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Sushma didn’t consult PMO on engaging Pakistan, say sources

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.   | Photo Credit: PTI

No meeting of Cabinet panel either

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj did not consult the Prime Minister’s Office before getting her Ministry spokesman to announce on September 20 that there would be a meeting with her Pakistani counterpart on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, according to a highly ranked South Block source.

The Hindu was told that it was this absence of consultation that led to a second statement on September 21 from the External Affairs Ministry nixing the meeting between the Foreign Ministers. Separately, a Cabinet Minister confirmed to this correspondent that there had been no meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security before the decision to engage Pakistan was taken.

A top official in the Prime Minister’s Office, asked by this correspondent whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi or the PMO was consulted before the announcement was made, directed all queries to the External Affairs Ministry. Asked whether Ms. Swaraj had held prior consultations before asking for the announcement to be made, Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar chose not to give an immediate response.

The spokesman was contacted for a comment on Tuesday.

On August 18 Prime Minister Narendra Modi had written to his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan, congratulating him on becoming Prime Minister.

“The letter which we have received is in response to that [Mr. Modi’s] letter which was handed over to us by the High Commissioner of Pakistan to India on 17th September. At the same time, on the same day another letter was handed over from the Pakistani Foreign Minister to our External Affairs Minister basically reiterating the Prime Minister of Pakistan’s proposal for a meeting between the External Affairs Minister and the Pakistani Foreign Minister on the sidelines of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly session,” a transcript of Mr. Kumar’s September 20 briefing said.

Mr. Kumar was also asked at the same briefing while announcing the meeting of the Foreign Ministers about the September 18 killing of a BSF jawan by the Pakistani side.

“We are ascertaining facts on this matter, on this barbaric incident, which not only defies logic, not only defies civilised behavior but also is against all international norms. I understand that the BSF has strongly taken up the matter with its counterpart on the Pakistani side,” the spokesman stated.

In the past, the Modi government has repeatedly said that “talks and terror” could not go together. However, the killing of the BSF jawan, whose throat was reportedly slit by the Pakistani side, did not prevent the announcement of a meeting between Ms. Swaraj and Mr. Shah Mehmood Qureshi. India, however, changed tack the very next day.

“Since yesterday’s announcement of a meeting between the Foreign Ministers of India and Pakistan in New York later this month, two deeply disturbing developments have taken place. The latest brutal killings of our security personnel by Pakistan-based entities and the recent release of a series of twenty postage stamps by Pakistan glorifying a terrorist and terrorism confirm that Pakistan will not mend its ways,” Mr. Kumar said on September 21, cancelling the meeting.

Apart from official diplomatic contacts between the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministries, the two sides have also used a channel involving the National Security Advisers – a mechanism that has proven its worth over the years in times of crisis or to prepare for crucial meetings between leaders.

In the time of Prime Ministers A.B. Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, the NSA route was more of a “back channel”, but with Mr. Modi and his former Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, it had become more of a public or “front channel.”

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Printable version | Mar 25, 2020 3:33:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/sushma-didnt-consult-pmo-on-engaging-pak/article25280508.ece

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