Manmohan Singh’s Pakistan gamble

July 30, 2009

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has staked his political reputation on talks with Pakistan, earning in equal measure both praise and contempt from a domestic audience still burned by last November’s attack on Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants.

“I sincerely believe it is our obligation to keep the channels of communication open,” he said in a debate in parliament on Wednesday. ”Unless we talk directly to Pakistan we will have to rely on a third party to do so… Unless you want to go to war with Pakistan, there is no way, but to go step-by-step… dialogue and engagement are the best way forward,” Singh said.

That may sound like fairly anodyne stuff. But to recap, Singh signed a joint statement with Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani at a meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt this month in which both ordered their foreign secretaries — their top diplomats — to hold more talks to improve relations. Singh however also said the formal peace process — the so-called composite dialogue – could not be resumed until Pakistan took more action against those who organised the Mumbai attack.

The outcome was pretty much what was expected from the talks in Egypt, effectively forming a stepping stone between an ice-breaking meeting between Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on the sidelines of a regional summit in Yekaterinburg in Russia in June and the next international forum where senior politicians from both countries will be present — September’s U.N. General Assembly (though Singh is not personally expected to attend.)

But what has outraged the political opposition in India, along with large sections of the media, has been the specific wording of the joint statement.

The first allegedly offending reference is contained in the part of the statement which summarises what each prime minister said during their talks: ”Prime Minister Gilani mentioned that Pakistan has some information on threats in Baluchistan and other areas.”  Outsiders may find this hard to follow but the mention of the “B” word has been portrayed as Indian capitulation to Pakistani accusations that it supports a separatist movement in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, an allegation India denies.

The second allegedly offending reference is as follows: “Both prime ministers recognise that dialogue is the only way forward. Action on terrorism should not be linked to the Composite Dialogue process and these should not be bracketed.”

Nomatter how many times I read that sentence, I still find it has all the ambiguity of an Escher painting. It can mean either that India will talk to Pakistan without waiting for it to take action on terrorism, or that Pakistan should take action on terrorism without waiting for India to resume the formal peace process.

Thousands of words have been written about the meaning of this sentence, along with the “B” word, in the last two weeks since the joint statement was issued. (And to keep it in perspective, that’s considerably less than the many words which have been written about the exact timing, details, circumstances and implications of the Instrument of Accession signed by the Maharajah of Kashmir pledging his kingdom’s allegiance to India in 1947.)

But to get back to the bigger question of Singh’s approach to Pakistan - his admirers say he has proved himself to be a great statesman; his critics that he naively caved in to Pakistan.

The Hindu newspaper said he had accomplished the impossible with his speech in parliament by silencing his critics while leaving himself the flexibility for a step-by-step approach to relations with Pakistan. “Essentially, what the Prime Minister’s remarks have done is create room for the government to be flexible in its approach to Pakistan, giving it room to calibrate the pace of engagement to the degree to which Islamabad moves ahead on its commitments to act against terror,” it said.

“In the fullness of time, Dr. Singh’s response to the debate will be seen as a potential game changer in India’s official discourse on Pakistan, especially his emphasis on the inevitability of engagement, his clarity on the fact that the alternative to dialogue was war, his fear that the absence of peace with Pakistan would hold back South Asia and allow foreign powers to get involved in the region, and his recognition of the need to strengthen Pakistan’s civilian leaders. On all these points, the Prime Minister is far ahead of his advisers and, perhaps, of the “national mood” that retired diplomats and generals still fighting the battles of the past.”

Indian blog, The Acorn, summed up however how far many thought Singh had taken too big a risk with his speech in parliament in the face of intense pressure to either back down or distance himself from the joint statement.

“So he stood his ground, and didn’t make use of the lifelines that were created for him by the foreign ministry,” it wrote.

“Whether he intended it or not, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made himself personally vulnerable. Whether he intended it or not, his Sharm-el-Sheikh lollipop is a gamble: if there is another Pakistan-originated terrorist attack during his tenure, Dr Singh will be thrown to the dogs by his own party; if there isn’t one, as the phrase goes, Singh is King.”

