6-month spadework done to resume talks with Pakistan

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao (right) shakes hands with her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir during a meeting in Thimphu, Bhutan, on February 6, 2011.  

Thursday's announcement of a structured resumption of Indo-Pakistan dialogue was in the pipeline for nearly six months but came to fruition only at the Thimphu meeting between Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her counterpart, Salman Bashir, four days ago.

“This process has been gradual. A number of steps have been made to re-engage, beginning in February last year, with the meeting between the two Foreign Secretaries,” said highly placed sources.

The breaking of the ice in New Delhi was followed by another meeting between the two in Pakistan in June. This was followed by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna travelling to Pakistan to confer with his counterpart, Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Though in the aftermath of this interaction an acrimonious press conference was held, the sources said, this meeting and the two earlier rounds of Foreign Secretary-level talks had helped lay a basic framework of agreement between the two countries.


“The momentum had built up steadily, and at the United Nations General Assembly we had hoped for a meeting between Mr. Krishna and Mr. Qureshi,” said the sources, maintaining that the “contours” had been worked out by this time. But the atmosphere was not right at the time for India to announce the beginning of dialogue, because Pakistan was seen as “going hammer and tongs” over Kashmir.

“We thought the timing was not right. But the spadework had been done over several months,” said the sources, admitting that both sides had deliberately kept expectations of an outcome low. “Our experience since the Agra summit in 2001 is that India-Pakistan relations are often a casualty of hype,” they explained.

With the agreement reached during the 90 minutes of delegation-level talks in Thimphu, both Ms. Rao and Mr. Bashir decided against making the announcement until after they had briefed their principals. While Ms. Rao met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday, Mr. Bashir called on Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani on Thursday before deciding to simultaneously make public the understanding.

At the same time, the sources pointed to the initiative by the two Prime Ministers, and referred to Ms. Rao's observations: “Please remember that the two Prime Ministers met in Thimphu during the SAARC summit and it was as a result of their bilateral meeting that a decision was taken to seriously look at how we could reduce the trust deficit between the two countries and intensify dialogue.”

“This is an expression of political will, the desire to intensify the process of dialogue with Pakistan. We have held it in both sides in abeyance for far too long. I don't think it has created returns for either of us. I think it is a very pragmatic decision,'' Ms. Rao had added.

The sources also referred to the Foreign Secretary's observation in Thimphu a day after the talks to suggest the inevitability of dialogue. “We have a lot of issues... there is Sir Creek, the issue of Siachen, Jammu and Kashmir, peace and security, the promotion of friendly exchanges, that is promotion of people-to-people exchanges, let us put it that way. So, there is a lot of activity, a lot of interaction that had been in a sense put in abeyance for many months now. So, the intention from both sides is to resume this process,'' she had said.

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Printable version | Oct 30, 2020 10:41:33 AM |

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