Foreign Secretaries asked to discuss ties and report back to Foreign Ministers
Sharm-el-Sheikh: Till the one-on-one meeting between the two Prime Ministers began here on Thursday morning, there was uncertainty about whether a joint India-Pakistan statement might be issued at all. A senior South Block official told The Hindu there was no statement on the cards when the meeting began and even a sense of deadlock. But the hour-long meeting between the two leaders changed everything.
“I had a very good discussion with Prime Minister Gilani for more than an hour,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told reporters later. “At the end, we called in the two Foreign Secretaries. I asked the [Pakistani] Prime Minister to sum up what we had agreed. I then added some things and we asked them to draft a statement.”
Indian and Pakistani officials said the Manmohan-Gilani meeting went very well with the two principals striking a rapport with each other. Both recited Urdu couplets, said a Pakistani source. And broadened their discussion in the presence of their delegations during the hour or so that it took Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and his Pakistani colleague Salman Bashir, to hammer out an acceptable draft of the joint statement. At one point, said an Indian official, a Pakistani legislator from Nawaz Sharif’s PML who was also part of Mr. Gilani’s official entourage asked Dr. Singh about India’s Panchayati Raj system. The Prime Minister promptly held forth on the topic.
But at the end of the day it was terrorism which dominated the encounter.
On the Mumbai attacks, the joint statement said Dr. Singh reiterated the need to bring the perpetrators to justice while Mr. Gilani assured him that “Pakistan will do everything in this regard.” He mentioned the updated status dossier on their investigations into Mumbai which Dr. Singh said was being “reviewed.”
However, in the first-ever reflection in a joint statement of Pakistani apprehensions about alleged Indian interference in its internal affairs, the text blandly notes that “Pakistan has some information of threats in Balochistan and other areas.” This is a reference to allegations the Pakistani intelligence establishment has made of covert Indian assistance to secessionist forces in that rebellious province, a charge the Indian side denies.
The Prime Minister denied this represented a climb down by India or a concession to Pakistan. “Mr. Gilani raised the issue of Balochistan and said people say India is active [there]. I said our conduct is an open book and that we are willing to discuss anything… If you have any evidence, we are willing to look at it. We are an open society.”
Stressing that there was no change in India’s stand on keeping the composite dialogue suspended, Dr. Singh said the statement asks the Foreign Secretaries to discuss the relationship and report back to their Foreign Ministers. “Apart from this, we have not made any commitment.” He said he told Mr. Gilani the composite dialogue could not begin until there had been an accounting of what had happened in Mumbai and the perpetrators were in the dock. “We felt the two issues should not be and cannot be linked and this has been accepted by Pakistan,” he added. “We were clear that if acts of terrorism continue [from Pakistani soil], then dialogue cannot continue, let alone the composite dialogue… And even if it starts, it cannot move forward.”
The fact that Dr. Singh proceeded to link the composite dialogue process with action on terrorism even as he spoke about the significance of Pakistan agreeing to delink the two underscored the highly ambiguous nature of the phrase. And perhaps the contradictory impulses driving the Prime Minister and his officials in the run-up to Thursday’s meeting.
With Pakistan resisting any reference to the “infrastructure of terrorism” on its territory, the joint statement noted that terrorism was the main threat the two countries was facing and that India and Pakistan would cooperate with each other in the fight against this menace. Specifically, it said they would “share real time, credible and actionable information on any future terrorist threats.”
The reference to real-time information sharing, Dr. Singh said, resulted from India’s apprehension that there might be more Mumbai-type attacks. Prime Minister Gilani told him his government was committed to acting against terrorism and that there was a political consensus in Pakistan in support of firm action. “So we agreed to share information with each other on these threats.”
Dr. Singh said he raised the issue of Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed’s recent release from house arrest and received an assurance from his Pakistani colleague that action would be taken against him.
Asked whether he believed the terrorists in Pakistan were “non-state actors” or had connections with the establishment, Prime Minister Singh said, “I am not accusing the present Pakistani government of involvement but as far as past history is concerned, I did say there were elements [from the establishment] that were involved. But I did not accuse the present, democratic government of Pakistan of this,” he stressed.