For a man in his late 70s, who had a coronary bypass this year and who is expected to hand over power eventually to a younger generation of Congress party politicians clustered around Rahul Gandhi, the fear of being forced to resign may weigh considerably less than the possibility — however remote it might seem – of a peace deal with Pakistan.

And he is not alone in taking a risk on Pakistan. When the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in power, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajapayee made repeated attempts to make peace with Pakistan and won respect for doing so.

Where he is perhaps alone is in running so quickly against the tide of popular opinion.  His gamble appears to be that Pakistan is on the cusp of change and by failing to seize the moment, India might lose it altogether.

Right now, he has international support running in his favour. An improvement in relations between India and Pakistan could help underpin stability in Afghanistan at a time when backing for the U.S.-led war is flagging on the home front as the United States and Britain face their worst monthly losses since the Afghan war began. The United States, wary of being seen to interfere overtly in relations between India and Pakistan, is expected to continue quietly to bolster peace efforts.

So the timing, as astrologers might say, is auspicious.

Veteran Indian journalist M.J. Akbar quotes what he says is an old Sufi saying: “When you are trapped in a vicious circle, draw a larger one around it.”

Can Singh and his Pakistani interlocutors complete the circle and succeed where so many others before have failed?

(Photos: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh; on the Line of Control in Drass; the Taj in Mumbai and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee meets his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Lahore)

Comments

Singh is right!Pakistan is a mere irritant for India. China is the main threat. Give the Pakistan a bone to bite and focus on China. China is already feeling the heat of US-India cooperation. Very soon Obama will take failed states like Pakistan, N.Korea, Burma out of Chinese orbit and rehabilitate these failed countries.China won’t have any proxy to use against India, Japan or US.http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/200 9-07/26/content_11773191.htmhttp://www.e xpressbuzz.com/edition/story.aspx?Title= If+Pakistan+collapses…&artid=R//fK72ap38 =&SectionID=XVSZ2Fy6Gzo=&MainSectionID=X VSZ2Fy6Gzo=&SEO=China,+Pakistan&SectionN ame=m3GntEw72ik=

Posted by John | Report as abusive
 

Why Pakistan needs Balochistan or China needs Xinjiang or Tibet?Punjabi army carried out all nuclear tests (5 so far) in Balochistan without any concern for public safety .. thousands of locals are daed and suffering consequences if radiation .. all local mines and refineries are leased to China … 10000 Chinese are working in Balochistan .. China needs an oil pipeline and highway from Balochistan to Tibet .. When Baluch locals ask for a job, they get a bullet from Chinese made AK-47 ..http://www.nowpublic.com/world/pakista ns-nukes-haunt-world-dc-meeting-29thChin ese regime carried out 46 surface nuclear tests from 1964 to 1996, causing 750,000 civilian deaths in surrounding areas .. looted mineral resources from the area .. locals who wanted jobs got bullets ..http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/conten t/view/14535/http://www.tibet.com/eco/gr een98/chap6.html

Posted by Buddhist | Report as abusive
 

Umair:I agree with the article and as I said it is all about protecting Punjab. Broken limbs and heads outside Punjab hardly move Pakistan Army but Army rushed out for Rah-e-Rasta anti-Taliban operation with helicopter gunships as soon as Taliban reached Buner–kind of knocking at the door step of Islamabad/Punjab. Until theneverything is fine. BTW where are all the poster boys of Taliban.Here is the quote from the NYT link you posted:@Another militant group, Jesh Muhammed, which supports Pakistani claims to Kashmir, operates unhindered in the city of Bahawalpur. And Hafez Saeed, a cleric whose associates are believed to have carried out the attack on Mumbai, India, last year, gives weekly sermons here in Lahore.”This tells Pakistan’s open support to terrorism which you denied in earlier posts. Pakistan’s is as much innocent in terrorism-supporting activities as much as Kashmir problem is solved or Balochistan got freedom.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive
 

In Pakistan Punjab, Christian minorities attacked by religious fundametalists–7 burnt to death.http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connec t/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspape r/editorial/rampant-bigotry-489

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive
 

http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn -content-library/dawn/news/world/pakista n-sends-list-of-afghan-terror-camps-to-k abulPakistan asking Afghanistan what India asks Pakistan. So what do Afghanistan do?—Do what Pakistan does!!!

