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Mere ritual

September 01, 2012

HAD there been no meeting between President Asif Ali Zardari and Dr Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the NAM summit, it would have been the news of the day. Which is why there have been nearly half-a-dozen ritualistic and informal meetings between the Indian prime minister and Pakistan’s top leaders at one or the other summit. After their meeting at the 2010 Saarc summit in Thimphu, former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and the Indian prime minister met three times — at Mohali last year during the cricket World Cup semifinal, at Addu, Maldives in November 2011 and in Seoul in March 2012. In addition, there was the much-hyped lunch at New Delhi for President Zardari by Dr Singh in April. The latter two met again on Thursday — again on the ‘sidelines’ of the NAM summit in Tehran — without conceding any ground. The only meeting the South Asian neighbours didn’t owe to an international extravaganza was over lunch, but this, too, was a spin-off from President Zardari’s Ajmer pilgrimage. Moral of the story: neither side has cared to arrange a bilateral meeting for its own sake to break the ice.

The Tehran meeting showed the Indian leadership is still stuck at Mumbai, with Dr Singh emphasising the need for the expeditious conclusion of the trial of the Mumbai terror suspects. All that the Indian leader could offer as sop was that he would visit Pakistan at ‘an appropriate date’. Mr Zardari still spoke of Dr Singh’s ‘vision’ but hit the nail on the head when he called upon the two parties to move beyond reiterating their known positions to try and achieve more substantive results. As the stronger of the two sides, will it be too much to expect New Delhi to show flexibility and desist from the temptation to apply pressure on Pakistan at a time when it finds itself in a nutcracker situation? On its part, Islamabad has to dispel the impression that the procrastination of the Mumbai suspects’ trial is on purpose, and, instead, by expediting the process, show that Islamabad is as keen as New Delhi to bring the terrorists to justice.