“Re-engagement is better than no engagement,” Pakistan's new Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, declared prior to her New Delhi visit for talks with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna. She could not have been more correct. It is a no-brainer that India and Pakistan have no option but to engage in dialogue to resolve the issues that trouble their relationship. It took New Delhi some two years after the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks to realise that the absence of dialogue was only pulling the two countries further apart. Indeed, so far apart had they drifted that the July 2010 Foreign Ministers' meeting in Islamabad was a public fiasco; to recover from that and set up a proper dialogue process, as mandated by the Thimphu declaration, took another eight months. That there are forces actively working to trip up the process again was evident from the triple bombing that claimed 20 lives in India's financial capital earlier this month. Ms Khar and Mr. Krishna were careful to avoid rhetoric and recrimination as they reviewed the official-level meetings that took place between March and June on a range of issues, including India's chief concern — speedy trial and punishment of the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai carnage. Expectedly, the joint statement released after the talks broke no new ground: the main focus of both sides has been to stay engaged and deal with the ‘doables' before moving on to the big issues on the list.
Even by this low threshold, the package of Kashmir-related confidence building measures announced by the two sides is meagre, except for the introduction of multiple entry visas with a six-month validity to ease cross-Line of Control travel for Kashmiris, along with travel for tourism and pilgrimages. Disappointingly, the two governments have postponed consideration of measures to improve cross-LoC trade, such as the introduction of banking facilities. The two sides now use a barter method as there is no other payment system. The weekly trading days have been doubled from two to four, but the list of goods that can be traded stands frozen at 21. An unnecessary sour note was struck by New Delhi's objection to the meeting between Ms Khar and Kashmiri separatist leaders. After facilitating this meeting — by permitting Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani and the other leaders to travel from Srinagar to the Indian capital — it was pointless to complain about it. India would have done better to accept the event for what it was, and left it at that. Foreign Minister Khar clearly meant to tell the military-mullah-media alliance back home that ‘inexperienced' she might be, but she was not straying from Kashmir as the ‘core' issue.