A significant and welcome outcome of the talks between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan in Thimphu was that the two Foreign Ministers would meet in Islamabad on July 15. The Ministers have been tasked with making efforts to bridge the “trust deficit” in order to pave the way for a full-scale dialogue on all issues. The two sides would do well to scale down public expectations of this meeting. For too long, India-Pakistan relations have been held hostage to media-hyped prospects of ‘breakthrough' and ‘setback.' In India, there is the expectation that every encounter with Pakistan at the table must yield the Jamat-ud-dawa chief Hafiz Saeed. In Pakistan, unless a meeting gets its teeth into the Kashmir dispute, or at least the river waters issue, it is deemed to have ended in failure. Given the background, the two sides have sensibly lowered the pressure of public expectations this time. Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has spoken of not expecting “miracles overnight” while External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna has wisely refrained from listing out any demand. This does not imply that the factors that created the trust deficit have been brought under control. But it could mean the two sides have realised the value of restraint over rhetoric. Hopefully, this spirit will hold over the two-month-long wait for the ministerial talks.
But the timeline does give both countries an opportunity to do some constructive spadework ahead of the meeting. Two months seem time enough for Islamabad to figure out how to address sincerely Indian concerns on the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks. It is to be hoped that the arrest of Pakistan-born Faisal Shehzad for the attempted bombing of Times Square in New York and his links with militants in his home country, has given rise to some introspection among Rawalpindi's Who's Who. The reported remark by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Pakistan would have faced “severe consequences” had the bomb gone off has since been clarified by her and others. No doubt, New Delhi feels vindicated by President Barack Obama's recent remark that the main threat to Pakistan was not India — but terrorism emanating from within. But the joy over this has to be accompanied by some serious thought on how the Pakistani perceptions and misperceptions about India can be reasonably addressed. Afghanistan is one sensitive issue on which the government needs to clear the air with Pakistan. This newspaper has consistently advocated Indian engagement and dialoguing with Pakistan without laying down preconditions. Agreeing to talk at a high political level represents real progress but it is the relatively easy part of the challenge that lies ahead.