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World Affairs


 Can Manmohan break Indo-Pak deadlock?

Manmohan Singh and Raza Gilani


Indians down the ages are a talkative lot. Amartya Sen, Harvard professor and winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics (in 1998) has written an entire book on The Argumentative Indian. In the first chapter, he recalls the feat of Krishna Menon, Nehru’s Foreign Minister. Menon when he led the Indian delegation to the United Nations made a record breaking speech in the UN, the longest speech — nine hours non-stop. It has not been equalled by anyone since then, Sen says.

Whether any representative, other than some Indians, sat through the entire nine hour peroration, the Harvard Professor does not say. But Indians say what they want and none can stop them.

Indo-Pak talks at Sharm-El-Sheik

Amartya Sen’s observations came to our mind on reading Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s address to the Indian Parliament last week on the Indo-Pakistan joint statement which he signed with Pakistani Prime Minister Raza Gilani at Sharm-el-Sheik during the recent Non Aligned Summit.

This joint statement resulted in an avalanche of criticism from the Indian opposition and even resulted in some members of Singh’s own Congress Party remaining tongue tied. Singh’s defence of the agreement in the Indian parliament — though certainly not of the duration of Krishna Menon’s record breaking effort, was comprehensive and well reasoned  which made an Indian newspaper commentator to recommend to the opposition that they better not reply it.

But that was not to be. On the second and final day of the debate, the Indian opposition walked out in fury saying that the arguments of Manmohan Singh and also that of Sonia Gandhi had not convinced any one.

New approach

The joint agreement and the Indian Prime Minister’s speech in defence of it was significant in that it marked a new approach to resolve Indo-Pak differences, the old paths treaded on for the past 60 years having met dead ends. A commentator noted: ‘The PM went far ahead of the national mood of retired diplomats and generals still fighting battles of the past created on (Indian) TV channels.’

The main point at issue was a paragraph in the joint statement about de-linking action on terror from the composite dialogue between Pakistan and India (which had been stalled after the Mumbai attacks in November last year). The Indian opposition interpreted it to mean that the Indo-Pakistan dialogue could recommence irrespective of whether terror attacks would continue or not.

Manmohan Singh however stressed that it did not mean that talks will automatically be resumed. The Pakistani government which appears to desire resumption of talks did not want the flames to engulf the Indian PM and Gilani has said that ‘whatever the Indian Prime Minister said in parliament was what had been agreed by both of them’ at Sharm-el-Sheik.

The comprehensive dialogue between the two countries had been on for years and four rounds of talks had been held when the Mumbai attacks were made with the dialogue being interrupted.

Modest progress had been made till that time such as on increase in the frequency of airlines to both countries, agreement for trucks to cross-over at designated places on the border, increase in the frequency of the Delhi-Lahore bus service as well as increase in frequencies in the Muazarafabad-Sri Nagar bus service.


Is Manmohan Singh who flew India out of that tangled mesh of Nehruvian socialism and non aligned politics while also breaking through the Indian mindset of the Gandhian spinning wheel towards a free capitalist economy, trying to break out of the 60-year-old shackles of Indo-Pakistan enmity? Some Indian analysts say that given the majority his party (Congress) won in the last parliamentary elections, he may be considering just this.

Singh’s message appears to be that there was now a need for India to make a sincere effort to live in peace with Pakistan and to reach an honourable settlement of the problems that exist. Channels of communication have to be kept open unless India wants to go to war with Pakistan. Asked in parliament whether he trusted Pakistan he echoed former American President Ronald Reagan’s words: ‘Trust but verify’ ( In Russian Doveryai no proverai) while signing the Intermediate Nuclear Force Treaty.

Not easy

Singh won’t find it easy to breakthrough the anti Pakistan prejudices because of the deep resentments that exist among most Indians. The recent terrorist attacks throughout India such as in New Delhi, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Mumbai where hundreds were killed and wounded are not easily forgotten There is Kashmir over which they have gone to war.

The excuse that the Pakistani government cannot control terrorism on its own soil directed at them is not acceptable to Indians. They want deployment of anti terrorist forces on Pakistan’s north east frontier as has been done on the north west frontier to fight Islamic terrorism. Singh’s plea that Pakistan has for the first time admitted that its own nationals had operated from Pakistani soil to attack Mumbai was poor consolation to the Indian opposition that walked out of the debate.

Whether Singh and the Congress now having a parliamentary majority and free from the opposition — which wants to play on anti-Pakistani sentiments — can make a breakthrough in their relations with the traditional enemy is to be seen.









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