Neighbours India and Pakistan now say they have agreed to resume peace talks on all issues. Any progress between them were halted in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. The latest desire to sit and discuss comes after top officials of the two countries met at a summit in Bhutan.
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao’s Interaction with Indian Media at Thimphu
So, What Are On Cards
Question: Ma’am you held talks with your Pak counterpart on 6th. We have seen the brief statement. What next?
Foreign Secretary (Shrimati Nirupama Rao): Somebody in the Pakistani press said ‘something old, something borrowed, something new’. Anyway, what next? Obviously we are looking at Foreign Minister Qureshi’s visit to India and how we set the stage for that visit and the kind of preparations that we need to make. Essentially as you would have seen from the press statement, we had a good meeting, we had a useful meeting, a constructive meeting. We discussed how to take the dialogue process forward, that this is the best way forward, and how to chart the course ahead. So, let me put it this way. In the next few months things are not going to remain dormant obviously. There will be activity.
Question: So, it is no more step by step, it is now full blown, is it?
Foreign Secretary: That is simplistic to say that. We can do one thing at a time. We are not multi-armed. Whatever we do, whatever meeting we have, we will have one meeting, we will have another meeting, it will be like that. There will be a sort of a sequence.
Question: So, first is Home Secretaries meeting.
Foreign Secretary: I am not saying that. But obviously let us put it like this. Let us not get mechanical. India-Pakistan relations is not like Mechano or something that you are putting together. But there are issues to be discussed, put it this way. And when you say all outstanding issues are going to be discussed, you will obviously have to discuss every outstanding issue. Therefore, who discusses the outstanding issues? There are number of stakeholders. Number of government departments would be concerned. So, it has to be a comprehensive exercise, put it that way.
Question: So, under composite dialogue various Secretaries would be meeting.
Foreign Secretary: I am not going to get stuck in terminology.
Question: Not terminology, but various Secretaries would be meeting.
Foreign Secretary: When we had the meeting in February last year, you remember when I briefed the press, and even in June we said that there are steps that we could take, confidence building measures, addressing the trust deficit, promoting better people-to-people exchanges, making it easier for trade and business exchanges, dealing with the subject of terrorism and the counter-terrorism measures that you need to put in place, narcotics, trade across the LOC which is ongoing as you know where you have to talk about how to facilitate this trade in a better fashion so that it becomes easier to transact this trade. So, we have a lot of issues. Then there is Sir Creek, then the issue of Siachen, then Jammu and Kashmir, peace and security, then the promotion of friendly exchanges that is promotion of people-to-people exchanges, let us put it that way. So, there is a lot of activity, a lot of interaction that had been in a sense put in abeyance for many months now. So, the intention from both sides is to resume this process. I am being as frank as I can under the circumstances. I do not want to say more. You will understand my constraints.
Question: All the issues that you have mentioned are part of composite dialogue also.
Foreign Secretary: ‘What is in a name?’ as they say.
Question: But will it smell as sweet?
Foreign Secretary: You know your Shakespeare. You know, roses always come with thorns.
Question: Any idea about how soon the visit by Qureshi will take place? Have they made any commitments on the dates?
Foreign Secretary: We have to decide mutually what the dates would be. The idea is we should prepare for the visit properly and we should have the right atmosphere, we should be able to build a little more confidence, there should have been more interaction. So, I suppose by the middle of the year. I think probably your people were saying that since there is no date, it means that there is some hassle or there is some complication. There really is nothing.
Question: They have just said that they have not made any commitments on the date.
Foreign Secretary: But Mr. Bashir also said that his Minister was looking forward to this visit and it is very much on the cards. I know at some stage Mr. Qureshi has been talking that I do not want to come for a photo op. Neither do we want a photo op obviously. India-Pakistan relations are not about photo opportunities. They are about real, hard issues which need to be discussed. So, let us not have any illusions either. We should not be assuming that we have solved everything and everything is fine. We should understand that this discussion, this dialogue between the two sides is going to be a long one, and it will take time for issues to be resolved. The difficulty levels also should not be underestimated. I know, all of you do not do that. You all know the subject through and through, perhaps as well as we do.
Question: Are there any firsts in the list which are the issues?
Foreign Secretary: You want to extract confessions from me but I am not going to say anything. But an issue like terrorism obviously concerns us. And Pakistan, let me tell you, said it is equally important for them. It is not like they said, why do you talk about terrorism. They said it is equally important for them, they also want to discuss this. So, I do not think there is any problem about discussing counter-terrorism.
Question: Did you get any sense whether the Army is involved. Last time in July everything was going well. Last moment, things went wrong. Is the Army involved?
Foreign Secretary: What I was told was that all institutions of the Pakistan Government are supportive of dialogue with India.
Question: In sequencing issues like peace and security, Siachen, they all come at the last stage?
Foreign Secretary: It is a ladder you have to climb.
Question: But we can say dialogue is back on track.
Foreign Secretary: Yesterday I said when the time is ripe to have that, it will be done. There will be a sequence. And you know the things that need to be done quickly will be done first and the things that need more preparation will be done a little later. But we hope to have all this well in place before Mr. Qureshi’s visit. That is as much as I can say.
Question: Madam, will Afghanistan be an issue that can be discussed and some sort of common ground found?
Foreign Secretary: Why not? One of the ideas that came up was that why should we be just stuck with discussing these issues, why cannot we discuss more issues? Why cannot we discuss cooperation in the United Nations for instance? Why cannot we discuss the situation in our region?
