Wednesday, Oct 05, 2022

'Terrorism Cannot Advance Any Cause'

'We went into today’s talks with an open mind, but fully conscious of the limitations imposed by the large trust deficit between the two countries'

Media briefing by Foreign Secretary on the conclusion of the Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao: In response to my invitation, the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, Mr. Salman Bashir, is in India leading a 13 member delegation. Mr. Bashir and I held talks this morning assisted by our respective delegations.

My invitation to the Pakistan Foreign Secretary was in keeping with the Government of India’s firm conviction that we must not shut the door on dialogue with Pakistan, and that such dialogue, if it gathers momentum, holds tremendous potential for the progress and well-being of the people of our region. The sincere and genuine efforts we have made in past years in this direction have, however, been repeatedly thwarted by acts of terrorism, culminating in the barbaric attack in Mumbai. The Mumbai attack erased the trust and confidence that the two countries had painstakingly built during the period 2004-07. The recent Pune attack, which is still under investigation, is yet another reminder that our citizens remain vulnerable to terrorist violence.

We went into today’s talks with an open mind, but fully conscious of the limitations imposed by the large trust deficit between the two countries. In line with our graduated and step by step approach, our aims were modest; we had a useful discussion, during which I spelt out forthrightly our concerns on terrorism emanating from Pakistan against India.

I told my Pakistani counterpart that terrorism cannot advance any cause, but the cause of senseless violence and that it is the solemn duty of states to eliminate all terrorist groups, operating from their soil, regardless of their ideology or agenda. While acknowledging the steps taken so far by Pakistan to bring the Mumbai perpetrators to book, I pointed out that these did not go far enough to unravel the full conspiracy behind the Mumbai attack and to award exemplary punishment to all culprits. I stressed the importance of expeditious action by Pakistan on these issues, including by following up on the leads that have emerged following the arrest in the United States of David Coleman Headley and Tahawuur Hussain Rana. It was pointed out that the Mumbai attack was a symptom of a larger problem – that of the continued existence and unhindered activities of organisations, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba/ Jamaat ud Dawa, Hizb ul Mujahideen etc. from Pakistani territory and territory under Pakistan’s control to perpetrate terrorist violence against India. This was an ample evidence during the rallies held by these organisations in major cities of Pakistan and PoK on February 5, which openly incited terrorist violence against India. It was emphasized that the Government of India could not but take a serious note of such actions as it was duty bound to ensure the security of its citizens.

At the same time, we said it was the duty of Government of Pakistan to take effective action to dismantle and put an end to the activities of all such organisations. The issue of terrorist infiltration and ceasefire violations across the Line of Control and International Border was also taken up. We called upon Pakistan to investigate the claim made by a hitherto unknown organisation, Lashkar-e-Toiba Al Almi and a separate claim by Ilyas Kahmiri’s owning responsibility for the recent Pune blast. Additional information on terrorist activities against India emanating from Pakistan was also handed over to the Pakistani side for investigation and appropriate action.

Pakistan raised certain other issues and we responded appropriately, reiterating our national position on these issues.

I told the Pakistan Foreign Secretary that we have all along believed in the approach to resolve all outstanding issues between the two countries through bilateral dialogue in an atmosphere free of terror and violence. If we are to build upon the past discussions at an appropriate time, trust and confidence between us must be restored.

We have set out to take a first step towards rebuilding trust and I believe my meeting with the Pakistan Foreign Secretary has constituted that first step. We have agreed to remain in touch and continue endeavour to restore trust. It was also decided to address urgent humanitarian matters.

Question: Madam, you said that you agreed to remain in touch. Is there anything that has been laid out in the form of a roadmap, or any possible meeting perhaps between the Foreign Secretaries again in a stipulated timeframe?

Nirupama Rao: Diplomacy, as it is said, is life without maps. We are not talking about roadmaps here; we are talking about staying in touch; attempting seriously and sincerely to restore trust and confidence between the two sides. And it was keeping in mind the need for the restoration of that trust and confidence that we both agreed that we should remain in touch and explore the ways and means to take our dialogue forward.

