Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Whom is the PM batting for?
Manmohan Singh's long-winded intervention on the Sharm el-Sheikh India-Pakistan joint statement debate in Lok Sabha has not answered important questions. Instead, it has left people confused.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a rather long-winded, and convoluted, intervention during Wednesday’s debate on foreign policy in the Lok Sabha. A careful scrutiny of his speech will show that he has not said anything remarkably different from what he told Parliament on July 17, a day after the debacle at Sharm el-Sheikh where he met Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.
The joint statement issued after the meeting made four substantive points: Placing Pakistan, the perpetrator of jihadi terrorism, at par with India, the victim of jihadi terrorism; delinking action on terrorism from the composite dialogue process (which includes the ‘Kashmir issue’); transforming Baluchi nationalism/separatism from a purely internal affair of Pakistan into a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan, with India portrayed as the promoter of Baluchi violence; and, exchanging real time, actionable intelligence on terrorism with Pakistan. Together, they add up to abject capitulation by Singh, as I have explained in my previous two entries.
According to Ahmed Rashid and other commentators in Pakistani media, the inclusion of Baluchistan in the joint statement followed Gilani handing over a dossier to Singh, containing ‘evidence’ of India’s involvement in fomenting trouble in Baluchistan through its consulates in Afghanistan, and India’s assistance to Baitullah Mehsud and his Tehrik-e-Taliban or Pakistani Taliban.
Singh has denied receiving any such dossier. However, he has confirmed receiving a 34-page dossier from Pakistan, containing details of steps taken by Gilani’s Government to bring to book the perpetrators of the 26/11 outrage in Mumbai. Interestingly, XP Division of the Ministry of External Affairs, which is pro-active in denying stories or issuing contradictions, has not officially refuted media reports on the so-called ‘Baluchi dossier’. The Foreign Office in Islamabad has neither confirmed nor denied stories, but has actively briefed local and foreign journalists as well as diplomats posted in Islamabad on the ‘Baluchistan dossier’ and its contents.]
Back to the debate on Wednesday. The Opposition mounted a strong attack on the Prime Minister and the Government for the sell-out in Sharm el-Sheikh. Yashwant Sinha of BJP, who initiated the debate, was scathing. He made three main points: First, the Prime Minister has walked not “half the way” (to quote Singh) but “all the way to the Pakistani camp”; India’s Pakistan policy (act on terror or no talks) has been turned on its head thus breaching cross-party consensus; and, Singh has fetched trouble for India by agreeing to the inclusion of Baluchistan in the joint statement. In sum, the Opposition described the Sharm encounter as a sell-out.
The Prime Minister spoke at length, often meandering from point to point and seeking to obfuscate the real issues raised by the Opposition. His response was prepared in advance and in anticipation of questions being raised in the Lok Sabha. Yet, it was stilted, shorn of sincerity and lacking in purposefulness.
Singh played at five levels in his usual crafty manner, slyly attacking the BJP/NDA’s Pakistan policy while appropriating a misplaced claim of success.
Obviously at the behest of the Congress, which senses popular disquiet over the shameful surrender at Sharm and has not been enthusiastic in backing Singh, he tried to play to the domestic gallery by repeatedly referring to national sentiment and national position, and how people are opposed to talking to an unrepentant, callous Pakistan. To them his message was: Don’t worry, we are not going to talk to Pakistan. Even if the joint statement mentions ‘composite dialogue’, this shall not happen till there is verifiable evidence of Pakistan acting against terrorism. Intention: Calm frayed nerves and pander to public opinion at home.
He told the Opposition that other countries affected by terrorism emanating from Pakistan were talking to Islamabad, so no reason why India should not do so. He also recalled Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s peace initiatives and tried to place himself at par with his predecessor – ‘he was a statesman, so am I’ – which is truly audacious of him. Intention: He is not alone in treading the path to unmitigated disaster; others are also talking to and appeasing Pakistan.
He played to the Pakistani gallery by talking about the need for ‘peace’ and how ‘dialogue and engagement are the only way forward’. He also praised Pakistan for acting against the 26/11 masterminds, although he was cautious enough to say that more needs to be done. He spoke of ‘trust but verify’, which controverts his assertion that action taken by Pakistan and promises orally communicated to him are impressive and convincing. Intention: He has not abandoned his ‘younger Punjabi brother’, Gilani.
He pandered to his fan club, the lib-left intelligentsia and drum-beaters in media, by saying that war is the only option to no-talks. And since war is ‘not a solution’ between two nuclear powers (‘fear a nuclear holocaust unless we talk to Pakistan’) India must talk to Pakistan. Intention: Get his admirers to portray him as a grand strategist, a peace-maker, a statesman, who is the real winner of Sharm el-Sheikh despite being such a terrible loser.
And, he has let his friends and patrons in America know that he has taken the lead from the US. If Washington is willing to talk to Tehran, betraying the interests of its steadfast allies in West Asia, then there is no reason why New Delhi should not talk to Islamabad. Intention: Let America know he takes his cue from Washington, DC.
I have four questions.
First, the intervention makes little sense, unless it is meant to confuse the nation and confound the Opposition. Are we going to talk, or not talk to Pakistan? Will it be meaningful talks or casual tittle-tattle?
Does delinking Pakistani terrorism from composite dialogue mean a) the composite dialogue will resume even if Pakistan fails to act against terror emanating from territory under its control, as the joint statement says; b) Pakistan cannot make action against terrorism conditional to resuming the composite dialogue, as Singh says; or, c) India must resume the composite dialogue irrespective of whether or not Pakistan acts against anti-India terrorism, as Gilani interprets it? There is no clarity even after Wednesday’s ‘clarification’ by the Prime Minister.
Second, what was the compulsion to include Baluchistan in the joint statement? The Prime Minister’s bunkum about keeping an ‘open book’ means nothing.
Third, why is there this sudden turnaround in policy and at whose behest? This question needs to be answered conclusively.
Fourth, have no lessons been learned from the disastrous experience of trying to set up a Joint Anti-Terror Mechanism with Pakistan? Why have we agreed to share real time, actionable intelligence?
A last point: The Prime Minister waxed eloquent about the “shared future” of India and Pakistan. I don’t think secular and democratic India has any ‘shared future’ with the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Why indulge in such bogus rhetoric? Or does the Prime Minister really believe that a terror-sponsoring Islamic state and an open, plural, free society share a common destiny?
This is neither ‘grand strategy’ nor ‘bad drafting’. It is part of a larger game plan hatched somewhere else. The Prime Minister’s tactics remind me of his repeatedly misleading Parliament and the nation on the nuclear deal with the US. What finally emerged had no resemblance to what he had told Parliament.
Are we headed for a similar denouement?