Question: But UN, we cooperate quite a lot.
Foreign Secretary: On many issues. But in an institutionalised way, in a structured way why do not we do that? Even on Afghanistan, Afghanistan is a neighbour of Pakistan, is a neighbour of India. Rightfully speaking, I mean if things were absolutely normal, nobody should quarrel with the idea that both of us should be concerned about what happens in Afghanistan. And if there is scope for us to cooperate in Afghanistan to help the people of Afghanistan and to bring stability in Afghanistan, why not contemplate the issue. Nothing should be ruled out I think.
Question: But do we have any common interest? I know we want stability and all that. Pakistan wants a clout there and to reduce our presence.
Foreign Secretary: Let me only tell you when we discussed it what I was told is that Pakistan also wants stability in Afghanistan, they do not want extremism, they are against radicalism, and they would like Afghanistan’s independence to be preserved, and without any interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. And if you look at the principles, those principles are principles that we all talk about including India.
Question: Madam, in July 2010 Pakistan came with this all-or-nothing approach which led to whatever that happened there. This time in the talks on Sunday have you noticed any shift in their position as far as dealing with politically sensitive issues are concerned? Like are they still insisting on having a timeline for discussing these issues?
Foreign Secretary: I do not think we got into that sort of a bind about timelines. The idea was we will set in motion a process; we will chart a way forward; we will prepare for Mr. Qureshi’s visit; and we will engage with each other in a comprehensive way covering all outstanding issues. It was done like that. So, in a way we do not know why in July on their side there was some string that snapped. That is all I can say. It is like you are playing an instrument and some string snapped.
Question: On the last day.
Foreign Secretary: On the last day. Let us put that behind us. Even EAM, when he spoke to Mr. Bashir said we could have done so much if we had agreed at that time. In June the Foreign Secretaries had essentially worked out a very good sort of way forward. But anyway let us move forward now. Let us not look behind.
Question: Madam, did they raise the Samjhauta blast and Hindu terror?
Foreign Secretary: They talked about Samjhauta and said that they would also be interested in knowing what happens about the investigation.
Question: What was our response to that?
Foreign Secretary: We said there is an investigation ongoing; our Home Minister Mr. Chidambaram had said on record that as and when the investigation is completed – because under our laws until investigation is completed you are not going to be able to share evidence. So, once that is done and whatever relevant evidence is there, we would share it with Pakistan because a number of Pakistanis died in that blast. So, Pakistan government has been asking us about it.
Question: Madam, when you say that before Mr. Qureshi comes things would be in place. Do you mean to say that the schedule would have been set or some meetings would have taken place?
Foreign Secretary: Some meetings would have taken place. Hopefully you are going to see some activity and you will have enough to write about. So, I need not tell you everything now.
Question: About 26/11, what is the progress? They talked about the investigation and trial process and all that. Did they get back to you on the December 17 note which you sent them?
Foreign Secretary: Recently, I think February 3, they sent us a response.
Question: Could you clarify it?
Foreign Secretary: They asked us some questions about our Commission. We wanted to send a Commission. They said on the face of it we do not know under what law and under what provision you want to send this Commission because in their mind, they were asking questions as to why this Commission is being sent. And they have added that if you can let us know the law, regulation under which you want to send this, we could look at it.
Question: And what about NIA?
Foreign Secretary: That is what some reports are referring to as NIA. But when we spoke to Pakistan, when we communicated the request to Pakistan we said it is a Commission that wants to go. We did not spell out who is going.
Question: And their Judicial Commission we had sought certain clarifications. Did they reply on what they would be doing?
Foreign Secretary: They have provided some answers to that. But we would like this to be governed by the principle of comity. It is a legal parlance: ‘comity’, that is reciprocity, respect for each other’s laws, jurisprudence. It is there in the OED, you can look it up.
Question: Meaning both sides should allow.
Foreign Secretary: Reciprocity.
Question: There was this comment made by their Foreign Minister yesterday. He gave an interview to Gulf News saying that it is time for India to have a fresh look at the issue and probably it is time also to make Kashmiris a part of the India-Pakistan dialogue. How would you react to that?
Foreign Secretary: If you are going to ask me to react to everything they say, there is an audience he is addressing in Pakistan obviously, that is all I can say. As far as we are concerned, when India and Pakistan meet to discuss this there is an established way of dealing with it. We discuss it bilaterally, we discuss it between the Foreign Ministries of the two sides. But we discuss it just between India and Pakistan. The people of Jammu and Kashmir are part of the Indian system. There are two parties involved in this – India and Pakistan. There can be no third party. But while I am answering this I also want to say this that I think all of us I am sure are on the same side on this, and that applies to Pakistan also. We should not kill this process now. So much effort has gone into it. So much hard work has gone into it. Let it be able to breathe a little.
Question: Madam, has Samjhauta been a blessing in disguise for the peace process?
Foreign Secretary: Has it been a blessing for the peace process? I do not know. It is a difficult question to answer. But the line we have taken, and I have told the Pakistani journalists also, terrorism is terrorism, an act of terrorism wherever it happens is an act of terrorism, period. That is how we look at it.
Question: Madam, you said that yesterday that Kashmir was discussed. I just want to know one thing. Are the two sides thinking of something out of the box?
Foreign Secretary: I am certainly not at that stage.