Dealing with terror, not talks is our priority: Jaishankar

Admitting for the first time that the terror strike at Pathankot air force base has had a deep impact on the India-Pakistan dialogue process that was restarted in December 2015, the government on Wednesday said that dealing with the attack took precedence over the Foreign Secretary talks at present, even as Pakistan disclosed Masood Azhar was in ‘detention’.

Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar is scheduled to travel to Islamabad on January 15

“In the aftermath of a terror attack, if you ask me what is the priority, dealing with terror or diplomatic dialogue then the answer is obvious,” said Foreign secretary S. Jaishankar at the Ministry of External Affair’s ‘Raisina Dialogue’ in Delhi on Tuesday.

Dr. Jaishankar’s words are significant as they explain the delay in announcing a new date for Foreign Secretary-level talks that were due to have been held on January 14 in Islamabad, but were put off at the last minute. The MEA spokesperson had said that the talks would be rescheduled in the “very near future”, but both sides have not yet announced any dates. As The Hindu had reported last week, senior officials now suggest the foreign secretaries meet will be at the SAARC consultations in Kathmandu on March 14-15.

Mr. Jaishankar also said that the governments of India and Pakistan had remained in touch at different levels including regular telephone conversations between NSA Ajit Doval and Pakistani NSA Nasir Janjua, the Foreign secretaries, and a telephone conversation between PM Modi and PM Sharif, calling it a “picture of parallel processes.”

The Foreign secretary’s statement, in response to a question after he delivered a Keynote Address at the Raisina conference, seemed to corroborate Pakistan NSA Sartaj Aziz’s statement in Washington, where he accepted that the FS talks had been disrupted after the Pathankot Airforce base attack. Thanking the US for its support to reviving the India-Pakistan dialogue, Mr. Aziz said it was “unfortunate” that the “agreement on resuming the dialogue process was disrupted by the attack on Pathankot airbase on 2nd January,” and listed several steps taken by Pakistan in the aftermath of the attack.

Interestingly, the Pakistan-US joint statement confirmed that Jaish E Mohammad chief Masood Azhar was taken into custody, although the MEA insists it has not been informed of the development yet.

“Noting the steps taken by Pakistan to date, including the detention of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) leader Maulana Masood Azhar, the United States appreciated PM Sharif’s stated commitment to take prompt and decisive action on this investigation and to bring the perpetrators of the January 2, 2016 attack on the Pathankot air base to justice,” the joint statement issued in Washington said.