It was the briefest of accidental meetings — at least according to officials from both sides — but anytime the prime ministers of Pakistan and India meet it is necessarily of great interest in the two countries and internationally as well.
The frenzied coverage of the fleeting interaction between Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi and intense speculation about what the very different body language of the two men said about the conversation should be viewed positively — it shows the media and public in both countries do, in fact, long for some kind of breakthrough between the seemingly eternal rivals.
Surely, it is time now for the leaderships of Pakistan and India to put the bilateral relationship back on track.
After the Ufa controversy and the NSA talks fiasco, the Pak-India relationship needed an injection of positivity.
That neither side tried to spin Monday’s prime ministerial interaction in Paris in a hostile or damaging manner is a welcome sign. But it is obvious that much more needs to be done.
But will Prime Minister Modi follow up with a meaningful gesture? If there is one impediment to the resumption of talks between Pakistan and India, it is the unfortunate insistence by the Indian government that there be a one-point agenda, ie terrorism.
That has caused the Pakistani state, particularly the military establishment, to fall back on its own complaints vis-à-vis alleged Indian interference inside Pakistan.
The much-touted dossiers prepared by the Pakistani state and handed over to UN and US interlocutors are symptomatic of a familiar and mutually damaging downward spiral in the bilateral relationship.
The Modi government ought to recognise a basic truth: the insistence on a one-point agenda is preventing that very one point from being discussed meaningfully.
There are clearly very serious terrorism-related discussions to be had between Pakistan and India — on both sides — so why not adjust to reality and find a way to make that conversation happen?
On the Pakistani side, there is a change in approach needed too. The communal tensions inside India have been seized upon inside Pakistan as proof of the pointlessness of engaging a right-wing Indian government in substantive talks. But this too is self-defeating.
The tensions inside India may be real, but so too are the tensions in the bilateral relationship. Unstable ties with India can have all manner of damaging consequences for Pakistan, including inside Afghanistan where the Pakistani state is trying to find a stable outcome over the long term.
There is a strange impulse in Pakistan to fight fire with fire when it comes to Indian flame-throwing. Be it cricketing ties or prime ministerial body language, there are sections in the media and among policymakers that seem to prize notions of honour over real world concerns.
If ties with India are to improve, Pakistan needs to demonstrate less schadenfreude and more concern.
Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2015