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Pakistan to attend ‘Heart of Asia’ conference in India

ISLAMABAD: Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s top foreign policy official, said on Tuesday he plans to attend the Heart of Asia conference in India and suggested the visit could be used to “defuse the tension” between the nuclear armed neighbours.

Aziz’s trip to India would be the first by a senior Pakistani official since gunmen raided an army base in Indian-held Kashmir and killed 19 soldiers in September, an attack New Delhi blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

The killing of Indian soldiers soured relations and led to a weeks of diplomatic quarrelling, with both Islamabad and New Delhi accusing opposing diplomats of spying and then expelling them.

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“It’s a good opportunity to defuse the tension,” Aziz, who is an adviser to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on foreign affairs, said in a television interview.

Artillery duels and skirmishing have recently intensified along the disputed frontier running through the troubled Himalayan region of Kashmir.

At least seven Pakistani soldiers were killed by Indian shelling and firing.

Despite hinting at a possible detente, Aziz said there was no official meeting scheduled with Indian officials.

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“It’s early to say. Depends upon the situation,” he said.

The Heart of Asia conference focusing on Afghanistan is due to be held in the first week of December in the north-western Indian city of Amritsar, close to the Pakistani border.

The conference will seek ways to help improve security and bring peace to Afghanistan, which has been mired in conflict since a US-led coalition toppled the Taliban government in 2001.

Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have also been strained over the past year, with Kabul accusing Islamabad of harbouring the leaders of Taliban and seeking to meddle in Afghan affairs. Pakistan denies the charge.

“Heart of Asia is for Afghanistan and Afghanistan is our priority,” said Aziz.



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