Saturday, July 17, 2010
Indo-Pak Talks: SM Krishna's Recent Visit to Islamabad
India-Pakistan talks have not collapsed, asserts India's Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao (Nirupama Rao's interview with NDTV is given below). But has it progressed in any manner? Was there any agenda specified at all for External Affairs Minister SM Krishna's visit to Islamabad? The concluding line is that the talks must go on; but talk about what? Terrorism, Kashmir or Siachen. There have been assertions of sorts by at least sections of the stratgeic community that India should not limit it to terrorism, but have they forgotten about the lives of people who were affected by the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai? Life has not been the same for so many people after 26/11. The State cannot absolve of its responsibilities in its yearning for improved relations with Pakistan. Improvement in Indo-Pak relations cannot be done at the cost of its own people. India has to, in the first instance, take these talks forward with a clear agenda, in the absence of which, these can achieve nothing. Anot even improvement of atmospherics can be achieved when you have the Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi equating Indian Home Secretary to terrorist leaders like Hafiz Saeed.
Barkha: With so much controversy surrounding the India Pakistan meeting of the two foreign ministers...the meeting of SM Krishna and Shah Mehmood Qureshi... where does this leave the peace process. India at this point said that the attempt is to bridge the trust deficit but has this now become a deficit of trust.
Joining us now on NDTV is Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao. Thank you for your time ma'am.
When you look at the perception in the media on both sides that the talks, in a sense, have collapsed...the talks are in tatters and that it was unprecedented acrimony. Would you agree that the talks did not all go the way you had hoped?
Nirupama Rao: Well Barkha, I would by no means say that the talks collapsed. I think what happened yesterday was we were able to have a very, I must say, protracted discussion on various ideas that could take the dialogue forward. There was a hiatus, if I may say so, in expectations because I believe that the Pakistan side had certain ideas about the re-engagement that were not completely acceptable.
Barkha: I wanted to ask you that one of the central controversies has been the fact that when Shah Mehmood Qureshi, in response to a question on Hafiz Saeed, compared this to draw some sort of equivalence with G K Pillai's remarks on the ISI's role in 26/11. Questions are being raised as to why our Foreign Minister at that time did not rebut the Foreign Minister of Pakistan. Why did he not Ms Rao?
Nirupama Rao: Well Barkha, the External Affairs Minister said very clearly on record today (Friday) that there was no question on any comparison between Hafiz Saeed and the disclosures made by the Home Secretary on the David Coleman Headley's investigation. And at no point, may I add categorically, during the discussion held yesterday (on Thursday) did the External Affairs Minister in any sense express agreement with the point of view of Mr. Qureshi on the remarks of the Home Secretary.
Barkha: Can I then clarify Ms Rao that although Mr. Qureshi claimed that both Foreign Ministers were in agreement that the Home Secretary's remarks were ill-timed...no such indication was in fact given by the Indian delegations to the Pakistani delegation in the course of the talks. Is that correct?
Nirupama Rao: Yes, absolutely. No such indication.
Barkha: Ms Rao was it then considered a choice by the Foreign Minister to not rebut Mr Qureshi in public when those remarks were made?
Nirupama Rao: Well, I think if you were there at the press conference at the Pakistan Foreign Ministry...there were a huge number of journalist...the pale nail of questions and you know the to and fro... the queries that were raised, the answers from the Foreign Ministers...it may have just happened at that stage the External Affairs Minister did not react. But by no means can you draw the conclusion from that, that External Affairs Minster SM Krishna was in any way in agreement with the remarks of Mr. Qureshi
Barkha: Ms Rao did it handicap the Indian side, the timing of the Home Secretary's remarks?
Nirupama Rao: Well, I think one has to be very clear about our sights here. We have a dialogue that we are seeking to restore with Pakistan but we also have very real core concerns about terrorism and about the trauma of Mumbai, the aftermath of Mumbai and the action that Pakistan needs to take on the basis of very credible evidence on the involvement of Pakistani agencies, Pakistani nationals in the Mumbai attacks. So the Home Secretary was perfectly within his rights to draw attention to this.
Nirupama Rao: Well Barkha, about the involvement of the state and the non-state agencies in the whole business of terror unleashed in India by Pakistan, this disclosure about the involvement of ISI is not new to India. India has all along maintained that when it comes to the terror machine that unfortunately continues to exist in Pakistan...that there are serious introspections that are required by Pakistan into why terror has been used as an instrument in policy against India...and that involves both state and non-state actors ...I am constrained to say that there are state and non-state actors and Pakistan needs to undergo that whole process of...I believe of catharsis when it comes to understanding why terror is now threatening the very fabric of Pakistan itself.
Barkha: Mr Qureshi also suggested this morning that the Foreign Minister did not have the mandate to take his own decisions and that he was on phone to New Delhi throughout...something that Mr Krishna then went on to deny. Are you concerned as the highest ranking diplomat of India at the tone and tenor of the remarks of the foreign Minister of Pakistan?
Nirupama Rao: Well definitely the tone and tenure of those remarks have not contributed...let me say...to a positive atmosphere between India and Pakistan and I believe those were remarks that could have been avoided.
Barkha: Where do these talks leave India and Pakistan at the present moment? How would you describe it? You said in the beginning that the talks have not collapsed. What would be your choice of words to describe what has happened in the last 24 hours?
Nirupama Rao: Well I think we went through a very serious discussion yesterday. It was by no means a futile exercise. We have several pointers before us as far as the future is concerned. We have exchanged ideas. We have by no means come to a conclusion which would suggest that the way forward is blocked in any way. And as I said and as our Foreign Minister said, Mr. Qureshi is due to come to India in the later in the year. In the interregnum there is time enough for us and I believe particularly for Pakistan to reflect on the process...the modalities carrying it forward and to understand that the reduction of the trust deficit and the building of confidence are itself catalysts to take this dialogue forward. And that is why we need to undertake graduated steps when it comes to the resumption of dialogue.
Nirupama Rao: Well there is a gap in perception, I have to be honest and admit that. But these are not unbridgeable divides between India and Pakistan. On a number of ideas that we exchanged yesterday we were in agreement...in agreement about how to build confidence and trust. On certain other ideas I think much more time and ground will needed to be covered before we can say we are ready to start dialogue in those particular areas. But let me say that in most of the sectors that we talked about yesterday...the sectors for assumption of dialogue...we were in agreement.
Nirupama Rao: Well, I would say that I would have hoped that we would've had more positive outcome to our discussions yesterday. But I think in diplomacy, as in life, disappointments such as these needs to be surmounted because as neighbors India and Pakistan will have to deal with each other. We don't have the luxury of maintaining irresolvable distances between our two countries.