What was the agreement at Sharm-el-Sheikh all about, Pakistan was left asking on Saturday, after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s reported statement that the present relations between the two neighbours were not conducive for talks “at any level.”
But the Pakistan Foreign Ministry was optimistic that despite the tough-sounding statement from Dr. Singh, an agreed-upon meeting between the two foreign secretaries was likely to take place and would be followed by talks between the Foreign Ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York in the third week of September.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi blamed “domestic politics” for Dr. Singh’s reported statement to journalists in Rajasthan’s Barmer district, that “relations with Pakistan are currently not conducive for the two sides to have talks at any level.”
Also, Mr. Qureshi, who was speaking at a press conference, became the first top functionary of the Pakistan People’s Party government to comment on the Jaswant Singh book on Jinnah, citing the former External Affairs minister’s expulsion from the Bharatiya Janata Party as reflective of a “mindset” of which India-Pakistan relations was the “victim.”
The Pakistan Foreign Minister said he was yet to see the Indian Prime Minister’s latest remark for himself, but, he asked, if this was India’s position, “then what was Sharm-el-Sheikh, what was that agreement?”
Sounding agitated over the reported remark, Mr. Qureshi said on the one side, the Indian leader had committed to dialogue as the way ahead at Sharm-el-Sheikh, and on the other, “you are not willing to engage with us, so what is the way forward?”
He said it would now be clear to the world that Pakistan was eager to engage with India, and that it was Indian reluctance that was holding things up.
“It seems that Indian domestic politics is playing a big role. The fact that a former foreign minister was thrown out of his party for writing a book, this is reflective of a mindset and they have become a victim of this mindset,” he said.
Pakistan could not be blamed for the absence of internal consensus in India, because in this country, Mr. Qureshi said, all parties were agreed that talks were a must for improving relations with New Delhi.
“Not afraid to talk”
“Pakistan is willing to talk in a united voice; Pakistan has no malice in its heart; Pakistan is not afraid to talk; we are willing to sit at the table and we know how to present our position,” Mr. Qureshi said.
He recalled that at Sharm-el-Sheikh, the two Prime Ministers had agreed that their foreign secretaries will meet as often as required and present their report to the Foreign Ministers, who would then meet on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly.
“We have written extending a warm invitation to the new Foreign Secretary of India to come to Islamabad for the talks, but until now, there has been no reply to this,” the Foreign Minister said.
“If it has been agreed and committed to that dialogue is the only way forward, what’s there to feel shy about?” he asked.
A Foreign Ministry official said that despite Dr. Singh’s statement latest remark ruling out talks, the Foreign Secretary-level and Foreign Minister-level interactions may take place.
“It does not seem like he has shut all doors. There is still some room for manoeuvre. When he said no dialogue, he may have been referring to the composite dialogue process,” the official said, adding that other kinds of engagement between the two sides were still possible.
The view also reflects an acceptance within official circles here of the Indian view that the composite dialogue process is not going to begin immediately.
Mr. Qureshi said Pakistan was prepared for the foreign secretaries to meet in New York, just ahead of the foreign ministers’ meeting.
“The idea is to carve out a way forward. If they want to meet in a third venue, so be it,” he said.