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive
 

MMS got SMS from Obama and he was forced to eat his war cries uttered after mumbai attacks. A normal human with moral integrity would have resigned but politicians do not have moral values.

Posted by rohit | Report as abusive
 

Umair Wrote:”Baluchistan Pakistan Army has done reconstruction and development work, some of the tribes resisted but the Army got the situation under control. Again, this time Pakistan Army is not conducting large scale military ops or ‘genocide’ much more targetted approach is being used to eliminate anti-state RAW supported terrorists.”If you say making of Gwadar port by China is reconstruction then sure its a big development work haha. Here is what “Some” balochi tribes say about Pakistan.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v= WDuhELzsi7Qhttp://www.youtube.com/watch? v=W6rV4IpcX3Ehttp://www.youtube.com/watc h?v=mP6RElSneXUthird video is Balochistan National anthem, preformed in big crowds on big loud speakers under big tents and lights. Its not some small tribe planning in some cave. Pakistani army is already doing a genocide there, I have seen Pakistani talk shows and news about people being kidnapped by army in broad daylight. Steam is building and its matter of time you will see a Bangladesh.BTW do you think Pakistan did something wrong with Benglalis ??You also said:”PM Gilani handed over a dossier to Mr. Manmohan Singh of India’s terrorist activities in Baluchistan it is clear India is a terror sponsoring nation and Indian soil is being used for training terrorists and use against Baluchistan.”Its another lie already busted. Ever since Mumbai attack by Pakistani terrorists, Pakistan has been always tried to Speak through media. Pakistanis deliberately leak something in media and see the reaction, then they dispel it later on. But unfortunately Pakistanis like you pick tit bits of reports and make a perception which fulfills your false pride, ego and jealousy towards India. We have seen you arguing right here on reuters, that Mumbai Attack was planned by Indians, terrorist were Indians and other BS. Do you believe “NOW” , that Kasab is Pakistani and they all came from Pakistan ??

Posted by singh | Report as abusive
 
 

Singh to Umair:@But unfortunately Pakistanis like you pick tit bits of reports and make a perception which fulfills your false pride, ego and jealousy towards India. We have seen you arguing right here on reuters, that Mumbai Attack was planned by Indians, terrorist were Indians and other BS. Do you believe “NOW” , that Kasab is Pakistani and they all came from Pakistan ??- Posted by singhSingh: I have never ever seen these currrent Pakistani bloggers tacking Bangladesh issue. Only time the say B-desh is in reference to revenge from India. So here Pakistan has another B-desh in the making. Pakistanis will never admit now that whatever conspiracy theories they weaved after Mumbai attacks have been proven to be wrong. They have graduated to Baluchstan issue now. Asking them is these questions is asking for moon.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive
 

Even after winning re-election to his second term, Mr Singh is too weak to deal with Pakistan. A pity. There is no partner for Pakistan and the Kashmiris to solve problems, just an insecure country called India.

 

@Even after winning re-election to his second term, Mr Singh is too weak to deal with Pakistan. A pity. There is no partner for Pakistan and the Kashmiris to solve problems, just an insecure country called India.- Posted by Aamir Alwhat rubbish. you are telling people that Indian PM Singh with clear majority is weak and is the reason for no progress. Someone agress or not but has to act when he asks them to do. The reason for no peace progress is that your house is not in order. Pakistan President and PM are puppets of the army/ISI and democracy is just sham. So one can never trust these Pakistani leaders even if they say anything. what peace are u looking for. Be fully Islamic or fully democratic. get out of this misery.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive
 

“Even after winning re-election to his second term, Mr Singh is too weak to deal with Pakistan. A pity. There is no partner for Pakistan and the Kashmiris to solve problems, just an insecure country called India”———–VERY funny.Could it be the opposite? Could it be that India feels very secure and is running out the clock?.”pakistan”‘s diplomatic stature has diminished dramatically since the time you sent Northern Light Infantry to occupy mountains in Kargil 10 years ago. The problem is you haven’t adjusted and accepted the reality still living in fantasy world.About your comments about Dr.Singh being weak etc…this is not new. Jinnah was an elitist, undemocratic, easily irritable, authoritarian man. Indian leaders since at that time were dismissed to be “weak” by paks. Who has a weak “country” now? or who has any country now?Shekar Gupta at Indian express has written a great article on this topic.http://micropakistan.org/blog/2008  /01/21/junta-versus-janata-by-shekhar-g upta-the-indian-express/

