Mumbai: Ameeting of the prime ministers of India and Pakistan on the fringes of the Non-Aligned Movement Summit this week could set the stage for a dialogue between the rivals that was stalled after last November’s attack in Mumbai.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani will meet in Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt after their foreign secretaries have talked. Singh is leaving on Monday for a visit to France and Egypt.
While their talks will be focused on Pakistani action with regard to the attacks in Mumbai that killed 175 people, the leaders may leave the door open to resumption of dialogue, especially with Singh back in power for a five-year term.
Fresh initiative: A 16 June photo of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Singh says India will make all efforts to improve relations with Pakistan. Kamal Kishore / PTI
“Now that the Congress party-led coalition has come back, Singh is unlikely to feel the need for maintaining the hardline position that he adopted (before the elections) on the composite dialogue,” said B. Raman at the South Asia Analysis Group. “The question is no longer whether it will be resumed, but when and how it will be projected.”
Fresh from his meetings in Italy with leaders of the Group of Eight (G-8), Singh, who has said he was willing to meet Pakistan “more than halfway” if it cracked down on militants, will be keen to bring home some progress on Pakistan as well.
“We will do all that is necessary to resolve all outstanding issues that have bedevilled India’s relations with Pakistan,” Singh said en route from Italy after the G-8 summit.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s planned visit to India later this month could prompt Singh to make a gesture. The US is keenly interested in resumption of talks between the two countries to ease tensions on Pakistan’s eastern border with India, so it can focus on fighting Taliban militants on its western border with Afghanistan.
India has demanded Pakistan bring to book members of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group that it blames for the Mumbai attack, and that it dismantle the infrastructure that supports groups such as the LeT and the Jamaat-ud-Dawa.
“In the best-case scenario, Pakistan has perhaps finally recognized that a policy of fighting some terrorists, while harbouring others, is only hurting its own interests,” said Lisa Curtis, a research fellow at Washington’s Heritage Foundation. But it would be foolhardy to rush into dialogue, she warned. “Pushing for a resumption of peace talks without concerted action against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks could well embolden groups like LeT to up the ante,” she said.