New Delhi: The chances of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ’s visit to Pakistan in the near future appear slim as India has sought assurances on terrorism from its western neighbour, where a national election is scheduled in early 2013, said a person close to the development.
India’s approach to the visit to Pakistan did not come with conditions attached, the person said on Friday on condition of anonymity. Still, the time for such a visit—four years after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, which, India believes, was planned and executed by some sections in Pakistan—was not yet right, the person said.
The Indian government is seeking assurances that there would not be a repeat of the Mumbai attacks, the person said, as the two sides work towards a normalization of relations left in tatters after the Mumbai attacks.
“I am not quite sure a visit of that nature (prime ministerial visit) is possible and probable in the window... We need to factor in developments on both sides, we need to factor in possible gains and objectives,” said the person closely associated with foreign policy initiatives in India. “The window is a very, very small one due to elections in Pakistan... After the polls in Pakistan, we will be moving towards elections in India,” the person said, referring to the national election in India in 2014.
India will look at many factors before a decision is taken, the person said. “It’s about being sure and reassured that something like this (Mumbai) will not happen again. There should be accountability for what happened in the past and assurance for what happens in the future. Less than this would not be fair to our people and ourselves,” the person said.
Pakistan has been keen on a visit by Singh; invitations have been extended by President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf and foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar. Zardari visited India in April this year while former Pakistan prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani came in March last year to watch the India-Pakistan World Cup cricket semifinal in Mohali.
In September, the then Indian foreign minister, S.M. Krishna, visited Islamabad to take forward the peace talks resumed in February last year after a break following the 2008 attacks.
Pakistan is reportedly keen on the visit as it will be seen as support to Zardari’s government.
“The government never formally announced the visit to Pakistan, though there was a general sense that he could go,” said security analyst C. Uday Bhaskar. “My own personal view is that things like this should not be done in a hurry. We need to have a calibrated approach towards Pakistan—one step at a time.”
India blames Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) for the Mumbai attacks and also believes that some sections within the Pakistani establishment are involved, given the planning and the scale of the operation.
It involved 10 LeT militants landing in Mumbai by boat from the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi and killing 166 people in different locations across Mumbai in a span of about 60 hours during 26-29 November.
The Indian government has been unhappy with the pace at which the investigations against the plotters have been proceeding in Pakistan, and has been seeking the trial of key people associated with the plotting of the attacks. Pakistan has arrested seven people, but the judicial process has been proceeding slowly.
“I don’t want to give the impression that the Prime Minister is not keen to go. Nor do I want to give the impression that now we are ready for the trip,” the person cited above said. “I think there have been some interesting and positive signals that we are receiving. At the same time, there are expectations that remain unfulfilled. And for a decision to be taken at the level of a visit by the Prime Minister to Pakistan...is a matter that needs some reflection and analysis.”
On the peace process with Pakistan, the person said India was moving forward cautiously.
Improved economic ties have been the driver of the current phase of the peace dialogue, with Pakistan announcing that it was looking at normalizing trade with India by expanding the list of items that can be imported from India by more than threefold.
The two countries also opened a new check-post through which goods can be traded at the Wagah-Attari border crossing and have signed a liberalized visa agreement that allows freer movement of people to the other country.