Exactly one month after Zardari-Manmohan Singh meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit at Yekaterinburg in Russia in June, the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan have met in Egypt's resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh on the sidelines of NAM Summit agreeing in principle on the resumption of the "composite dialogue" between the two estranged neighbours. In Pakistan, however, more than India-Pakistani thaw, what fueled greater curiosity was the question as to what happened in Yekaterinburg that made President Asif Ali Zardari opt out of Sharm El-Sheikh and instead send Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to face Manmohan Singh's googlies. Whatever the reason, it was a welcome change in our political batting order. it not only conformed to the traditions of parliamentary system in both countries hut also brought the difference in terms of a positive outcome. On his part, Prime Minister Gilani has done quite well at Sharm El-Sheikh. He played by the rules of the game. First before going to bat, he had a full round of dressing room consultations with senior political players, and then he allowed his Foreign Secretary to prepare the pitch in advance for him to score well. This is the way, high level encounters become productive. No summit is ever successful unless adequate preparations are made in advance at senior officials' level. Diplomatic skills and expertise have no substitute in making summits successful. The historic Lahore Summit in February 1999 is an example of success built on well-prepared outcome by senior officials who worked for weeks preparing common ground and drafting final documents to be issued in the name of their leaders. The Agra Summit was a total flop because no preparations were made beforehand. General Musharraf overestimated himself and thought he was "commando" enough to knock out his Indian interlocutors How and why did India change its mind? No doubt, both high-level encounters between the two countries since the Mumbai terrorist attacks last November have been a positive development at least in breaking the ice and bringing some atmospheric improvement. The Manmohan Singh-Zardari encounter at Yekaterinburg and now Manmohan Singh-Gilani meeting at Sharm El-Sheikh both were timely high-level contacts between the two countries. Beneath the frosty surface and beyond the "for-the-cameras" charm and chagrin, a slow but perceptible thaw between the two neighbouring countries had, in fact, already been in the making under pressure from Washington. India had since November last remained fixated on the Mumbai issue but now finally seems amenable to returning to the dialogue process with Pakistan. The real credit for this change of mind in New Delhi goes to Washington which has been quietly, and also not so quietly, prodding both India and Pakistan to resume their peace process. It wants them to back off from their confrontational mode in the interest of "regional stability" which, in its view, is needed to counter terrorism more effectively as a common challenge. In June, President Obama had sent his Undersecretary of State, William Burns, as special envoy to New Delhi with a letter for the Indian Prime Minister urging him to resume dialogue with Pakistan. It was said to be a tough message from a US President whom means business. William Burns surprised his Indian hosts by resurrecting the Kashmir issue in his public remarks, saying that the wishes of the Kashmiri people should be taken into account in any settlement. This has long been US stated policy, but in practice, the US has always been evasive of any role against India's wishes. In a pre-election television interview, President Obama pledged to encourage India to solve the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan so that Islamabad can better cooperate with the United States on Afghanistan. He was convinced that in order to keep Pakistan focused on the larger challenges in our region, the Kashmir issue had to be resolved. He has been publicly admitting that Pakistan cannot be an effective partner in any campaign against terrorism unless its legitimate concerns on this issue are alleviated. Obama understands this linkage. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is now in India as a serious follow up to reinforce Obama's demarche with India to alleviate Pakistan's legitimate concerns on its role in Afghanistan. According to Richard Boucher's successor, Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake while speaking in his confirmation hearing in the Senate last month, US will continue to support dialogue between Indian and Pakistani leaders but the timing, scope and content of any such dialogue are strictly matters for Pakistani and Indian leaders to decide. We in Pakistan also need to be cautious about any third party's involvement. A final solution to the Kashmir dispute must be pursued in a manner that is acceptable to both India and Pakistan and to the people of Kashmir without any foreign interference or pressure. This was also the essence of UN Security Council resolutions on the issue. What should be clear to all is that no deal will work unless it is acceptable to the people of Kashmir. They are the final arbiters of their own destiny President Zardari must understand this lest he falls for Musharraf's "contre-le-montre" back channel diplomacy through non-diplomatic couriers. Sharm El-Sheikh has only provided a small opening to resume the India-Pakistan peace process. There is no room for over-optimism in India-Pakistan context simply on the basis of one or two bilateral meetings taking place on the sidelines of regional or international conferences. This process requires perseverance. We still have a long way to go. Both countries, however, must give peace a real chance. They must continue their "composite dialogue" as an un-interruptible process to build up trust and confidence and develop mutually beneficial cooperation. India and Pakistan must also develop a clearer framework of principles on the basis of which to address their outstanding issues and organise their future relations. For this purpose, regular agenda-specific and result-focused contacts between the political leadership of the two countries would be needed. Steady improvement of their relations requires further changes in the way they deal with each other. Tangible progress in conflict resolution should be visible to the people on both sides, particularly on the doables: Sir Creek; Siachen; Wullar Barrage, Trade expansion; Friendly Exchanges including people-to-people contacts and visa liberalization. Both Prime Ministers in their joint statement at Sharm El-Sheikh have recognised that dialogue is the only way forward, and action on terrorism should not be linked to the "composite" dialogue process and these should not be bracketed. While agreeing that terrorism is the main threat to both countries, the two Prime Ministers affirmed their resolve to jointly fight this common threat. Mutual cooperation in counter-terrorism needs to be reinforced bilaterally as well as regionally. Blame game in public must come to an end. It is also time a serious appraisal was made of the policy options available to the regional as well as global stakeholders in making South Asia a factor of stability for global peace and security. This, no doubt, presents a challenge to the world community, especially the powers that matter, not only to manage the magnitude of the region's political, economic and social problems but also explore the pathways to bringing the prevailing India-Pakistan logjam to an end through conflict prevention and peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with the modalities prescribed in the Charter of the United Nations. The writer is a former Foreign Secretary