Indian Decade

Is Krishna’s Pakistan Trip All Hype?

It increasingly appears that little will get done during the External Affairs Minister’s visit this weekend.

External Affairs Minister SM Krishna’s visit to Pakistan this weekend may well prove to be all hype and little substance as officials here in New Delhi are not even sure whether the already-drafted agreement on relaxing visa requirements will even be signed during the visit.

Significantly, it is far from certain that Krishna will even raise the issue of "cyber hate"- using the internet to spread raciest and hateful messages- with his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar. Messages warning of looming sectarian violence were recently spread throughout India via social media websites, sparking panic among some quarters. At the time, Krishna claimed the messages originated from Pakistan.

The visa agreement was drafted months ago and India was willing to sign it when the two sides’ home secretaries met in Islamabad, but Pakistan backed out saying that such a big agreement should not be “wasted’ by having it be signed by such junior-level of officials. Instead, Pakistan argues the agreement should be signed at a more senior political level.

In the entire gamut of Indo-Pakistani bilateral relations- with the exception of a Memorandum of Understanding on expanding Cultural Exchanges- the visa agreement is the only foreseeable one that the two sides can reach at this time. Though Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik has repeatedly said that the visa agreement “will be” signed during Krishna’s Pakistan visit, Indian officials have been very circumspect and unwilling to make a definitive statement on whether Krishna will indeed sign the pact. This could be due to the fact that the more appropriate Indian official for signing any visa agreement is Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.

A highlight of Krishna’s Pakistan visit will be a meeting on Saturday of the Indo-Pak Joint Commission which is co-chaired by the two foreign ministers. Although this has raised hope in some quarters about a so-called “revival” of the commission, this optimism should be tempered by the comission’s checkered history. Indeed, Saturday will mark only the sixth time the commission will have met since being established in 1983.

Sources say have cast doubt on whether substantive talks will take place during Krishna’s visit, whether on Siachen or Sir Creek or any other issue. Indeed, the Government of India is not even prepared to view Krishna’s visit as a precursor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s highly-anticipated maiden visit to Pakistan. Islamabad has remained more hopeful, however.

The agenda of the trip is as follows: Krishna will arrive in Islamabad in a special aircraft on September 7, and immediately hold structured talks with Pakistan’s foreign secretary that will prepare the agenda for the foreign ministers. The Krishna-Khar formal talks will then take place on September 8. The next day, Krishna will travel to Lahore to hold talks with Punjab Chief Minister and Governor, Shahbaz Sharif, before returning home later in the day.