There may be something more substantive in cricket diplomacy than face paint, flag-coloured T-shirts after all. The spirit of Mohali seems to have helped the home secretaries of India and Pakistan to move beyond the barrier of 26/11. Islamabad's agreement to allow an Indian commission looking at the Mumbai attacks to visit Pakistan — if it goes beyond the principle stage — goes beyond Pakistan's past intransigence. New Delhi has responded by agreeing to share information about the Samjhauta Express attack and other cases of 'Hindutva' terrorist activity. These are small steps, and so far all on paper, but constructive when compared to the spectacular diplomatic failures of the past few years. The real question is whether this positive attitude reflects a consensus within the politico-military leadership of Pakistan that the time has come for a meaningful dialogue with India. This is yet unclear and will determine whether 'cricket diplomacy' will end as abruptly and comprehensively as World Cup fever.
The most important question is whether General Ashraf Kayani and his corps commanders have come to believe whether they should continue where Gen Kayani's predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, left off when it came to talks with India. It is possible. Gen Kayani seems to have believed that Pakistan's cards would improve if he delayed talks. That does not seem to happening. The United States will not withdraw from Afghanistan anytime soon. Pakistan continues to be wracked with internal terrorist problems, highlighted by recent high-profile assassinations. India's Kashmir problems have died down for now. If he has concluded time is not on his side, then the home secretaries talks may be a first step to a genuine dialogue.
For years Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has effectively argued that India must try and try again to seek better relations with its most important neighbour. The benefits of success would be almost incalculable and the costs of failure negligible. India can afford to suffer the odd symbolic setback given the trajectory of its future as compared to that of Pakistan. So far, his policy has been one of setbacks. And, to be fair, the larger Indian public has been unconcerned. The latest talks are incremental in their progress. They may yet be a false dawn. But compared to the cratered path of dialogue going back to the ill-fated Sharm el-Sheikh meet, the present shift in diplomatic winds is worth watching out for — besides all the excitement over cricket.