P Chidambaram would be the first home minister to step on Pakistani soil in more than three decades when he begins a crucial visit to Islamabad on Friday that could set the tone for the dialogue process re-started recently between the two countries.
Chidambaram’s visit — primarily to attend the SAARC Interior/Home Ministers Conference — comes in the backdrop of the two neighbours recognising the “trust deficit” as the primary hurdle in improving relations and taking gingerly steps to address this problem.
But diplomats said a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik on the sidelines of the multilateral event would be crucial. It would give a fair idea how far, and fast, the two countries can move on substantive issues.
“I do not remember any substantive visit ever by an Indian home minister to Pakistan… certainly not in the last three-four decades,” a retired diplomat said.
Ahead of the first ministerial visit to the neighbouring country after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks that dislodged the India-Pakistan peace process, Chidambaram said though the visit’s focus was the multilateral event, he would have an opportunity to meet his counterpart. Officials said the home minister was expected to take up Indian concerns on terrorism at his meeting.
Chidambaram is also expected to press for concrete action against Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (Jamaat-d-Dawah) chief Hafiz Saeed, who is suspected by India to be the mastermind of the Mumbai carnage.
“This will be important because the two ministers have so far only spoken to each other indirectly, through the media. This meeting presents an opportunity for both to understand each other’s perspectives, and assess the other sides’ sincerity,” an official said.
The home ministry had sent one more dossier to Pakistan on June 18 providing further information about Saeed’s role in Mumbai attacks. This was based on questioning of Pakistani-American Lashkar-e-Tayyeba operative David Headley by a team of National Investigation Agency earlier this month.