In a bid to quell the controversy triggered by the just-concluded Foreign Minister-level talks in Islamabad, the Congress on Friday vigorously defended External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, while hitting out at his Pakistani counterpart Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Responding to Mr. Qureshi's remark that Mr. Krishna did not have the mandate for the talks, Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan said, “We don't want a certificate from the Pakistani Foreign Minister whether Mr. Krishna had a mandate for the talks. He had the full mandate.”

The Congress also described as “uncalled for, unjustified and condemnable” Mr. Qureshi's comparison of “a terror-sponsoring criminal” like Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed with India's Home Secretary G.K. Pillai. On Thursday, responding to a question at a press conference about Mr. Saeed's anti-India speeches, Mr. Qureshi retorted that the “statement by Pillai that there was an ISI hand in the 26/11 attacks, too, did not help.” Asked why Mr. Krishna had not defended Mr. Pillai, Ms. Natarajan said Mr. Krishna “conducted himself with utmost dignity and restraint while on foreign soil.”

On the other hand, she said, that Mr. Qureshi's aggressive stance stemmed from the fact that he had been criticised by the Pakistani press for being too soft: “He was, therefore, addressing the sensibilities of his domestic constituency,” she said.

India's success at the talks, the Congress spokesperson said, was reflected in the fact that Pakistan had taken the leads provided by Home Minister P.Chidambaram when he was there recently.

While maintaining that India should continue the “engagement with Pakistan,” she stressed that the trust deficit would remain till Pakistan ended cross-border terrorism and brought to justice the perpetrators of 26/11.

It was amidst this controversy that the Congress Core Group, which includes Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, met on Friday to discuss, among other issues, the outcome of the talks in Islamabad ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament.

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