Krishna and Khar in Islamabad on Friday. (PTI)
Islamabad, Sept 7: A familiar alphabet-soup lies served as entrée on the table between foreign ministers S.M. Krishna and Hina Rabbani Khar. It has been on the brew a while and it’s thick to a goodness. Cordial, warm, frank, forthright, constructive, positive, forward-looking, hopeful, heartening, you could rustle a thesaurus and still fall short of enough to aptly tell the eddied good intent.
The question still being asked, though, is whether they will sup together or make a meal of it. Or then, as is the going wont, disperse to meet around another course on another date.
Assume nothing about what’s to happen in an India-Pakistan discourse, not even failure. At the moment, though, we are being told not to assume success either. As one official put it: “It’s fairly a good thing the dialogue is proceeding uninterrupted and there are many things to talk about, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”
It made no surprise Krishna took gingerly baby steps out of his plane at the Chaklala Air Base this morning. Nobody’s in a rush to grab at takeaways, isn’t the bilateral babble of well-meaning correctness sparked by his arrival good enough for the moment? For the large media contingent, almost prime ministerial in heft, Krishna has carted along, this might just turn out to be a lesson in gradualist subcontinental fence-building. It’s still going to be called if Krishna and Khar merely talk about talking again when they meet tomorrow.
But again, they might pick something on the table and decide they both agree it’s an apple. Or that’s it’s a deal on liberalising the 1974 visa regime. Who knows?
What we do know, with a fair degree of certainty, is that India will raise its concerns on the Pakistan-based terror complex and the lack of movement on bringing justice to those it accuses of hatching and effecting the Mumbai assault, chief among them, Hafiz Saeed, amir of the Jamat-ud-Dawa and patron of the Lashkar band of terror-mongers.
What we know with equal certainty is that Pakistan will plead it is governed by a rule of law regime, just as India is; legal processes have to be respected, legal proceedings take time. They are, meantime, happy to look at evidence of wrongdoing from Pakistani soil, which they have, at least once in the past, classified as literature.
Is there the possibility a new visa agreement will be signed on this visit? We do not know.
Could efforts be renewed to reopen consulates in Mumbai and Karachi? We do not know.
Will they sign off on direct flights between New Delhi and Islamabad as a prelude to greater and expanded air connectivity? We do not know.
Is there the off-chance restrictions on the relay of television channels will be lifted? We do not know.
Is there any convergence on seeking out new ways of untangling the Kashmir question, as foreign minister Khar has been suggesting? We do not know.
Is this trip going to be able to lay the groundwork for a visit by Manmohan Singh while he is still Prime Minister? We absolutely do not know.
We do not know, even in a broad sense, what foreign secretaries Ranjan Mathai and Jalil Abbas Jilani discussed during their two-hour talks preparatory to tomorrow’s meeting between the foreign ministers. “They discussed all aspects of the resumed dialogue running across the entire expanse of bilateral relations,” is how forthcoming a spokesperson was able to be. He did add, helpfully, that the dialogue was held in a “cordial, frank and very positive” atmosphere. Should that achievement be repeated over tomorrow, Krishna’s outing would be labelled an accomplishment. Anything more, and it will be time to order feathers for caps in the foreign office. Make no assumptions that won’t happen.