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India and Pakistan to ‘delink’ action on terror from dialogue

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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani greet each other during a bilateral meeting at Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt on Thursday. —
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani greet each other during a bilateral meeting at Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt on Thursday. —

Siddharth Varadarajan

But no resumption of composite dialogue yet; Foreign Secretaries to meet again

Sharm-el-Sheikh: The leaders of India and Pakistan took a modest step towards thawing the bilateral relationship, frozen since the Mumbai terrorist attacks, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani, agreeing that dialogue between their two countries “is the only way forward.” And though the joint statement issued after their meeting here on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned summit said nothing about when and how the Composite Dialogue process would resume, the two Foreign Secretaries have been tasked with meeting “as often as necessary” in the run-up to a review by the Indian and Pakistani Foreign Ministers in New York this September.

Speaking to reporters later, Dr. Singh said Mr. Gilani had been keen to resume the composite dialogue “here and now.” “But I said that the dialogue cannot begin unless and until the terrorist acts of Mumbai are fully accounted for and the perpetrators are brought to book.” Unless this happened, he stressed, “I cannot agree and our public opinion will not agree.” There was no road map for resumption yet, he said, but added: “We have an obligation to engage Pakistan.”

Ambiguity

In their interaction with the media, both sides exploited the ambiguity in the statement’s most dramatic new formulation —“Action on terrorism should not be linked to the Composite Dialogue process and these [sic] should not be bracketed.” Indian officials said this meant Pakistan should not wait for the resumption of the composite dialogue to take action against terrorism. And Pakistani diplomats said this meant the future of the dialogue process should not be held hostage to the perception in New Delhi that Pakistan had not done enough to stop the activities of terrorists operating from its territory. Which is why they felt the joint statement represented a breakthrough of sorts.

Whichever way one interprets the phrase, however, it is clear that India had been the one to link the composite dialogue with action on terrorism by suspending talks after the terrorist incidents in Mumbai last December and earlier in 2006. And notwithstanding the joint statement, it is evident the link remains a factor in India’s eventual willingness to resume the dialogue as and when this occurs.

Asked by reporters if the joint statement meant India was ready to resume the composite dialogue, Mr. Gilani said, “It is my understanding that they are convinced it is the way forward.” He also drew attention to India’s readiness “to discuss all issues with Pakistan, including all outstanding issues” and that “this will not be bracketed with the Mumbai incident.” Did this include Kashmir? “All core issues, everything is to be debated, whatever is pending in the composite dialogue,” he said, adding that Dr. Singh had said in a “very positive manner that ‘I am not scared to discuss all outstanding issues’.”

Speaking on background, Pakistani diplomats acknowledged the resumption of the composite dialogue was some way away. “But we have moved forward. And ultimately, that is where we will surely end up.”

Also see:

  • India, Pakistan positive on talks
  • India, Pakistan facing 'last chance' for dialogue
  • A peace song from across the border
  • Audio: An ode to India-Pakistan peace
  • "Security Council resolution no basis for Saeed's detention"
  • India hopes for forward movement
  • For the peace dividend
  • Stage set for fresh engagement with Pakistan
  • Pakistan, terrorism top Manmohan's agenda
  • Gilani seeks all-party support
  • Pakistan should take credible action against terrorists: Manmohan
  • Trial of Mumbai terror attack suspects may begin next week: Pakistan
  • Four more questions from Pakistan
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