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India diplomat to visit Pakistan after soured ties

NEW DELHI: India’s foreign secretary will travel to Pakistan as part of a regional tour in coming months, an official said Friday, the first high-level visit since relations between the arch rivals soured last year.

S. Jaishankar will travel to Islamabad where “India will push its agenda” during bilateral meetings with officials, foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said at a briefing.

“The foreign secretary will visit all SAARC countries including Pakistan,” Akbaruddin told reporters without giving specific dates and referring to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.

Akbaruddin did not say whether the visit would likely result in peace talks resuming between the foreign secretaries of the nuclear-armed neighbours — talks which India abruptly cancelled last year.

Relations have soured between the neighbours over increased firing along their borders and India halting the talks in August enraged that Pakistan consulted Kashmiri separatist leaders before the dialogue began.

US Secretary of State John Kerry last month appealed to both nations to resume the talks, saying Washington was “deeply concerned” about a surge in violence on the border in Kashmir.

News of the visit came hours after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi phoned his Pakistani counterpart to wish his cricket team good luck ahead of a World Cup grudge match between the rivals.

Modi said “cricket connects people in our region and promotes goodwill” after speaking with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other South Asian leaders whose country’s teams are playing in the World Cup starting Saturday.

“Spoke to President @ashrafghani, PM Sheikh Hasina, PM Nawaz Sharif & President Sirisena. Conveyed my best wishes for the Cricket World Cup,” Modi also tweeted.

“Hope players from SAARC region play with passion & bring laurels to the region.”

Millions of India and Pakistan fans are expected to watch Sunday’s clash on television, while thousands of others are set to flock to the Adelaide Oval in Australia.

Modi’s government is seen taking a more assertive stance towards its neighbour since coming to power last May. Modi and Sharif failed to hold a bilateral meeting at a SAARC summit in November.

Sharif’s office released a statement about Modi’s phone call but did not mention any bonhomie shared over cricket.

“Modi informed the Prime Minister that India’s new Foreign Secretary will soon visit all SAARC counties and would also like to visit Pakistan,” the statement said.

Pakistan and India, who have fought two of their three wars over disputed Muslim-majority Kashmir, have traded blame for an upsurge in firing and shelling which started in October last year.

Exchanges of fire across their de facto border and undisputed border further south have killed more than two dozen civilians and forced thousands to flee their homes on both sides. -AFP

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