Unfazed by India's attack, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has justified his statement comparing Home Secretary G K Pillai with Jamaat-ud Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed, saying it was "balanced and objective".
Breaking his silence on the issue since his controversial July 15 remarks, Qureshi said there was "no justification" for Pillai to make the "unhelpful" comments and contended that it spoiled the atmospherics for his talks with External Affairs Minister S M Krishna.
"Mr Pillai's statement was, doubtless, uncalled for and off the mark," the Pakistani Minister said in an email interview ."There is no justification for government officials to make unhelpful public remarks on the eve of the Foreign Ministers' meeting," he said.
Qureshi, while responding to a question on Saeed's vitriolic comments against India at his July 15 joint press conference with Krishna, said both sides should refrain from negative speeches that vitiate the atmosphere and then asked, "on the eve of this dialogue tell me to what extent" Pillai's remarks help.
Though Krishna did not react to this comparison of Pillai with Saeed at that moment, he termed it as "ridiculous" after his return to India. Qureshi was also slammed by the political parties, including BJP and Congress. Saeed is blamed by India for a series of terror attacks, including the 26/11 strike, besides inciting jehadis to target this country.
On criticism of his comments by Krishna and others, Qureshi said, "My statement was balanced and objective." He said he was "responding to a question and trying to make a point that there were elements on both sides of the border who would not like to see our two countries develop normal relations and, through their vitriolic statements, try to vitiate the bilateral atmosphere."
Qureshi's reaction was also sought on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's remarks that his handling of the press conference had detracted attention from the achievements of the talks and that it was avoidable.
"I think it is important to remember that the press conference followed a marathon meeting between the two sides. It was not held in a vacuum.The crux of the matter is that India's approach was selective; contrary to the understanding reached between the two Prime Ministers at Thimpu, where it had been agreed that all issues would be discussed. Being democracies, we are accountable to our peoples. We need not fudge. Our people have the right to know the truth about the state of the play."
Asked whether he felt that Pillai's comments had spoilt the atmosphere for the Foreign Ministerial talks, Qureshi said, "Yes, I do. Your media has also commented on it. Even Mr Krishna has very clearly stated in one of his TV interviews that Mr Pillai's remarks were ill-timed."
He said both sides have "committed to refrain from hysterical propaganda against each other. Let's live up to that."
The two countries had made conscious efforts to build up a good atmosphere in the run-up to the July 15 meeting, he said.