The ghost of Sharm el-Sheikh continues to haunt the Congress party.
The inclusion of the word Balochistan in a joint statement issued by the then prime minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani not only drew severe criticism from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but also caused much unease in the Congress.
In July 2009, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani issued a joint statement on the sidelines of a Non-Aligned Movement summit in Sharm el-Sheikh. It said: “Both leaders agreed that the two countries will share real time credible and actionable information on any future terrorist threats… Prime Minister Gilani mentioned that Pakistan has some information on threats in Balochistan and other areas.”
At that time, the BJP had held Singh “guilty” of compromising India’s policy towards Pakistan, saying all the “waters of the seven seas will not be able to wash the shame”.
The same discomfort within the Congress is visible even now.
The main opposition party is clearly divided on supporting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Balochistan reference in his Independence Day speech. On the first day itself, senior leaders and spokespersons Salman Khurshid , Kapil Sibal and Manish Tewari attacked the Prime Minister for raking up the issue from the ramparts of the Red Fort.
But in the evening, the party’s chief spokesperson, Randeep Singh Surjewala, issued a statement, saying India should raise the issue of Pakistani army committing human rights violations in Balochistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) both at the bilateral and multilateral forums.
This was a U-turn from what Khurshid and others stated.
“By bringing in Balochistan, you are ruining our case on PoK. It will give Pakistan additional handle to interfere in our internal affairs. We don’t speak about atrocities in other countries,” Khurshid had said.
At the press briefing on Tuesday, senior leader Jairam Ramesh was repeatedly asked about the party’s stand on Balochistan. He refused to make any value addition or for that matter did not even repeat what Surjewala said a day before.
Instead, he kept on insisting on having a look at Surjewala’s statement and maintained that is the party’s stand on the issue.
Finally, when his attention was drawn to the BJP’s claim that the Congress is divided on the issue, Ramesh shot back, “There is absolutely no division”.
And then, he did add a few more sentences.
“This is another attempt by Modi to whip up patriotism and jingoism to divert attention from increasing dal (pulse) prices, from the gap that exists between what he says and what exists on the ground. This is a diversionary tactic and with elections coming up in Uttar Pradesh an attempt will be made every day to whip up jingoistic sentiments,” Ramesh said.
Clarifying his party’s stand on the issue, Surjewala said the Congress and the UPA government have condemned the human rights violations in Balochistan and PoK by Pakistani forces and the establishment on multiple occasions in the past.
He referred to statements by the external affairs ministry on Balochistan first on December 27, 2005, and then on August 28, 2006, as well as the former PM’s reply to a question in Parliament on March 2 , 2006, to make his point.
In these, the UPA government condemned the “spiralling violence in Balochistan and heavy military action, including the use of helicopter and gunships and jet fighters, by Pakistan to suppress the people there”.
The UPA government, Surjewala insisted, also repeatedly called for restraint and urged Pakistan to take recourse to peaceful discussions to address the grievances and aspirations of the people of Balochistan.
At the same time, the Congress leader wondered how the PM proposes to take ahead the issue of human rights violations in Balochistan and PoK.
“What is his government policy as also way forward on the issue? Has Modi raised the issue of these human rights violations even once in bilateral talks with Pakistan over last 24 months? Will he or his government take it up now?” Surjewala asked.
“PM Modi’s flip-flops on Pakistan have become legendary. In a sudden burst of goodwill, he made unilateral unscheduled visit to attend marriage and birthday celebrations at the residence of Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif. India got a return gift of a sinister attack on Pathankot airbase. Then, Modi government invited a Pakistani investigation team comprising of the infamous ISI to Pathankot. This team returned and Pakistan proceeded to blame India for stage managing terror attack at Pathankot and killing its own soldiers,” Surjewala said.
“Suddenly, Modi and his government have started speaking another language without following up on the issue of punishing the perpetrators of terror attacks in Gurdaspur, Pathankot, Udhampur and Pampore not to mention the everyday border ceasefire violations, which have crossed over a thousand in last four months leading to loss of precious military and civilian lives.”