Either by design or by default, the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan were standing together for a joint news conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here on Friday, exactly a year after a similar outing; right to the day.
And, as they articulated their determination to stay the course of dialogue, the fact that not much had changed between India and Pakistan in the 365 days that had passed was in itself a reflection of the slippery ground on which bilateral relations are conducted.
This is a ground that can be tread only gingerly and both sides acknowledged it; maintaining that India and Pakistan were determined to carry forward the dialogue process in a constructive and purposeful manner fully aware of the limited space for engagement.
Consequently, a joint statement did not mention any tangible steps that would be taken immediately but suggested a process that would be set in motion to create a space for making larger-than-baby steps acceptable. It is with this aim of creating a favourable public opinion for more people-to-people contact that the statement speaks about reducing hostile propaganda against each other.
According to Indian officials, people are at the heart of the statement amid a growing realisation that the two countries can either remain permanently bogged down by history or learn from their past. Maintaining that this would be a painstakingly slow process, the two sides advocated patience, with Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao stating that the edifice of this relationship had to be built brick by brick.
In a bid to promote people-to-people contact, the statement hinted at the possibility of a liberalised visa regime besides more avenues for business and sporting contacts, and facilitating visits to places of pilgrimage. Media exchanges, sports tournaments besides contacts between think-tanks and military institutions like India's National Defence College and Pakistan's National Defence University are being considered.
Another area of further coordination being examined is between the two coast guards. Though the Indian delegation maintained that it was not last week's “brush'' between the naval warships of the two countries in the Gulf of Aden that put this on the table, they discussed an agreement to prevent situations at sea. “This is something that we have been talking about for a while now.”
“We have been fully conscious of the complexities of our relationship and the consequent need to take incremental steps to promote mutual confidence and understanding,” Ms. Rao said. And, to a pointed question on Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir articulated a similar resolve to continue talking till a common ground was found.
On terrorism, while India called for a satisfactory closure of the Mumbai terror attack case, Pakistan brought up the Samjhauta Express blast. Mr. Bashir said terror should be addressed with objectivity and called for a collaborative approach while laughing off a question on whether he still stood by his observation that terrorism-related evidence provided by India was “literature.”