Media briefing by foreign secretary on the Mohali India-Pak cricket match
Nirupama Rao: I know all of you are following the cricket match and the excitement surrounding it. I wanted to say that our Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of Pakistan have had a very wide-ranging conversation today on various issues that are of relevance to the relations between India and Pakistan. I think it would be fair to say that just as we spoke of a Thimphu spirit last April when the two Prime Ministers met on the margins of the SAARC Summit, it would be appropriate to say that there is today a Mohali spirit that pervades our relationship and that this is an extremely positive and encouraging spirit that has been generated as a result of today’s meeting.
As I said, this was a wide-ranging conversation and it took place against the backdrop of what is a sporting contact, a cricket match between our two countries. And indeed sporting contacts such as this epitomise the essence of people-to-people exchange and the spirit of a good game, a constructive - it may be a competitive game but it is also a constructive game, it has a constructive spirit that surrounds it. It truly is cricket, to use that phrase. So, as I said, sporting contacts epitomise in many senses the substance, the essence of people-to-people contact between two countries such as ours. And I think they contribute a great deal to cementing understanding and friendship between the two countries.
In their conversation today the two Prime Ministers also spoke about the importance of such exchanges as those between the parliamentarians of the two countries. The Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and the Speaker of the Lok Sabha have invited their counterparts in Pakistan to send a parliamentary delegation to India. This we believe also can be an extremely good channel of friendly exchange between the two countries, and will help in many ways contribute to strengthening dialogue between two democracies such as ours. And across the political spectrum I think it contributes to better understanding.
As you know, a dialogue process has been set in motion between India and Pakistan after a certain interregnum. The Home Secretary of India and the Interior Secretary of Pakistan have just concluded a very positive round of discussions. There are a number of issues flowing from that meeting which we intend to follow up on, and that will in a sense also generate a positive momentum. The Commerce Secretaries of the two countries will meet the next month -in April- in Islamabad. This will be followed by a series, a sequence of other meetings including those between our Surveyors General, our Defence Secretaries. We will also of course have the meeting of the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries. I will meet with my counterpart towards the middle of this year. And this will be followed by the meeting of the two Foreign Ministers of the two countries.
So, I think we have begun this year, 2011, with a very positive agenda of contact and exchange between India and Pakistan. It is a good augury for the future. And indeed the meeting of our two leaders here in Mohali today has once again reaffirmed the intention of both Governments to take forward the process of dialogue because dialogue is a process through which we can understand each other better, through which we can resolve outstanding issues, and the goal of this dialogue is normalisation of relations, a pervasive and a more permanent process of normalisation in an uninterrupted manner.
Thank you and I will be happy to take your questions.
Question: India Pak dialogue has been hostage to the issue of terror. Do you think that the dialogue process has really crossed that hurdle now and we can have a sustained dialogue irrespective of the progress on the terror issue?
Nirupama Rao: I would like to emphasise that in the course of the dialogue that we have commenced with Pakistan and indeed even in the meeting that the two Prime Ministers had today, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reiterated, let me say this, reiterated the need for an atmosphere free of violence and terror in order to enable the true normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan; and let me also add that Prime Minister Gilani shared this sentiment. So, I think you must put all this in proper context.
Question: on nature of the conversation
Nirupama Rao: The two Prime Ministers were here to watch the semi-finals of the World Cup, as you know, between India and Pakistan. And as I said, they had a wide-ranging conversation. These were not talks, if you were to look at it in the orthodox sense of the word, it was a wide-ranging conversation in which they touched upon a number of issues of relevance to the relationship.
Question: On impact of the meeting between both PMs
Nirupama Rao: I think every such meeting between the leaders of the two countries generates an extremely positive momentum. And when we speak of dialogue, I have been using the word reengagement several times over and I would like to emphasise that this is reengagement between India and Pakistan. But the political level contact and the leadership level meetings between the two countries and the understanding that is generated as a result has a very positive impact on the relationship.
Question: On desirability of sporting contacts.
Nirupama Rao: I would like to emphasise that both Prime Ministers, and in fact at the dinner just now, both the Prime Ministers spoke to the guests present. And one of the points that they emphasised was how good sporting contacts can be between the two countries and once they are resumed the positive impact that they will create for generation of better understanding. So, definitely we would like to see sporting contacts between the two countries resumed. In fact, Prime Minister Gilani also mentioned that it would be very nice if our cricket team could go across to Pakistan and play the Pakistan side in a match in Pakistan.
Question: Madam, did Prime Minister Gilani extend an invitation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit Pakistan?
