External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee's first ever visit to Pakistan is significant not because of its potential to produce results on issues on the table.
Its importance lies in the fact that it will be the first high-level political contact between the two sides since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pervez Musharraf's September 2006 Havana Summit.
In his meetings on January 13 with Musharraf, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri, Mukherjee will voice Indian concerns over cross-border terrorism in the light of the host's promise to dismantle the infrastructure of terror and combat the threat jointly through the mechanism given shape in the foreign secretary-level talks held in November in New Delhi.
"The existence of infrastructure was pinpointed in evidence shared with Pakistan during FS-level discussions. We'd want to know what has been done about it," knowledgeable sources said. They admitted that Islamabad has, in recent months, moved away from the denial mode to claiming that terror export to India was the handiwork of "freelance" elements.
For their part, the hosts are likely to focus on Kashmir for which Musharraf recently purposed a four-point solution, including demilitarisation, making the LoC irrelevant, self-governance and joint supervision.
In the context of Manmohan Singh's call for cross-LoC consultative mechanisms on issues touching the Kashmiris, sources see a degree of common refrain in both proposals.
The differences basically are in the manner of approach. For instance, India views demilitarisation as the "end result of putting a stop to violence while Pakistan offers it as an initial step." Perceptional gaps also exist on other points in the Musharraf formula - self-governance (which India insists is there on its side but non-existent in areas under Pakistan) and joint supervision that is not acceptable to New Delhi.
Mukherjee, sources said, might want to hear more on Musharraf's antidote for Kashmir during his two-day stay in Islamabad. On January 14, in fact, he will meet leaders of various political parties at a reception by the Indian envoy to Pakistan.
The visit will also afford the two sides a chance to take stock of the composite dialogue process that was initiated in 2004, and is now poised to enter the fourth round.
As Mukherjee's primary purpose is to invite the Pakistani leadership to the April SAARC Summit in New Delhi, he will recall the promises they made to India on bilateral trade under the South Asian Free Trade Agreement. "They had assured us an MFN-plus status. But that is now reduced to a positive list of over 1000 items. We'll tell them that they should implement the word they gave," the sources said.
Discussions are likely on making the visa regime more flexible and opening consulates in Karachi and Mumbai. There are hopes of a breakthrough this year on Sir Creek, but talks on Siachen could be glacial if divergence persists on the Indian demand of authentication of troop position before disengagement.
Restrictions imposed recently on the movements of Pak-based Indian diplomats are a minor irritant. But they will figure in the talks with the possibility of a solution - especially when Taxila, to which New Delhi wanted free access in return for opening Gurgaon and Noida for Pakistani officials, is on Mukherjee's itinerary.