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Updated: October 20, 2010 01:42 IST

Nirupama Rao: Pakistan's overreach thwarted Foreign Secretary-level talks

Special Correspondent
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Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao addressing the media in New Delhi. File Photo
PTI
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao addressing the media in New Delhi. File Photo

But it is not meant to avoid tackling “substantive differences”

Defending India's advocacy of an incremental and graduated approach to addressing the deficit of trust with Pakistan, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao has said this is not meant to avoid tackling the “substantive differences” such as Kashmir and Siachen.

“The issue of terrorism is as substantive an issue as the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, or the issue of the Siachen Glacier,” she said, addressing a seminar on India and Pakistan at Jamia Millia Islamia here on Tuesday. While there was no guarantee that this approach would yield success, it sought to build on what was achievable, simultaneously addressing the more intractable issues.

Ms. Rao said the previous Foreign Secretary-level talks were “thwarted by a level of overreach by Pakistan that complicated the resumption of a sustained dialogue process.” Ruing the missed opportunities which were compounded by refusal to learn from history, she suggested creative approaches to tackling problems of peace and security and the differences over J&K, and confidence-building in both conventional and non-conventional areas of defence. She wanted the relationship girded by a “raft of clearly enunciated agreements and understandings that can bury the rusting, corrosive hatchet of 60 years and more.”

Complex ties

Terming the India-Pakistan ties one of the most complex and unpredictable relationships in the modern era, the Foreign Secretary spoke of the two approaches that sought to repair the ties and some trends that could not be explained.

One stream of thought argued for a radical transformation of the mindsets. Then there were the realists who claimed that the ties with Pakistan were hobbled by many limitations. These did not explain the warm and spontaneous applause the Pakistani contingent evoked when it entered the stadium here at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games on October 3. Or the statements of support from the Pakistani sports authorities in the run-up to the Games when others were vying with each other to write the event off even before it started.

At the same time, the trust deficit needed to be bridged. “There is no magic panacea that can make this happen. But it is incumbent on each and every one of us to persevere with patience and dedication so that future generations do not remain hostage to a poison-ridden legacy of political misunderstandings and geopolitical antagonisms.”

Ms. Rao felt that the options of deeper economic linkages and enhanced people-to-people contacts should be explored to improve ties. Universities and academic institutions could play a vital role in creating objective understanding and promoting people-to-people contacts.

“The South Asian University (SAU) provides an ideal platform to create a South Asian consciousness. We have emphasised that Pakistani students seeking admission to the SAU are entitled to the same non-discriminatory dispensation as all other entrants to the university from other South Asian countries, and that we welcome them to the SAU.”

Describing the people of India and Pakistan as “shaped from the same timber of humanity before we decided to part ways,” Ms. Rao warned against inertia. Otherwise both sides risked passing on the differences and prejudices to future generations. “Given the complexities of our relationship and the tortured path we have traversed till now, it is easy to be cynical and predict a gloomy future. However, as an eternal optimist and someone who believes in the power of people to shape their destiny, I feel it is incumbent on all of us to strive and achieve a peaceful and mutually reinforcing relationship that will unlock the true potential of more than a billion people for their betterment. Can we realise this goal?” she concluded.

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