Manmohan, Gilani ask Foreign Ministers to meet soon for ‘substantive dialogue’: Summit leads to thaw in Indo-Pak ties

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Thimphu: Bringing in thaw in bilateral relations, Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan on April 30, agreed to resume dialogue at the level of Foreign Ministers soon that could lead to parleys on all outstanding issues like terrorism, Kashmir and Siachen.
The ice was broken at a 90-minute meeting here between Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza Gilani in their first substantive engagement after their discussions in Sharm-el- Sheikh in Egypt in July last year that produced a controversial joint statement.
The meeting in “Bhutan House” on the margins of SAARC Summit discussed the entire range of issues, including terrorism and progress of investigation and probe into 26/11 attacks in Pakistan.
Singh and his Pakistan counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani seemed to have started walking on the road to thaw after they took an after-lunch stroll together in the Saarc Village in Thimphu, without their aides.
Following a one-to-one session on April 29, their first since Sharm-el-Sheikh last July — Singh walked his promised, and contentious, “extra mile” by dropping India’s insistence that Paki-stan dismantle terror infrastructure on its soil and act against the 26/11 plotters as pre-requisites for resumption of the composite dialogue.
New Delhi is fighting shy of using the term “composite dialogue” but it was apparent that it was clearing the table for across-the-board talks. “I don’t think we have to get stuck with nomenclatures,” said Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, asked whether the neighbors had agreed to resume the composite dialogue India had snapped post-26/11.
Rao said: “The searchlight is on the future, not on the past.”
Asked if that applied to the Mumbai attack and Pakistan’s failure to act against the perpetrators, she added: “Well, we cannot forget the past altogether, the past provides the background that shapes us.”
The policy direction, propelled by the Prime Minister’s Office, was clear, though: we cannot choose our neighbours and, in Pakistan’s case, there is no choice but to talk.
The foreign secretary announced that convenient dates for foreign minister- and foreign secretary-level meetings would be set at the earliest.
The sense in the Prime Minister’s establishment is that pressing on with dialogue, even without immediate concrete results, is preferable to a diplomatic freeze.
But it may not be a walk in the park for Singh in Parliament when he returns from Thimphu. The BJP is likely to repeat the bitter attack it had launched after Sharm-el-Sheikh where India was seen to have conceded ground by assenting to inclusion of Balochistan in the joint declaration and was seen to have delinked talks with terrorism.
“All issues” is a sub-continental euphemism that must necessarily include Kashmir, which Pakistan considers the “core issue”; since Sharm-el-Sheikh, Pakistani concerns on Balochistan too have become staple on the mutual menu.
Rao later said Singh emphatically told Pakistan that it had to act against terrorism.
Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said in a separate briefing that Pakistan raised Balochistan in a specific manner. “We assure you that we don’t want to meddle in Pakistan’s affairs,” Qureshi quoted Singh as having told Gilani.
A former official felt it was Pakistan that had gained. “The body language of a beaming Pakistan foreign minister and a restrained Indian foreign secretary… indicates that Pakistan has obtained what it always wanted – a resumption of dialogue on all issues without any further action on uprooting the terror network,” said K.C. Singh, a former secretary in the external affairs ministry.
However, former foreign secretary Salman Haider lauded the quiet manner in which the two foreign offices “neatly” brought about today’s bilateral meeting. “I disagree talking is a concession. We need dialogue to pursue our country’s interest. We now need to decide what kind of dialogue it will be. We have concerns and this will give us a forum to raise them,” he said.
Haider added: “It is necessary to get the timing of the dialogue right. There was a time when dialogue was not possible. We cannot keep our mouths shut and stare at each other endlessly.”

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