 

Amir wrote:”Even after winning re-election to his second term, Mr Singh is too weak to deal with Pakistan. A pity. There is no partner for Pakistan and the Kashmiris to solve problems, just an insecure country called India.”-Well said, Amir I agree here, India is a classic lamb state and its leaders dont have guts to make courageous decisions. Former President Musharraf said that India and Pakistan were close to resolve disputes during the backchannel peace talks, Indian leaders backed out at last minute and had to courage to make extraordinary decisions and satisfy their domestic audience. Indian governments are always shaky coalitions, no agreement on anything no progress. Nothing seems to change in India, same old red tape.

Posted by Umair | Report as abusive
 

Even after winning re-election to his second term, Mr Singh is too weak to deal with Pakistan. A pity. There is no partner for Pakistan and the Kashmiris to solve problems, just an insecure country called India.- Posted by Aamir AliWow, a Pakistani questioning India’s democracy & calling it ‘insecure’. Quite hilarious, indeed!

Posted by Mortal | Report as abusive
 

India is a classic lamb state and its leaders dont have guts to make courageous decisions.-UmairWhat pray is that courageous decision? To go to war with Pakistan and unite your Pak Army with ALL the LeT, JuD groups and Taliban together after the Mumbai attacks and plunge the whole region into a nulear war?Our leaders do makes decisions, but can YOU tell me who is ‘exactly’ incharge of Pakistan? When Zardari states ANYTHING the Pak Army do not like he is forced into rebuttal.You have no leaders with backbone. Zardari went to Europe to get trade deals, but ended up returning to Pakistan with aid for IDPs. Hilary Clinton visits India and signs an arms and nuclear deal.Your ISI co-ordinated the suicide bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul. Yet, in Egypt, your smiling Giliani presents M. Singh with a dossier of RAW activities in Baluchistan in full glare of the international media. We have not heard much of this dossier ever since, except for Obama’s AfPak guy, R. Holbrooke to dismiss the RAW dossier as NOT credible evidence.Oh by the way, best of luck in Istanbul with the next BEGGING round of Friends Of Pakistan to get $2.5bn.

Posted by bulletfish | Report as abusive
 

@Umair:@Well said, Amir I agree here, India is a classic lamb state and its leaders dont have guts to make courageous decisions.”-Forgot Bangladesh already?@Former President Musharraf said that India and Pakistan were close to resolve disputes during the backchannel peace talks, Indian leaders backed out at last minute and had to courage to make extraordinary decisions and satisfy their domestic audience.”–Quite the contrary if you are used to reading good articles. The sentence always finishes that back channel talks were going fine until Mushy got trapped in internal political trouble of pakistan.Read Steve Coll and refresh your memory that Mushy got trapped in political death spiral disrupting the peace process.http://www.newamerica.net/public ations/articles/2009/back_channel_11191“ By early 2007, the back-channel talks on Kashmir had become “so advanced that we’d come to semicolons,” Kasuri recalled. A senior Indian official who was involved agreed. “It was huge–I think it would have changed the basic nature of the problem,” he told me. “You would have then had the freedom to remake Indo-Pakistani relations.” Aziz and Lambah were negotiating the details for a visit to Pakistan by the Indian Prime Minister during which, they hoped, the principles underlying the Kashmir agreement would be announced and talks aimed at implementation would be inaugurated. One quarrel, over a waterway known as Sir Creek, would be formally settled.”….. In the spring of 2007, a military aide in Musharraf ’s office contacted a senior civilian official to ask how politicians, the media, and the public might react. “We think we’re close to a deal,” Musharraf ’s aide said, as this official recalled it. “Do you think we can sell it?”Regrettably, the time did not look ripe, this official recalled answering. In early March, Musharraf had invoked his near-dictatorial powers to fire the chief justice of the country’s highest court. That decision set off rock-tossing protests by lawyers and political activists. The General’s popularity seemed to be eroding by the day; he had seized power in a coup in 1999, and had enjoyed public support for several years, but now he was approaching “the point where he couldn’t sell himself,” the official remembers saying, never mind a surprise peace agreement with India.”So much for secure Pakistan.@Indian governments are always shaky coalitions, no agreement on anything no progress. Nothing seems to change in India, same old red tape.—Your worry should be limited to bilateral talks not Indian redtapism. That never came in way as is clear from the above article.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive
 

