India and Pakistan seem to have inextricably tied themselves together in a straight jacket with each looking in the opposite direction. They just cannot unbuckle this traditional "knotty" love affair, and are today the only two countries in the world which are not tired of fighting wars and which remain perennially locked in a confrontational mode. Since November last year, they have been in the grip of yet another seizure of usual amorous wrangling and since November last year are not on speaking terms. But Pakistani leaders are Romeos of the other kind. They never give up. They continue the lothario chase even if their courting ritual has to involve travelling to the far lands. In September 2006, General Musharraf travelled all the way to Havana, the romantic isle of Fidel Castro with lot of chocolates and flowers for his beau Manmohan Singh whose egos were naturally inflated when a younger, smarter attractive Musharraf came all the way for a candlelight date with him. Everyone wants to be loved, and Manmohan Singh too was touched by Musharraf's open-armed song of "Mohabbat Zindabad." According to the first-hand account reported by the media, General Musharraf in an arranged stakeout with Indian journalists just outside Havana's Hotel Palco told them with a naughty smile that indeed his meeting with Manmohanji was a major breakthrough. General Musharraf remained upbeat in his evaluation of the Havana outcome even when he was in New York the following week to attend the UN General Assembly Session and for the launching of his "best-seller" book. He boasted that the Havana meeting had "sown the seeds of a solution of the Kashmir dispute as well as Sir Creek and Siachin." He also praised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his "sincere desire to resolve all outstanding issues including Kashmir." Both leaders had in fact been singing mutual praise since they established a personal equation during President Musharraf's cricket yatra to New Delhi in April the same year. After their talks, the Indian Prime Minister had described Musharraf as "frank, forthright and forward-looking" and a person "he could do business with." Musharraf reciprocated describing Indian prime minister as "a sincere person with whom he liked to work." The "business and the work" both did not work. Musharraf fell in the "line of his own fire" and is gone away in self-exile to give lectures to the world on good governance and enlightened moderation which are galore now in Pakistan. Meanwhile, we now have a civilian President equally amorous of Manmohan Singh with no less fire for romance. He chased Manmohanji all the way to Russia's Ural Mountains to meet him at the resort city of Yekaterinburg. Manmohanji too could not resist crossing limits of a mere "handshake" that his Foreign Secretary had originally choreographed for him as the only permissible "activity" during his meeting with Zardari. Manmohan Singh couldn't really believe that someone could still fall for him. People forget that internal emotions do not change even though the bodies wear down and faces get wrinkled. People of his age thankfully subdue some of them out of practicality and decreasing hormonal levels. After all love and the need to feel loved is timeless and vulnerable. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh despite all the inhibitive impulses agreed to meet President Zardari but not alone. He didn't trust him and preferred to share even his softly-uttered amorous greetings and a "low-eyed" gesture with his Pakistani suitor in the full public gaze of media and television cameras. "I am happy to meet you, but my mandate is to tell you that the territory of Pakistan must not be used for terrorism," Manmohan Singh blushingly told Asif Ali Zardari when they met in the latter's hotel suite at Yekaterinburg just before the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting which both were attending merely as observers. According to those who were lucky enough to witness this "cool" encounter, Zardari was seen trying to suppress his embarrassment by flashing his customary broad grin for the cameras while Manmohan Singh had only his usual tight smile, lowered eyes and inaudibly terse words to offer. In their essence, these "bilats" are nothing more than formal, tense, grip-and grin photo-ops which world leaders love to have on the sidelines of international summit meetings or conferences. Such "bilats" have no structured agenda and invariably end up without any groundbreaking results. Hundreds of such back-to-back meetings take place every year on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in temporarily erected cabins which cannot accommodate more than three or four person from each side. Those who have the slightest understanding of the dynamics of India-Pakistan relations would have been cautious in drawing "romantic" conclusions or raising unrealistic hopes at the end of just another bilateral meeting on the sidelines of an international conference. Mistrust and apprehensions on both sides are deep-rooted and will not evaporate simply by "thinking wishfully" or by promising "miracles" through back-channels which inspire no confidence among the people at any level. Yes, the Manmohan Singh-Zardari meeting at Yekaterinburg happened to be the first-ever high-level meeting between the two countries. It was inevitably freighted with high expectations of a new beginning between the two sides. But nothing concrete came out except some muted signals that the "composite dialogue" might be resumed soon. Beneath the frosty surface and beyond the for-the-cameras charm and chagrin, a slow but perceptible thaw between the two neighbouring countries had in fact already been taking place with tough nudging from Washington. Under Secretary of State William Burns was in Delhi only recently with a tough message from President Obama who in dealing with the issues of peace and security in this region means business. He had decided to send his Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to both Islamabad and Delhi as a serious follow up to reinforce his demarche with both countries. Poor Hilary has in the meantime broken her elbow. It now remains to be seen who now steps in her feminine shoes to come to the region with her mission in case she is unable to make the visit because of untimely elbow fracture. Washington is believed to have quietly urged both India and Pakistan to resume their dialogue and also the "back-channel" negotiations on Kashmir. During his visit to Delhi, Under Secretary William Burns had surprised his India hosts by resurrecting the Kashmir issue in his public remarks, saying that the wishes of the Kashmiri people should be taken into account in any settlement. This has long been US stated policy, recognising the dispute and the need for its settlement in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people, without any reference to the partition formula of 1947 or the UN resolutions. But in practice, the US has always been evasive of any role against India's wishes. A change, however, came with President Barack Obama's making public statements urging the need for an early settlement of the Kashmir issue. This did represent a clear departure from the traditional US position. In a pre-election television interview, President Obama pledged to encourage India to solve the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan so that Islamabad can better cooperate with the United States on Afghanistan. He remains convinced that to keep Pakistan focused on the larger challenges in our region, the Kashmir issue has to be resolved. What he failed to do, however, was to designate a special representative, as he did for the Middle East issue, to facilitate an enabling environment for resolving the this long-standing dispute. Perhaps he has realised the omission and now wants Kashmir to be on the agenda au priorit for an early settlement. But we need to be cautious about any third party's involvement. A final solution of this dispute must be pursued in a manner that is acceptable to both India and Pakistan and to the people of Kashmir. In order to sustain the dialogue with India, Pakistan is now assuming the onerous and unprecedented responsibility of ensuring an end to "violence, hostility and terrorism" in India. This is an impossible task for a government which has not been able to protect its own country from frequent incidents of unabated terrorism and suicide bomb killings. No peace will be durable if it is negotiated on unequal terms. Given the past experience and volatile history of relations between the two countries, one must be careful in drawing conclusions or building expectations. We must also not be carried away in excitement over momentary "breakthroughs" or half-way confidence-building measures. The writer is a former foreign secretary