From about 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has believed it is important for him to visit Pakistan, but linked such a visit to a grand moment in bilateral ties. This is somewhat contradictory for a government that believes progress in this complex and difficult relationship is incremental, and that the process is part of the solution. Moreover, there has never been a time in recent years when the right diplomatic moment for such a visit has coincided with the right political moment in both countries. Available now is an opportunity to break out of this self-inflicted dead end. President Asif Ali Zardari’s invitation to him to visit Pakistan in November this year, and to include his ancestral village Gah in the itinerary so as to be there for the Guru Nanak Jayanti celebrations, is an offer Prime Minister Singh should accept. A prime ministerial visit at a time when India-Pakistan relations are stable will have huge symbolic value and provide political direction to the dialogue process. Pakistan's political establishment feels such a visit is long overdue. Its own leaders have not stood on any formality in their outings to India. In 2011, cricket provided the backdrop for Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s visit to Mohali. Four months ago, it was President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit, via a pilgrimage to Ajmer, that provided a new model for high-level bilateral visits. Despite their political and institutional weakness, President Zardari and the PPP government have come off seeming bolder than Prime Minister Singh, despite his grand vision of peace with Pakistan.
This year has seen India and Pakistan taking concrete steps towards improving trade with each other. What is more, India has now opened the door to investments from Pakistan, unthinkable just months ago. Of course, Pakistan’s inability or unwillingness to deal firmly with the culprits behind the Mumbai attacks remains a sore point. This has shown up all the more starkly since India’s arrest of Abu Jundal, a key Indian participant in the attacks. It is for this reason that public opinion on this side of the border remains suspicious of the other side’s intentions — and why Prime Minister Singh remains hesitant about embarking on his dream trip. But staying away would not help produce the desired result either. On the other hand, visiting Pakistan may provide Dr. Singh the right opening to drive home Indian concerns more forcefully. External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna is to visit Islamabad in September to review the dialogue process that began in 2011. That should provide the opportunity for the two sides to work towards ensuring that the Prime Minister does take up the invitation.