Raising her voice a couple of notches to be heard above the relentless din in Parliament Monday while she briefed Lok Sabha on her recent visit to Pakistan, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj struck a definitive tone saying that “uninterruptible” dialogue is not a promise the Government can make in Indo-Pak ties.
Speaking in Hindi, Swaraj said “Hum log yeh chahenge ki jo saboteur, jinki aapne charcha ki, jo dialogue ko kisi na kisi tarah se rokna chahte hain, unse provoke na ho (We want to ensure we are not provoked by saboteurs who want to stop the dialogue process).”
Rejecting any “flip flop”, Swaraj asserted that the decision to re-start talks with Pakistan was based on “trust” and said the intent would be to have an “uninterrupted” dialogue process despite provocations by the “saboteurs”, an apparent reference to terror groups.
Swaraj justified the decision to have ‘Comprehensive Dialogue’, saying there is a “need for bridging the gulf” with the neighbouring country for peace and stability in the region.
Answering critics, she said in the latest arrangement, the level of talks on terror has been raised as this issue will now be dealt with by the National Security Advisers (NSAs) instead of Foreign Secretaries as earlier.
The fact that NSAs of India and Pakistan met in Bangkok without any publicity does not mean any third country’s involvement but it was only to take forward the Ufa process as such a meeting could not take place in Delhi as “you all know”, she told the Lok Sabha.
Swaraj, who sought the support of Parliament to the latest initiative with Pakistan, made suo motu statements in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and answered questions posed by members in the Lower House like whether Pakistan could be trusted particularly since the history shows that dialogue has been accompanied by attacks from Pakistan.
‘Nothing has changed’
“Nothing has changed on the ground. Because we had said that terror and talks cannot go together. So at Ufa, we said that NSAs will talk on terrorism,” she said to a question about what had changed since September when NSA talks could not take place after Pakistan insisted that Kashmir should be discussed at the meet.
“Whenever talks happen, that is based on trust….There is a need to bridge the gulf (with Pakistan),” Swaraj said, adding progress in dialogue is necessary for peace.
‘Not getting provoked is important’
Underlining that “The only way forward is through dialogue”, she said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had initiated the efforts to reach out to Pakistan not in Ufa but even before he took oath on May 26 last year when he invited Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for his swearing-in ceremony.
To demands by some members for assurance that the dialogue process will be “uninterruptable”, she said, “It never works like that. We would like not to get provoked by the saboteurs, who want to stall the dialogue somehow, and will try find a way forward through the dialogue. This will be our intent.”
When some members alleged ‘flip flop’, she said it was not the “correct definition” as stopping and re-starting a dialogue process is a “part of diplomacy”.
“Starting talks, stopping and then again starting does not mean flip flop… It is not the correct defintion. It is part of diplomacy that talks happen, then stop and then happen again,” the External Affairs Minister said.
“Talks have started in a very good atmopshere. If India-Pakistan relations improve, there will be improvement in the region,” she said.
Swaraj, who read out her statement in Rajya Sabha amid the din created by Congress members over an incident in Punjab, said, “The new Dialogue, we sincerely hope, marks a new beginning also for peace and development in the whole region.”
She said, “The underlying sentiment (of initiating dialogue) … was that the continued estrangement of two neighbours was a hurdle to the realisation of our shared vision of a peaceful and prosperous region.”
At the same time, there was also a “sharp awareness” that principal obstacles to the growth of ties, especially terrorism, would have to be clearly and directly addressed.
The ‘Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue’ with Pakistan will begin with the objective of “removing hurdles in the path of a constructive engagement by addressing issues of concern,” she said.
Also, it aims at “exploring and establishing cooperative ties,” she said, adding initiatives on trade and connectivity, people-to-people exchanges and humanitarian issues would contribute to welfare of the entire region and promote better understanding and mutual trust.
Swaraj said in her talks with Sharif and Pakistan Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz in Islamabad, which where held in the backdrop of the “positive development” of the meeting between Prime Ministers in Paris and the NSAs in Bangkok, the “two sides condemned terrorism and resolved to cooperate to eliminate this menace.”
“There we dwelt on the need for Pakistan to expedite the Mumbai terrorist attacks trial. The Indian side was assured of the steps being taken to expedite its early conclusion,” she said.
She rejected the contention of AIMIM member in Lok Sabha Assadudin Owaisi that the government had made a “clumsy climbdown” even though he welcome re-start of dialogue, saying that as per the commitment in Ufa that NSA level talks will have to take place first, “NSA level talks happened first and then I went to Islamabad”.
Swaraj said the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries will decide on the “pillars” of the dialogue which will include Sir Creek, Siachen, Tulbul Navigation as well as trade and transit and religious tourism.
To questions by some members as to why Kashmir was discussed at the meeting of NSAs, the External Affairs Minister referred to the joint statement issued after the Bangkok meeting in which it was mentioned in the context of Kashmir “..the state most directly affected by terrorism and cross-border firing”.
“Terrorism in J&K, and violation of LOC were talked in Bangkok because that was NSA level talks. In Ufa we decided NSAs will talk on all issues related to terrorism. No political level talks on J&K happened. They talked only terrorism.”
‘No third parties’
Rejecting any role for any other country, Swaraj said “when we have decided that we will not accept third country intervention, third person intervention then talks will have to happen between the two countries (India and Pakistan).”
To questions raised by some members of NSAs meeting in Bangkok, she said it does not mean involvement of a third country in the Indo-Pak dialogue.
She said, “If Bangkok was third country, then in Ufa, did Russia become a party, in Paris, did France become third party participation in talks? Third party involvement is said when there is a third party involved in talks not where the talks take place.”
Suggesting that some people will keep criticising everything, Swaraj said, “Some people asked why I wore green in Pakistan. It was Wednesday and I wear green on that day. Why I spoke Urdu? Urdu is my country’s language as well. When in Bangkok I speak in Sanskrit so when I speak to Pakistani media, I used Urdu.”
To a question about ties with Sri Lanka, she said she will talk to not only Pakistan but all countries of the region. “I want to assure that in every type of talks, every level of talks happen, we have raised issue of Tamil fishermen etc. JCM (Joint Commission Meeting) is ready, I will visit Sri Lanka.”