India and Pakistan: an eternal stalemate?
There is no place for miracles when it comes to dialogue between India and Pakistan. Even modest breakthroughs in resolving disputes have eluded the neighbours. So the media have been predictably jaded about the first formal talks between the two sides since the 2008 Mumbai (Bombay) attacks.
The Indian papers sounded tired, but held out a tiny glimmer of hope. Some spoke about the two countries breaking the ice though the "chill remains".
The headlines were predictable: about talks which were essentially about talking more. "Talks to go on," was one headline. One report actually echoed what I had been telling colleagues - the two sides were like an "estranged couple nudged into another rapprochement bid."
That is how exciting India-Pakistan talks can get these days.
But I have been struck by the feeling of hopelessness and cynicism on the front pages of Pakistani newspapers following the talks. "Meaningless talks end in meaningless way," headlined one paper. "Delhi's double talk derails dialogue," was another headline, virtually writing off any hopes for the future. "Vague promises to stay in touch," was the assessment of one influential publication. The cheeriest among them was: "Pakistan, India fail to break logjam on peace process."
The mood was more conciliatory elsewhere. Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna told the parliament that the talks marked an "encouraging step towards restoring dialogue." And Pakistan foreign secretary Salman Bashir said talks were "exploratory" and "cannot be judged on the basis of success and failure." They are both correct.
Both countries know the odds of failure are high - and there are a disconcertingly large number of people in India who believe there is no use in talking to Pakistan any more. They believe Pakistan is playing a duplicitous game when it comes to taking on anti-India militant groups on its soil. Pakistan denies the allegation - one paper today said: "We suffer many, many hundred of Mumbais."
But if Pakistan's headlines offer any clues to a downbeat public mood there, it also appears that there was some expectation and a desire to break some ground in these talks. But there is a lot of bad blood on both sides. And as commentator Stephen Cohen once wryly said, "stalemate seems to be more attractive to each side than finding a solution."
It is a tragic stalemate. But we all live in hope. I would be interested in finding out whether readers of this blog - including Indians and Pakistanis - share the gloom of their media about the future of talks.