PM DR. Singh Made a Spirited Defence of Indo-Pak Joint Statement At Sharmel Shei

Returning from Sharmel Sheikh, Egypt, after NAM Summit, after July 16, Prime Minister Dr. Singh became the target of virulent attack and undue criticism from friends and foes alike over the Indo-Pak joint statement issued after meeting with Pak Premier Gilani. A mere reference to Baluchistan in the Joint statement, gave a big handle to the Opposition parties in the country to launch a frontal attack on Dr.Singh’s dealing with Pakistan.

The weekly magazine “Tims Today” in its latest issue carried a cover story under the caption “Timid India” zeroed in on India’s flawed foreign policy under the leadership of Dr. Manmohan Singh. Not long ago, the same Dr. Singh earned a dramatic diplomatic victory in Vienna last September for the country. Many commentators called it a “bad drafting” of the statement as if to suggest that Indians were still to learn the art of drafting in English language.

BJP, no doubt, was reading too much into the full stops and commas of the draft than a larger picture emerged out of it. Gowhar Ayub, former Foreign Minister of Pakistan, chided the commentators calling the statement, a “bad drafting” in a land of over billion literates. A big thamasha has therefore been made out by the opposition about the wordings of the statement rather than its contents. It was “Much ado about nothing” in the end.

Continuing the debate on the issue, BJP in particular called it a complete sell out and even today in Parliament they said Dr. Singh walked into Pakistan camp, though the Prime Minister said he went half way to meet the Pakistanis for peace. Hitting out at Dr. Singh over handling of foreign policy, BJP said that India has completely reversed its position on terrorism emanating from Pakistan and warned that mention of Balochistan in the joint statement would “trouble” the country. The kind of language they have been using against the Prime Minister of a country leaves much to be desired.

Such uncharitable comments and speeches were heard throughout the day in the parliament. All through the debate, which is termed as much “heated’ debate in the recent times, the Prime Minister Dr. Singh and his company kept their cool, while listening to all the rhetoric’s from the opposition benches.

Initiating a debate, Yashwant Sinha was seen making a more strident attack on the Prime Minister, saying that such a diplomatic bungling was never done or seen before in the history of independent India. It was a case of selective amnesia for Sinha, as not very long ago, BJP’s own Vajpayee made many such attempts to buy peace with Pakistan when NDA was in power, even though there were series of attack during their time. Mulayam Singh of SP wanted the PM to throw the Joint Statement in the dustbin, as it has no value for the country. Others including JD (U) Leader Sharad Yadev disagreed with the stand taken by the PM at Sharmel Sheikh, Egypt. In a robust democracy like India, such debates are inevitable.

BJP leader Yashwant Sinha also targeted the government over denial by the US to transfer enrichment and reprocessing technology, End User Agreement in defence field and climate change “The Prime Minister has broken all the pledges he made to both Houses of Parliament as also to the country,” the former External Affairs Minister said.

Reacting to all the criticism over the joint statement and the speeches made by opposition leaders led by Yashwant Sinha, Dr. Singh rose to make a spirited defence of the Joint statement. In a 45 minutes well drafted speech, Dr. Singh answered all the questions raised vis-a-vis India’s firm stand on terror that also revealed his political maturity, particularly when he had a dig at BJP and NDA.

In Parliament today, defending the India-Pak joint statement, to the thumping of desks by members of treasure benches, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, “It is impossible for any government in India to work for full normalisation of relations with Pakistan unless that country fulfills commitment to not to allow its territory to be used for terror against India”. He believed in the dictum “trust but verify”.

Dr. Singh went on to say that he never compromised India’s position on terror or dismantling of terror network in Pakistan. He stood firm when he bluntly told both President Zardari and Premier Gilani that the people of India expect Pakistan to deal with terror network sternly and eliminate them completely. There will be no short-cut to glory unless translated into action.

In a veiled threat to Pak, the PM made it clear to them that if there is any repeat of such terror attack emanating from Pakistan on India in future, India would retaliate. Pointing his fingers towards Yashwant Sinha, the Prime Minister said where was the question of India diluting its stand on terror arises? There is nothing in the joint statement that would suggest that India has sacrifised its interest or bartered its sovereignty.

