KATHMANDU, March 3: Pakistani Prime Minister Sahid Khaqan Abbasi is arriving in Kathmandu on Monday, in the first high-level visit here by a foreign dignitary after K P Sharma Oli assumed office as prime minister of Nepal.
Prime Minister Abbasi is said to be arriving on a two-day visit to congratulate his Nepali counterpart on his election as the 38th prime minister of Nepal. "Pakistani Prime Minister expressed his desire to visit Kathmandu to congratulate Prime Minister Oli. We have responded positively," said Rajan Bhattarai, a close aide to Prime Minister Oli.
Although his itinerary is still being worked out, officials said Prime Minister Abbasi plans to arrive here on Monday afternoon and fly back home on Tuesday. Officials said Prime Minister Abbasi will hold a meeting with Prime Minister Oli on Monday evening and pay a courtesy call on President Bidya Devi Bhandari before flying home the next day.
The Embassy of Pakistan in Kathmandu confirmed the planned visit but did not divulge details. "The visit of Prime Minister is taking place in the first week of March 2018. But we are still awaiting confirmation from Islamabad," said embassy spokesperson Inayat Khan.
Except for their visits in the course of attending SAARC Summits, a visit by a Pakistani prime minister to Nepal on a bilateral basis comes after a gap of 24 years. The last Pakistani prime minister to visit Nepal on a bilateral basis was Benazir Bhutto in 1994.
As the visit comes in the course of Pakistan preparing to host the 19th SAARC Summit, the two prime ministers are scheduled to discuss that along with various bilateral issues. Nepal is current chair of SAARC.
Although Pakistan earlier proposed to host the SAARC Summit in November 2016, this could not take place after India along with three other SAARC nations announced they were pulling out amid rising tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. India had then conveyed to Nepal that increasing cross-border terrorist attacks in the region had created an environment that was not conducive to the successful holding of the Summit.
Nepal's neighbors have begun showing more interest in this country as Prime Minister Oli is set to lead a strong and stable government after decades of political uncertainty and a painful transition. Earlier, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj as his emissary to congratulate Oli even before he was appointed as prime minister.
Foreign policy experts in Kathmandu see the visit of the Pakistani prime minister as indicative of a turning point in domestic and external politics and the increased geopolitical significance of Nepal. "The visit assumes huge importance. Nepal is gradually witnessing a turning point in both domestic and external politics. This is an indication of that," argued former ambassador Prof. Jayaraj Acharya.
Prime Minister Abbasi has been a vocal critic of the aid policy of US President Donald J. Trump towards Pakistan in recent months. He is seen as a 'nationalist' leader in Pakistan while Prime Minister Oli has earned a reputation as a 'nationalist' leader in Nepal.
Nepal and Pakistan established diplomatic relations in 1960 during the premiership of Nepali Congress (NC) President B P Koirala. Although King Mahendra further strengthened those relations after he introduced the party-less Panchayati system in 1961, many historians and scholars maintain that Koirala's moves to deepen Nepal's relations with Pakistan and China -- two countries that India considered arch enemies - cost him his government, as then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru allegedly incited Mahendra to oust him.