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Indian minister to make key visit to Pakistan

5 February 2010 04:58 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram will travel to Pakistan later this month as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh turns his focus to the country's thorniest bilateral relationship in his second term in office.

Although the official reason for Mr Chidambaram's February 26 to 27 visit to Rawalpindi is to attend a meeting of South Asian interior ministers, the trip takes on added significance as it is the first high-level visit to Pakistan by an Indian official since the Mumbai terrorist attack in November 2008.

That attack, in which 166 people were killed, was blamed on Pakistani nationals who were trained by state 'agencies' in that country. Islamabad has denied any involvement.

Chidambaram will be accompanied by the Home Secretary as well as the director of the Intelligence Bureau.

"Chidambaram will get a chance to have very useful exchanges with his counterparts and other leaders in Pakistan," Indian external affairs minister S.M. Krishna told reporters accompanying him on a trip to Kuwait on Wednesday.

This new development comes weeks after Dr Singh moved out his powerful National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan to the governor's mansion in Kolkata, capital of West Bengal state.

Narayanan is a former spy chief whose deep scepticism over Pakistan is perceived to have blocked attempts for a quicker rapprochement with India's closest and most important neighbour.

His replacement, Shivshankar Menon, is a former ambassador to Pakistan and foreign secretary. Menon is well regarded as a soft-spoken but effective diplomat.

India and Pakistan had covered much ground in their five-year-long peace talks, called the 'composite dialogue'. However, the attack on Mumbai, carried out by trained gunmen who travelled by boat from the port city of Karachi, stalled the process. Two attacks on the Indian embassy in Kabul in two years also were blamed on terror elements backed by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

However, last July, Dr Singh, fresh from a renewed mandate at the polls, sought to put relations back on track.

Meeting in Egypt on the sidelines of a Non-aligned Movement summit, Dr Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani agreed to chart a way forward in their bilateral ties, vowing to fight terror together and to exchange information.

However, the positive mood from that meeting was quickly derailed because of a line in their joint statement that said: "PM Gilani mentioned that Pakistan had some information on threats in Balochistan and some areas."

The Pakistani media, perhaps acting on cues from the establishment, headlined that the inclusion of the sentence indicated that India had tacitly conceded it was fomenting trouble in Balochistan, Pakistan's largest province by area.

The issue flared into a public relations disaster for Dr Singh, who was blamed widely in India for a foreign policy gaffe. His Congress party also markedly declined to back the Prime Minister's initiative.

In the end, Menon, at the time foreign secretary, accepted the blame for the sentence by telling parliamentarians that it was a case of "bad drafting".

Chidambaram himself is known to be deeply wary of Islamabad. He recently warned Pakistan that it could not take Indian restraint for granted should there be another terrorist strike on India.

While there is no indication that the composite dialogue would be resumed, given the deep antipathy to Pakistan in this country since the Mumbai outrage, Dr Singh clearly aims to do what he can to speed up the normalisation of ties.

Besides, he is under pressure from the United States to make another peace attempt. Washington sees Pakistan's unease with India as complicating its efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan, where Islamabad has traditionally backed the Taleban as a means of restricting Indian influence in that country.


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