Question: Did you hear anything which would make you believe that these are new assurances from Pakistan that would aid in building the trust deficit?

Nirupama Rao: On the Mumbai terror attack investigation, what my colleague the Pakistan Foreign Secretary said was, they were making all efforts from their side to secure successful prosecution of the culprits.

Question: Did Afghanistan figure in talks with your Pakistani counterpart? And what would India like Pakistan to do to eliminate the fear that India might attack Pakistan?

Nirupama Rao: We did not discuss Afghanistan.

Question: Madam, when you say that Pakistan has raised certain issues and we obviously conveyed our position to them, specifically, was Balochistan raised by them? I ask this because Interior Minister Rehman Malik had said a couple of months earlier that they had already handed over evidence of India’s involvement to their Foreign Office to be handed over to India. So, did it come up? Did they hand over to us any evidence or not?

Nirupama Rao: To answer the second part of your question first, no evidence was handed over. They did raise the issue of Balochistan and we told them that the allegations were baseless and we had no desire to interfere in the internal affairs of Pakistan.

Question: Did the issue of Kashmir come up? What did they say and what was your response?

Nirupama Rao: The issue came up briefly. The position they took was on expected lines, I do not need to go into details of that, and we reiterated our national position.

Nirupama Rao: Madam, you said that both sides will remain in touch. On the 28th of April there is a SAARC meeting in Thimphu. Is it likely that there will be another meeting by the by at your level or at the External Affairs Ministers’ level before that?

Nirupama Rao: As I said, the Foreign Secretaries have agreed to remain in touch, and we will obviously keep that channel of communication open. As far as the meeting of the Foreign Ministers or a future meeting of the Prime Ministers, as you mentioned, at the SAARC Summit at Thimphu is concerned, it is too early to say at the moment. I would not be able to give you any assurance on that.

Question: You expressed concerns on terrorism and other issues also. What was the response of the Pakistani side? Did they try to convince you regarding those concerns that they are going to take certain actions? Also, besides Balochistan and Kashmir, was any other issue raised by the Pakistani Foreign Secretary?

Nirupama Rao: On the issue of terrorism, which you mentioned in your question, the Pakistanis listened. And let me say that a great deal of our discussion today did focus on our concerns on terrorism. From their point of view, I mentioned earlier also, they said that they were doing everything to secure a successful prosecution of the people they have put on trial in connection with the Mumbai terror attack. They also told me that they have themselves had a spate of terrorist attacks in Pakistan themselves and, therefore, Pakistan understands our concerns about terrorism, and for them also this is a priority number one in terms of tackling the threat that they face in this connection.

In terms of the other issues, yes, water was also raised. As you know, Pakistan has been talking about this issue in recent months and we have reiterated to them that the Indus Waters Treaty, which will mark 50 years of its existence this year, has been a very successful and useful mechanism to discuss water related issues between the two countries; it has worked very well; and the Indus Commissioners should continue to meet; we should do our best to resolve whatever differences that exist in this regard under the mechanism that is provided for by the Indus Waters Treaty. And Pakistan also recognizes fully the relevance of the Indus Waters Treaty.

Question: Did we specifically ask or reiterate our request for the arrest of Hafiz Saeed? You said additional information was given. Could you throw some light on what this additional information consisted?

Nirupama Rao: We gave them three dossiers. We gave them information on some individuals associated with the Mumbai terror attack. We gave another dossier on threats issued by Ilyas Kashmiri. Thirdly, we gave them a dossier about fugitives from Indian law who are in Pakistan, some already in Pakistan’s know and a few new names which we have put together and conveyed to them.

As far as Hafiz Saeed is concerned, we have once again reiterated the need for persons like Hafiz Saeed who have raved and ranted and advocated a very violent agenda against India, the need for a control to be put on those activities, and the need for effective action to be taken against such individuals who certainly do not contribute to building a climate of trust and confidence between the two countries.

