Indian Decade

Khar Charms India

Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar takes a welcome upbeat approach to talks in New Delhi.

Pakistan’s charming new foreign minister appears to have brought with her a new approach to ties with India. The change was evident when 34-year-old Hina Rabbani Khar walked into the joint press conference at New Delhi’s Hyderabad House with her 79-year-old Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna after their formal talks this week.

The most remarkable thing was that Khar didn’t mention Kashmir, an issue that the Pakistani establishment has for decades been describing as a ‘core’ concern. Nothing happens in Pakistan without the approval of the country’s army, and it must be the worst kept secret in the world that Pakistan’s foreign policy is effectively created in General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, not in the Foreign Office in Islamabad. Clearly, then, Pakistani Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has decided to give the new foreign minister considerable leeway. And the result of this is that Khar’s India trip will be remembered for its unusually positive content.

Khar certainly charmed the Indian political classes and masses alike with her soothing words and mature vision, leaving Indians wondering why earlier Pakistani foreign ministers couldn’t be so disarmingly positive. Khar promised to usher in a new era in bilateral ties as she and Krishna discussed all issues amicably, announced 14 new confidence building measures for easing cross-line of control travel and trade restrictions, and pledged to focus on convergences rather than divergences on sensitive political issues like terrorism, Kashmir and Siachen. She said she was confident about the future course of relations between the two countries, and added it was their desire to make the dialogue process ‘uninterrupted’ and ‘uninterruptable.’

‘I am more confident – after having met you – than when I arrived in Delhi yesterday,’ she said looking at Krishna. ‘We are committed to the process. I bring you commitment from President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and other political parties – big and small – to a process of engagement and to a process of normalization…This is indeed a new era of bilateral ties. Pakistan desires to open a new chapter of amity and understanding with India.’

During their nearly three hours of talks, the two foreign ministers reviewed the status of bilateral relations on issues as diverse as counter-terrorism (including progress on the Mumbai trial), narcotics control; humanitarian issues; commercial and economic cooperation and the promotion of friendly exchanges.

For Krishna, all this must have felt vastly different from his talks with Khar’s acerbic predecessor Shah Mehmood Qureshi in Islamabad last year. Qureshi had effectively killed the discussion then with his aggressive approach, but Khar more than made up for this with her genial conduct.

One feels like tweaking a Shakespearean quote a little to sum up Khar’s India visit: ‘She came, she spoke, she conquered.’