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Press Briefing by FS on PM’s engagements at Thimphu

April 29, 2010

Official Spokesperson (Shri Vishnu Prakash): Good evening and thank you for waiting. As you are aware, Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh arrived at Thimphu yesterday to attend the Sixteenth SAARC Summit. On the sidelines of the Summit he has had a number of interactions. Foreign Secretary is here to brief you about some of the interactions that the Prime Minister had. She is joined by the Media Advisor to Prime Minister Dr. Harish Khare, who is sitting to the left of Foreign Secretary. Foreign Secretary Shrimati Nirupama Rao would be making an opening statement and thereafter be happy to take a few questions. Ma'am, the floor is yours.

Foreign Secretary (Shrimati Nirupama Rao): Thank you, Vishnu. I will give you an update on the meetings that the Prime Minister had today. He began the day with a meeting with Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal of Nepal. This was followed by a meeting with His Majesty the King of Bhutan. Thereafter he met Sheikh Hasina the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. He also attended the Retreat of the SAARC Heads of State and Government. Thereafter he held a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Gilani of Pakistan.

In the meeting with Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, Prime Minister stressed our support for multiparty democracy in Nepal, our support for democratic forces in that country, and our belief in forward movement of the Constitutional process in Nepal, our support for strong purposeful Government in Nepal which Prime Minister said he believed that Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and his Government could provide for the country at this moment. They spoke of follow-up to agreements and understandings reached during Prime Minister Nepal's visit to Delhi in August last year, about the implementation of the various agreements concerned. Both sides expressed their satisfaction at the progress that had been recorded in regard to implementation of these understandings.

Prime Minister Nepal also briefed Prime Minister about the internal political situation in Nepal, the Constitution-making process, the issues concerning the reintegration of Maoist combatants. In all, they had a very cordial and useful meeting.

With His Majesty the King of Bhutan - as you know India and Bhutan share a very special and unique relationship. Both His Majesty the King and our Prime Minister expressed their deepest satisfaction over the state of relations, about the excellent nature of cooperation between India and Bhutan. His Majesty the King recalled his very successful visit to Delhi last December. Of course, they spoke about developments in Bhutan, the progress of the building of democratic institutions. His Majesty spoke about his contact with the people of Bhutan, his extensive travels into the interior of the countryside, and the fact that he is in touch with his people. The Prime Minister expressed his great admiration for the manner in which His Majesty the King was engaged in building these very strong bonds of understanding with his people.

With Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, again the Bangladesh Prime Minister referred to her very successful visit to India early this year. She said this visit had caught the imagination not only of the two countries or the region but the entire world. They spoke again about the implementation of agreements reached during that visit. They were happy at the fact that much progress has been recorded in this regard. The one billion dollar credit agreement, the extension of credit that India has agreed vis-à-vis Bangladesh is moving forward, and projects are being identified in this regard. The Joint Rivers Commission has met. The two sides are building closer understanding on the issue of water resources. The officials of the two sides will continue to meet in regard to implementation. Next week there will be a high-level delegation from Bangladesh led by the two Advisers to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh who will visit Delhi to continue the discussions in this regard.

After the Retreat that Prime Minister attended with the other Heads of State and Government, the bilateral meeting between our Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of Pakistan was held at Bhutan House. Prime Minister and Prime Minister Gilani had very good talks. They discussed all issues in a free and frank manner. They agreed that India-Pakistan cooperation is vital, if the people of South Asia are to realize their destiny and if SAARC is to become an effective and powerful instrument of regional cooperation. They agreed that relations between the two countries should be normalized, and channels of contact should work effectively to enlarge the constituency of peace in both countries.

Prime Minister emphasized to Prime Minister Gilani the various issues that cause concern to India, issues relating to terrorism, the rise in infiltration, and the slow progress in the trial of the Mumbai perpetrators. He told Prime Minister Gilani that India is willing to discuss all issues of concern with Pakistan and to resolve all outstanding issues through dialogue, but that the issue of terrorism is holding back progress.

Prime Minister Gilani on his part shared his perceptions on these issues in a candid manner. He said Pakistan is serious about prosecuting the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks and that all efforts were being made to bring the trial of these individuals to a speedy conclusion. Prime Minister Gilani said that Pakistan would not allow Pakistan territory to be used for terrorist activity directed against India.

The meeting was an exercise in mutual comprehension because there is a lack of mutual trust in the relationship impeding the process of normalization. The two sides have agreed on the need to assess the reasons underlying the current state of relations, or current state of affairs of the relationship and to think afresh on the way forward.

They have agreed that the Foreign Ministers and the Foreign Secretaries will be charged with the responsibility of working out the modalities of restoring trust and confidence in the relationship and thus paving the way for a substantive dialogue on all issues of mutual concern. Thank you.

Question: The statement that you have just read out seems to indicate that there has been a decision to move forward and reopen some channels of communication but not maybe a full Composite Dialogue process. How would you categorize what you are saying that the Foreign Secretaries and Foreign Ministers are now to be charged with taking this forward? What would you call this process now?

