Keeping it on track
Zardari’s invitation to Manmohan Singh to visit Pakistan looks like an attempt to put life into the dialogue process that has lost steam. It would thus constitute yet another overture after the Pakistani President’s visit to India that led to a meeting with Indian PM in early April. A little earlier, the federal cabinet had given India the MFN status, raising the number of importable items from 1,946 to almost 5,600. Within weeks of Zardari’s visit, Pakistani exporters arranged Pakistan’s Lifestyle Expo in New Delhi. A 14-member delegation of Global Energy, a company based in New Delhi, flew into Islamabad for three-day talks to negotiate electricity tariff. The inauguration of the Integrated Check Post (ICP) at Attari on April 13 brought together dignitaries from both sides including Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma and his Pakistani counterpart Makhdoom Amin Fahim, and the Chief Ministers of both the Punjabs, Parkash Singh Badal and Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif.
A series of talks held subsequently yielded results on issues like a liberal visa regime and extension of trade. But suddenly there were signs indicating that further progress was being discouraged. Islamabad deferred putting signatures to the agreement on the visa regime. Indo-Pak trade talks due in July were deferred until September, again at Pakistan’s request. There were problems from the Indian side as well. Non-tariff barriers remained in place despite protests by Pakistani exporters. India asked Pakistan to step up legal proceeding against the perpetrators of Mumbai attacks. Pakistan complained that India was unwilling to show flexibility over Siachen. After the arrest of Abu Jundal, the Indian home minister talked about some sort of state support for those involved in the attack. A perception began to be formed that the offstage actors who had given the nod for the rapprochement had lost interest in the process. It was widely understood that Manmohan Sigh’s trip to Pakistan was unlikely to take place.
S M Krishna’s statement on Thursday however challenges the perception. According to him, friendship between the two countries has become inevitable especially after they have reconciled over a number of issues. That he has not ruled out Manmohan Singh’s visit is also significant. Islamabad too needs to realise that unless Pakistan and India develop friendly relations, they cannot overcome their social backwardness. Further, South Asia will continue to face the threat of militancy as long as they do not join hands to eradicate it.