India’s foreign minister travels to Pakistan this week for his first meeting with leaders of a new civilian government and to review a peace process that has been in the doldrums for more than a year.
Indian external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee will meet his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, on Wednesday, a day after their top civil servants hold talks. The nuclear-armed rivals launched peace efforts in 2004 after nearly going to war a fourth time after Islamist militant attacks in India.
While ties have warmed, the two sides have made no significant progress on their main dispute over Kashmir.
A heavy clash on the Kashmir border this month underscored just how tenuous the improvement in relations is.
Analysts in both Pakistan and India said Mukherjee will be sounding out Pakistan’s new leaders and trying to determine who is devising policy.
Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf has been the architect of Indian policy since he seized power in a 1999 military coup, but February elections brought in a civilian government led by the party of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
“The Indians will want to know who is in charge in Islamabad because it is not clear,” said Riaz Khokhar, a former Pakistani foreign secretary and ambassador to India. “There are so many centres of power now and where does the president stand? Is he a main player in Pakistan-India relations or is he history?”
Musharraf made a range of groundbreaking proposals to end the Kashmir deadlock. Some Pakistani critics say he made too many concessions and the new government should pull back, but another former Pakistani foreign secretary, Tanvir Ahmad Khan, said he did not expect the Pakistani side to do that. “We should not expect any spectacular results but it may pave the way for a higher meeting and that higher meeting can break the logjam.”
The ministers’ most important achievement thus might be to set the stage for a visit by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.