Hi Umair,I wish that your country continue to enjoy Great Leaders like Jinnah followed by Ayub khan,Zulfikar Ali Bhutto follwed by Zia ul haq,Nawaz sharif follwed by musharraf,zardari followed by whoever…We indians are more than happy with our share of not so gutsy leaders like Sardar patel,Bhagat singh and gandhi,LB Shastri,Indira and rajiv gandhi,AB Vajpayee and Manmohan singh.WE INDIANS WHOLEHEARTEDLY RESPECT AND STAND BY MOST OF THE DECISIONS TAKEN BY THESE LEADERS.(barring few exception offcourse).Hope these kind of leaders lead us on the way to the future.We like many other people hope that leaders here in india gets better with changing times.

 

“India is a classic lamb state and its leaders dont have guts to make courageous decisions. Former President Musharraf said that India and Pakistan were close to resolve disputes during the backchannel peace talks”Pakistan thinks India is a Lamb state because Indian leaders have been giving too much room to pakistan for too long time. After 1971 Indians should not have given breathing space to Pakistan. If Indians had a little hawkish attitude, Pakistanis could never have made nuclear bomb and threaten the world today. Anyways it better to be called Lamb State than Terrorist State or Failed state.As I said already, Pakistanis pick tit bits of information and statements, and try NOT to see the bigger picture. Sorry buddy, but Mushy’s comments are not even bought in Pakistan these days, Do you want us to believe them ??Funny thing is when fate comes into picture, even LIONS like Musharraf become LAMBS and try to hide here and there. Soon he will be exiled permanently to Saudi Arab and live peacefully (not) there, remembering his glorious past and ugly future of Pakistan. While Manmohan has proved that “SINGH IS KING” and two times in a row.

Posted by singh | Report as abusive
 

While Manmohan has proved that “SINGH IS KING” and two times in a row.-singhIts actually 3 times because, in 1991, as Finance Minister ‘he’ reformed India’s economy to end the Licence Raj system.

Posted by bulletfish | Report as abusive
 

I think, these composite dialogue etc. are real piece of crap. MMS and other Indian leaders know very well what Pakistan is. I don’t see much in the statement in Sharm-Al-Seikh….Pakistan will continue breed jihadi terrorists…whatever way they bluff, shout etc. etc….It (bluff, islam, jihad) is foundation of Pakistan and in turn will keep destroying their internal society…. US will keep on attacking Pakistan with missiles….I feel, India should wait for couple of more decades and then sell Kashmir to the promoter of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia…They are owner of Pakistan and I am sure, they will sponsor this deal….and in the mean time Pakistan will fully turn into arab clone…

Posted by Nikus | Report as abusive
 

Pakistan getting 7000 Kms range intercontinental missileshttp://www.daily.pk/icbm-pakista n-intercontinental-missile-underway-8643  /Who do they have in mind? US or Europe?Who will provide aid? What are Pakistanis thinking?

Posted by Andy | Report as abusive
 

@Pakistan getting 7000 Kms range intercontinental missilesWho do they have in mind? US or Europe?Who will provide aid? What are Pakistanis thinking?- Posted by AndyAndy: Pakistanis will get expensive toys using the money fron the West for the purpose of screwing the West–I see no one else.In any case, India unwittingly is burning Pakistanis really bad because of Pakistani perception of equalling India. Regarding India, Pakistan got to admit as the saying goes “bigger man swings the bigger …..”. They will have to put all these toys in garage sale for their survival.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive
 

8 ways India can hurt Pakistani economyhttp://www.mynews.in/fullstory.as px?storyid=23854

Posted by Patrick | Report as abusive
 

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