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10 days that matter to New Delhi

November 15
In the next 10 days, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon will be under watch, by the Pundits of international affairs and detractors of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's foreign policy, who are training their guns on the outcome of four mega events critical from New Delhi's viewpoint.

Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon met his Pakistani counterpart Riaz Mohammad Khan yesterday for the fourth round of the composite dialogue. Both will be meeting again today.

As reported by rediff.com, 'The Republican and Democratic leadership in the US Senate have decided to accord the enabling legislation (S 3709) to facilitate the US-India civilian nuclear agreement a high priority during the lame-duck session and pushed it to the front-burner. Hence, there is a strong possibility that the bill will be debated and voted on the floor come Wednesday or Thursday (November 15 or 16).'

Besides, India is hosting the Second Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan which will take place on November 18 and 19. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai will co-chair the conference. Representatives of G-8 countries, Pakistan, Iran, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, European Union and the United Nations will be in New Delhi this weekend. Along with RECC, a business meet is also being organized.

Without doubt, the most significant event will be the state visit President Hu Jintao of the People's Republic of China to India from November 20 to 23. Apart from New Delhi, President Hu will also visit Agra and Mumbai.

Strategic analyst K Subrahmanyam told rediff.com, "Let us wait and see. It is a test for Mukherjee and Menon. We will see how they perform now that they are put to severe test. I am keeping my fingers crossed."

rediff.com talked to several experts to put together the best and worst case scenarios of the four events.

India-Pakistan secretary-level talks

According to reports there are two major issues before Menon and Khan.

Both countries are looking for some forward movement on the withdrawal of troops in Siachen and the setting up of a joint mechanism to manage the menace of terrorism. The leaders from both sides have refrained from airing any rhetoric in the run-up to the talks.

On the issue of Siachen, the Indian Army has unexpectedly voiced its reservations against withdrawal. It can be safely assumed that the disciplined and apolitical Army will not have aired its views without tacit approval from the political leadership. The Siachen battlefield is not only the world's highest but also the cruellest, thanks to inclement elements, which has claimed more than 600 soldiers in the last 20 years. It's considered a crime against humanity to post soldiers on such terrain but both sides need an amenable political atmosphere and mutual trust to seal a deal to withdraw troops.

India alleges that Pakistan is not agreeing to the proposal for authentication of positions (held by Indian and Pakistani forces). The Indian Army, which is bearing the brunt of nature's fury, claims that authentication of the current troop positions along the 110-km Actual Ground Position Line be a precondition to any withdrawal because if the Indian Army withdraws from the Saltoro Ridge in Siachen, it will be almost impossible to recapture if it is clandestinely occupied by Pakistan.

However, by all accounts it seems that the endgame has begun over Siachen. Since Menon and Khan are seasoned diplomats one may expect that with the solid help of 'back channels' both will keep up the positive tone and remain firm on finding a win-win situation till some substantial agreement is reached to facilitate and justify Dr Manmohan Singh's proposed visit to Pakistan.

Both diplomats have discussed the modalities of establishing the joint mechanism against terrorism. Certainly, within India the idea has received a mixed response. Pakistan expert B Raman believes, "We are being naive in thinking that Pakistan would plead guilty and admit that it is sponsoring terrorism against us -- however clinching the evidence given by us under the joint mechanism. Pakistan feels that it is these terrorists who will help it to change the status-quo in Kashmir. Till the status-quo is changed, it is not going to stop them."

However, former diplomat M K Bhadrakumar argues that the positive part of the secretary-level talks is that "after a break of one year the process has begun and that itself is a forward movement. I expect the concrete outcome of the two-day talks in the form of joint mechanism which will be put in place with a loaded agenda. I am not expecting positive results soon but the process has the potential of serious confidence building measures."

Image: Pakistan Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan and his Indian host, Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, address the media in New Delhi on November 14, at the end of the first day of their two-day talks. This is the first high-level talks between India and Pakistan after the Mumbai train blasts of July 11, 2006

Reportage: Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi | Photograph: Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images

Also read: Complete coverage: India-Pakistan peace talks

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