Former prime minister Manmohan Singh has criticised the NDA government’s handling of relations with India’s neighbours, saying it has been inconsistent while dealing with Pakistan.
Singh, who spurned several invitations to visit Pakistan during his two terms as premier, said he had not given in to pressure from various sides to go to Islamabad because there was no assurance of “some effective outcomes”.
“I would say that the real test of foreign policy is in the handling of your neighbours. And here I would say that the Modi government’s handling of Pakistan is inconsistent. It has been one step forward, two steps back,” he said in an interview with India Today.
India’s relations with major world powers such as Russia, China and the US had improved, he said. But this wasn’t the case in ties with neighbours. Control of terror remains a primary concern in relations with Pakistan, he added.
“And Pakistan made promises it didn’t keep. I think, in substance, the problem has not disappeared. The question is, how is the Modi government responding? Whatever your views on Pakistan, our effort was that we have to engage Pakistan. They are our neighbours. We can choose our friends, but we cannot choose our neighbours,” Singh said.
He said he believed the NDA government had been inconsistent because it “went out of its way to invite (Prime Minister) Nawaz Sharif for the prime minister’s swearing-in ceremony” but the “advantage that should have been taken from that move did not materialise because the Modi government made it conditional that the Pakistani government could not talk to the Hurriyat”.
Singh said he didn’t know if Modi’s trip to Lahore in December to wish Sharif on his birthday “was well-thought-out”.
“There seems to be no evidence that the Pakistanis have taken action against those who perpetrated the crime in Pathankot...And now it comes out that Pakistan is asking - what it used to ask us - that you are not providing enough evidence. I think with regard to Pathankot, history is repeating itself,” he said.
“If you are not sure about the outcome of your initiative, I think you are wasting the levers of power that you have regarding Pakistan. So I don’t think that the PM thought it through.”
Singh said he had decided not to go to his ancestral village of Gah in Pakistan “unless and until I was assured of a positive outcome, which was that the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack be brought to book and that Pakistan stops using its territory to launch terror attacks against India”.
When Modi sought Singh’s views on dealing with Pakistan, he had replied: “I told him, whatever your views on the relationship, we must engage Pakistan. Engagement doesn’t mean that we have to agree with Pakistan on everything...I told him that at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, the US and the Soviet Union were eyeball to eyeball but they continued to talk to each other all the time.”