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'Calibrated response needed after Sarabjit's death'

PTI  On Board Special Plane, May 06, 2013
First Published: 13:01 IST(6/5/2013) | Last Updated: 16:02 IST(6/5/2013)

Nursing the "hurt" caused by the death of Sarabjit Singh, India says the incident will cause a "setback" to the efforts to build relations with Pakistan and that there will be a "pause" in the engagement with it.

External affairs minister Salman Khurshid said India will have to have a "calibrated" approach towards Pakistan and work to ensure that its mindset vis-a-vis this country changes for the better.

In an interview to PTI, he said the incident involving 49-year-old Sarabjit, who was brutally assaulted in a Pakistani jail, had agitated common people of India and it will take time to overcome.

Regrettably, Sarabjit's death came just few months after another distressful incident in which Pakistani troops killed two Indian soldiers, including beheading one, in a cross-LoC attack in Jammu and Kashmir, he noted.

"It is unfortunate that it (Sarabjit's death) has happened. We can't tone down our feelings that have been expressed publicly by ordinary people. And obviously when you feel a sense of hurt and distress, it takes a little time to overcome," Khurshid said.

"What something like this does is that it causes a setback to the momentum of work you have done to bring about greater and more meaningful relationship. I think, obviously, the recent events will do the same," he said when asked whether the Indian prisoner's death would have an impact on India-Pakistan relations.

Referring to the January 8 killing of Indian soldiers, Khurshid said, "Another incident happened at LoC. That had also caused a lot of distress to people in the country. And it took a long time to calm tempers down and calm emotions down.

"When something like this happens, I think you have to pause a while and let things settle down," he said while referring to the major public outburst triggered after Sarabjit was assaulted in Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore as a result of which he died.

Sarabjit was convicted of alleged involvement in a string of bomb attacks in Pakistan's Punjab province that killed 14 people in 1990 and spent about 22 years in Pakistani prisons. His mercy petitions were rejected by the courts and former President Pervez Musharraf.

The previous Pakistan Peoples Party-led government put off Sarabjit's execution for an indefinite period in 2008. India has always maintained that he was innocent as he was a victim of an identity mix-up.

At the same time, the external affairs minister emphasised that eventually India and Pakistan will have to have dialogue to address their issues.

"We have returned to talking to Pakistan after major confrontations, after war, after Kargil (conflict of 1999)," he pointed out.

"I think if we start dissecting everything very deeply, we will come to no conclusion. So, what we have to do is to protect ourselves and take all steps to protect ourselves against any betrayal, if you like a calibrated response. At the same time, look at some silver linings and opportunities because ultimately we have ensure that Pakistan is in a better state of mind vis-a-vis India than that appears from these incidents," he said.

On the dialogue front, he said that Pakistan, in any case, only has a caretaker government at present and  "it is very difficult to know if you talk to somebody, whether it can have long-term perspective or not. So, we will have to wait till elections are over there and the new government is installed and the new government can talk to us."

The bilateral processes have already slowed down drastically since the beheading incident on LoC. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had asserted after that incident that it "cannot be business as usual" with Pakistan.

When reminded about that assertion by Singh, Khurshid said, "We were given that direction by the PM."  

However, he added that there wasn't very much for the government to do as "things come to a halt when something like this happens."

The external affairs minister noted that private people, people who organise cultural events, people who organise sporting events, they themselves switched off.

"We didn't have to tell them to switch off."

He said some of the Pakistani performers who were coming to India themselves cancelled their performances.

He underlined the need for "a little balanced" response after an incident.

Khurshid rejected the Opposition charge that the Sarabjit case reflected diplomatic failure.

Hitting out at BJP, he said Sarabjit was in Pakistani jails for over 20 years and of this, "we have been in power for only nine years. Who was in power before us? Are these crocodile tears (of BJP)?"  

Asked to comment on the allegation that India is a "soft state", the minister disagreed with this perception, saying, "We are a sensible state."


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