PM to defend Pakistan ties in Parliament

PM to defend Pakistan ties in Parliament

New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will defend efforts to improve ties with Pakistan in a Parliament debate on Wednesday after criticism by Opposition groups that he had conceded ground to the neighbour.

Singh signed a joint statement with his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani during a meeting in Egypt this month agreeing to delink the issue of terrorism from the broader peace process.

Opposition leaders saw the statement as a departure from New Delhi’s stand that a resumption of dialogue could only take place if Pakistan acted against the militants it believed were behind last year’s Mumbai attacks.

Singh appeared at a new conference shortly afterwards, ruling out resumption of talks with Pakistan until the Mumbai attackers were brought to justice. But critics said the damage had been done.

“The Prime Minister must answer why he agreed to a joint statement that disrupts a national consensus that dialogue cannot resume against Pakistan unless strong measures against militants are taken," Sushma Swaraj, a senior leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, told reporters.

Singh also drew flak for agreeing to include in the joint statement a reference to the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, where Pakistan accuses India of fomenting an insurgency. New Delhi denies the charge.

Ahead of the debate in Parliament, Singh’s Congress party closed ranks behind him on the approach to Pakistan.

“There is no issue at all. The party is firmly behind the Prime Minister," Congress spokesman Janardhan Dwivedi told reporters.

But analysts said many members of Congress party saw his policy on Pakistan as risky in a country where distrust of its nuclear-armed neighbour runs deep and any concession is viewed with suspicion.

“Privately there is enormous pressure from within the party on Manmohan Singh for signing that joint statement, but they will stick together as resuming peace talks with Pakistan is very much on the cards," said Amulya Ganguli, a political analyst.

India broke off a four-year-long formal peace process after the attacks on Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants who India says must have been helped by Pakistani security agents.

Re-starting Peace Process

Singh is expected to speak at the end of a parliamentary discussion on recent foreign policy issues. The debate could indicate how far the government could go to normalise relations with Pakistan and restart the peace process, analysts say.

“I think he would say that he has taken the step because he wants to normalise relations with Pakistan and it was was upto Pakistan now to reciprocate," Kuldip Nayar, a New Delhi-based political commentator, said.

Islamabad denies state agencies had any role in the Mumbai attacks that killed 175 people and says it will prosecute those accused of involvement in the attacks.

But Pakistan wants India to return to peace talks without conditions such as action against Mumbai attack planners and militant groups India blames for carrying out bombings in Indian cities..

The US also wants the two sides to return to a dialogue so that Pakistan can concentrate on fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaida militants on its western borders..

Reflecting its continuing concerns over New Delhi, Pakistan said India’s launch of its first nuclear-powered submarine capable of carrying ballistic missiles was “detrimental to regional peace and stability."

Pakistan will take steps to safeguard its own security, the foreign ministry said, following Sunday’s launch of the submarine, part of a $2.9 billion Indian plan to build five such submarines.