Eight hours, still counting - finally an India-Pakistan press conference

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Islamabad, July 15, (ANI): We waited and waited! The Godots of journalists covering the India-Pakistan story - A joint press conference to be addressed by the Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and the Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi that was to take place at 12.30 p m, was postponed... hour by hour for eight hours.

Like an absurd play by Samuel Beckett, over a hundred reporters packed into a stuffy room in the Foreign office which was over lit but under cooled waited for the protagonists of this play to descend and perform.

Two giant throne-like gilded chairs were placed on a raised platform with an overdone flower arrangement. For eight hours, over thirty video cameras positioned, still photographers crouched in front of this bizarre set, reporters walking in and out like caged tigers, waited.

And then the rumors start floating - A joint statement. No joint statement. No consensus on a statement. Deadlock. Small confidence building measures. Any confidence building measures. Deadlock. That dreaded word when it comes to India-Pakistan dialogue. Deadlock means more waiting. It means the two sides have not agreed on the language to be used to communicate to the media that basically little or nothing was achieved. By now the media is losing its sense of balance. Some irritated that what was the use of weeks of supposed work undertaken by the delegations of the two sides to work out a framework if they can't so much as come to a press conference to answer a few questions. To tell us where the two vexed neighbours are headed in the days ahead. Some journalists start saying can't India and Pakistan find one small, really small area of cooperation...maybe renewable sources of energy? And then the doom and gloom reporters wonder, is this going the Agra way? Will Mr. Krishna leave Islamabad in the dead of the night like Musharraf did when his side and the Indian side couldn't come up with a joint statement?

After eight hours, the Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit comes down to the ground floor of the Foreign office building, the room where the ill fated press conference is to be held and apologises; says sorry for the delay in getting the joint press conference started. He says," I am sure you understand the dynamics of what happens in these kinds of talks.

Yes we knew. Unfortunately most of us who have covered such India-Pakistan meets know only too well. Was this as bad as Agra (July 2001), when Mr. Musharraf came, or delayed and messed up as Sharm-el-Sheikh (July 2009), or as over scripted as Thimpu (April 2010). A press conference that was to take place at mid-day hadn't happened till 8 p.m. And that all but ensured that the reception that the Indian High Commissioner Sharad Sabharwal was hosting saw little or no attendance.

At 8.30 p.m., the two foreign ministers walked in with their delegations. They looked tired, stony faced and there was no polite banter. The next hour would unravel what happened in the one day of negotiations. A Pakistani side, which went into the talks livid over comments made by the Indian home secretary that Pakistan's intelligence agency the ISI was actively involved in the 26/11 attack. An Indian side, which was dissatisfied with Pakistan's tardy progress over bringing to book terrorists operating in their land who make jehadi statements against India.

The script went totally awry after the first half hour of the press conference. The opening remarks of the two sides were warm and fuzzy. We scribbled away on our notepads wondering whether we had really read the body language of the two delegations, wrong; whether the delay was actually a positive takeaway. But we weren't.

The initial announcement that just four questions from each side would be allowed, was abandoned when Pakistan Foreign Minister decided to be magnanimous and allow more questions.

It was then that the theater of the absurd unfolded. Completely bizarre questions from Pakistani journalists, which ranged from accusing their foreign minister of betraying the Pakistani people to India practicing gang rape as state policy, were asked.

What was envisaged in Thimpu was not delivered in Islamabad. Watch this space for the next interaction. By Smita Prakash (ANI)

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