Ruling Bihar can throw up challenges as tough as mending India-Pakistan relations. Nitish Kumar has successfully tackled quite a few of his challenges in Bihar. However, few expect his forthcoming visit to Pakistan to make a big difference to New Delhiís ties with Islamabad. The liberalization of the Indian economy has prompted chief ministers to go abroad in order to attract foreign investment to their states. Mr Kumarís trip to Pakistan apparently has no economic agenda. There is no word yet on Pakistani entrepreneurs being enthusiastic about investment opportunities in Bihar. Mr Kumarís visit has other dimensions. The fact that his eight-day stay in Pakistan will be the longest by an Indian politician on a single visit to that country makes it special. And, the fact that he will meet almost all the top players in Pakistani politics, including President Asif Ali Zardari, the prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, is ample evidence that Islamabad attaches much importance to his visit. The external affairs ministry routinely facilitates such visits by politicians to other countries. It is obvious that New Delhi too has taken special care to plan Mr Kumarís engagements in Pakistan.
The visit can yield two obvious results. It may not change the course of diplomacy between the two countries. In fact, Mr Kumar is not even expected to venture into issues that have stalled the progress of bilateral talks in recent months. But the visit may help the Pakistan establishment get to know an important Indian politician better. Such exchanges always have their uses. The other possible impact of the visit relates to Mr Kumarís own political fortunes. His growing stature as a politician may be of special interest to Pakistanís leaders. There are indications that he may emerge as a major player in national politics after the next parliamentary elections in India. Mr Kumar himself makes no secret of the fact that his political ambitions are not confined to Bihar. However, Mr Kumar will continue to be an important leader irrespective of his future role in New Delhi. Also, exchanges between New Delhi and Islamabad need not be confined to hard-nosed diplomatic bargains. What happens to India-Pakistan ties ultimately matters to the people of both countries. There is also a strong case for New Delhi to expose regional leaders to foreign policy issues.