NEW DELHI: Days after Indo-Pak talks ended in sharp differences, the External Affairs Minister, Mr S M Krishna on Wednesday broke his silence over the controversy surrounding the Union home secretary, Mr G K Pillai’s remarks on ISI’s involvement in Mumbai attacks, describing their timing as "very unfortunate".
Clearly unhappy with Mr Pillai’s statement a day ahead of his visit to Pakistan to hold talks with his Pakistani counterpart, Mr S M Qureshi, Krishna said if he was the home secretary, he would not have spoken about the revelations by Pakistani-American David Headley.
Factually, Mr Pillai was "very much in order" in speaking about the disclosures made by Headley to the FBI and Indian interrogators but "the timing was something which was very unfortunate," Mr Krishna told PTI in an interview here.
His whole visit to Pakistan was "underpinned" by the remarks by the home secretary and these had become a "factor" with Pakistan, he said, apparently meaning that the remarks had created a negative environment.
The minister disclosed that he discussed Mr Pillai’s comments with the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh whom he had briefed on his parleys with Mr Qureshi and other leaders.
He insisted that the government was speaking in one voice on Pakistan and said he was "glad" that Union home ministry has now announced the appointment of a spokesperson. In recent months, Mr Pillai has been briefing the media.
Disagreeing with the perception that his discussion with Mr Qureshi had ended in a deadlock, Mr Krishna said he was "quite satisfied" with his visit which has bridged the trust deficit "to some extent".
Answering questions about Mr Qureshi’s un-diplomatic remarks after the talks and if he was willing to ignore such behaviour, Mr Krishna said "I am willing to mind my business and concentrate on my work."
However, he dismissed as "ridiculous" the comparison sought to be drawn by Mr Qureshi between the JuD chief, Hafiz Saeed’s anti-India statement and Mr Pillai’s remarks on the ISI.
The minister said the minute details of how the "whole conspiracy of 26/11 was hatched and executed" showed the "diabolical nature of the conspiracy".
The fact that these details had come out during interrogation of Headley by the FBI put much more onus on Pakistan to act against the conspirators, he said.
Rejecting suggestions that the outcome of his talks was a setback to the overall dialogue process, the minister said the visit was a confidence-building exercise and "to that extent, we have succeeded".
Expressing his firm belief that India and Pakistan needed to remain engaged, Mr Krishna said there was no other alternative.
Responding to a question on BJP’s stand that India should not talk to Pakistan now, the minister said he had briefed the BJP leaders before his visit to Islamabad and conveyed the desirability of engaging Pakistan.
"There is no alternative. If somebody can come out with an alternative, I can consider that."
The External Affairs Minister welcomed Mr Qureshi’s assurance that Pakistan would act on the leads provided by Headley and would hasten the trial of those involved in the Mumbai attack. "I am glad about it. That is expected from that government (of Pakistan)."
Responding to a question on the perception that the first session of his talks with Mr Qureshi had gone off well, prompting Indian officials to promise some good news, Mr Krishna said he was not "very sure" of the outcome of the meeting till the last minute.
Asked about his meeting with the US Secretary of State, Ms Hillary Clinton, Mr Krishna said he had briefed her on what transpired at his meeting with Mr Qureshi. "She is happy that India and Pakistan are talking."
On whether she had raised the issue of Kashmir, which she has described as an impediment in Indo-Pak relations, the minister said "with me no specifics were mentioned".
However, the External Affairs Minister disagreed that Kashmir was the only issue between the two countries. "Kashmir is one of the questions which keeps India and Pakistan apart but there are a number of other concerns such as terrorism," he said.
He also advocated a graduated approach in the bilateral relations with Pakistan, saying India wanted to start with issues which are "helpful and beneficial" to both countries such as release of fishermen, people-to-people contact before taking up complex issues like Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek.
Mr Krishna said he had raised India’s "immediate concern" of terrorism during his meetings in Pakistan. "I would have failed in my duty as External Affairs Minister if I would not have put enough pressure on Pakistan to address itself to our concerns about 26/11 and what happened after that."
"I wanted to know how the trial is proceeding. I wanted to find out… I wanted them to hasten up the trial. All the other things can come up later," he said.