Talks with Pakistan foreign secretary just ‘courtesy’: India

New Delhi: India on Thursday said the recent 90-minute talks with Pakistan was just a “courtesy” meeting between foreign secretaries of the two countries, during which New Delhi insisted that a team of Indian investigators probing the January Pathankot terror attack be allowed to visit that country.

“I would first of all clarify that there was no official dialogue between our foreign secretary and Pakistan’s foreign secretary,” Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh said in parliament.

He said Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry was here to attend a conference on Afghanistan peace and development and “as an etiquette, there were some talks” between him and Indian Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar.

“But, it should not be taken as official dialogue,” Singh told the Rajya Sabha.

The minister’s reply was surprising because India had described the April 26 talks, which continued for some 90 minutes between Chaudhry and Jaishankar, as a bilateral meeting that was expected to lead to progress towards the start of the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue.

The minister was replying to Congress leader Anand Sharma who asked the government to clarify whether Pakistan had agreed to allow an Indian National Investigation Agency (NIA) team to visit that country for probe into the attack on the Indian Air Force (IAF) base at Pathankot.

India blamed the suicide attack, which left seven people dead, on militants who had crossed over into India from the border with Pakistan. A team of Pakistan investigators was in March allowed to visit Pathankot as part of its probe. This sparked bitter criticism by the Congress-led opposition of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

Singh said the issue was raised with Pakistan and “they have to look into our NIA visiting Pakistan”.

“So far as we are concerned, (we have) conveyed formally to Pakistan foreign ministry that the terms of reference of the (probe team) visit are broadly agreed to with the proviso that they would be on the basis of reciprocity and followed in accordance with the extant legal provisions.”

Singh said that the Pakistan government has “to take a formal view and convey to us”.

The issue of visit of Pakistan investigators to Pathankot was also raised in the Lok Sabha with opposition members lamenting that Islamabad did not respond in the right spirit to India’s gesture.

Congress member Jyotiraditya Scinda accused the government of going soft on Pakistan.

“The visiting team also comprised an ISI officer,” he said, adding diplomacy with Pakistan should not be handled with “emotive yardstick”.

“We should negotiate with Pakistan from the position of strength.”

But there was no response from the government.

In Pakistan, Chaudhry said his talks with Jaishankar may not have produced a breakthrough. “But we conveyed our concerns (about Kashmir and India’s alleged involvement in Balochistan trouble) forthrightly,” the Pakistan foreign secretary said in Islamabad on Wednesday.

“Pakistan is ready for dialogue, whenever India agrees to it,” Chaudhry said.