New Delhi : India on Thursday announced a meeting between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan in New Delhi next week, aimed at taking stock of official contacts.
Such talks restarted in February after a four-year-old peace process between the neighbours was derailed by the 2008 Mumbai attack.
India’s foreign minister S.M. Krishna and Pakistan’s Hina Rabbani Khar are expected to provide a roadmap for further engagement with some confidence-building measures when they meet on 27 July, said a government official who did not want to be named.
“These talks will be preceded by a meeting of the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan on 26 July 2011,” an external affairs ministry statement said.
The Krishna-Khar meeting follows official talks on a series of issues and disputes between India and Pakistan, including the dispute over Kashmir, seeking to narrow the trust deficit against the backdrop of the 26-29 November 2008 Mumbai siege.
India had accused the Pakistan-based Islamist group Lashkar-e-Toiba and sections of the Pakistani establishment of training and sending the 10 terrorists who attacked multiple locations in Mumbai killing 166 people.
It was only in February this year that the foreign secretaries of the two countries were able to draw up a blueprint for re-engagement. The process received a fillip when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani to India to watch the Cricket World Cup semifinal on 30 March.
“I think the step-by-step approach has succeeded,” said former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh of the cautious stance adopted by the Indian government ahead and during the talks.
“And of the talks that we have had, the discussions between the two commerce secretaries have been the most productive,” he said about the dialogue in which both sides agreed to boost trade with Pakistan recognizing that granting India most favoured nation (MFN) status would help in expand commercial relations.
“I think there was some progress made on increasing the number of trading points at the Line of Control (the de facto border) in Kashmir from two to four,” Mansingh said.
India and Pakistan opened two points across their de facto border in Kashmir for trade between the two regions in 2008 as part of an effort to improve linkages between the divided region.
“The good thing this time is that expectations (from the Krishna-Khar talks) have been kept deliberately low. In this kind of a scenario, a meeting itself is good enough,” said Mansingh.
“The notable thing is that Pakistan has been adopting a friendly and accommodative approach. This can perhaps be explained by the fact that Pakistan-US relations are not very good right now,” said the former foreign secretary referring to the tense relations between the US and its ally in the war against terror specially after US troops killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on 2 May.
The talks come two weeks after three bombs ripped through crowded areas of Mumbai on 13 July, killing about 20 people. Indian authorities have been careful not to point a finger at Pakistan with investigations going on. Nor did India let it affect the plans for dialogue with Pakistan, with foreign minister Krishna telling reporters that Khar’s visit would take place as planned.
The 34-year-old Khar, who will arrive in New Delhi on 26 July, is Pakistan’s youngest and first woman foreign minister, according to the Dawn newspaper.
The daughter of politician Noor Rabbani Khar and a niece of former Punjab governor Ghulam Mustafa Khar, she has had the distinction of being the first woman to present in parliament the country’s budget in 2009 as minister of state for finance, the Dawn report said.