Unable to quarrel with the philosophy of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Pakistan policy of ‘trust but verify’, the Opposition on Thursday focused its criticism on the inclusion of Balochistan in the Indo-Pak joint statement of July 16.
Refusing to accept the government’s explanation, Opposition parties walked out of Lok Sabha on the second day of the discussion on the statement.
<b1>After three explanatory statements by the PM in the last 15 days, the Balochistan reference remains a thorn in the government’s side. Pakistan has been accusing India of fomenting ethnic tension there, a charge India has always denied.
The Opposition insisted India walked into Pakistan’s trap by allowing a reference to it in the statement while the government explained it is proof that India has nothing to hide.
The government strained to explain its position on Balochistan on a day it found oblique support from US special envoy Richard Holbrooke, who refused to endorse the Pakistani position, and Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani lauded Singh’s “statesmanship”. Holbrooke did not endorse the Indian position either.
Explaining his Pakistan policy, the PM had on Wednesday said he was continuing AB Vajpayee’s vision of cooperation with Pakistan, despite setbacks like Kargil and Kandhahar.
Singh’s invoking Vajpayee had put the BJP on the back foot and prompted it to downplay its opposition to resuming dialogue with Pakistan. On Thursday, the party shifted its attention to Balochistan.
Before walking out, Leader of Opposition LK Advani countered Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s explanation that the line on Balochistan was a "unilateral perception" of Pakistan. "How can a unilateral perception get into a joint statement? That too without adding India’s position there?"
Advani said India would have to pay a heavy price for mentioning Balochistan. "The government’s reply does not justify the inclusion of Balochistan in the statement," he said.
His deputy Sushma Swaraj picked on Mukherjee’s statement that the UPA’s foreign policy was an extension of India’s national interest. "How does the reference to Balochistan further out national interest? Or the de-linking of action against terrorism from the composite dialogue?"
Mukherjee and External Affairs Minister SM Krishna amplified the PM’s logic that there can be no substitute for talks with Pakistan. "We can’t erase Pakistan. It’s going to exist. War is no solution," Mukherjee said.
Thursday also saw Congress president Sonia Gandhi come out with a carefully-worded statement on the joint statement. She made it clear that there was no question of resuming dialogue till Pakistan acts on terrorism but stopped short of defending the statement.