New Delhi: The Congress sought to address growing disquiet within the party and opposition from rivals, reacting to last week’s decision by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to sign a joint statement with Pakistan that delinked terror from the composite dialogue between the countries, and which for the first time included Pakistan’s concerns about insurgency in Baluchistan—insurgency that according to Pakistan’s long-standing claim was being supported by India.
A senior Congress minister said party chief Sonia Gandhi wanted the party to intervene and limit the damage caused by a statement that is increasingly being seen within India and outside as a victory for Pakistan. “The situation is same as that of what had happened after the Prime Minister’s joint statement during the NAM (Non- Aligned Movement) summit in Havana (in 2006), where we agreed to arrange consultations for early solution of the Siachen issue,” the minister, who asked not to be identified, said.
In 2006, a statement issued by Singh and Pakistan’s then president Pervez Musharraf had agreed to “arrange consultations for early solution of the Siachen issue. Experts should meet immediately to agree on coordinates for joint survey of Sir Creek and adjoining area, without prejudice to each other’s position on the issue”, creating apprehension among top Indian Army officials.
On Monday, Congress spin doctors, while admitting that the government had erred, mounted rearguard action to mitigate the political damage, arguing that efforts were under way to retrieve the situation.
The swift response from the ruling party comes even as a rejuvenated Opposition has decided to raise the pitch of its protests in what it believes to be a potent issue. Ever since the 15th general election, which returned the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance to power with an unexpected margin, the Opposition has been in a disarray, largely due to infighting in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“The wording in the joint statement (released following a meeting between Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani in Sharm-el-Sheikh on the sidelines of the NAM summit) could have been different. We are trying to retrieve the ground,” said another Congress leader, who, too, did not want to be identified.
At least three Congress leaders admitted that the wording in the joint statement has given “enough room” for the opposition BJP to accuse the government of “surrendering” to Pakistan on the issue of cross-border terrorism.
The leaders also pointed out that New Delhi’s decision to acknowledge the “threats” in Baluchistan to Pakistan’s sovereignty in the joint declaration also was a “mistake”, even if it was “done as an incentive” to the neighbour to act swiftly against the terrorist elements operating from its soil against India.
However, Singh clarified in Parliament on 17 July that “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”.
Meanwhile, BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said the party would seek a “structured debate” on the statement the Prime Minister has made in Parliament on 17 July clarifying India’s position on talks with Pakistan. “We will seek a comprehensive discussion on all issues, including (the) India-Pakistan joint statement, the discussions on climate change at the G-8 meeting in Italy and also on the Doha Round of trade talks (for which the G-8 and the G-5 nations have agreed on the 2009 deadline to conclude). The BJP fears this government has made many compromises under pressure,” Swaraj said.