Prime Minister Manmohan Singh leaves New Delhi on Thursday on a 4-day visit to Maldives to attend the Saarc Summit on the margins of which he will meet his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani. Singh, who is accompanied by external affairs minister S M Krishna, national security advisor Shivshankar Menon and foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai, will head the Indian delegation to the Summit on November 10 and 11 in Addu Islands in Maldives.
From there he will go to Male, the capital of Maldives, on a bilateral visit. But all eyes will be on the meeting between Singh and Gilani that is likely to be on November 11 when bilateral relations will come up for a review close on the heels of Pakistan's decision to give Most Favoured Nation status to India.
There has been some sort of flip-flop on the part of Pakistan in explaining the decision, a clarity on the issue may come after the meeting. Singh and Geelani had last met in Mohali in March on the sidelines of the World Cup semi-finals between the two countries. They had also met during the last Saarc Summit in Bhutan in April, 2010.
Other issues, including Pakistan's actions to bring to justice the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks, are also expected to come up during the Singh-Gilani meeting. Briefing reporters on the visit, Mathai had said that there were indications of forward movement in bilateral ties between India and Pakistan. In this connection, he also referred to the MFN issue.
During the 17th Summit, which is being hosted for the third time by the Maldives, the main theme is 'Building Bridges' that includes improving the infrastructure of connectivity and trade and better people-to-people contact. In this Summit, four important agreements are to be finalised. These will include two agreements on regional standards, one to establish a rapid response mechanism to deal with natural disasters, and another to establish a Saarc Seed Bank. Singh's visit to Male is expected to inject new momentum and content to India's relations with close and strategic neighbour in the Indian Ocean.
The last bilateral visit by the Prime Minister of India to the Maldives was in September, 2002. The objectives of the visit would be to reinforce India’s close bonds of friendship and solidarity with the Maldives and to review the current status of our bilateral relations with that country, officials said. A number of agreements are likely to be signed during the bilateral visit and Singh will address Majlis, the Parliament of Maldives. Among the agreements are a counter-terror pact and an over-arching agreement that seeks to expand cooperation across several areas between India and the Maldives.