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No clear-cut explanation

Singh’s original vision was sound. There was evidence that sections of Pakistan’s establishment were coming around to the view that terrorism was no longer a source of leverage against India but rather a cancer eating their own country.

india Updated: Jul 30, 2009 21:21 IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sacrificed immediate dialogue with Pakistan and deployed his predecessor, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to put to rest the controversy that has surrounded the Sharm el-Sheikh joint statement. Islamabad will be less than pleased with the first. The second will allow Singh to pursue his bold Pakistan initiative, but with many codicils and conditionalities. Any meetings between the two countries over the next few months are unlikely to be productive as India will metronomically have to demand that Islamabad first take definite action against the perpetrators of the Mumbai 26/11 attack. The weakest link in his policy is that it is very unlikely to survive another terrorist strike against India.

Singh’s original vision was sound. There was evidence that sections of Pakistan’s establishment were coming around to the view that terrorism was no longer a source of leverage against India but rather a cancer eating their own country. The status of Kashmir, on the other hand, was not going to change too much for the foreseeable future. Terrorism needed immediate and drastic action. Kashmir would normalise through a slow, evolutionary process. Therefore, it made sense to put the two on separate negotiating paths. Islamabad’s provision of a dossier on Lashkar-e-Tayyeba’s involvement in Mumbai can be seen as the first fruit of this stance.

This vision became muddied for two reasons. One was the government’s strange failure to explain the strategy behind the joint statement not merely to the public, but also the media and even the Congress party. The resulting vacuum was filled with speculation and the government was quickly placed on the defensive. The other was the inclusion of Balochistan in the joint statement. Even after Singh’s explanation in Parliament, the sense remains that the reference amounted to an implicit recognition of Pakistan’s charges of Indian interference. What it definitely did was add to a broader impression of amateurish treatment of what is arguably the country’s most important foreign policy concern. It is a testimony to the degree India is now in a league well beyond Pakistan that nothing about Sharm el-Sheikh can fundamentally damage the country’s national security. But it is a testimony to how much process and appearance matter that Singh’s initiative will now depend on the leadership of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba putting their murderous agenda on hold for the remainder of this year.