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Hina Rabbani Khar steals off-colour Krishna's thunder

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External Affairs minister on Saturday abandoned the Prime Minister’s carefully crafted strategy on as he fumbled to match his Pakistani counterpart, and her exquisite articulation of Pakistan’s position of all issues at the joint press briefing in Islamabad here on Saturday, saying that “there were no conditions” to Manmohan Singh’s visit to Pakistan.

Seconds later Krishna was changing his own remarks, pointing out that “something worthwhile” would need to emerge before the prime minister would decide on a visit. He reneged for a  third time in the same breath  saying he “had never said that progress on (issues like Siachen, Sir Creek and Kashmir) will be dependent on Mumbai.”

Then he added : “The prime minister’s schedule is settled months in advance,” giving the impression that a visit to Pakistan was not in the offing, at least in the near future.

Krishna’s flip-flop contrasted powerfully with the passionately argued 20-odd minute remarks by Khar at the beginning of the evening, whose transformation from a glamorous photo-op during her visit to Delhi last year to a woman of conviction was more than apparent through the briefing.

She argued that both sides “should not be held hostage to history”, but look to the future, building on convergences that unite us.  She insisted that the Pakistan People’s Party looked at India with a completely different mindset, a manifestation of which was the abandonment of its 40-year-long position on delinking movement on trade with movement on the “core dispute,” Kashmir. 

She pointed out that Pakistan’s president’s gesture on the occasion of Krishna’s visit to Pakistan, of releasing all 271 Indian fishermen in custody whether or not they had completed their prison term, was indicative of Pakistan’s determination to break away from the “hostile narrative” that both sides had conducted for the last 65 years.

In fact, she even twice rescued a bewildered Krishna from pesky Pakistani journalists persisting on whether the PM would visit Pakistan by adding, “ I am sure he will give a positive assessment of his visit to the Indian prime minister.”

In short, Hina Rabbani Khar stole the show. Krishna, on the other hand, seemed both stumped and off-colour. It was certainly not his best day.

Krishna attempted to salvage some of the damage in a late evening briefing to Indian journalists, when he agreed that while the word “terror” was not mentioned during the entire course of the press conference, “what matters for me is the joint statement.”

The statement reads : The Minister noted the commitment given by Pakistan during the Interior/Home Secretary talks in May 2012 to bring all the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks to justice expeditiously in accordance with the due process of law.

Officials agreed on the condition of anonymity, that there was certainly a sea-change in the atmospherics in Pakistan’s handling of the Krishna visit, for example giving nearly 75 visas to Indian journalists, including  a last-minute one to this reporter. They implied, however,  that they didn’t see incredible commitment to investigating the Mumbai attacks inside Pakistan or bringing its perpetrators to book.

Earlier in the evening, Krishna and Pakistan’s special adviser on internal security Rehman Malik signed a new visa agreement that replaces the old 1974 regime in which 9 categories are listed, the main ones relating to two different kinds of business visas – with and without police reporting, depending upon the amount of profit displayed on your income tax documents – as well as a group tourist visa, visa on arrival for Wagah/Attari for people 65 years and older as well as pilgrim visas (primarily to the Sikh shrines within Pakistan and for Pakistani Muslims to visit Ajmer Sharif).

The Indian side seemed happy about the signature on the visa agreement, especially as it had been delayed for about a year because of Malik’s whimsical insistence that it be signed only between the two home ministers.

And although Malik tried hard to steal the thunder from Hina Rabbani Khar by not letting her to sign the visa agreement with her counterpart, Krishna, her grace and elan ended up also putting him in the shade.

Khar, in fact, so totally dominated the press briefing this evening that she ended up setting the agenda. She told Krisha from the lectern next to him that Pakistan had “abandoned” its 40-year-old positions by agreeing to open up trade with India and therefore to consolidate progress and momentum, Pakistan looked for “simultaneous progress” on all fronts.

She then proceeded to spell out those items : The core issue of Jammu & Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek. Moreover, Khar said, the aspiration of the Kashmiri people needed to be accommodated one way or another.

“It is important to do so. We must be able to disarm the naysayers and those who continue to divide us,” she said.

Krishna’s answer to the Pakistani gesture on releasing all Indian fishermen was : “I hope you will send back their boats and trawlers with them.”

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