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‘Poorly-drafted’ statements again a letdown for Indo-Pak relations

Creating a political constituency for peace with Pakistan in India is never easy, and is more difficult when terrorism remains a big challenge. Varghese K George reports.

delhi Updated: Aug 09, 2013 09:57 IST
Varghese K George
Varghese K George
Hindustan Times

Soon after concluding the nuclear deal with the United States, fending off stiff political opposition in 2008, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had set his eyes on his next diplomatic target - finding a breakthrough in relations with Pakistan.

File Photo: Indian and Pakistani peace lovers lighting candles as a symbol of peace during 66th Independence Day of India and Pakistan on August 15, 2012, at Indo-Pak joint border check-post in Attari. (Munish Byala/HT Photo)

But the domestic resistance to improving ties with Pakistan has been much more resilient than Singh had expected.

In the beginning of the UPA-2 in 2009 and now towards its end, two serious attempts to gear up engagement with Pakistan triggered political volatility.

“Poorly drafted” statements related to Pakistan further eroded the limited political capital the government has to pursue peace with the neighbor, both times.

READ:Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif upset over border clashes, calls for peace

And both times, more than the resistance from the BJP, Congress’s own reluctance to share the prime minister’s enthusiasm on Pakistan poured cold water on the peace initiative.

The joint statement in Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt on 16 July 2009 between Indian and Pakistan PMs became an instant controversy as it sought to delink talks from Pakistan’s action against terrorism.

The statement also acknowledged Baluchistan as a subject of bilateral concern.

READ:Troubled ties: understanding Indo-Pak relations

When the BJP launched an all-out attack on the prime minister, Congress maintained silence for full ten days. And when the party spoke, it merely said that the PM would explain his position.

The prime minister’s statement in the lower house of Parliament on 29 July 2009 clarified the meaning and context of the joint statement.

He said no ‘meaningful dialogue’ was possible unless Pakistan acts on terror, but reiterated that there could be no substitute to dialogue. The dialogue process remained grounded until early 2011, when in Thimpu, both countries restarted it.

READ:Indo-Pak cultural evening cancelled over LoC killings

Army chief general Bikram Singh laying the wreath at the bodies of five jawans who died in an ambush by Pak soldiers in Poonch sector on Tuesday. (HT Photo)

Just as talks were gaining momentum, the beheading of two Indian soldiers in January 2013 set them back by months.

Then the government of India decided to wait until a new government takes charge in Pakistan.

READ:Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif convenes meeting to discuss tension with India

With Nawaz Sharif making the right noises after being reelected as prime minister of Pakistan, hope began to rise for bilateral relations, and both PMs are now expected to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly next month in New York.

Perhaps in a miscalculation, strategic leaders of India decided that the defence minister should understate the involvement of Pakistani forces in the killing of five Indian soldiers on the LoC - which has now become yet another controversy.

Congress party has made its disapproval clear, though the party has made the right noises in support of the talks.

READ:Delhi-Lahore bus route changed after Poonch killings

Creating a political constituency for peace with Pakistan in India is never easy, and is more difficult when terrorism remains a big challenge.

Even former prime minister Vajpayee could not trash out a joint statement with Musharaff in Agra in 2001, as the then home minister LK Advani insisted on a reference to “cross border terrorism” in it.

Singh will in all likelihood shake hands and exchange pleasantries with Sharif in New York, but taking relations with Pakistan to a better level seems beyond reach during his tenure that ends in May 2014.

READ: Army denies Pak claim of unprovoked firing in Poonch