MUMBAI (Reuters) - A meeting of the prime ministers of India and Pakistan on the fringes of the Non-Aligned Movement Summit this week could set the stage for a dialogue between the rivals that was stalled after last November’s attack in Mumbai.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani will meet in Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt after their foreign secretaries have talked.
While their talks will be focused on Pakistani action with regard to the attacks in Mumbai that killed 175 people, the leaders may leave the door open to resumption of dialogue, especially with Singh back in power for a five-year term.
“Now that the Congress party-led coalition has come back, Singh is unlikely to feel the need for maintaining the hardline position that he adopted (before the election) on the composite dialogue,” said B. Raman at the South Asia Analysis Group.
“The question is no longer whether it will be resumed, but when and how it will be projected,” he said.
Pakistan has been pushing for the resumption of the five-year-long peace talks broken off by India after the Mumbai attacks, which India blames on Pakistan-based militants.
Peace between the two nuclear-armed rivals had helped boost bilateral trade to over $1 billion, encouraged cross-border bus and train services, and eased visa restrictions for travel.
Fresh from his meetings in Italy with leaders of the G8, Singh, who has said he was willing to meet Pakistan “more than half way” if it cracked down on militants, will be keen to bring home some progress on Pakistan, as well.
“We will do all that is necessary to resolve all outstanding issues that have bedeviled India’s relations with Pakistan,” Singh said en route from Italy after the G8 summit.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s planned visit to India later this month could prompt Singh to make a gesture.
The United States is keenly interested in resumption of talks between the two countries to ease tensions on Pakistan’s eastern border with India, so it can focus on fighting Taliban militants on its western border with Afghanistan.
“Singh would find it difficult to reject suggestions from the U.S. for a political gesture to Islamabad by way of a resumption of the composite dialogue,” Raman said.
The meeting in Sharm-el-Sheikh will be the third high-level bilateral talks since the November attacks: Singh met Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari at a regional summit in Russia last month, and the foreign ministers met recently in Italy.
India has demanded Pakistan bring to book members of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) group that it blames for the Mumbai attack, and that it dismantle the infrastructure that supports groups like the LeT and the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD).
Pakistan is keen to show it is making an effort: on Saturday, the interior minister said they had “gone the extra mile” to complete their investigations into five suspects accused of involvement in the Mumbai attacks.
The suspects, including Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, an LeT commander accused of masterminding the Mumbai attacks, are expected to go on trial this week.
“In the best case scenario, Pakistan has perhaps finally recognized that a policy of fighting some terrorists, while harboring others, is only hurting its own interests,” said Lisa Curtis, a research fellow at Washington’s Heritage Foundation.
But it would be foolhardy to rush into dialogue, she warned.
“Pushing for a resumption of peace talks without concerted action against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks could well embolden groups like LeT to up the ante,” she said.
Editing by Jeremy Laurence