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PM's Mohali decision was sudden
SEEMA MUSTAFA  New Delhi | 3rd Apr 2011

Pak cricket fans cross over into India at the Wagah border to watch the ICC Cricket World Cup semi-final match on Wednesday. REUTERS

ohali is the first signal that India and Pakistan have finally travelled beyond Mumbai (terror attacks)," was the response of a senior Opposition senator from Pakistan who had travelled to India for the World Cup semi-final.

He had reason to be happy as the dinner meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani had both reciting short Urdu couplets in what Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao referred to as the "Mohali spirit".

It was also the first time since 26/11 that the Ministry of External Affairs, briefing the media about a bilateral meeting with Pakistan did not bring up the issue and instead spoke of the need for "a pervasive and a more permanent process of normalisation in an uninterrupted manner".

Rao spoke of the terror attack only in response to a specific question from a journalist where she maintained that it had to be "brought to a proper closure" and that this did not mean "we have set it aside or brushed it under the carpet". She did not dwell on the issue at any length.

Significantly, both sides did not raise the key issues of 26/11 and Kashmir at the Mohali meeting. The Prime Ministers spoke instead of the need to take the peace process forward.

Prime Minister Gilani returned to a rough press and criticism from hardliners in his country. Editorials in leading English and particularly Urdu newspapers chastised him for adding to Pakistan's defeat, for not raising the issue of Kashmir at all. "Sell out" has been the basic theme, with Gilani fielding the Pakistan Foreign Office to insist that Kashmir was part of the dialogue and would be discussed. The criticism has not subsided.

The question being asked by former diplomats in Delhi is, "Can Gilani deliver?"

Seen as a "weak" Prime Minister, experts here pointed out that Gilani was in no position to follow through on the meeting and it remained to be seen whether the Pakistan Army is willing to see the dialogue through. The Indian Opposition too has been raising the same issue about Singh, claiming that he will not have the strength to follow through.

The talks are expected to follow the composite dialogue kind pattern, although both New Delhi and Islamabad are taking care not to term it such.

The officials of both sides will meet in the two capitals in turn to discuss trade, economy, Siachen, Sir Creek, water issues, Jammu and Kashmir and people to people relations. The foreign secretaries will meet and then the foreign ministers are expected to wrap up this particular phase later in the year. Prime Minister Singh, if all goes smoothly, could visit Pakistan after this, as he has been invited by Prime Minister Gilani. The Lok Sabha Speaker and Rajya Sabha chairman have invited parliamentary delegations from Pakistan to visit India.

Sources said that the Prime Ministers' meeting was "sudden" and "not thought out". The cricket match was seen by Singh as an "opportunity" to break the ice, and except for a few top officials, everyone else was caught unawares. The sources said that the Prime Minister had informed Congress president Sonia Gandhi about his decision to invite Gilani for the Mohali cricket match. Her endorsement was visible in her decision to go for the match and attend the dinner, the sources said.

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