New Delhi: In the face of a sharp opposition attack on his foreign policy, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday in the Lok Sabha reiterated his commitment to resume talks with Pakistan even as he said that full normalization of relations was possible only if Pakistan was able to fulfil its commitment “in letter and spirit” to curb terrorism emanating from its territory.
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Singh was facing his first political test in his second innings as Prime Minister, and argued that prosperity in South Asia depends on lasting peace between the two neighbours. Failure to do, he warned, would mean mediation by “third parties”, which inevitably comes with strings attached.
The Prime Minister, who was criticized by some sections of the Congress party over parts of a joint statement with Pakistan, said another terror attack on India would put “intolerable strain” in the relation between the two countries. But he added: “There is no other way of moving forward unless you want war.”
India had suspended a five-year-long formal peace process after the 26 November terror attacks on Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants, who India alleges have been helped by Pakistani security agents. Islamabad had denied the charges.
With Congress leaders privately airing misgivings over the 16 July joint statement in Egypt, in which terrorism was delinked from composite dialogue and there was a reference to Balochistan, Singh’s spirited defence in Parliament seemed to have satisfied the party, whose members welcomed his reiteration by thumping their desks. However, two party leaders, one a senior minister and a young Congress MP, both of whom did not want to be identified, admitted the Prime Minister’s explanation on the reference to Balochistan was not satisfactory.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is the leader of the Opposition, has accused Singh of “surrendering” India’s interests by delinking composite dialogue and Islamabad’s action against terrorism as well as the reference to strife-hit Balochistan, where Pakistan alleges India’s involvement in creating trouble and destabilizing Pakistan.
In defence: A TV grab of PM Manmohan Singh in Parliament on Wednesday. PTI
In his speech, Singh said that India was “willing to look at Balochistan because we have nothing to hide”.
“I told (Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza) Gilani we have no interest in destabilizing Pakistan and we are not scared of discussing any issue,” Singh said, adding that Pakistan’s charges on the role of the Indian consulate in Afghanistan were false and that India was aiding Kabul for the reconstruction of the nation.
The Prime Minister also claimed that the United Progressive Alliance government has managed to extract more than just a verbal commitment from Pakistan. According to Singh, the dossier Islamabad had handed over to New Delhi had made it clear that Lashkar-e-Taiba “inspired, financed and executed” the Mumbai terror attack in which 175 people were killed.
“It is the first (time) that they have admitted that their nationals in a terrorist organization based in Pakistan carried out a ghastly attack in India,” the Prime Minister said.
He also tried to allay the apprehensions expressed by BJP MP Yashwant Sinha, who initiated the discussion in the Lok Sabha over the end-user monitoring agreement, saying that the pact does not “compromise” India’s sovereignty, but provided an element of “predictability” for future defence purchases from the US.
“There is no provision for unilateral verification by the US on imported defence equipment. India has a sovereign right. Any verification has to follow a request and it will be decided only on mutually-accepted date and venue,” Singh explained.
He also expressed optimism that the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group would not endorse the G-8 group of nations’ stand on banning the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technologies to non signatories of nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
“The Prime Minister’s explanation was perfectly adequate. The joint statement has addressed many issues. He was more elaborate on composite dialogue. I, as a normal citizen, am glad that the Prime Minister went into depth to explain what he was trying to do to remain engaged and look into the problems,” said former foreign secretary Salman Haider, before adding, “The Prime Minister has not permitted himself to be on the defensive.”