New Delhi: The steps initiated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singhto revive the India-Pakistan dialogue came under severe political attack from the Opposition in Parliament on Friday, even as analysts believe that the approach, while questionable, had provided room for the establishment in Pakistan to take some serious efforts to contain cross-border terrorism.
India had suspended talks with Pakistan immediately after the audacious terror attacks in Mumbai on 26 November, which it argued originated and planned from across the border.
The political challenge to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) came on the day when the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton commenced her crucial five-day India visit in Mumbai.
Clinton, in an interview to CNN-IBN, has endorsed the initiative by the two countries to agree to resume talks.
Better ties? Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (right) with his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani at a meeting in Egypt on Thursday. Kamal Singh / PTI
The Opposition, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which as reported in Mint on Friday had maintained a low profile so far, accused the UPA of “capitulating” and “surrendering” to Pakistan at the just concluded bilateral meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
The pressure exercised by the Opposition, forced the government to field the Prime Minister, hours after he returned from his visit to Egypt to attend the Non-Aligned Movement.
Adding to the confusion was the ambiguity in the statement of the Prime Minister in Parliament. Quoting the joint statement he and his Pakistan counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani made in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Singh said: “...action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process, and, therefore, cannot await other developments. It was agreed that the two countries will share real time, credible and actionable information on any future terrorist threats.”
This was interpreted by the Opposition to mean that India had reversed its earlier stance taken in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks.
However, Singh’s additional claim complicated the Opposition’s argument.
“The starting point of any meaningful dialogue with Pakistan is a fulfilment of their commitment...not to allow their territory to be used in any manner for terrorist activities against India,” Singh said in Parliament.
“Sustained effective and credible action needs to be taken not only to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice, but also to shut down the operation of terrorist groups so as to prevent any future attacks,” he added.
The two statements taken together are being interpreted by some analysts and some politicians to argue that the UPA had created some political space to resume the dialogue with Pakistan.
Former foreign secretary Salman Haider said that India had not diluted its stand and had instead sought to provide incentives to revive talks. “I think that what the Prime Minister said, as far as I can judge, that his desire was to hold full scale talks for which Pakistan has to take some steps against terrorism,” Haider said.
Opinion among the two main Left parties was divided.
While the Communist Party of India maintained that there was no shift in India’s stance, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury said the Prime Minister was “contradicting” himself in the statement. “Such contradictory positions give rise to apprehensions that these are being made under pressure from the US. It does not augur well for India,” Yechury, a Rajya Sabha member of Parliament (MP), said.
Earlier, the BJP staged a walkout in the Lok Sabha immediately after the Prime Minister concluded his statement, arguing that the policy shift was a “complete surrender”.
Before leading the walkout, leader of Opposition L.K. Advani asked the treasury benches: “We have conceded... You have delinked terrorism and the composite dialogue. Why have you taken seven months to decide on this?”
Senior party leader Sushma Swaraj, who raised the matter in the Lok Sabha during zero hour, said later that her party would not “tolerate” it and would take the battle to the people.
“It’s a clear case of surrender and we all know that a surrender happens under some pressure. We will discuss and reveal the pressures when there is a structured debate on the subject as the government has assured today in Lok Sabha,” she said.
Yashwant Sinha, another senior BJP MP, said, “There are many other points of serious objection. Why should (the) Prime Minister of a secular democratic state wish Pakistan to be a stable Islamic country. And why is there need to mention Baluchistan?”
Sinha was referring to the acknowledgement of the “threats” in Baluchistan to Pakistan’s sovereignty in the joint declaration, which he believes is a significant departure from India’s long-held position on the ethnic unrest in Pakistan’s largest state.