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ISI boss in touch with Delhi
- Singh’s revelation signals readiness for pragmatic shift

New Delhi, July 11: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said the ISI chief has been briefing India on progress with bringing the 26/11 plotters to book, a startling revelation indicating that New Delhi is willing to forsake the rejectionist rhetoric of recent months and take a more pragmatic approach to dialogue with Pakistan.

Singh left journalists returning with him from the G8/G5 summit in Italy a little stunned when he let out that the Indian mission in Islamabad was in communication with the boss of the Inter-Services Intelligence, probably the first time the existence of a direct pipeline with the notorious Pakistani agency has been placed on record at this level.

“After my talks with Zardari Sahib (at Yekaterinburg), our high commissioners have been in touch, we have had talks with the ISI chief. They have given some suggestions and some information on what they are doing about punishing those responsible for the Mumbai massacre. We hope they will move forward in this direction,” Singh said on board the special flight back home.

Sources later told The Telegraph that ISI boss Shuja Pasha has been “exchanging notes” with top Indian diplomats and military attaches in Islamabad and that the inputs received were “so far of a satisfactory nature”.

It isn’t clear how far these off-media exchanges have gone in addressing Indian demands that Pakistan take “demonstrable steps” against terrorists operating from its soil, but there is clearly a positive new spin on the Indo-Pak dialogue process now.

The very fact of direct contacts with the ISI, deeply mistrusted in India, suggests significant movement. Pushed into an effective diplomatic impasse after the Mumbai terror attack, India seems to have worked on opening new windows on the Pakistani establishment in search of ways to end the deadlock.

That Shuja Pasha has been involved in recent exchanges is perhaps significant in itself. Pasha was meant to have come to New Delhi in the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai attack but scrapped his trip overnight, much to India’s indignation.

As if seeking to further ease the atmospherics when he meets Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of the NAM summit in Egypt next week, Prime Minister Singh pointedly said that he didn’t mean to “cause any hurt” to President Zardari when he flagged India’s terror grouse with him in full media glare at Yekaterinburg.

“Let me say that what I had said to Zardari Sahib, I had not intended to say that in the presence of all the media. I simply forgot that the media were present there. It was not my intention in any way to hurt Zardari Sahib’s feelings,” the Prime Minister said. This could be a deft post-facto manoeuvre to send out signals that New Delhi wishes to do nothing to jeopardise dialogue and what was widely perceived as a public slight was really unintended.

Underlining the geopolitical realities of the subcontinent, Singh said: “India and Pakistan are close neighbours, we can choose our friends but we have no choice with regard to our neighbours…. And we will do all that is necessary to resolve all outstanding issues….”

While he said he remained hopeful of a solution and was looking forward to meeting Prime Minister Gilani, Singh indicated no let-up in the exerting diplomatic pressure on Pakistan on the “export of terror” to India. “On every forum, my appeal to world leaders is that they put pressure on Pakistan to abandon the path of terror,” he said.

Answering a related question, the Prime Minister allayed suggestions that the Barack Obama administration was not as friendly or appreciative of Indian concerns as the George Bush presidency, with which the Indo-US nuclear deal was concluded.

“I find President Obama to be very supportive of India’s development ambitions. He has great admiration for India. There is no basis for apprehension that the Obama administration will be less sensitive to India’s concerns than the previous US administration,” he said.

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