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi likely to go to Maldives on his first overseas visit during his second term in office after winning a strong mandate in the just-concluded national elections.

Modi, who is to be sworn into office along with his cabinet on 30 May, received a telephone call on Sunday from Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan, who expressed his desire to work for peace, Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman Mohammed Faisal said. Modi, on his part, underlined the importance of creating trust and an environment free of terrorism for peace in South Asia, the Indian foreign ministry said.

While Pakistan will remain on the foreign policy radar, Modi is expected to travel to Male in the first half of June, a person familiar with the development said on Sunday. Maldivian media reports said the visit would take place on 7-8 June.

The Indian foreign ministry did not confirm the visit or the dates but should it happen, it would signal that India’s neighbourhood would be as critical a foreign policy priority during Modi’s second term in office as it was in the first.

In 2014, Modi had invited the heads of state and government of all South Asian countries to his inauguration on 26 May. In June 2014, he chose Bhutan as the destination for his first foreign visit. During his first term in office, Modi visited all South Asian countries including the Maldives, which was his last port of call in November 2018.

Ties between India and the Maldives have altered dramatically especially after the election of Ibrahim Mohammed Solih as president in September. Modi had visited the Maldives in November to attend Solih’s swearing-in ceremony. This came after tensions between India and the Maldives over the latter’s close ties with India’s strategic rival China during the tenure of Solih’s predecessor Abdullah Yameen.

Meanwhile, in his conversation with Khan on Sunday, Modi recalled “his initiatives in line with his government’s neighbourhood first policy," and “referred to his earlier suggestion to the Prime Minister of Pakistan to fight poverty (in South Asia) jointly," the Indian foreign ministry said.

Modi “stressed that creating trust and an environment free of violence and terrorism were essential for fostering cooperation for peace, progress and prosperity in our region," the statement added. This was after Faisal said in a Twitter post that Khan “expressed his desire for both countries to work together for betterment of their peoples".

The exchanges between the two leaders came after a period of heightened tensions between the two countries after the 14 February suicide attack on an Indian security convoy that killed 40 paramilitary personnel in Kashmir’s Pulwama region. This was followed by a strike by the Indian Air Force on a terrorist training camp in Balakot in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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