Unconvincing PM

FIRST EDIT

Even after all the controversies, clarifications and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday regarding the India-Pakistan joint statement at Sharm-El-Sheikh, no one is left any wiser. It was considered to lay the basis for a fresh engagement between the two countries after it was disrupted by the terrorist strike in Mumbai. The prime minister’s defence was not fully convincing, especially with regard to the introduction of the Balochistan situation in the statement. What Manmohan Singh has done is essentially a damage control exercise and there will be little opposition to the general principles, like the inevitability of talking to neighbours when the alternative is increased hostility, that he expounded. But his exposition will also be considered an interpretation based on second thoughts about the implications of the commitments India has made.

By stating that talks with Pakistan will be limited to foreign secretary level or ministerial level contacts, the prime minister has ruled out the starting of a composite dialogue between the two countries. This is a reaffirmation of the pre-Sharm-El-Shaikh position that there cannot be a full dialogue without Pakistan taking credible action to root out terrorism directed against India. There is acknowledgement of the steps that Pakistan has taken but also concern that it has not gone as far as India wanted. Therefore the decoupling of terrorism and talks, which the joint statement was supposed to have effected, has not happened. The formulation in any case was liable to contrary interpretations. Pakistan has seen it as making talks non-dependent on its actions against terrorism. But India has interpreted it as making Pakistan’s actions not dependent on any kind of official talks India may be willing to hold with it. This new interpretation is entirely the result of criticism of the prime minister that he had compromised the country’s long-held position.

But the damage done by the reference to Balochistan in the joint statement cannot be undone by any interpretation or statement that India has nothing to hide about our consular activities in Afghanistan which, according to Pakistan, encourage insurgency in that rebellious province. The reference would equate India’s RAW with Pakistan’s ISI and weaken India’s case on terrorism. Pakistani authorities, including army chief Ashfaq Kayani, have started linking their action against terrorists with India’s purported activities in Balochistan. It is a diplomatic setback for India.

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