New Delhi: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Sunday denied any “flip-flop” in India’s policy towards Pakistan and said no talks can be held as long as Mumbai attack mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi was walking free.
In a major press conference, on completion of the government’s one year in office, Sushma Swaraj also discounted any speculation of being overshadowed by a “proactive PM” or of any change in India’s Palestine policy.
She answered a range of questions, ranging from why she kept a low profile, to the opposition criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s frequent foreign travels, to the testy India-Sri Lanka fishermen issue.
She also highlighted the government’s diplomatic outreach, saying that between Modi, herself and minister of state VK Singh, the three had interacted with 101 nations, including by visits, and interactions on the sidelines of multilateral events.
On Pakistan, Sushma Swaraj said there were no talks planned with Islamabad as of now and also discounted media reports about cricket diplomacy being launched between the two nations.
She said there was no “flip flop” or difference in the Pakistan policy between the home, defence and external affairs ministries.
On Lakhvi, she said: “If Lakhvi is outside and he is free and Pakistan thinks we will speak, will India ever accept that?”
“We are ready to resolve all issues in a peaceful manner through dialogue. The dialogue will be between two sides, no third party will be there or present in the talks; and talks cannot be held in the shadow of violence and terrorism, only in the atmosphere of goodwill,” she asserted.
“There is no change in our policy, we have told this to Pakistan always,” she said.
On the Sri Lanka fishermen issue, she spoke of the “very provocative statements” that emanate from Colombo on the issue and said India plans to convey that “such provocative statements vitiate the atmosphere and that we should first keep the atmosphere conducive before discussing the fishermen issue”.
Earlier this week, the ministry had voiced its displeasure after Sri Lankan Fisheries Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said Colombo had rejected India’s proposal to allow Indian fishermen to catch fish in Sri Lankan waters for 65 days a year.
She also revealed that Modi during his China visit had raised “very strongly” the issue of the China-Pakistan economic corridor and told Beijing that it was “unacceptable”.
On the 39 Indians abducted in Mosul in Iraq a year ago, Sushma Swaraj said she has been following up on the issue and hoped to bring back the men soon.
“My only regret is that while we have evacuated thousands of our nationals from Iraq, Ukraine, Yemen, Libya, the 39 Indians remain in Iraq. I feel my wait will end very soon and we will be successful in bringing them back,” she said.
She said she has received written messages from eight sources of the men being alive and had conveyed it to the prime minister and her colleagues Arun Jaitley and Harsimrat Badal.
On working with Modi, she said she values a proactive prime minister.
“A proactive PM is a support, not a challenge. I take it as a support,” she said.
“The prime minister has not put any restrictions on anyone, least of all me.”
To the opposition criticism of Modi’s foreign visits, terming him an “NRI PM”, she said, “the perception is wrong” and added that there was not much difference in the number of visits by Modi and that by former prime minister Manmohan Singh.
Sushma Swaraj also said she will visit Jordan, Palestine and Israel this year and Modi would visit Israel too.
She said there was no change in the government’s Palestine policy and termed reports to the contrary as “wrong perception”. “We will never let down Palestine,” she said.
She also discounted that the government was following an obsessive foreign policy and said it was linked to the domestic policy and the government’s flagship programmes of Make in India, Digital India, Swachch Bharat, and Smart Cities.