Foreign Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan could resume soon if there is a positive outcome to the talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pervez Musharraf at Havana on Saturday, it was indicated.
Sounding both tough and conciliatory, Manmohan Singh told accompanying journalists on Monday that Musharraf will have to take concrete steps to reduce the "trust deficit" between the countries consistent with the assurances made in the Joint Statements between them in 2004 and 2005 that Pakistan controlled territory will not be allowed to be used to launch terror strikes against India.
Although the prime minister did not specifically say so, sources close to him said that solid assurances from Musharraf, followed by action on the ground, could expedite the resumption of foreign-secretary level talks that had been suspended since the Mumbai train bombings in July when Manmohan Singh talked of the involvement of "external elements from across the border" in the blasts.
It appears that considerable back channel diplomacy had paved the way for the Manmohan-Musharraf meeting - a possibility that at one time seemed remote after the Mumbai blasts - at Havana where both leaders would be there to attend the 14th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
The Indian prime minister was flying to Brasilia from Frankfurt where he had been on an overnight halt after arriving from New Delhi. He will travel to Cuba from Brazil Thursday.
But with no conclusive proof being found of Pakistan's hand in the Mumbai and then Malegaon bombings, India is veering around to the view that it is better to talk than to be in a state of cold war.
Manmohan Singh pointedly said that both countries were victims of terror - "Pakistan too is a victim of terror" - and that some of the terror groups were "acting autonomously', that is they were beyond the pale of Pakistani authority and control, an argument that Islamabad had been making.
"I would not use strong words, but our worry has been that the Pakistan government has not done enough to control these elements," he said.
Insisting that peace talks and confidence building measures between the two neighbours had paid dividends, Singh reiterated that terror incidents, like those that happened in India, "put a damper on the peace process.
"I have said more than once that I cant carry Indian public opinion with me if terrorist acts continue to plague our polity."
To a question whether it would not be more prudent for India to deal with democratic elements in Pakistan rather than the military, Manmohan Singh stated that Musharraf was the president of Pakistan and India would deal with "whosoever is in power".
He said what system prevailed in Pakistan was for the people of Pakistan to decide.
But the destiny of the two countries was so closely interlinked that neither of them could realise it "unless there is reconciliation between India and Pakistan".
A senior official said a lot depended on the talks' outcome and if they were positive, they would well result in an announcement soon on the resumption of the stalled foreign secretary-level talks in what is called the composite dialogue process.
"After all the talks between the leaders should lead on to something...," the senior official said cryptically, without wanting to be identified.
Singh would be assisted in the talks - which would take place most probably Saturday - by National Security Adviser MK Narayanan, foreign secretary-designate Shiv Shankar Menon, who is flying to Havana direct from Islamabad where he is winding up his tenure as high commissioner, and Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma.