Manmohan-Gilani chemistry: From Sharm el-Sheikh to Addu via Thimphu

By Manish Chand, IANS,

Addu (Maldives) : Call it the magic of the Maldives, the picture-pretty Indian Ocean islands that seems to melt all differences. Or the feel of gross national happiness in Thimphu or the liberating Sharm el-Sheikh resort in Egypt.

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The chemistry between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani seems to work for the volatile India-Pakistan relations.

In a beach cottage at Shangri-La resort in the southernmost atoll, Manmohan Singh and Gilani, Thursday hit all the right notes, promising to write a “new chapter” in the troubled relationship of their nations.

In glowing words, Manmohan Singh who was born in an area that is now in Pakistan, with Gilani by his side, praised him as “man of peace.” This impression was further strengthened, said Manmohan Singh, after a nearly 45-minute one-on-one with Gilani, indicating a growing chemistry between them despite their varying backgrounds and age difference.

This was their fourth meeting in less than three years. The two leaders first met in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm-el-Sheikh in July 2009, the first breakthrough attempt to delink terror from the composite dialogue process after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack froze the dialogue process between the two countries. The move attracted a lot of criticism back home in India, but it also showed the boldness of the two leaders in attempting to break the logjam in the dialogue process.

Manmohan Singh and Gilani next met in the Bhutanese capital Thimphu in April 2010 on the margins of the SAARC summit that lead to a breakthrough of sorts, setting the stage for resumption of the stalled peace process 10 months later. Seeking to thaw the post-Mumbai frostiness in ties, the two leaders instructed their foreign ministers to meet and reduce the trust deficit between the two countries.

This led to the first meeting of the foreign ministers of the two countries in July 2010, which unfortunately collapsed due to grandstanding by Pakistan’s then foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his insistence that complex issues like Kashmir should be resolved in a time frame.

Building upon positive trends in bilateral ties, including a formal announcement about the resumption of the dialogue process, Gilani accepted Manmohan Singh’s invitation to watch the World Cup semifinal in Mohali in India’s Punjab in March.

The meeting here between Manmohan Singh and Gilani, marked by upbeat pronouncements about the trajectory of India-Pakistan relations, could possibly be a turning point if both leaders live up to the promise of bringing in a new era in their ties.

The meeting stands out in comparison with the one Manmohan Singh had with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in Yekaterinburg in Russia in June 2009 which went badly awry.

During that meeting, Manmohan Singh told Zardari within earshot of journalists that he had a limited mandate from India to tell him that Pakistan can’t allow its territory for anti-India terror. This led to much outcry in Pakistan, with that country’s military-dominated establishment deciding to place Gilani as the chief interlocutor in talks with India.

(Manish Chand can be contacted at [email protected])