C. RAJA MOHAN
The coverage of Pakistans foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khars visit to India this week had to cope with two very different realities. In the process, it might have missed on a third interesting element the prospects of Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs first-ever visit to Pakistan.
At one end was the Indian electronic medias frenzied attention to youthful Khars good looks and expansive fashion statements. At the other was the disappointment with the minimalism of her joint statement with external affairs minister SM Krishna.
For all their fuzzy talk-'change of mind-sets, the transition to a 'new generation, and the 'right track in bilateral relations - Krishna and Khar had only small pickings on offer.
Nevertheless, the good cheer that Khar brought to Delhi is a big relief in itself. The mundane is often the miracle in Indo-Pak relations.
Between these two book-ends, Khars meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has gone largely unnoticed. If the PMO was silent on the outcome, Pakistani media focused on Manmohan Singhs 'acceptance of Pakistan Premier Yusuf Raza Gilanis invitation to visit Pakistan.
Cynics would say interactions between visiting foreign ministers and the PM are mere courtesy calls. The extension of invitations by the visitors and their acceptance by the hosts are part of diplomatic routine.
The 'special message from Gilani that Khar had delivered and the 'renewal of the invitation to the PM, however, might hold some political significance in the current context.
Few Indian prime ministers have invested so much political capital in transforming the relationship with Pakistan and resolving the difficult issue of Kashmir. Yet, Dr Singh has found no time to visit Pakistan in the seven years he has been the prime minister. His predecessor, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, heading what was widely described as a 'Hindu nationalist government, travelled to Pakistan twice during his six year tenure as the Prime Minister.
After Pakistan president Gen. Pervez Musharraf came to Delhi in April 2005, there was much expectation that the PM would make an early return visit to Pakistan. Dr Singh, however, insisted that substantive agreements must be negotiated before he travelled to Pakistan.
Much progress was made during 2005 and 2006 in finding solutions to such difficult issues as Siachen and Sir Creek and in developing a political framework to move forward on the question of Jammu and Kashmir. By the time Dr Singh was ready to go to Pakistan in March 2007, Pakistan was caught in a political storm and Musharrafs power rapidly eroded.
The civilian government headed by Asif Ali Zardari extended much good will towards India and called for a rapid normalisation of bilateral relations. But the July 2008 terror attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul and the November 2008 outrage against Mumbai put paid to those hopes.
Since he returned to power two years ago, Dr Singh has persisted in restoring the dialogue with the Pakistan. That effort appears to have paid off finallyat least in terms of the atmospherics that surrounded Khars visit.
Dr Singh knows that positive moods in Indo-Pak relations tend to evaporate quickly. Is this the moment then for Dr Singh to decide on an early visit to Pakistan?
Taking such a decision might indeed put much pressure on the two bureaucracies to deliver on a few major agreements to be signed during Dr Singhs visit. Indian Express