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: “India cannot choose its neighbors 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.
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 the latest 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.”