In an apparent climbdown, India today dropped its insistence on refusing to hold talks with Pakistan till those behind the Mumbai terror attacks were punished but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh clarified that the "composite dialogue" will not be resumed.
A joint statement issued after the second top-level meeting since the Mumbai terror attacks said "Both Prime Ministers recognised that dialogue is the only way forward. Action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed." During the two-hour-long meeting, which virtually signalled a thaw in relations that had soured after the 26/11 attacks, the two sides agreed to "create an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence".
There was no mention of Kashmir in the statement which, however, said that Singh expressed India's readiness to "discuss all issues with Pakistan, including all outstanding issues". Under the composite dialogue process, Kashmir is one of the issues. The delinking of composite dialogue with terrorism is seen as a climbdown by India as it has all along maintained
that dialogue cannot be held till there is concrete action against terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
Later, addressing a press conference, Singh was at pains to clarify that "the composite dialogue process cannot resume
unless and until terrorist acts, like the one which shook Mumbai, are properly accounted for and perpetrators of these
heinous crimes are brought to book." Singh said that "if acts of terrorism continue to be perpetrated, there is no question of dialogue, least of all, the composite dialogue... If there is no attempt (by Pakistan) to contain terrorism, no dialogue can succeed."
He emphasised that "So long as Pakistan territory continues to be used for perpetrating acts of terrorism directed against India, I think, the dialogue, even if it starts, cannot move forward." Noting that there is no option but to have dialogue with
Pakistan, he said, however, that he could not say what kind of talks will happen. This, he said, will be determined by the
Foreign Secretaries of the two countries who will keep meeting as often as possible.
Singh said that any recurrence of Mumbai-type attack will be "intolerable" and that would affect the ties frommoving forward.
India has particularly been maintaining that the dialogue process cannot resume till Pakistan takes "concrete"and "visible" action against perpetrators of Mumbai attacks.
On top of it, the joint statement also contains a reference to "threats" in Balochistan, where Pakistan has beenalleging Indian hand in terror incidents. Gilani told reporters after the meeting that his feelingwas that India was "convinced" that the "way forward" was dialogue.
He said he had told Singh that terrorism and Mumbai attacks should not be bracketed with dialogue and he agreed. "All core issues that were pending under composite dialogue should be discussed. That should not be bracketed with this Mumbai incident," the Pakistan Prime Minister said. "They are satisfied with my commitment that whosoever was
behind Mumbai attack will be brought to justice," he said. The statement said that Singh emphasised the need for
action against perpetrators of Mumbai attacks and Gilani had promised to "do everything in its power" in this regard.
During the talks, the two sides also decided to share "real-time, credible and actionable information on any future
terror threats". Singh disagreed when pointed out that Pakistan's projection was that the composite dialogue will not be held
hostage to terror incidents. "That's not my interpretation." Gilani said he had raised the issue of "terrorism" inBalochistan for which Pakistan accuses India.
Asked about the mention of Balochistan in the joint statement for the first time, Singh quoted Gilani as havingsaid that people in his country were saying that India was "active" in that province.Singh said he had told Gilani that if Pakistan has
"evidence, we are ready to look at it. We are an open book. We are not afraid of discussing any of these issues."
Singh and Gilani agreed that their Foreign Ministers will meet on the sidelines of UN General Assembly in New York. Prior to that Foreign Secretaries will be in constant touch. "We have begun a process. How successful we are in achieving our objectives, only time will tell. I cannot predict the outcome of what will follow the Foreign Secretary-level talks, what will be our assessment of the dossier that Pakistan side has given to us a few days ago,"Singh said. Gilani said Pakistan has provided updated status dossier on the investigations of the Mumbai attacks and had sought additional information or evidence from the Indian side.
Singh said he had not studied the dossier so far as he has beentravelling. Noting that Indo-Pak relations have been subjected to "too many accidents", Singh said "with all uncertainties, we have an obligation to engage Pakistan to the extent we can to resolve differences, to contain them... Whether we will suceed or not, only time will tell. There should be serious and honest actions (by Pakistan) to address issues that separatethe two countries." To a question, he said "I really cannot say hereafter I have a roadmap. There may be no surprises."
To a question, Singh said there is a "strong conviction" in India that official elements of Pakistan have been "patronising" terrorists but that does not include the present democratically-elected establishment. The issue related to release of Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed, prime accused in the Mumbai attacks, by the Lahore High Court also came up during the discussions. Gilani told Singh that the federal government was trying to persuade the Punjab goverment, where opposition is in power, to challenge his release. Singh said Gilani was confident of convincing the Punjab government to do so. "We cannot accept a situation that terrorism is justified on any account," he said, adding he would not be able to carry along with him the public opinion of Indian people unless he was satisfied with actions by Pakistan. "I reiterated to him that we are willing to go more than half-way provided they create the conditions for a meanigful dialogue," Singh said, adding "I hope the discussions in the coming months will be fruitful and will address our concerns."
He said India is a very important power and to realise its full potential, it needs stability in the region. Asked whether it was a step forward in addressing the issue of terrorism, Singh said "It is being cautious on our part that before we enter into any intensive dialogue, whatever you may call it, call it composite dialogue, we would watch for results. So we are extremely cautious." He parried a question on whether ISI chief would be part of the dialogue process, saying he could not answer suchquestions.