As encounters go between the leaders of India and Pakistan, the meeting in Russia between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Asif Ali Zardari -- their first since last November's Mumbai attacks -- was a somewhat stolid affair.

It had none of the unscripted drama of the handshake famously offered by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee when they met at a South Asian summit in Kathmandu in January 2002, while the two countries mobilised for war following an attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001. Musharraf's gesture made little difference in a military stand-off which continued for another six months.

Nor did it carry the warmth of a summit meeting between Vajpayee and then prime minister Nawaz Sharif in Lahore in 1999, which raised high hopes of a breakthrough peace deal between India and Pakistan. Those hopes were dashed months later when the two countries fought a bitter conflict in the mountains above Kargil, on the Line of Control dividing disputed Kashmir.

But for all its absence of drama, or more precisely because of this, did the meeting between Singh and Zardari lay a more solid foundation for what is likely to be a long and difficult process of repairing relations

The two leaders stopped well short of resuming a formal peace process broken off by India following the Mumbai attacks, and Singh delivered a stern warning to Zardari that Pakistan must not allow militants to operate from its territory. "I am happy to meet you, but my mandate is to tell you that the territory of Pakistan must not be used for terrorism," he told Zardari at a meeting on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Yekaterinburg, in Russia.