The Zardari-Manmohan encounter on the sidelines of the 16th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement on Thursday failed to elicit any commitment from the Indian Prime Minister that Pakistan and India should focus on steering the process of dialogue to a productive and resulted-oriented conclusion, though President Zardari tried to press the point home. He stressed that it was important to move beyond a reiteration of positions by each other on substantive issues. The Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, however, insinuated into the talks his concern over the Mumbai attack’s perpetrators not having been brought to book so far, asking the Pakistani interlocutor for early action against them and adding that addressing this irritant would be ‘the biggest subcontinental confidence building measure’. According to Indian Foreign Secretary Rajan Mathai, Mr Zardari reiterated his commitment of bringing them to justice but cited judicial imperatives serving as inhibiting factors. On the question of trade, the President pointed out that Pakistan’s geographical position of a catalyst for the expansion of regional commercial cooperation for which there was a great scope. To Mr Zardari’s reminder to Dr Singh about his long-awaited visit to Pakistan, he maintained his earlier position that he would pay a visit at a ‘suitable time (and in a) well-prepared’ manner.

However, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar termed the meeting ‘good’ as she pointed out that to meet the challenge of the time and the emerging regional scenario it was essential for all the countries, especially of the region, to have improved relations. She spoke to Headlines Today where she expressed her disappointment at the Indian accusation that Pakistan was one of the origins of the hate messages though SMS relating to the disturbed situation in India’s north-eastern region.

It is quite clear that New Delhi’s effort to normalise relations with Pakistan centres round dealing with peripheral matters and, on the other hand, pressurise it to agree to issues of Indian concerns. In the tense and, at times, even hostile climate prevailing between the two countries, there could be no dearth of incidents to bedevil relations, especially when any act of terrorism or even an untoward incident happening in India could become a tool of propaganda in the hands of its powerful machinery to malign Pakistan. Even though India fails to provide legally valid evidence, it creates an embarrassing situation for Pakistan. Thus, the issues that concern Islamabad most are sidelined on the plea that they could be taken up once the new irritants are removed. However, for Pakistan certain contentious issues carry crucial importance. The Kashmir dispute, with the water diversion as well as Siachen issues that emanate from it, was tellingly described by the Quaid as the jugular vein of Pakistan. Unless it is thrashed out first by giving the Kashmiris the right to exercise their vote in a plebiscite to be held under UN-auspices, there is hardly any point in wasting time in bilateral negotiations that centre round anything else. Apart from pressing New Delhi to see the logic of Islamabad’s stand, we should have recourse to proactive diplomacy at the international level to resolve the tangle.