It's a sellout

It's a sellout

Sharm-El-Sheikh Joint Statement

The Manmohan Singh government’s post-26/11 Pakistan policy has taken a dramatic U-turn. From the position hitherto taken that there wouldn’t be any talks with Pakistan until it brings to book the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks and dismantles the infrastructure of terror, the India-Pakistan joint statement of July 16, 2009 signals a sellout.

This should not, however, come as a surprise to a people long inured to the government’s brazenness and ineptitude as demonstrated by its handling of 26/11, its conclusion of a seriously flawed nuclear deal with the United States and its sudden discovery, after over five years in office, that it had ‘underestimated’ the menace of left wing extremism.

Showing an utter lack of professionalism, the joint statement, issued by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Gilani after their talks in Egypt, is harmful to our interests and was best avoided as evident from the textual analysis given below:

The two prime ministers “considered the entire gamut of bilateral relations with a view to charting the way forward in India-Pakistan relations” and agreed that the foreign secretaries should “meet as often as necessary and report to the two foreign ministers” who would meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

The above formulation, along with the fact that the two prime ministers met for two hours, indicates that the India-Pakistan dialogue is already under way and contradicts our assertion that the dialogue would begin only after the perpetrators of 26/11 are brought to book and that there is no roadmap for resumption of talks.

Take a look at this second important formulation in the statement: “Both leaders agreed that that terrorism is the main threat to both countries.” This equates India and Pakistan in respect of terrorism, glossing over the fact that the latter is involved with terrorist activities directed against the former. It constitutes a flashback to 2006 when Delhi made out that Pakistan like India is a victim of terror.

Third, according to the statement, the prime minister asked his counterpart to bring the perpetrators of 26/11 to justice. To this Gilani stated that Pakistan would “do everything in its power in this regard,” that it had given an updated status dossier on investigations into 26/11, and that it sought additional information/evidence. PM said that the dossier was under review. Obviously, Singh’s demand was minimalist, restricted only to seeking satisfaction on 26/11 with no call for dismantling the infrastructure of terror or even an assurance, as given by Pakistan in January 2004, that the area under its control would not be used for terrorist attacks against India.

Pakistan’s response was also minimalist and not even in the nature of a guarantee that those responsible for 26/11 would be brought to justice.

Most significantly, through the statement, Gilani mentioned that “Pakistan has some information on threats in Balochistan and other areas.”

What is the relevance of such a formulation? It is, from a Pakistani perspective. This is the first time that an India-Pakistan joint statement hints at Indian involvement in Balochistan and in “other areas.” It is myopic to see this as a harmless formulation as it virtually equates India with Pakistan as perpetrators of terror. The international community, which hitherto was convinced of our bonafides on this count, will now begin to have doubts. Islamabad will no doubt use this to discredit the Balochistan freedom struggle and take harsher measures against it.

And, then the final act. Both the prime ministers recognised that “dialogue is the only way forward. Action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed.”  Singh added that India was ready to discuss with Pakistan all issues “including all outstanding issues.”

It is a cardinal error to renounce all one’s options for dealing with any country. In the instant case, it relieves all pressure on Pakistan to eschew the use of terror as an instrument of foreign policy against us.  Secondly, it demonstrates that India is a paper tiger unwilling to stand up for its critical national interests. Thirdly, the sentence read in its entirety, debunks the Indian assertion that Pakistan is required to give us satisfaction on 26/11 before the composite dialogue can begin. It is puerile to contend, as some have, that the “K” word does not figure in the statement as the phrase “outstanding issues” is shorthand for the same.

The joint statement is not only badly worded but also not in the national interest as it will encourage Pakistan to continue its involvement with terrorist activities against us and will undermine our standing particularly in the region. This is all the more so as it comes at a time when Pakistan has thumbed its nose at us on the Hafiz Saeed issue.

Had Singh wanted a dialogue with Pakistan only on terrorism this could have been held at the official level without the drama of a long prime minister level meeting and an elaborate joint statement. Obviously, the US pressure is at work and the conclusion of the joint statement on the eve of Hillary Clinton’s visit gives the game away.
(The author is a former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan)

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