Those who were hoping that the meeting between the foreign ministers would be as free of acrimony as the recent meeting between Home Minister P Chidambaram and his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik and the one between the foreign secretaries of the two countries will have reasons to be disappointed.
The acrimony, hardly concealed, was there for all to see on television as they watched the joint press conference addressed by the two foreign ministers at the end of their discussions and their interactions with the respective media thereafter.
The objective of the meeting, as agreed to by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani at their meeting in Thimpu on the margins of the SAARC summit, was to create an atmosphere of trust between the two countries to facilitate the resumption of a formal dialogue on various pending issues.
The proposed objective of the meeting as laid down by the two prime ministers was strategic, positive and forward-looking and not tactical and negative, impeding a forward movement in bilateral relations.
One got the impression that the two foreign ministers had focused totally on tactical issues without brainstorming on various actions that could be taken to build trust. At the press conference, Krishna rightly emphasised that Pakistani action against the Pakistan-based conspirators of the 26/11 terrorist strike in Mumbai would be an important confidence-building measure.
Qureshi, on his part, expressed the keen-ness of the Pakistani government to implement the various confidence-building measures relating to Kashmir, which had been agreed to by previous Pakistani governments in their interactions with the Indian government -- such as promoting trade across the Line of Control.
He made a distinction between these confidence-building measures and measures of a political nature to settle the Kashmir dispute without disturbing the territorial status quo. Though he did not refer to General Pervez Musharraf by name, it was evident that he was referring to the measures of a political nature on which the two governments had agreed through back-channel discussions when the general was in power.
The present Pakistani government had refused to honour agreements of a political nature agreed to by General Musharraf during the back-channel discussions. It was apparent from Qureshi's observations that his government has remained firm on this refusal.
A forward-looking trust-building exercise should have focussed on many other issues of strategic interest like:
If these measures are agreed to, this could have a cascading effect in building mutual trust.
From the press conference, one had an impression that none of these positive measures had been discussed in detail by the two foreign ministers. Instead, the focus of the discussions seemed to have been largely on issues which have bedevilled the relations between the two countries.
It was the realisation that the time is not yet ripe for tackling those issues that had made the two prime ministers agree upon an initial trust-building exercise as a starting block.
Instead of initiating a process of trust-building, the meeting seems to have added to the existing wall of mistrust.
It was obvious that neither country had made proper preparations for the meeting. Since our prime minister reportedly attached considerable importance to this trust-building exercise, one would have expected that before Krishna's visit to Islamabad he would have discussed a possible strategy for the meeting with the leaders of the Opposition in order to evolve a political consensus and at a special meeting of the National Security Council chaired by him to evolve an inter-departmental consensus on the strategy.
It was evident that no such preparatory exercise for political and inter-departmental consensus-building was undertaken in New Delhi before embarking on the trust-building exercise in Islamabad.
Fortunately, there was no breakdown at Islamabad. The Pakistani foreign minister is expected to visit New Delhi in December to continue the discussions. Dr Singh may meet Gilani again in New York in September if they decide to attend the inaugural session of the United Nations General Assembly.
Before the September meeting, the prime minister should undertake a brainstorming session with the Opposition leaders and in the NSC on how to handle our relations with Pakistan -- strategically as well as tactically.