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Krishna leaves for Pak amid concerns

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna left for Islamabad today for the most tangible move aimed at reviving a dialogue between India and Pakistan since the Mumbai terror attack of 2008.

delhi Updated: Jul 14, 2010 16:39 IST

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna left for Islamabad on Wednesday for the most tangible move aimed at reviving a dialogue between India and Pakistan since the Mumbai terror attack of 2008.

Armed with the authority to reduce the trust deficit but proceed with caution, Krishna boarded a special Air India plane for a three-day visit that will see him shaking hands with both the civilian and military leadership in Pakistan.

Accompanying him are Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and other senior officials of the external affairs ministry.

Krishna's main agenda is to hold wide-ranging talks Thursday with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi in line with a decision taken by the two prime ministers to incrementally step up their engagement in order to reduce tensions between the two nuclear armed neighbours.

Publicly, both countries are firmly hopeful.

"The willingness to resume the stalled dialogue presents a win-win situation for both the countries, as peace and stability is the only way forward," Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said in comments welcoming Krishna.

Besides Qureshi, his opposite number, Krishna is also expected to call on Gilani and the army chief, General Parvez Ashfaq Kayani, widely seen as the real power centre in Pakistan.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Krishna and his core cabinet colleagues - Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Defence Minister A.K. Antony - to prepare the outlines of what India could possibly offer to Pakistan.

Indian officials believe that if contentious issues are kept aside for now, a lot of road can be travelled.

This basically revolves around what is known as "people-to-people" contacts including easing of the strict visa regime, further trade particularly between the two halves of Kashmir, more cross-border trains and buses, and more frequent exchange of prisoners, particularly fishermen who stray into each other's sea.

The more serious issues confronting the India-Pakistan relations are, however, deeply divisive.

New Delhi accuses Islamabad of harbouring, arming and financing terrorists directed against Indian interests, both in India and beyond, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir, whose ownership is claimed by both countries.

Pakistan denies the terrorist label while openly declaring moral and diplomatic support for the separatist campaign in Jammu and Kashmir, where unrest has led to bloody street clashes between mobs and security forces since June.

Pakistan is also keen to cut India to size in Afghanistan, where Gen Kayani is hopeful of brokering a workable deal between the US and President Hamid Karzai in a way Islamabad's strategic interests are fully met.

In the process, Washington has got involved in the India-Pakistan game as it has concluded that Islamabad will not provide the military muscle to take on the Taliban and Al Qaeda as long as tensions run high between with New Delhi.

No wonder, America is gently seeking a revival of the India-Pakistan dialogue.

India is ready to engage with Pakistan again, but it is firm that it cannot proceed beyond a point unless Islamabad acts firmly against Islamist forces that instigated the horrendous attack on Mumbai that left 166 people dead and was blamed on Pakistani terrorists.

This is easier said than done.

While Pakistan is also a victim of terror, some of which it sowed, it cannot afford to turn its back against those groups that play a key role in bleeding India without plunging into a formal war.

On paper, such outfits are dubbed "non-state actors".

However, some of these outfits are linked to the Taliban, and so are not in the good books of Washington either.

While Krishna may press Pakistan to act decisively on the terror front, Islamabad could take up the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, a festering wound at the heart of their tense relationship.