Question: A closely related question. Was Hafiz Saeed’s recent speech, in which he was talking about Mumbai, specifically mentioned? Have you given a copy of that speech perhaps to Pakistan?

Nirupama Rao: I do not have to give a copy of that speech but I certainly mentioned it in my discussions.

Question: Madam, before you invited them to come to India, at the same time a lot of terrorist activities started taking place here and then in Pakistan there were lots of meetings. Did you ask them if this is the way of talking and the way of going in for confidence-building measures? And why was there not any Joint Statement on this meeting?

Nirupama Rao: It is not always the convention to have Joint Statements at the end of every meeting. So, I do not think we departed from any conventions in this regard. As far as the continuance of terrorist incidents in Pakistan is concerned, this is obviously a matter of very serious concern. We have pointed to this not only now but even in the past. But our position on terror and our position about dealing with the threat of terror are in no way diminished by our talking to Pakistan. Let me underline that. That was a position that was also made very clear by Prime Minister last year when he spoke to Parliament, and that continues to be our position.

Question: It is a very specific question. Have we sought access to any of the people under trial in Pakistan for the Mumbai attacks?

Nirupama Rao: Not during these talks. We have not.

Question: In connection with the Pune blast you said that you did mention Ilyas Kashmiri’s association. What was their reaction to the Pune blast per se?

Nirupama Rao: They condemned it. They were condemnatory of all these incidents of terrorist violence. They from their side stressed the need for India and Pakistan to cooperate to deal with this threat.

Question: Madam, I wanted to know, when we mentioned the name of Ilyas Kashmiri what did they have to say about it?

Nirupama Rao: We handed over the dossier to them and they assured us that they would seriously go through it to examine it, and they will get back to us I am sure.

Question: Could you just explain what the Pakistani side’s response was to your point regarding Hafiz Saeed’s speech and why they were not doing more to clamp down on groups inciting violence against India?

Nirupama Rao: I think their response has been said not just this time but many times before that, at least the view from the Pakistani establishment is that they do not agree or do not subscribe to the agenda of such persons but their laws at the moment do not permit them to take action against such persons just by virtue of the speeches that they make. We are certainly not satisfied with that position, and we believe that under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism laws there exist provisions whereby such action can and should be taken.

Question: We have made it clear that the Composite Dialogue will not take place, but on Pakistan side did Mr. Bashir raise the issue of Composite Dialogue? Secondly, was there any update on the Kabul attacks on our Embassy? Thirdly, whether the issue of beheading of the Sikhs was raised?

Nirupama Rao: The issue of beheading of the Sikhs was raised, definitely. We expressed our very very grave concern and the need for action to be taken against those responsible for this heinous crime and the need to protect religious minorities in Pakistan. That was definitely mentioned.

As far as the Composite Dialogue is concerned, yes, they did raise the issue of Composite Dialogue. From Pakistan’s side they feel that we should resume this Composite Dialogue. From our side our response was that we certainly do not discount the achievements made by the Composite Dialogue. It was conducted and it really picked up momentum in the years between 2004 and 2007. We do not discount the achievements and the relevance of that dialogue. But the time is not ripe as yet to resume it because we have to create a climate of trust and confidence. There has to be a certain process that we have to put in place step-by-step before we do that.

Question: Madam, from 11 o’clock to almost 3:30 the two Delegations were together. How you would you sum up the day’s events? What were India’s specific gains today?

Nirupama Rao: We had useful discussions; we had detailed, candid discussions. There was transparency on both sides. I think there was good chemistry between the two delegations. All in all, I would say that this was a meeting that both sides gained benefit from. That is my summing up.

Question: Have you been invited to Pakistan?

Nirupama Rao: My counterpart has said that he would like me to visit Pakistan.

Question: Madam, has Pakistan proposed another high-level talks before the two Prime Ministers meet for the SAARC Summit?

Nirupama Rao: It is not about levels, it is about dialogue, it is about taking it forward. On that I think both sides are in agreement. We are of the view that we feel the way forward step-by-step, in a graduated way, and they also feel that dialogue is the best way forward.