India and Pakistan, as Atal Behari Vajpayee remarked famously in 1998, can alter their history, but not their geography. That sentiment has been voiced by other Indian and Pakistani leaders since. It is born of the wisdom that enmity between two countries with a shared boundary can only take both along a mutually undermining path and there must be a commitment to finding peace and cooperation. Only sustained engagement over the long term can bring these. Such engagement is possible only when both sides stop treating every episode as a make-or-break event. When Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yusuf Raza Gilani agreed that their Foreign Ministers should meet to find ways to bridge the “trust deficit,” it was clear that the road ahead would be difficult. The talks between Foreign Ministers S.M. Krishna and Shah Mahmood Qureshi are seen in this perspective. That they could not arrive at common ground in their discussions is disappointing but this should not be blown out of proportion. After the positive tone of the preparatory discussions between the Foreign Secretaries in Islamabad last month, there was an expectation that the ministerial meeting would flag off action on certain “doables” aimed at rebuilding confidence and trust. The inability of the two sides to do so only underlines the extent of the mistrust that has set in since the 2008 Mumbai attacks. India wants Pakistan to go after the perpetrators and masterminds of the attacks; Pakistan says it has already done all that it can and India must get over Mumbai to begin talking about other issues. Nevertheless, the agreement by the Ministers to meet again in New Delhi is a definite plus and both governments must now ensure that it takes place.
Meanwhile, both India and Pakistan can be more restrained in their public statements. An official of the position and experience of the Home Secretary, G.K. Pillai, should have known better than to state in an interview, a day before the Foreign Minister talks, that the interrogation of David Headley had revealed the role of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence in the Mumbai attacks “from the beginning till the end.” The relevant information must have been conveyed by Home Minister P. Chidambaram during his talks with his Pakistan counterpart Rehman Malik last month. Its public airing at a sensitive moment raises troubling questions about the motives for doing so, and about who really runs this government. This is not the first time Mr. Pillai has misspoken on sensitive issues. The Pakistan Foreign Minister too has been unnecessarily aggressive in his posturing towards India, perhaps out of domestic political compulsions. Far from being faulted, Mr. Krishna must be commended for the sobriety and statesmanship with which he handled a tricky situation. It is the responsibility of mature political leadership on both sides to take constructive engagement forward.