Foreign Secretary: I do not think we have to get stuck with nomenclature here. I think what you have to focus on is the fact that both sides are agreed that dialogue is the only way forward, that it is essential to open channels of communication, that there is a need to restore trust and build mutual confidence and that we should discuss all issues of mutual concern.

Question: When you say that we are ready to think afresh, could it lead to Composite Dialogue in times to come? And, was the case of Hafiz Saeed specifically taken up?

Foreign Secretary: Prime Minister did mention our very deep and continuing concerns about Hafiz Saeed, the fact that he has been allowed to go free and engage in language and in communications that are certainly not conducive to building an atmosphere of peace and stability. Yes, we did mention it. And I believe our concerns were registered with the Pakistan side. They did mention that they have some difficulties as far as their judicial system is concerned about tackling such issues. We expressed the hope that their laws to deal with such issues could be strengthened in times to come. As I said in my answer in response to Maya's question, we are not getting stuck with nomenclature here. I am not going to answer that question in the way you have framed it. I said both sides have agreed that the Foreign Ministers and the Foreign Secretaries will take this process forward now, this process of trying to build more trust and confidence in the relationship and to address all issues of concern, thereby ensuring better communication between the two countries.

Question: Sharm el-Sheikh ke baad, …(Unclear)… mein baat-cheet huyi donom Pradhan Mantriyon ke beech mein. Ab next meeting kab hogi, iske baare mein koi modalities tai hua?

Foreign Secretary: Iske baare mein modalities abhi tai nahin hua hai. Let me put it this way. The two sides have agreed to meet as soon as possible. We have not yet fixed a date. Obviously it would be unrealistic for me to tell you here and now that we fixed a date. The Prime Ministers have just met. But the instructions of the Prime Ministers are that the Foreign Ministers and the Foreign Secretaries should meet as soon as possible.

Question: Post-Sharm el-Sheikh there was this entire debate that there was a de-linking from terror as far as talks were concerned but we do seem to have gone back to the old position when we asked Pakistan to act especially on terrorism and track down terrorists. Could you throw some light on that? Secondly, were water disputes and the issue of Kasab brought up by the Pakistani side?

Foreign Secretary: The focus is on charting a course forward. That definitely I think is the message from today's meeting. So, the searchlight is really on the future, not on the past. Our concerns about terrorism remain very much on the agenda. Prime Minister was very clear that public opinion in India particularly is most concerned about this issue, the issue of the terror machine that operates from Pakistan and that it would be essential for Pakistan to address this issue comprehensively. I believe that Prime Minister Gilani understood the concerns that we expressed in this regard. For instance, on the Mumbai trials he said that their intention is to complete the trial as soon as possible to see that the perpetrators are brought to effective justice. When I say issues of concern will be discussed between the two countries, obviously they will encompass all issues of mutual concern.

Question: What about the water issue?

Foreign Secretary: I have answered that question. All issues of mutual concern would be focused on in the dialogue.

Question: But did the Pakistan Prime Minister raise this issue in particular?

Foreign Secretary: No, the idea was on the renewal of dialogue to understand the state of affairs in the relationship, what is it that is holding both sides back at the moment, how do we address the state of affairs? So, I think there was a lot of soul-searching here. I think you must regard this meeting in that light, a meeting that resulted in an understanding between the two sides that we should honestly attempt now to take this process forward because it is good for our two countries, it is good for the region, and it is good for the destiny of our two peoples.

Question: Madam, during the time of discussion with Sheikh Hasina, was there any particular reference to trade through Bangladesh via Agartala?

Foreign Secretary: We did discuss trade and transit issues, the issue of better facilitation of such trade, improvement of the facilities at the integrated check posts, the Customs Stations. Both sides were completely on the same page about improving these facilities so as to facilitate better movement of trade in goods and indeed of people between the two sides.

Question: Madam, I was wondering what has really changed during the last two years? Pakistan has not given any assurance about attacking the terror and the same assurances came today. What has really changed the Government's mind to reopen the dialogue process?

Foreign Secretary: It is not just a question of one-side agreeing to reopen the dialogue process. I think there was a certain, shall I say, confluence of thought here of basically both sides agreeing that dialogue is the only way forward and that we must attempt to take this process forward, that we should discuss all issues of concern, we should try and understand what are the problems that affect the relationship, and that eventual normalization of relations is good for the people of the two countries and good for the growth of our economies. For instance, one terrorist attack sets back economic well-being by so many percentage points. So, I think both sides want to focus on development, want to focus on taking their economies forward, and improving the living standards of their people in generally bringing peace to the region.

Question: Madam, did the Pakistani side raise the issue of Baluchistan?

Foreign Secretary: The issue was not raised specifically. To the best of my knowledge it was not raised. On this issue, the Pakistan side is well aware of the fact that India does not seek to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, in the affairs of its neighbours, and Pakistan is our neighbour, and there has been no evidence at all to suggest that there has been any interference by us in the internal affairs of Pakistan.

