For its impact on the Indian observer, the deliberations of the massive NAM conference at Sharm El-Sheikh were eclipsed by the meeting in the margins between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan. This is a reflection both on how far NAM has faded in the public mind and on the unfailing hyper interest evoked by any meeting between the leaders of these two countries. To judge from what the leaders themselves said, the meeting went well and broke some fresh ground. It yielded a joint statement, which is a sign that serious discussions had taken place, not just the routine exchanges that would be normal on such an occasion. This joint statement, however, has provoked a considerable burst of criticism within the country. It has been interpreted by the political opposition as an unnecessary concession by India on some key issues and has come under adverse scrutiny in some sections of the media. Indeed, some have argued that the meeting itself was unnecessary and would have been better avoided. Others take a more favourable view, and it is difficult in the midst of the different interpretations to know quite what took place and where to turn for an objective opinion. After the attacks on Mumbai last November, India had placed the entire dialogue process on hold until such time as Pakistan had taken effective action against the perpetrators. What was regarded as Pakistan's inadequate response by the time the Sharm El-Sheikh conference took place led some Indian commentators to complain that India's readiness to have the meeting was something of a climb down. This shows how difficult it is to strike the right note in Indo-Pakistan matters, for from all indications, such high level contact is intended by New Delhi not so much to accommodate Pakistan as to try to push it into effective action. This became apparent through the inadvertently public words addressed by Dr Manmohan Singh to Mr Zardari when they met in the margins of the SCO meeting in Russia earlier this year. Matters were compounded by the joint statement that came out of the meeting. This seemed to have been something of an afterthought, in that it was not preceded by the careful and prolonged drafting exercise that is so often the case. Rather, the leaders seem to have had a good exchange and felt there was value in putting something about it on record, so they asked their senior officials to draft a suitable statement. Some features of this statement have received unfavourable comment. For one thing, there is a mention in it of Pakistan's concerns with the situation in Balochistan. India is often accused in the Pakistan media of interfering in the affairs of that province and trying to stir up matters in that perpetually restive region. India has rejected all innuendoes about its role in Balochistan, and its position is adequately reflected in the joint statement, yet to some observers the mere mention of the subject is retrograde and need not have been accepted. The counter view would be that there can be no harm in listing subjects that were actually reviewed by the leaders, even when the disagreement between them was plainly revealed, as it is in this particular matter; free and frank discussion of all issues is desirable as it can help build confidence and remove lingering doubts. The joint statement expresses the agreement of the leaders that dialogue should be resumed, and simultaneously requires the matter of terrorism to be addressed in proper earnest. This manner of juxtaposing these key issues has raised some questions: some commentators claim that agreeing to dialogue dilutes India's position, to others the statement makes it clear that there can be no progress in bilateral affairs without action on terrorism. Like many diplomatic texts of this nature, the joint statement seems to have been deliberately put together in a manner that permits each side to feel satisfied that its established position has not been ignored or weakened. Thus India's insistence on action against terrorism as a necessary condition and Pakistan's persistent call for resumption of comprehensive dialogue have both been accommodated within the text. Insofar as any India-Pakistan meeting tends to take on the character of yet another round in an interminable contest, the result of the Manmohan Singh-Gilani meeting in Egypt has been pored over to see which side came out best. There has been plenty of sound and fury on both sides about the merits of the agreement but nothing to sustain the belief that either party got away with anything to the disadvantage of the other. Such an outcome would in any case be almost impossible to procure, given the skill and experience of the officials deployed by the two sides. So what is most relevant is to see what further progress is now on the cards, and towards what end. Already since the Sharm El-Sheikh meeting the Pakistani authorities have moved against some of those implicated in the Mumbai attacks and have filed charges against them. This can be regarded as a useful step and when added to some other recent developments, it suggests that Pakistan could be coming around to undertaking some of the responsibilities that India, and other members of the international community, have been urging upon it. The often critical commentaries in the media reflect, to a considerable extent, the lack of adequate and timely briefing about what was taking place. Its not that media managers can put thoughts into the minds of the journalists but it is necessary to give an account of what has been happening and to draw attention to the finer points of documents like the joint statement. Otherwise a price has to be paid, as seen in the confusion that attended the release of the document. But beyond the matter of proper management of the situation lies something more challenging: the sense of larger purpose and a vision of what could lie ahead. The previous governments in both India and Pakistan had engaged in back-channel diplomacy that brought them close to agreement on the most thorny issues between the two countries. If conditions can be restored and dialogue re-started, it is entirely conceivable that the discussions can be resumed from where they were left off. Pakistan has a new government and despite all the difficulties it faces it has given indications that it seeks better relations with India. In India, of course, the previous government has been returned in triumph and there can be no doubting its intentions of pressing ahead, subject of course to firm handling of disruptive and terrorist forces. Thus the stakes are high and with wise statesmanship there may be genuine prospects of solutions for the besetting problems of the region. The writer is India's former foreign secretary