NEW DELHI — Officials from archrivals India and Pakistan say there is political will on both sides to take the often-contentious relationship to a new level. Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid met with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's special advisor on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Brunei on Tuesday, in the first such talks since the Sharif was sworn in as Pakistan's new leader.
In recent years, both India and Pakistan have pledged to normalize economic ties, including Pakistan promising to grant India Most-Favored Nation status, which New Delhi granted Islamabad in the 1990s.
For its part, India is considering providing electricity and natural gas to help Pakistan combat crippling power shortages, including building a cross-border transmission line. Both sides held energy cooperation talks last month just days after Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took office.
On Tuesday, Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid met briefly with Prime Minister Sharif’s Special Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and said there is political will to take ties between India and Pakistan further. He told reporters in Brunei that New Delhi is already working in that direction.
“You have seen an immediate response given by India on issues of urgency in Pakistan, on the scarcity of power and gas," Khurshid noted. "We are looking at the technical issues that are involved on both sides and we will respond within our capacity to the maximum extent.”
Even before his election in May, Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif had called for building greater ties between Islamabad and New Delhi. His foreign affairs advisor Aziz on Tuesday reaffirmed that sentiment following his 20-minute meeting with Khurshid.
“We have reviewed the various steps in the CBMs [confidence building measures] and in the composite dialogue that has been going on," Aziz said. "We discussed ways and means of fast-tracking them because there is a desire to on the part of people on both sides to accelerate cooperation.”
Aziz went on to express hope that Prime Minister Sharif and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh will meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in September, if not earlier, to “provide greater political impetus” in the dialogue process.
Indian analyst Bharat Karnad with the New Delhi-based Center for Policy research says the dialogue is marking a new chapter in India-Pakistan relations. He said it is time now for the Indian government to focus on the country’s role on the larger Asian geopolitical stage.
“India has to think big, has to think beyond the region, beyond the subcontinent and begin thinking in terms of emerging as a counterpoint to China in Asia," Karnad said. "That’s not going to happen if you keep obsessing about a small little weak country on the flank, such as Pakistan.”
Karnad said India helping Pakistan with its power shortages is a good step to ensure a pacified neighborhood, while also affording economic opportunities to the Indian market.
The question that now lingers is whether both governments can overcome longtime domestic opposition to forging closer ties.