Question: Madam, you said there was a lot of soul-searching.

Foreign Secretary: Well, that is my phrase.

Question: Okay. My question is about terrorism. Did the Pakistan Prime Minister give a commitment to our Prime Minister that there would be no use of Pakistani territory. Anyway, you did say something to this effect that any commitments on the end of terrorism vis-a-vis India? Do you think that there is any linkage between the end of terrorism and the beginning of dialogue?

Foreign Secretary: Prime Minister was very emphatic in mentioning that Pakistan has to act on the issue of terrorism, that the terror machine, as he termed it, that operates from Pakistan needs to be controlled, needs to be eliminated. That was very clearly said. Prime Minister Gilani on his part said that Pakistan was equally seized of these concerns, that terrorism has affected Pakistan's well-being also, and that they want to address this issue comprehensively and effectively.

Question: Madam, before this bilateral meeting, the Pakistan Foreign Office had said that Sharm el-Sheikh should be the foundation of whatever future dialogue takes place. Did any such matter come up at this meeting? Is that a position that can ever be acceptable to India?

Foreign Secretary: No, the issue did not come up.

Question: From your briefing we understand that the resumption of the dialogue between India and Pakistan is the biggest outcome of this meeting today.

Foreign Secretary: Dialogue was never broken off. From our side when did we ever say that dialogue was closed? When the Foreign Secretaries met in February we said at that time also that dialogue was the only way forward.

Question: I should say Composite Dialogue. How is it different from the Composite Dialogue? What would you be doing?

Foreign Secretary: I really do not want to get into that kind of debate. I think it does the relationship no good to get stuck with names like that. I think the idea is to discuss all issues of concern. I am not going to get stuck with nomenclature, I said that very clearly. So, you are not going to get an answer from me on that.

Question:Madam, kitni der tak donom Prime Ministers ke beech one-to-one baat-cheet hui? Kya Kasab ka mudda, Pakistan jo kehta aaya hai, Ajmal Kasab ko usne phir se saumpne ki baat ki?

Foreign Secretary: One-to-one mulaqat to kareeb ek ghante se zyada tha. As far as the issue of Kasab is concerned, I was not present during the one-to-one discussion, let me say. I am not able to tell you whether that issue was discussed during the one-to-one meeting.

Question: You have just said that both sides have agreed to mutually get down analyzing why things have gone wrong between the two countries. Why this sudden realization? Do you think you want to disown the past and all the rhetoric that you have been engaging in about terror from Pak? What is the reason for this sudden change in attitude?

Foreign Secretary: I do not think literal interpretations can help this relationship. I do not believe the past can be abandoned. I do not believe in any relationship you forget the past and then build anew. You have to understand from the past and then build the future accordingly. I think that was what came through.

Question: Madam, there is frustration among the other countries that SAARC Summit has always been overshadowed by the bilateral problems between India and Pakistan. Apart from the bilateral issues, what is your view in terms of trade in services bringing about more economic cooperation between SAARC countries?

Foreign Secretary: Let me say to you that India attaches the utmost importance to its participation in SAARC, to the strengthening of regional cooperation within SAARC, to speed up the process of implementation of the various understandings and the projects that we have agreed to implement within the ambit of SAARC. And that came through very clearly in our meetings at the Standing Committee of the Foreign Secretaries, at the Council of Ministers, and at the Summit meeting yesterday. SAARC at 25 years, the Silver Jubilee 16th SAARC Summit I think focused on these issues very effectively. Of course, bilateral meetings are always held on the sidelines of such summit meetings. The relationship between India and Pakistan I think receives the focus of all South Asian neighbours also. So, I know that there is a lot of interest when India and Pakistan meet. But I do not think the word overshadow should be used in this context. I think that SAARC, its cooperation among all eight neighbours in South Asia, has a vision for the future. In fact, the Vision Statement that the Summit Declaration hopes to speak of, you will see it once it is released, talks about a number of ideas that we could institutionalize to take this common vision of SAARC forward. Trade in services helps us to build more cooperation in the hospitality industry, in civil aviation, in health, in education. So, again it is a visible sign of SAARC coming of age, the new maturity in our cooperation.

Question: Just to go back to what you were saying that you do not want to get bogged down by nomenclature and that India and Pakistan will discuss all issues of concern, apart from terrorism what are the other issues of concern?

Foreign Secretary: Maya, I need not educate you on the relationship. You know exactly what is meant by that. So, I am not going into details, but all issues of concern.

Question: Okay. Just an aside. On the Madhuri Gupta case there is plenty of attention in Delhi. I am sure you all have been following the developments on that. Your reaction please?

Foreign Secretary: Our Minister of State for External Affairs has made a statement in Parliament today on the subject. I would ask you to refer to that.

Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much.


April 29, 2010


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