While keeping its cards close to its chest on talks with Pakistan, the government on Tuesday indicated it was willing to wait for the Sharif government to progress on its investigation into the Pathankot attack, and possibly putting off rather than cancelling Foreign Secretary level talks.
Advocating for patience, Home Minister Rajnath Singh “there is no reason to doubt Pakistan’s assurances” to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on acting on terror. “Pakistan government has assured that they will be taking swift action in the Pathankot attack probe. I think we should give them more time,” the Home Minister added.
The Home Minister’s statement was significant, as it followed a meeting with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Monday in which India’s options on Pakistan were reportedly discussed. His comments indicate a softer line a day after Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had called for “inflicting pain” on the perpetrators and Mr. Singh’s own statement soon after the new year’s day attack on Pathankot airbase in which seven Indian soldiers were killed. At the time, Mr. Singh had spoken of a “befitting reply” to those responsible.
The positive messaging from New Delhi was reinforced by India’s new envoy to Pakistan Gautam Bambawale, who crossed over the Wagah border to taken up his new position as High Commissioner on Wednesday. “We want to improve the relationship between Indian and Pakistan. We want to strengthen our relationship between Indian and Pakistan and that will be my effort while I am posted there,” he told reporters before leaving via Amritsar. When asked specifically about foreign secretary talks, Mr. Bambawale, who had met Pakistan’s high commissioner to India Abdul Basit over a lunch on Monday, said, “The two governments are in touch with each other, we will have to wait and see what would be the next step.”
The government’s position was attacked by the Congress party that dismissed the Home Minister’s suggestion of giving Pakistan more time to complete its investigations, and has been particularly critical of what it calls the government’s “confused response” to the Pathankot attack. “The way Pakistan is reacting is standard tactics that the Pakistani state has always adopted. It's getting worse because the government here is in a dilemma; we don know what the next step is going to be,” Congress leader Sachin Pilot told The Hindu , calling for more “stringent action”.
The government made no official comment on the Foreign secretary talks that had been informally scheduled for January 15th, but hasn’t cancelled them either, with sources suggesting that even if Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar does not travel to Islamabad for talks on Friday, he could put it off to later in the month. A final decision will only be taken on Mr. Jaishankar’s return from Sri Lanka on Wednesday afternoon, officials said. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, who has been in contact with his Pakistani counterpart Gen (Retd) Janjua, is visiting Paris at present, and expected to return only on Friday to Delhi.
(with inputs from Mehboob Jeelani)