The heads of state of India and Pakistan are scheduled to meet on Sunday in a visible sign that relations are gradually improving between the two nuclear-armed rivals, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, Feb. 22).
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is to join Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for an informal afternoon meal in New Delhi. The two men last year viewed together a World Cup cricket match between their two countries; this time, Zardari will head to India to visit a Muslim holy site.
Ahead of the Sunday lunch, expectations are not high for major breakthroughs in the two nations' historically stormy relations. Singh must deal with domestic lobbying to maintain cool relations with Islamabad until it moves to decisively target the Pakistani-based extremist organizations that have repeatedly mounted attacks inside India, including the November 2008 assault on Mumbai. Zardari must also contend with the fiercely anti-India sentiments of the strong Pakistani army and a number of Islamist groups.
Zardari's trip represents the sole visit to New Delhi by a Pakistani president in seven years. It is also the most high-profile signal to date that the South Asian nations are moving past the extreme tensions that followed the the Mumbai attacks, which led India to withdraw for several years from a bilateral peace process.
The two sides last year agreed to resume peace talks, which include a focus on the disputed Kashmir region, natural resources, terrorism and nuclear confidence-building measures. Pakistani issue expert Hasan-Askari Rizvi said the coming meeting would "keep the momentum going."
Analysts do not think Singh is likely to make a visit to Pakistan, even unofficially, until there are concrete advancements in the peace talks (Associated Press/Washington Post, April 6).
Center for Policy Research analyst Brahma Chellaney in New Delhi told Agence France-Presse, "This is a largely symbolic occasion and contentious subjects will be avoided."
The Pakistani military has the real power over the nation's foreign policy and security postures. "You can't have substantive talks with someone who doesn't' run anything," Chellaney noted (Agence France-Presse I/Express Tribune, April 6).
The U.S. State Department responded warmly on Thursday to the coming Singh-Zardari meeting, AFP reported.
"To us, it's a win-win situation when Pakistan and India are engaging in dialogue, are talking to each other and are building better cooperation," department spokesman Mark Toner said to journalists (Agence France-Presse II/Google News, April 5).