Congress yet to welcome Indo-Pak joint statement

Almost a week passed, since Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani issued the joint statement at the end of a bilateral meeting in the Egyptian city of Sharm-El-Sheikh on July 16, the party that leads the ruling UPA is yet to welcome it formally.

The Congress on Wednesday maintained its official stand that it would not comment on the issue as the PM had already made a statement on this in the Parliament. The party also declined to make it clear if it had endorsed either the Singh-Gilani joint statement or what the PM had told the LS and RS on the issue.

“I have nothing to add to what the PM told the House,” said the Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan, when asked if the party had welcomed the joint statement. 

But, sources said, several senior Congress leaders continued to express reservations within on the Indo-Pak joint statement that effectively de-linked the composite dialogue between the two countries and Islamabad’s actions against terrorists based in Pakistan.

Some top Congress leaders shared their concerns about its political implications with the party president Sonia Gandhi too. “It is our post 26/11 diplomatic campaign against Pakistan that helped us get rid of the soft-on-terror slur and win the just-concluded LS polls. How could the PM go to the extent of issuing a joint statement in just one meeting with Gilani?” wondered a member of the Congress Working Committee (CWC).

The PM’s camp too resorted to a damage control exercise. A Union Minister known to be close to Singh said that India had been under intense pressure from the US and other western countries to resume talks with Pakistan.

India and Pakistan had started the peace-process in February 2004, but New Delhi suspended it in the wake of the attacks in Mumbai on November 26 last year. Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon too defended the joint statement by Singh and Gilani.

Delivering a lecture on India’s foreign policy to a gathering of MPs, Menon said that de-linking of Composite Dialogue and Pakistan’s action on terror was in the interest of India.

“Pakistan can no more say that they would not act on terror because the Composite Dialogue is not on,” he said. Menon added that New Delhi would not restart the parleys unless Islamabad took credible actions to bring to justice the 26/11 masterminds and perpetrators.

Menon defended the much-criticised reference to Balochistan in the joint Indo-Pak statement too. “We have nothing to hide on the issue of Balochistan,” he said. The Foreign Secretary, however, virtually admitted that the joint statement was not drafted as properly as it should have to safeguard the interests of India. “One can argue that it was a case of bad drafting. But the message was clear,” he said.

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