February 15, 2020
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The Diplomat’s Pakistan Stumble

An experienced hand, the foreign secretary could have acted quickly and salvaged the talks

The Diplomat’s Pakistan Stumble
Tribhuvan Tiwari
The Diplomat’s Pakistan Stumble

Nirupama Rao’s engagement with Pakistan seems to be jinxed. Ironically, it comes back to haunt her whenever she’s in a high-profile position. As the first woman spokesperson of the MEA, she got a taste of what a failed dialogue with Pakistan could mean when the 2001 Agra summit collapsed on the final day. Rao is in the limelight again, in the wake of S.M. Krishna’s failure to achieve a breakthrough with his Pakistani counterpart. Here are some areas where Rao could have intervened and retrieved the situation:

  • G.K. Pillai’s remarks were in the media on the morning of July 14 when Krishna’s delegation arrived in Islamabad. Which means the Indian side had at least six hours to prepare its response. It is not good enough for the foreign ministry to say they were out of the loop.
  • Before going in for the talks, Rao should have known the Indian bottomline on the negotiations. This would have denied Pakistan the space to say she was constantly getting instructions on the phone from Delhi.
  • Knowing how tricky a joint press conference in Pakistan can be, she should have insisted on a joint statement.
  • Having agreed on three questions each before the press interaction, she could have advised the foreign minister not to take any more questions. This is by no means unprecedented—Pranab Mukherjee as foreign minister had refused to take more than the allotted questions during his visit to Pakistan in 2008.
  • The language of the chits being passed on to Krishna could have been toned down, since they only added to the high-voltage atmosphere at the joint presser.
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