India's foreign minister to visit Pakistan for first time since 2012

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 07, 2015 3:37 AM

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj will hold talks with Pakistan on Wednesday, the first visit by India's top diplomat to its rival in three years, part of efforts to restart a peace dialogue plagued by militant attacks and distrust.Swaraj will lead an Indian delegation to Islamabad for talks on Afghanistan, India's foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said on his Twitter page.

Top Pakistani foreign affairs official Sartaj Aziz said Swaraj would meet him and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

"This is a good beginning, that the deadlock that was present has to some extent been removed," Aziz, the prime minister's adviser on security and foreign affairs, told reporters.

The visit comes after the collapse of talks in August that raised questions about the ability of the nuclear-armed rivals to overcome animosity that has festered since their independence from British rule almost seven decades ago.Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sharif resumed high-level contacts with a brief conversation at climate change talks in Paris last week and their national security advisers met in Bangkok on Sunday.Kanwal Sibal, a former Indian foreign secretary, said the foreign minister's visit showed the Modi government had softened its hardline stance towards Pakistan after realizing that the lack of sustained talks yielded no returns.

"The countries can agree to disagree, but they will have to start talking," Sibal said.

Taken by surprise, Indian opposition parties questioned the government's on-off approach to talks and a former foreign minister from Modi's party said the policy was being conducted in the shadows.

Since taking office in 2014, Modi has authorized a more robust approach to Pakistan, giving security forces the licence to retaliate forcefully along their disputed border and demanding an end to insurgent attacks in Indian territory.Swaraj's visit is the first ministerial-level visit to Pakistan since the then foreign minister, S.M. Krishna, traveled to Islamabad in 2012, which was before Modi became prime minister.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since 1947, two of them over the Himalayan region of Kashmir, which both claim in full but rule in part.India has for years accused Pakistan of backing separatist Muslim rebels in India's part of Kashmir. Despite considerable evidence, Pakistan denies the accusations and blames India violating human rights in Kashmir and fomenting unrest in Pakistan.

(Reporting By Andrew MacAskill and Rupam Jain Nair in New Delhi and Asad Hashim in Islamabad; Editing by Robert Birsel)