Nirupama Rao: Yes, he did extend an invitation to our Prime Minister to visit Pakistan. It was at the dinner when Prime Minister Gilani spoke about this and I am sure that this will need to be discussed and finalised through diplomatic channels. But as I said, an exchange of visits between leaders, more contact, more dialogue, more conversations of this nature, are in themselves a very very positive phenomenon.
Question: You mentioned the wide-ranging conversation. Could you specify some of the issues that were touched upon in this conversation?
Nirupama Rao: I want to emphasise one aspect in this. I think what came across, the sense that all of us got who were present at this very important occasion was that as two neighbours India and Pakistan have to engage with each other directly in order to seek cooperative solutions to the problems that confront the two countries; that there are challenges and there are opportunities. And what are the challenges and opportunities? I think the focus was on development, on economic growth, on trade, on access to technology, on health, on education, all the issues that concern the future of people in both these countries, and that we should seek a cooperative strategy, a cooperative set of solutions to confronting the challenges that we are faced with and that we should avail of the opportunities before us to enable us to confront these challenges.
Question: Has any regional issue been discussed?
Nirupama Rao: Not to the best of my knowledge. Of course, I have not had a read-out on the entire range of issues that were discussed. But they did speak of how India and Pakistan can develop cooperative solutions to the problems that confront both our region and in the global sense also. They talked about developments in the Middle-East. Both India and Pakistan have large numbers of our people who work in the Middle-East, who earn a livelihood in the Middle-East, and therefore, instability and turbulence in that region affects our people. Therefore, India and Pakistan need to be also talking to each other about these sorts of issues.
Question: Sawaal bahut seedha saa hai. Kya 26/11 ke baad jo kuchh hua Hindustan mein, kya hum un sab baton ko peeche chhod diya hai? Ab hum Commerce, Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary, is level par baat-cheet shuru kar chuke hain, to kya 26/11 ke baton ko Hindustan bhool chuka hai?
Nirupama Rao:Nahin, aap yeh nahin keh sakte hain ki hamne 26/11 ki baat peeche chhod diya hai. I think, as I mentioned earlier, hamare Pradhan Mantri ne kaha hai ki it is very important that there should be an atmosphere free of terrorism and violence, if genuine normalisation is to be achieved between the two countries. Aur abhi jo Home Secretary aur unke counterpart ke beech mein jo baat-cheet hui hai, us baat-cheet ke dauran bhi hamne 26/11 ka mamla uthaya tha aur jo ongoing trial aur investigation hai is silsile mein hamne dohraya hai ki it is very important that the evidence is scrutinised properly and that those responsible are brought to justice. So, it is very important that there should be proper closure. Now proper closure does not mean that we set it aside or we have brushed it under the carpet. Not at all!
Question: Has a date been agreed to for PM’s visit to Pakistan?
Nirupama Rao: Not any immediate date that I can convey to you at this moment. But I think the intention is to stay in touch to keep up the contact. And as the dialogue process develops, I think there will be further directions from the leadership level naturally to impart positive momentum to it.
Question: I just wanted to know if there were any areas of difference.
Nirupama Rao: As I said, they were here to watch the cricket match. They sat together watching it before dinner, and then they had a dinner meeting, that conversation over dinner. And they are back now watching the final moments of the cricket match. So, that really provided the setting and, in a sense, the locale for this meeting today. So, in a sense I would put it this way that the game of cricket provided the impetus for this meeting. And that game and the manner in which it is being played between the two sides, I think, has set a sort of a very positive trend that a game played well, played in a spirit of sportsmanship, can indeed provide very a good example for how we can expand contact in a number of fields.
Question: You were talking of Mohali spirit, you were talking of closure. My question relates to both of these. We in Punjab have been the biggest sufferers of Pak inspired terror? Should we just forget about it?
Nirupama Rao: I think your question is an important one. I think the emphasis here is on getting people to reconnect with each other, and that is people in bordering States also of the two countries. The other thing I would like to mention, since you have brought up the issue of Punjab, Prime Minister mentioned in his conversation with Prime Minister Gilani over dinner that one of Prime Minister Gilani’s forefathers, Mian Mir, was involved in the setting up of the Golden Temple which is an abode of peace. And I think that is really the signature for this meeting, it is about peace, it is about reconciliation, it is about healing wounds. I think that is the takeaway from this meeting.
Question: Will India play a cricket match in Pak soon?
Nirupama Rao: Please address that to the cricketing authorities. As I said, we are for sporting contact between the two countries, between India and Pakistan.
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