Just neighbours at lunch
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Every visit by a Pakistan president need not be made into a momentous occasion
"Doctor Saheb, if you and I decide, we can resolve all our disputes before lunch and then go back to watch the match!"
With those opening lines, Pakistan's then-president, Pervez Musharraf, settled down in his sofa at New Delhi's Hyderabad House seven Aprils ago. He and his host, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, had finished watching a bit of the cricket match between India and Pakistan at the Ferozeshah Kotla grounds. The match, as everyone knew, was a ruse that was used to organise the meeting. Much like President Asif Ali Zardari's pilgrimage to Ajmer this weekend.
"General Saheb, you are a soldier and much younger," said Singh to Musharraf, "but you must allow for my age. I can only walk step by step."
But they walked their talk. Over the next two years they outlined a roadmap for the resolution of the Kashmir issue based on Singh's famous formulation that "borders cannot be changed, but they can be made irrelevant".
No one expected that journey to reach this destination when it was first initiated. Musharraf and Singh first met in New York in September 2004 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. The homework for this meeting was carefully done, so that Musharraf refrained from the standard annual reference to Kashmir and the UN resolutions in his address to the UNGA. Singh reciprocated the gesture by telling the UNGA that he "reaffirmed" India's determination to carry forward the dialogue with Pakistan initiated by his predecessor, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in January 2004 "to a purposeful and mutually acceptable conclusion".
At the end of an hour's one-on-one conversation in New York's Roosevelt Hotel, the two came out of their room and informed their colleagues, including Indian foreign minister Natwar Singh and national security advisor J.N. Dixit, that they would meet the media. A press conference was hurriedly called and was delayed only because the hotel staff had to remove an "Exit" signboard in the corridor so that no photographer would get a shot of the two leaders under that sign!
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