EXPECTATIONS were low ahead of Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna’s visit to Islamabad this week and, after two days of meetings culminating in a joint press conference yesterday, the predictions appear to have been largely correct. The big news is the inking of a liberalised visa regime between the two countries, a deal that was ready to be signed several months ago when the Indian commerce secretary visited but was delayed on the Pakistani side for as yet unspecified reasons. While welcome news, much will depend on the vigour and sincerity with which the new visa arrangements are implemented: even the most high-minded of ideas have often failed the implementation test when it comes to these two countries. Beyond that, however, there is not much good news to report from the meetings that capped off a year of dialogue between Pakistan and India.
What seems to be clear is that the two countries have yet to recover the ground lost to the Mumbai attacks of November 2008. A little nudge here, a little push forward there, the dramatic steps have been eschewed in favour of small, uncontroversial measures. Leave aside Siachen or Sir Creek, even on the necessary move to allow Pakistani television channels access to the Indian market, there has been no movement. In the Pakistani and Indian context, the core issues and other problems are so well known and defined that if allowed to, diplomats, politicians and security establishments can dance around them forever unless someone grabs the issues by the scruff of the neck and forces some forward movement. Thus far, there is no one on either side who has been able to do that, even as many suspect that at least at the very top of the political leadership in both countries, the desire for normalising ties is deep and potentially meaningful.
Perhaps the big gesture that could force a more rapid pace of normalisation is the much promised but long-awaited trip of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Pakistan. Mr Krishna once again baulked at giving a positive answer to Pakistan’s invitation to Mr Singh to visit in November around the time of an important date in the calendar of the Sikh religion. All that Mr Krishna would say is that he would go back to India and brief his prime minister on the weekend talks and apprise him whether the situation was conducive to a visit by the Indian prime minister. The caution on the Indian side is standard play but neither will it help achieve what Prime Minister Singh and the Pakistani political leadership desire: movement towards a durable peace.