Heart of Asia conference: Jaishankar expected to hold bilateral talks

NEW DELHI: Several significant bilateral meetings are expected to take place in the Tajikistan capital Dushanbe on the sidelines of the ‘Heart of Asia’ conference that Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar will be attending this week.

Jaishankar is scheduled tp leave on Tuesday for the two-day conference on Afghanistan which is a an initiative of the Republic of Afghanistan and the Republic of Turkey and officially launched at a conference hosted by Turkey in Istanbul in 2011. Since then the conference has been held on a regular basis to promote regional security, economic and political cooperation centered on Afghanistan.

One of the meetings that Jaishankar is expected to have on the sidelines of the conference is with his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif. The two ministers could discuss progress on the Chabahar port that India is developing. India has so far delivered four mobile cranes to keep a terminal in operation with two more cranes expected to be delivered in June. India is developing the port as a counter to Pakistan’s Chinese developed port at Gwadar as well as to access landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Suspense is building over whether Jaishankar will meet his Pakistani counterpart foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi who will also be attending the conference. In recent weeks, India and Pakistan have made several overtures to each other triggering speculation of a possible thaw in ties. Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan and the chief of army staff, Qamar Javed Bajwa, have extended olive branches to India. Prime minister Narendra Modi also sent a goodwill message, wishing Khan a speedy recovery form covid-19 via Twitter. And significantly, the two countries have agreed to adhere to a 2003 cease fire – all pointing to the makings of a possible thaw in ties.

Speaking at the India Economic Conclave in New Delhi, on 26 March, Jaishankar refused to reply to questions on whether he will meet Qureshi on the sidelines of the conference.

“My scheduling is in progress. So far, I do not think any such meeting (is scheduled),” he said.

Asked whether the agreement between the militaries of India and Pakistan and the talks between Indus commissioners of the two sides were a sign of thaw in ties, Jaishankar had said, “I think the agreements between the DGMOs is a sensible agreement because I don’t think Pakistan either did themselves or us good by encouraging or facilitating infiltrators and terrorists across the Line of Control and the IB (international border).”

India has said it desires normal neighbourly relations with Pakistan in an environment free of terror, hostility and violence and that the onus is on Islamabad to create an environment free of terror and hostility.

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