India has proposed foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan, signalling the resumption of a dialogue that stalled after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. This is being seen as UPA II’s most important foreign policy initiative.
With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh again deciding to go the extra mile and Shivshankar Menon, a tested Pakistan hand who shares Singh’s views on dialogue, as national security advisor, highly placed government sources said: “India will enter discussions with an open as well as positive mind.”
It is reliably learnt that New Delhi sought a “mutually convenient” date for the talks with Pakistan. The dates are“being scheduled” and India is looking at a time period before the SAARC summit in Bhutan in the last week of April.
“We will raise all relevant issues from our side. The issue of counter- terrorism will be there, as addressing it will create an atmosphere of peace and stability in the region,” the sources said.
In Pakistan, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi welcomed the “positive step”. Bilateral talks should start from where they had been put on hold by India following the Mumbai attacks, he said.
Qureshi didn’t confirm any dates for the resumption of talks, but said he had sought details from Delhi about it.
In Delhi, the main opposition party, the BJP, said India had halted dialogue demanding credible action by Pakistan against the terrorist infrastructure there. “Pakistan has done nothing. What has suddenly happened to change the consistent policy of the government?” asked party spokesman Prakash Javadekar.
Though India had called off the composite dialogue with Pakistan in the wake of 26/11, signs that the no-dialogue policy had run its course have been visible over the past several weeks. External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna had said in an exclusive interview to HT on January 20 that earnest investigations against the perpetrators of 26/11 would be sufficient grounds for resumption of dialogue, watering down a tougher position that they should dismantle the terrorist infrastructure and arrest Lashkar-e-Tayyeba founder Hafeez Saeed.
Government sources described the Pakistani government’s presenting evidence before an anti-terror court against LeT operations chief Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and six others on January 30 as a “welcome step”.
Home Minister P. Chidambram will be attending the SAARC home ministers meeting in Pakistan from February 26 to 28 — the first ministerial visit to Pakistan since May 2008.
Sources say M.K. Narayanan’s scepticism about a renewed dialogue was one of the reasons for his replacement with Menon.
Singh is determined to launch a dialogue for a number of reasons. One, a belief that Pakistan’s instability represents the greatest external threat to India’s economic rise and therefore, seeking some sort of settlement is worth a gamble.
The other is a view that unlike the previous Bush administration, the present US government will be unable to influence Pakistan much, and therefore India needs to launch its own bilateral engagement.