Great expectations and changing India-Pakistan equations

September 10th, 2012 - 5:51 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh Lahore (Pakistan), Sep 10 (IANS) If the reporting in the Pakistani media on Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna’s visit is any indication, a lot of expectations, rightly or wrongly, have been raised regarding the future of the India and Pakistan relationship, including the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Pakistan.

Even though both countries have made a small, but significant and positive, beginning by signing the new visa pact that will make it easier for common people to visit each other’s country, irritants over core issues like terrorism, especially emanating from Pakistan, Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek remain.

Most of the Pakistan media, print and electronic, played up the fact that both countries had agreed to leave the past behind and move ahead in their relationship. Krishna’s three-day visit, which ended Sunday, was being seen as another routine exercise by the same media here but suddenly became significant as the visa pact was signed and the talks conveyed the feeling that things had changed between both sides.

At a joint press conference with Krishna in Islamabad Saturday, Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar boldly stated that both sides should “not let the relationship to be held hostage to the past”. Krishna too, echoed the sentiment and said: “Let us not look back. Let us not be held hostage to whatever happened in the past.”

This led to some confusion, especially in the Pakistan establishment and media, who thought that India had moved ahead from its stated position on the Mumbai terror attack.

Except for leading English daily Dawn, which clearly stated that the core issues continued to haunt both countries, most newspapers projected the stance that India had finally given up on its “hardline” stand on action in the Mumbai terror attack case and was ready to move ahead by burying the “bitter past”.

Within a couple of hours, Krishna was again addressing the big Indian media delegation, which had gone with him, to clarify that the statement did not mean that India had given up its insistence that Pakistan-based perpetrators of the conspiracy behind the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, in which 166 people were killed by 10 Pakistani terrorists in 2008, be punished.

“Mumbai is very much on the table. India is not going back on that. They (Pakistan) will have to take follow-up action… there is no question of bypassing 26/11,” Krishna maintained.

Krishna, 80, had described his visit this time as “much better than what was two years back”.

The visiting minister was defensive when asked why his much younger 34-year-old counterpart chose to not even mention anything about terrorism in her 20-minute long statement at the joint event. Khar, in fact, particularly raked up the Kashmir issue during her address.

“What is material for me is the joint statement. It mentions terror. It (statement) is a document and she is a signatory to that,” Krishna said, trying to underplay the impression in some quarters in Pakistan that India was ready to forget all things in the past and move on.

The Pakistani media and leadership have also been insisting on the Manmohan Singh’s visit to their country. When Krishna said the visit would take place when “something worthwhile” came out of it, both (media and leadership) accused India of putting “conditions” for the visit. Krishna had to clarify that no conditions were being put and that “the PM is not shying away” from the visit. He said months of preparations were needed in advance for that to take place.

The gestures from both sides, at the highest level, during the visit did indicate a thaw.

For the first time, the three-day visit of the Indian minister included two cities, Islamabad and Lahore. In Islamabad, over Friday and Saturday, he held bilateral talks and met Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and other leaders. On Sunday, he stopped in Lahore for nearly six hours on his way back home. Here he met Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and other political, business and civil society leaders.

Krishna became the first Indian foreign minister and the second highest Indian dignitary to visit the Minar-e-Pakistan, the monument that symbolises the creation of Pakistan, in Lahore. In February 1999, then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had visited the monument during his historic visit to Lahore. Vajpayee’s visit happened just months before the Kargil war later June-July 1999.

Krishna also offered prayers at the famous Sufi shrine Daata Darbar here and the Dera Sahib Gurdwara.

Elaborate gifts were exchanged. Krishna gifted Khar a pure Pashmina shawl. He received from Zardari four boxes of mangoes and from Interior Minister Rehman Malik, with whom he signed the visa pact, a carpet.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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