Should PM Manmohan Singh talk to Nawaz Sharif?

Going back on his own stand that "terror and talks can`t go together", Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is set to meet his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in what is being seen as an important move by both the sides to improve bilateral ties.

The much-anticipated Manmohan-Sharif meeting is expected to be held over breakfast on September 29 on the sidelines of the UNGA. Even before the two leaders get engaged in what would be a ``structured meeting`` to discuss "harsh realities" on the ground, roadblocks have started to crop up. A daring terrorist attack on the Army camp in Jammu & Kashmir`s Samba sector today claimed several lives.

The attack appears to be a ploy to derail the Manmohan-Sharif talks and further vitiate the environment of trust built by the diplomats of the two sides in the last few days to take the peace process forward.

Today`s attack and the recent unpleasant developments along the Indo-Pak border as well as LoC, which include the beheading of Indian soldiers, repeated ceasefire violations by the troops of the neighbouring nation, and the unabated anti-India agenda being carried out by terror groups operating from the Pakistani soil, raise serious questions over the feasibility of talks and what India stands to gain from them.

Ahead of leaving for the United States, newly-elected Pak Prime Minister termed his proposed meeting with his Indian counterpart as a "potentially fruitful endeavour", while the Indian side sees it as a "move towards peace". But beneath the cacophony of pleasantries and niceties from both sides, the fact remains unchanged that Islamabad has never fulfilled its commitment and New Delhi has always been cheated.

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh must be applauded for his decision to meet the Pakistan Premier despite immense political pressure against his peace overtures, but he must also not ignore national interest.

The meet would no doubt provide an ideal opportunity for the two leaders to put behind them the LoC fracas and move towards peace, but it remains to be seen if the talks would lead to any immediate deal or breakthrough.

While it is expected that Dr Singh will convey concerns over "barbaric" incidents on the LoC and continued terrorism emanating from Pakistan, it will be interesting to see what Sharif, who has made "nice statements" about the relationship, has to say about ceasefire violations along the Line of Control and International Border, continued terrorism and inaction against the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attack, the Indus Water sharing dispute etc.

While Islamabad needs to demonstrate its commitment to `no longer being a safe haven and training ground for militants`, India needs to nail it hard for failing to prevent terror being bred on its soil on several occasions in the past.

The Prime Minister`s meeting with Nawaz Sharif also comes at a time when the world`s attention is once again focused on the country for the church attack in Peshawar. When Sharif addresses the UN General Assembly session on September 27, he will be watched for what he has to offer to combat militancy.

Also, while there is an urgent need to give a fresh push to the peace process in order to bring stability in the region, it is also important for the two leaders to see "where India, Pakistan are and where they go from here."

As compared to his Pakistani counterpart, Dr Manmohan Singh is on a more sticky wicket as he may or not return as Prime Minister after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls considering an anti-Congress wave and rising influence of Narendra Modi. Left with less political space, the pressure will obviously be more on the Indian Prime Minister than on Nawaz Sharif, who is an elected representative of the people of Pakistan.

While holding talks with Sharif, it will be imperative for Dr Singh to ensure that Pakistan does not get any diplomatic advantage since it has always managed to spin Indo-Pak dialogues in its favour. The Indian PM must keep in mind that Nawaz Sharif, who has rewritten Pakistan`s history by becoming the PM for a record third time, is also under international pressure to fulfil Islamabad`s commitment towards peace and tackle the terror mongers.

However, much should not be expected from Sharif, who represents a nation where its notorious spy agency ISI controls the reins of power and its obsession for Kashmir is the root cause of its hatred towards India. For Manmohan Singh, holding talks with Nawaz Sharif will be a calculated gamble to engage with a country which is persistently out of sympathy for India.

Hope that Dr Manmohan Singh has not forgotten the bitter lessons he learnt from his meeting with then Pakistani Premiere Yusuf Raza Gilani in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt in 2009.