Admitting that “nothing has changed on the ground” between India and Pakistan, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj Monday said while it was not possible to give the assurance of an “uninterruptible” dialogue, the government’s intent is to not get provoked by “saboteurs” who want to stop bilateral talks. She also said the level of talks on terrorism had been elevated, and would now be held at the level of National Security Advisers.
“Hum log yeh chahenge ki jo saboteur, jinki aapne charcha ki, jo dialogue ko kisi na kisi tarah se rokna chahte hain, unse provoke na ho (We want to ensure we are not provoked by saboteurs who want to stop the dialogue process),” Swaraj said while briefing Lok Sabha on her recent visit to Pakistan.
“We have elevated the level of terrorism. Now talks related to terrorism will happen at the NSA level… The rest will be taken up during secretary-level talks,” she added.
Swaraj also slammed those who had made comments on social media about her wearing a green saree and using Urdu while interacting with the Pakistani media. “Ab aalochna karne wale toh ajeeb ajeeb aalochna karte hain. Saree ka rang hara kyun tha? Urdu mein kyun boli? Arey bhai, main Budhwar ko hari saree hi pehanti hoon… aur us din Budhwar tha aur maine hari saree pehni thi (People who are critical make strange criticism. Why was my saree green? Why did I speak in Urdu? I wear a green saree every Wednesday, and that day was a Wednesday),” she said, adding “Hamare yahan se kisi ne iske barey mein nahin bola (No one from our side said anything on this).”
When Saugata Roy of the Trinamool Congress told Swaraj that her Urdu was better than that of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, she replied, “Saugata da, is baat ki bhi aalochna hui ki maine wahan Urdu kyun boli. Main un aalochna karne waale logon ko kehna chahungi ki Urdu merey mulk ki bhi zubaan hai. Urdu kewal unki zubaan nahi hai… Urdu merey mulk ki bhi zubaan hai. (People even criticised me over speaking in Urdu. I would like to tell those people that Urdu is also my country’s language. It is not just their language, it is my country’s language too).”
“When I can can deliver a speech in Sanskrit at the World Sanskrit Conference in Bangkok, why can’t I speak in Urdu when I meet the Pak media. This language belongs to my country too. That’s why I spoke in Urdu,” she added.
On restarting talks with Pakistan, Swaraj said that can only happen when there’s an element of trust. “When we have decided that we will not accept the mediation of a third country, party or person… then the talks will have to be engaged in both countries,” Swaraj said.
“Nothing has changed on the ground. It was decided at Ufa that National Security Advisers will meet…but that meeting could not happen because we had said that terror and talks cannot go together,” Swaraj said, responding to a query on what had changed between the two countries since August, when the NSA-level talks between the two neighbours were called off.
She also rejected criticism over the fact that Jammu and Kashmir was discussed during the NSA-level talks in Bangkok. “Since J&K is most affected by terrorism, that’s why terrorism in J&K was discussed…there were no talks on its political status,” she said.
Stating that her visit to Islamabad for the Heart of Asia Conference came two days after constructive talks between the NSAs on “issues related to security, terrorism”, Swaraj told Lok Sabha that her meetings with Sharif and his Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz were held against the backdrop of this positive development.
“Both sides condemned terrorism and resolved to cooperate to eliminate this menace. There we dwelt on the need for Pakistan to expedite the Mumbai terrorist attacks trial. The Indian side was assured of the steps being taken to expedite its early conclusion,” she said.
“Accordingly, it was decided to begin a dialogue with Pakistan under the new title ‘Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue’. The Foreign Secretaries have been tasked to work out modalities and schedule of the meetings under the new Dialogue,” she added.
Assuring the House that the government accords the highest priority to the country’s security, Swaraj said that “in order to meet any threats in this regard, the government will take all steps, including through diplomatic channels”.
“At the same time, the government is also committed to building an environment of peaceful and cooperative relations with all our neighbours, including Pakistan,” she said.
“Initiatives on trade and connectivity, people-to-people exchanges and humanitarian issues will contribute to welfare of the entire region, and promote better understanding and mutual trust. The new dialogue, we sincerely hope, marks a new beginning also for peace and development in the whole region,” she said, expressing confidence that the government had the “support of the entire House in this expectation”.
Earlier, participating in a half-hour discussion on the matter following Swaraj’s statement, AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi called the resumption of talks a “clumsy climb-down” but welcomed it nevertheless. “This is a procedural breakthrough but not a substantive breakthrough,” he said.
Owaisi then threw a volley of questions at Swaraj, asking whether “this comprehensive bilateral dialogue” would be “uninterruptible”, whether the government has “given an assurance that the Prime Minister will visit Islamabad during the SAARC Conference” and whether India will “get the most favoured nation status”.
PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti said, “J&K’s territorial integrity is always talked about… Only Kashmir’s land is not yours… Please care about the people who are suffering there…the way Vajpayee had done.”