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No rethinking on talks with Pakistan

Siddharth Varadarajan

“Terrorists are opposed to the dialogue. Why should we oblige them?”

New Delhi: India has no intention of allowing terrorists to dictate the scope and schedule of diplomatic interaction with Pakistan and will not let Saturday’s bombing of a bakery in Pune derail the February 25 meeting of foreign secretaries, highly placed sources told The Hindu.

With investigations into the attack still under way, officials said on Sunday there would be no “knee-jerk reaction.” India knows the situation is complex, they added.

Speaking to reporters in Chennai, where he had gone to deliver the Rajaji memorial lecture, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna hinted that the motive of the bombers was to disrupt the impending dialogue with Pakistan. “We are well aware that the dark forces of terrorism are against peace and amity between nations,” he said.

The message from Mr. Krishna and senior officials was clear: there will be no backing away from talks. Even if the Pune incident is traced to a Pakistan-based organisation like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, this would only strengthen India’s position that terrorism needs to be the main focus of the coming meeting.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior official criticised the opposition BJP’s demand that the proposed talks be called off. “Not talking may be a legitimate diplomatic option, as Arun Jaitley has said, but is it an effective option?” he asked. Terrorists will attempt to strike at targets in India whether there are talks or not.

“What we do know is that the terrorists are opposed to the dialogue. Why should we oblige them?,” the official added.

In Sunday’s interactions of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon, the intelligence chiefs and others, all stakeholders agreed there should be no deviation from the current policy of trying to have a dialogue with Pakistan on terrorism. And the Congress party supports this line as well, the sources said.

“If we stop talking, it is not given that terrorism will stop,” a senior official said. “Terrorist threats require a different response. Calling off talks will not reduce those threats.” He added that the government was still not sure who was responsible for Pune. “We have our suspicions but Pakistan has been creating layers of deniability over the years which may make it difficult to directly pin the blame on anyone there.”

As far as the talks themselves are concerned, the sources stressed that they had low expectations. “We are not dealing with the Pakistan of 2004 or 2005,” said an official, referring to the period when the two sides made progress on a number of issues. “There is a very different situation across the border today.”

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