To the opposition charge that he has walked into Pak camp despite attack on India several times, the Prime Minister said that he has done nothing new. During the NDA rule, the then PM Vajpayee travelled to Lahore in 1999 and shook hands with Sheriff, while Parvez Musharraf army was scaling the heights Kargil. Then came the Khandahar hijacking, the attack on Indian Parliament and Akshardhan Temple. Still President Musharraf was invited for an Agra Summit by the then Vajpayee govt. He had all praise for the statesmanship shown by Vajpayee, in an obvious dig at BJP and NDA allies, that they were no different in dealing with Pakistan. Dr. Singh said he got the response from Pakistan, which NDA under the leadership of Vajpayee failed to get it, apparently a reference to Pak’s admission of guilt and its national’s involvement in the 26/11 attack on Mumbai.

On Baluchistan insurgency, Prime Minister made it amply clear that India had no design to destabilise Pakistan nor any of its diplomatic missions there were ever involved in fomenting trouble there. India wanted a strong and peaceful Pakistan to survive and live in peace with India. He told Premier Gilani, if he had any evidence of India’s involvement in Baluchistan, let him produce the evidence and India is ready to look into it. He emphasized that he had not received any dossier on Balochistan from his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani during their meeting in Sharm-el Sheikh on July 16.

This in no way tantamounts to India’s acceptance of guilt as made out by the opposition parties. He said India is ready to discuss all issues, including Pakistan’s “misgivings” and “totally false” allegations on Balochistan as New Delhi has “nothing to hide”.

Dr. Singh asked opposition to look into the brighter side of his efforts that forced Pakistan to admit for the first time the involvement of its nationals in the terror attack on India. But the NDA during its rule could not extract such an admission from Pakistan despite attack on Parliament and Akshardhan Temple. This was the achievement of UPA Govt under his leadership.

“It is the first time that they have admitted that their nationals in a terrorist organization based in Pakistan carried out a ghastly attack in India,” Dr. Singh said.

“We must ensure that Pakistan acts with credibility and sincerity,” Manmohan Singh said. He, however, maintained that dialogue and engagement is the best way forward. Refuting the involvement of Consulate staff in Khandahar as false, Dr. Singh said that India was not interested in destabilising Pakistan.

Clarifying government’s stand on the Indo-Pak joint statement, the Prime Minister said it does not say talks with Pakistan despite terror attacks. He maintained that it is impossible to go forward with talks till Pakistan stops terror. The PM also added that the sentence on delinking in statement has been misinterpreted.

Dr. Singh also clarified India’s stand on climate change during G-8 Summit and transfer of nuclear technology to India. He made it ample clear that India got clean waiver from 45 Member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that would enable India to acquire uninterrupted supply of nuclear fuel as well as transfer of technology. The declaration made by G-8 to impose a ban on the sale of nuclear enrichment (ENR) technology to non-NPT members would in no way affect India’s chances of acquiring them from the NSG members, as those in the G-8 were the members of the NSG, which gave clean waiver to India on nuclear issues. Prime Minister has categorically stated that India would not sign NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state. This should put to rest any ambiguity in India’s stand on the issue.

Responding to BJP leader Yashwant Sinha’s concern that there was no clarity on the recent End-User Monitoring pact agreed during the visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that provided for US experts to verify imported defence equipment., the Prime Minister clarified “There is nothing in the text that compromises India’s sovereignty. There is no provision for unilateral verification by the US on imported defence equipment. India has a sovereign right.” but provided “an element of predictability” through options including any verification has to follow a request and it will be decided only on mutually-accepted date and venue.

After the speech of the Prime Minister in parliament today, seemingly he took the sting out of the attack, with the opposition had no further ammunition left in its armoury. The debate fizzled out and the opposition started making noises in the news channel instead.

In the end, it’s a first political victory for the Prime Minister, after he assumed office for the second time, which stood his ground as he did no wrong for the country while dealing with an unpredictable state like Pakistan. BJP appeared clueless at the end of the debate as it made more noises than required. BJP or others could not get the political mileage out of it.

As for dealing with Pakistan, as PM has rightly said, there is no way except to talk to them unless one is prepared to go to war with them. India can least afford a war at this stage, is not the point, but more than that India wants to live in peace with all neighbours including Pakistan. “There is no other way of moving forward unless you want war.” Dr. Singh concluded. Jai Hind.

A.M. Jamsheed Basha
A.M. Jamsheed Basha is a Chennai-based columnist, political commentator, who writes on matters of importance, political, social and self-improvement.