New Delhi, May 4: As part of its “bottom-up” approach, India plans to send an official of the level of joint secretary to Islamabad in the next few weeks. Before that, it is likely to announce the name of the high commissioner to Pakistan.
If all goes well, there is a strong possibility that a summit between Prime Ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali will take place in Islamabad by the year-end.
These are the milestones on a carefully drafted roadmap the Indians have drawn up in what the Prime Minister has described as his “last and decisive” push for peace with Pakistan.
First, India will wait and see how Pakistan responds to its overtures. General Pervez Musharraf has indicated that soon Islamabad will come out with “India-centric concessions”. If it is satisfied with the “concessions”, India will announce its next set of confidence-building measures.
There is a possibility that Arun Singh, joint secretary and head of the Pakistan-Iran-Afghanistan division in the foreign ministry, will travel to Islamabad by the end of May or early June.
While the Indian leadership is keen on peace with Pakistan and is moving with a great deal of care, all the planning could be set back by a major militant strike in Kashmir or elsewhere.
The remarks made by Pakistan foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri yesterday that Islamabad will no longer insist on “solving Kashmir first” for progress on the economic front have been received with a lot of interest in Delhi.
One interpretation here is that the remarks are a reflection of Islamabad’s eagerness to revive the project to build two gas pipelines from Iran and Turkmenistan over Pakistan. The pipelines can go ahead only if India agrees to buy the gas. Pakistan could earn billions of dollars as transit fee if Delhi agrees, which it so far has not.
Perhaps with a little nudge from the US, Pakistan has realised that it has to free economic ties from its overarching Kashmir concern if it wants to truly improve relations with India. Moreover, it has been argued that normal trade relations — Pakistan has so far refused to extend the most-favoured nation status to India — could be more beneficial to Islamabad than to Delhi.
In this backdrop, there could be increasing focus on trade. At the South Asian forum, Saarc, progress on even a preferential trading arrangement — not to speak of a much harder free trade agreement — among member nations has stalled because of Pakistan’s reluctance.
Indications suggest the civil aviation link between the two countries will be resumed in the next few days. This may be followed by the resumption of the Delhi-Lahore bus service and the Samjhauta Express, the only rail link. Resumption of cricket ties, which a large number of people in both countries is keen on, is also on the cards.
But these measures can only take place if India is convinced that Pakistan is taking serious steps in dealing with militants working out of its territory.
It may not be enough for the Musharraf regime to take some cosmetic steps to bring down the level of militancy. What Delhi is likely to insist on this time is that Pakistan takes visible steps to destroy the terror apparatus it set up to carry out its low-intensity war against India.