Foreign Ministers unable to find a meeting ground

After three rounds of discussions through the day between the Foreign Ministers on Thursday, India and Pakistan were unable to find a meeting ground on most of the irritants in bilateral relations but decided to remain engaged nonetheless.

Though Pakistan Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi described the prolonged engagement as “useful'' and his Indian counterpart saw it as “constructive,'' the inability to break new ground was evident at the joint press conference they addressed late in the evening.

And, the biggest irritant appeared to have been Home Secretary G.K. Pillai's remarks that the Inter-Services Intelligence had coordinated the Mumbai terror attacks. Asked why Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief Hafiz Saeed was not being reined in by Pakistan from making anti-India speeches, Mr. Qureshi shot back: “I agree that both sides need to create an enabling environment and not let the climate of engagement be vitiated by negative propaganda. But, I want to know to what extent did the Indian Home Secretary's statement on the eve of the dialogue help? We are both of the opinion that it was uncalled for.''

Mr. Krishna, for his part, did not deny Mr. Qureshi's claim that he disapproved of the statement.

While Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao had in the morning said that the decision to continue with the talks after the first round was “good news,'' the press conference saw both Ministers reiterate the stated positions of the two countries after what they described as a “candid'' engagement. “We have to respect the Indian point of view and they have to understand the Pakistan point of view,'' said Mr. Qureshi who has now been invited to India for further talks.

However, both refused to chalk out a road map for future engagement and specific proposals to work on to bridge the trust deficit. If Mr. Krishna said that Pakistan was yet to provide evidence to back its allegation of an Indian hand in destabilising Balochistan, Mr. Qureshi's response to infiltration into Jammu & Kashmir was that: “Infiltration is not the policy of the Government of Pakistan or any intelligence agency of Pakistan. If there are individuals who have crossed over, deal with them firmly and Pakistan will cooperate.''

All issues including the respective core issues – terrorism for India and Kashmir for Pakistan – were discussed as the two sides sought to pave the way for a “serious, comprehensive and sustained dialogue on issues of mutual interest and concern,'' according to Mr. Krishna. Given the dampening of the mood between the two countries over the past few weeks, both Ministers underlined the fact that this was a complex relationship fraught with challenges.

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