India-Pakistan home secretaries to meet ahead of Mohali match


New Delhi: As Indian and Pakistani cricketers gear up for the high-voltage World Cup semi-final clash, likely to be viewed by their prime ministers, the home secretaries of the two countries will be meeting in Islamabad for talks, including on the 26/11 attack.

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A day ahead of next Wednesday’s match at Mohali, the two home secretaries will be concluding their two-day meeting in Islamabad, where India is expected to raise the issue of tardy progress by the Pakistani government in prosecuting the masterminds of the 26/11 attack.

In April, the commerce secretaries will meet, followed by the foreign secretaries’ review meeting in July.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday invited Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to watch the Mohali match.

“This (cricket diplomacy) is good gesture… but a symbolic one. But, we should not be taken in by the hype. Remember, Pakistani leaders have come to India to watch cricket matches before,” said Savita Pande, professor of South Asian studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

In 1987, Pakistani President Zia-ul-Haq had crossed the border to watch an India-Pakistan test match at Jaipur, during a period of high tensions. Therafter, in 2005, Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf had watched a one-day match in Delhi, as part of the “friendship” series.

The ongoing composite dialogue between the two countries was suspended by India after the Nov 26, 2008 attack.

Prime Minister Singh had tried to get back the peace process on track at the Sharm-el-Sheikh meeting with Prime Minister Gilani in July 2009, but the public outrage over the inclusion of Pakistani concerns of India allegedly sponsoring Baloch insurgents in the joint statement effectively derailed it.

A year later, a second attempt, again led to a public fallout, when the foreign ministers of both countries met in Islamabad in July last year. The then Pakistani foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi had lashed out at the Indian Home Secretary G.K. Pillai for his remarks that the Pakistani spy agency, ISI, had a much more significant role in the Mumbai terror attacks.

Throughout, the prime minister’s strong intention for improvement of ties was evident. A US diplomatic cable dated November 2009, published by Wikileaks and The Hindu, had mentioned then National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan telling American diplomats that Manmohan Singh was a “great believer” in talks and negotiation with Islamabad.

It also recounted how the prime minister had been “isolated” in the government on this position.

“The PM certainly has a great stake.. and his approach is different from the normal bureaucratic approach. He thinks that Pakistan can’t be turned around, by stone-walling or hedging talks with them,” said Ajay Darsan Behera of Jamia Milia Islamia’s Pakistan Studies programme.

After the 2011 February Thimpu meeting of the foreign secretaries, a roadmap was announced for talks, but without the previous nomenclature of “composite dialogue”.