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Another round of 'fruitless' Indo-Pak talks in Sep

July 24, 2012 09:42 IST

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna will undertake a three-day visit to Pakistan from September 7 to review the second round of the composite dialogue with his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar, reports Amir Mir from Islamabad.

According the foreign office circles in Islamabad, the dates and schedule of the meeting have been formally conveyed to Pakistan which is now making preparations to ensure the holding of the composite dialogue in a congenial atmosphere.

The sources say the interlocutors have already completed their spadework on all eight points comprehensively and separately which are to be discussed during the Islamabad talks.

Efforts have been made recently to repair the Indo-Pak ties which had been badly damaged by the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks in which 10-heavily armed men arrived by boat, allegedly from Karachi, killing 166 people over a three-day terrorist rampage.

The two counties have already completed two rounds of dialogue under full spectrum of talks on eight issues including Jammu and Kashmir, peace and security, Siachen, Sir Creek, trade and economic ties, terrorism, Vular Barrage and promotion of friendly exchanges. It is understood that if the two sides agreed to continue with the process of the dialogue, although they haven't yielded satisfactory results so far, still it would be an achievement in itself.

Khar and her Indian counterpart had a meeting in Tokyo early this month on the fringes of Tokyo conference on Afghanistan. They discussed the foreign minister's visit to Islamabad besides other issues in their encounter.

Though there have been a number of symbolic feel-good measures and more high-level meetings between the two sides in the recent months, little concrete progress seems to have been made.

Therefore, nothing concrete is expected to come out of the September talks especially after the arrest of Abu Jandal, a Lashkar-e-Tayiba terrorist of Pakistani origin who was involved in the 26/11 episode.

However, the foreign office sources say the Pakistani foreign minister will be making utmost efforts to convince her Indian counterpart to announce an early date of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Pakistan.

Singh had agreed to undertake the visit during his meeting with Pakistan President Asif Zardari in New Delhi early this year.

On the other hand, the authorities in New Delhi are keen to see abolishing of negative list in trade (before Dr Singh travels to Pakistan) so that India could get the most favourite nation (MFN) status by Pakistan.

In an interview with an Indian news channel a day after presenting his credentials to the Indian president on July 15, Salman Bashir, the new high commissioner to India, said that "the atmospherics have witnessed a sea change" in the relationship between Pakistan and India.

Salman Bashir may well be right and in a relationship as fraught and contentious as the one between the two South Asian neighbours 'atmospherics' are nothing to be scoffed at.

However, there is a sense that rather than Bashir's upbeat assessment, the relationship is drifting again. Trade negotiations have been bogged down in minutiae, a more liberal visa regime has seemingly been stalled and there's next to nothing to show on the fiendishly more difficult fronts: Kashmir, Siachen and terrorism.

Perhaps what can reinvigorate the push for normalisation of ties between India and Pakistan is the much talked about but never quite near enough visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Pakistan.

Intransigence and stubbornness of the security and foreign-policy establishments on both sides is almost a given, so it comes down to finding someone who can rise about the calcified and ossified positions of old and drag ties forward.

Throughout his tenure as prime minister, Manmohan Singh has appeared to be the man who could possibly make it happen. But analysts now believe that time is running out. Weakened domestically and unable to find a partner in Pakistan who is willing to meet him half way, the space for Prime Minister Singh to manoeuvre on Pakistan has certainly diminished a great deal.

Here on the Pakistani side, the demand for 'progress on all fronts' has been wielded as a soft veto by the army-led security establishment on improving trade and visa relations.

The thought behind that may well be that when Pakistan first signaled its intention to move ahead on certain subjects, it hoped that India would reciprocate by offering talks and the hope of stepping back from rigid Indian positions on other subjects.

But then the Indian side appeared to want to keep the focus of the talks narrow and Pakistan's interest diminished. From the Indian side, the shadow of Mumbai attacks still lingers and a significant gesture from Pakistan -- expediting the trial of the suspects -- is yet to come.

The weight of history means that both sides have a thousand and one reasons to not genuinely seek full peace with one another. However, despite all this, the only consolation for the people of South Asia is that the two governments continue to talk.

Amir Mir in Islamabad