New Delhi: Union home minister Palaniappan Chidambaram’s travels to Pakistan for a regional meeting this month, a visit that may lay the ground for improving ties which deteriorated after the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
The home minister’s 26-27 Feb trip is the first high-level visit since the attacks and comes when India is showing a willingness to re-engage Pakistan, partly under US pressure and because it is exhausting diplomatic options.
New Delhi blames the attacks on Pakistan-based terrorists and wants Islamabad to act against them.
Washington sees better India-Pakistan relations as crucial so that an Islamabad free of worry about its eastern borders can focus on fighting the Taliban on its western frontier, on the border with Afghanistan.
Foreign ministry officials said Chidambaram will meet his Pakistani counterpart, Rehman Malik, and other officials for talks that may have a narrow focus on what action Islamabad has taken in regard to the Mumbai attacks.
But the visit’s larger goal could be to create a forum for limited dialogue, leading to a calibrated easing of tension.
“Any dialogue now will focus on what progress Pakistan has made in dismantling the terrorist network on its soil that was used to attack Mumbai,” a senior government official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
“It could be a beginning that could help move things forward.”
In comments seen as underlining India’s softening stand, foreign minister S.M. Krishna told reporters on his way to Kuwait late on Wednesday that “a few steps” by Pakistan in investigating the Mumbai attacks could help move ties forward.
“ ... (it will) certainly make it easier for India to carry on normal business with Pakistan,” he said.
Pakistan has been pushing for the resumption of five-year-long peace talks broken off by India after the attacks. New Delhi blames the attacks on Pakistan-based militants and wants Islamabad to act against them.
US pressure apart, India’s greater willingness for dialogue with Pakistan now could be aimed at boosting the credibility of the civilian government in Islamabad in the face of military hawks in the Pakistani army and its military intelligence.
Analysts say New Delhi may finally be realising the limitations of its strategy of “coercive diplomacy” as global sympathy for the Mumbai attacks wane and New Delhi begins to be seen as increasingly intransigent.
“India held back the tide of dialogue in the hope that Pakistan would permanently dismantle the infrastructure of terror on its territory and a more fertile ground for bilateral progress results,” Siddharth Varadarajan, strategic affairs editor, wrote in the Hindu newspaper this week. “The strategy might have worked up to a point but diminishing returns set in a long time ago.”