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Nirupama Rao speaks to NDTV on Indo-Pak talks: Full interview

Nirupama Rao speaks to NDTV on Indo-Pak talks: Full interview
New Delhi

In an exclusive interview to NDTV's Group Editor Barkha Dutt, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao has said the Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was wrong to say that SM Krishna, his Indian counterpart, backed him in his criticism of India's Home Secretary GK Pillai.

Here's the full interview.

Barkha Dutt: With so much controversy surrounding the India-Pakistan meeting of the two foreign ministers, the meeting of SM Krishna and Shah Mehmood Qureshi, where does this leave the peace process? India at this point said that the attempt is to bridge the trust deficit, but has this now become a deficit of trust?

Joining us now on NDTV is Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao. Thank you for your time ma'am.

When you look at the perception in the media on both sides that the talks, in a sense, have collapsed...the talks are in tatters and that it was unprecedented acrimony...would you agree that the talks did not go the way you had hoped?

Nirupama Rao:
Well Barkha, I would by no means say that the talks collapsed. I think what happened yesterday was we were able to have a very, I must say, protracted discussion on various ideas that could take the dialogue forward. There was a hiatus, if I may say so, in expectations because I believe that the Pakistan side had certain ideas about the re-engagement that were not completely acceptable.

Barkha Dutt: But may I put its to you, the one thing that seems to have drowned these talks in a level of controversy was the comment made by the Foreign Minister of Pakistan and the Home Secretary of India's comment pointing a finger at the ISI's involvement in 26/11, based of David Coleman Headley's interrogation. The Opposition and many other commentators are asking why the Foreign Minister did nor rebutt him at that moment?

Nirupama Rao: Well Barkha, the External Affairs Minister said very clearly on record today (Friday) that there was no question on any comparison between Hafiz Saeed and the disclosures made by the Home Secretary on the David Coleman Headley's investigation. And at no point, may I add categorically, during the discussion held yesterday (on Thursday) did the External Affairs Minister in any sense express agreement with the point of view of Mr. Qureshi on the remarks of the Home Secretary.

Barkha Dutt:
Can I then clarify Ms.Rao that although Mr.Qureshi claimed that both Foreign Ministers were in agreement that the Home Secretary's remarks were ill-timed, no such indication was in fact given by the Indian delegations to the Pakistani delegation,  in the course of the talks. Is that correct?

Nirupama Rao:
Yes, absolutely no such indication.

Barkha Dutt: Ms.Rao was it then considered a choice by the Foreign Minister to not rebut Mr Qureshi in public when those remarks were made?

Nirupama Rao: Well, I think if you were there at the press conference at the Pakistan Foreign Ministry...there were a huge number of journalists...the pell-mell of questions and you know the to-and-fro... the queries that were raised, the answers from the Foreign Ministers...it may have just happened at that stage the External Affairs Minister did not react. But by no means can you draw the conclusion from that, that External Affairs Minster SM Krishna was in any way in agreement with the remarks of Mr. Qureshi

Barkha Dutt:
Ms.Rao did it handicap the Indian side, the timing of the Home Secretary's remarks?

Nirupama Rao: Well, I think one has to be very clear about our sights here. We have a dialogue that we are seeking to restore with Pakistan but we also have very real core concerns about terrorism and about the trauma of Mumbai, the aftermath of Mumbai and the action that Pakistan needs to take on the basis of very credible evidence on the involvement of Pakistani agencies, Pakistani nationals,  in the Mumbai attacks. So the Home Secretary was perfectly within his rights to draw attention to this.

Barkha Dutt: Ma'am, can I then ask you the next logical question. If there is a perception and concern in the Indian security establishment and the diplomatic establishment that the ISI indeed may have played a role in the 26/11 attacks, that in a sense,  doesn't that change what India's approach to the dialogue process should be, because then you are talking about state actors being  involved in 26/11, and then what purpose doees the current approach to the dialogue process have?

Nirupama Rao: Well Barkha, about the involvement of the state and the non-state agencies in the whole business of terror unleashed in India by Pakistan, this disclosure about the involvement of ISI is not new to India. India has all along maintained that when it comes to the terror machine that  continues, unfortunately,  to exist in Pakistan...that there are serious introspections that are required by Pakistan into why terror has been used as an instrument in policy against India...and that involves both state and non-state actors ...I am constrained to say that there are state and non-state actors and Pakistan needs to undergo that whole process of...I believe of catharsis when it comes to understanding why terror is now threatening the very fabric of Pakistan itself.

Barkha Dutt: Mr Qureshi also took a broad swipe at the Foreign Minister this morning  suggesting Mr.  Krishna did not have the mandate to take his own decisions and that he was on phone to New Delhi throughout...something that Mr Krishna then went on to deny. Are you concerned as the highest ranking diplomat of India at the tone and tenor of the remarks of the foreign Minister of Pakistan?

Nirupama Rao:
Well definitely the tone and tenure of those remarks have not contributed...let me say...to a positive atmosphere between India and Pakistan and I believe those were remarks that could have been avoided.

Barkha Dutt:
Where do these talks leave India and Pakistan at the present moment? How would you describe it? You said in the beginning that the talks have not collapsed. What would be your phrase of choice to describe what has happened in the last 24 hours?

Nirupama Rao:
Well,  I think we went through a very serious discussion yesterday. It was by no means a futile exercise. We have several pointers before us as far as the future is concerned. We have exchanged ideas. We have by no means come to a conclusion which would suggest that the way forward is blocked in any way. And as I said, and as our Foreign Minister said, Mr. Qureshi is due to come to India in the later in the year. In the interregnum, there is time enough for us, and I believe particularly for Pakistan, to reflect on the process, the modalities carrying it forward, and to understand that the reduction of the trust deficit and the building of confidence are itself catalysts to take this dialogue forward. And that is why,  we need to undertake graduated steps when it comes to the resumption of dialogue.

Barkha Dutt: Would you concede Ms Rao that the core issue right now is the difference in perception on what the framework of dialogue should be...India pushing for terrorism only agenda and Pakistan wanting a more formal resumption of the composite dialogue and how do you bridge this gap?

Nirupama Rao:
Well there is a gap in perception, I have to be honest and admit that. But these are not unbridgeable divides between India and Pakistan. On a number of ideas that we exchanged yesterday we were in agreement...in agreement about how to build confidence and trust. On certain other ideas, I think much more time and ground will needed to be covered before we can say we are ready to start dialogue in those particular areas. But let me say that in most of the sectors that we talked about yesterday, the sectors for assumption of dialogue, we were in agreement.

Barkha Dutt:
Would you say you are disappointed today? Do you come back from Pakistan disappointed?

Nirupama Rao: Well, I would say that I would have hoped that we would have had more positive outcome to our discussions yesterday. But I think in diplomacy, as in life, disappointments such as these needs to be surmounted, because as neighbors India and Pakistan will have to deal with each other. We don't have the luxury of maintaining irresolvable distances between our two countries.

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