At one level, Pakistani restrictions on the movements of Islamabad-based Indian diplomats are a minor irritant. But at another, they mirror a trend that could impinge on the element of trust so crucial to making the Indo-Pakistan dialogue work.
New Delhi's worry is not as much about Pakistan placing Rawalpindi and Murree out of bounds for Indian diplomats. It is upset the restrictions came in the face of India offering Pakistan mission staffers free access to Gurgaon and Noida in return for the world heritage site of Taxila being added to the list of cities open to Indian diplomats. "We made the proposal at the foreign secretary-level talks in November," a top official told HT. He saw in Islamabad's latest move a pattern manifest in bilateral exchanges on Siachen and the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA).
Pakistani assurance at the highest political level on authenticating the position of troops before disengagement in Siachen has found no expression in the dialogue between the defence secretaries. Similarly, the trade prospects it flaunted under SAFTA — signed with much pomp and show at SAARC's 2004 Islamabad Summit — remain a pipedream.
In this backdrop, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee's January 13-14 Islamabad visit entailing a call on President Pervez Musharraf and talks with Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Kasuri assumes extra import. "We'll take up terrorism without being unifocal. It will be discussed within the wider bilateral framework," the official said. He indicated as much the possibility of the Indian leader taking Musharraf and Kasuri down memory lane on Siachen and SAFTA.
But before that, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will have the Left parties over for a briefing on the foreign policy issues he discussed with the BJP on January 2. The government's list of major gains from the dialogue with Pakistan includes talks on J&K; the ceasefire that has held since November 2003 along the LoC and the international border and enhanced people-to-people contact.
Some in the foreign policy establishment feel, nevertheless, the absence of the "drive" they once associated with Musharraf's "desire" for normalising relations.