Pakistani minister: India-Pakistan 'trust deficit' is shrinking

Pakistan Foreign Minister Khar said Wednesday that the 'trust deficit' between India and Pakistan is shrinking, yet another step forward in a fledgling reconciliation process.

Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar (r.) talks with her Indian counterpart Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna during the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in the Maldives, today.

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Pakistan's foreign minister said at a regional summit Wednesday that the "trust deficit" between India and Pakistan, which have gone to war three times since they were established as independent states in the 1947 partition, is shrinking. Her comment comes after several months of slow but positive steps toward reconciliation between the rivals.

Pakistan's Hina Rabbani Khar and Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna are planning to meet on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit, happening this week in the Maldives. Their get-together will be followed with a meeting between the countries' prime ministers Thursday, during which they are expected to focus on regional terrorism, the Associated Press reports.

Terrorism is one of the biggest obstacles to the reconciliation process. Pakistan has been linked to or implicated in a number of terrorist attacks on Indian territory in the past, most notably the 2008 attack in Mumbai that abruptly ended a fledgling peace effort.

According to the Press Trust of India (PTI), Mr. Krishna told Ms. Khar that Pakistan cannot allow its territory to be used as a base for terrorism and also raised questions about Pakistan's trial of suspects in the Mumbai case.

Pakistan and India restarted peace talks in February after a freeze following the Mumbai attack. Government officials have since traveled between the two countries and trade relations have been normalized. According to PTI, Pakistan recently granted India "Most Favored Nation" trade status, meaning that it will grant India substantial privileges in bilateral trade.

“I think we can certainly say from our side that we look at this environment to have been improved considerably and the trust deficit that typically exists between the two countries and has existed for many years, to have been reduced to a large order,” Khar said, according to PTI.

Khar's declaration comes about a month after India and Afghanistan signed a strategic agreement that raised concerns in Pakistan, which is sandwiched between the two (see map) and worries about a possible regional alliance against Pakistan. 

The status of Kashmir, potentially the thorniest issue in the reconciliation process, has not yet been substantially discussed in the bilateral talks. Kashmir – a disputed territory that lies between the two countries and is claimed by India, Pakistan, and China – was the source of two of the wars between India and Pakistan.

Khar and Krishna met for the first time in July, amid modest expectations for progress. At the time, the goal was merely to build a conflict-adverse climate between the two countries, not to resolve any substantial issues, The Christian Science Monitor reported then.

"In this case, talking means not going to war. That is the idea. Dialogue is not to resolve the issues, it's to tell the world they're not going to war," said Lalit Mansingh, a former Indian foreign secretary and a former ambassador to the United States, according to Reuters.

At the time, The Wall Street Journal's "India Real Time" blog noted that a substantial lack of trust had to be overcome. Khar's comments today that the "trust deficit" between the countries is shrinking could pave the way for discussion of the most difficult issues between the two countries.

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