A two-day debate in parliament on a controversial India-Pakistan joint statement that sought to delink terrorism from dialogue ended on Thursday with the government reiterating that there was no dilution in its stand on countering cross-border terror and a hostile Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) staging a walk-out over the Balochistan issue.
The intense and bitterly partisan Lok Sabha debate that lasted for nearly seven hours spread over two days concluded with a formal reply by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna asserting that there was no deviation from the basic principles of foreign policy except for a shift in nuances and emphases here and there.
But an aggressive BJP remained unconvinced and sought to pin down the government on the inclusion of a reference to Balochistan - shorthand for India's alleged meddling in Pakistan's southwestern province - in the July 16 India-Pakistan joint statement agreed between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani at Sharm el-Sheikh.
In the end, a belligerent BJP decided to walk out when Krishna reiterated the government's position on Balochistan, saying "we have nothing to hide". BJP leader L.K. Advani said the prime minister's intervention Wednesday and the external affairs minister's reply had failed to address the party's chief objections to the Sharm el-Sheikh joint statement.
"There was no satisfactory response. There is no point in this discussion," an exasperated Advani said while leading the walk-out by his party MPs from the Lok Sabha.
Krishna focused his reply on India's continuing pursuit of an independent foreign policy, but chose to brush off the opposition's objections to the terror-dialogue delink and a reference to Balochistan in the India-Pakistan joint statement.
"Certain doubts have been expressed," Krishna admitted, adding that much of them had been "cleared by the effective intervention" of Manmohan Singh and of former foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee Thursday.
Krishna's reply was interrupted by vociferous accusations from BJP members questioning the Balochistan reference.
In his spirited 45-minute intervention in the debate Wednesday, Manmohan Singh asserted that while there was no dilution or rupture of national consensus on countering terrorism emanating from Pakistan, there was no alternative except to continue the engagement with Islamabad.
Seeking to allay apprehensions over the India-Pakistan joint statement, the prime minister, however, stressed that bilateral engagement or dialogue process can't move forward if terrorist attacks continue from across the border. The prime minister also responded to concerns on India's end-user defence pact with the US and New Delhi's position on climate change, saying that there was no compromise of national interests.
With the prime minister's reply as a backdrop, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who held the external affairs portfolio in the previous Manmohan Singh dispensation, Thursday eloquently defended the government's latest Pakistan diplomacy and reiterated that there was no surrender on the issue of countering cross-border terrorism.
"Neither have we succumbed to terrorism nor will we stop talking," Mukherjee maintained.
"The NDA did it. The UPA did it. This is the way the world of diplomacy moves," Mukherjee said while reminding parliament that over the last 10 years governments across the political spectrum in India kept talking to Pakistan despite brief disruptions after terrorist attacks.
"We can't erase Pakistan. It's going to exist. War is no solution," Mukherjee said while underlining the importance of keeping talks going with Pakistan.
Mukherjee, during whose tenure as external affairs minister the 26/11 Mumbai attacks had taken place, clarified that talking did not mean the resumption of a full-fledged dialogue.
"Keeping channels open does not mean surrendering our position on terrorism," Mukherjee stressed, adding that action against terrorism was independent of the composite dialogue.
"Pakistan must act credibly and verifiably to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure operating from its soil," Mukherjee maintained.
Mukherjee also vehemently defended the Balochistan reference, echoing what the prime minister had said. "It's a unilateral reference. The perception of Pakistan is not shared by us," he pointed out.
Mukherjee also repudiated any suggestion of India's involvement in fomenting insurgency in Balochistan. "We are victims of terrorism. We have no intention of exporting terrorism to any other country," he maintained.
This defence, however, did not cut ice with the BJP, with member after member asking why Balochistan was included for the first time in a bilateral document between India and Pakistan.
The two-day debate had started with BJP leader Yashwant Sinha Wednesday shredding apart the joint statement, saying it showed the government had broken the national consensus on Pakistan. "All the waters of the seven seas will not be able to wash the shame at Sharm el-Sheikh," Sinha had said.
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and Janata Dal-United chief Sharad Yadav also questioned the government's Pakistan diplomacy. But the treasury benches rallied around the prime minister with MPs thumping their desks in appreciation when he intervened in the debate, indicating that the much-speculated rift between the government and the party over the joint statement was a thing of the past.