Sonia silent on Balochistan, links talks with action on terror

Sonia silent on Balochistan, links talks with action on terror

New Delhi: Congress president Sonia Gandhi backed the government’s stand that talks with Pakistan can proceed only after it “demonstrated its seriousness" to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks to “justice", but stayed conspicuously silent on the inclusion of Balochistan in the joint statement signed between the two countries in Egypt.

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Her first public utterances since the controversy broke on 16 July came on the second day of sustained political pressure by the Opposition against the government’s decision to include Balochistan and delink actions against terrorists from the composite dialogue with Pakistan.

Gandhi, who was addressing the Congress parliamentary party, also turned the heat on errant party members, making it mandatory for them to attend Parliament and at the same time for ministers to work with members of Parliament to address “ever-increasing" expectations of the people.

The party president was implicitly referring to the poor attendance when the Rajya Sabha passed the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, 2009. On 20 July, only 25 members from the United Progressive Alliance were present, against 29 from the Opposition.

In the Lok Sabha on Thursday, both finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is the leader of the House, and foreign minister S.M. Krishna distanced themselves from the mention of Balochistan, saying it was a “unilateral" perception of Pakistan and India does not subscribe to it.

“We are victims of terrorism. We don’t export terrorism to any country, nor do we have any intention to do. It is against our principles," Mukherjee said. When the Opposition insisted on an explanation, he said: “I have nothing to add."

The Opposition walked out in protest. Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushma Swaraj said: “Not only we (the Opposition), but the Prime Minister’s own party chief Sonia Gandhi seems not convinced with the Prime Minister and the Indo-Pak joint statement."

Santosh K. Joy contributed to this story.