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Mainstream, Vol. XLVII, No 34, August 8, 2009

The Sharm el-Sheikh Sell-out

Sunday 16 August 2009, by Sunita Vakil

The monumental blunder committed by India at Sharm-el-Sheikh is likely to weigh it down in all future Indo-Pak negotiations.

“A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed,” says Ibsen. Notwithstanding the fact that Islamabad has so far failed to match its words with deeds by not bringing the 26/11 culprits to book, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has surprised many by meekly agreeing to the Pakistani demand for delinking the talks from terrorism. As a matter of fact India’s initiatives have up to this time yielded little reciprocation from Pakistan. As things stand today, there has been no dramatic transformation in Islamabad’s policy. Meanwhile, Pakistan has had its cake and is eating it too. Given that, it would be pointless talking peace and friendship with a neighbour who is guilty of perpetrating cross-border terrorism.

In fact, there seems to be no merit in the Joint Statement issued at Sharm el-Sheikh. On the other hand, it has undermined and weakened our position. The Prime Minister has surrendered much more than he gained. The little success that India had gained in containing terrorism so far has been frittered away by his shameless capitulation in Egypt. Though the Congress may go for a damage limiting exercise, the fact remains that for India it was a complete diplomatic disaster and Pakistan is sure to extract a heavy price for this blunder. It is also strange how during the meeting between the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers, the Balochistan issue got a mention in the Joint Statement. It is unfortunate that in one stroke Pakistan managed to turn the tables against India by cleverly alluding that the country was fomenting terrorism in Balochistan. Significantly, we have given Pakistan a handle to equate Balochistan with Kashmir. This gives enough legitimacy to the Government of Pakistan to bring up Balochistan at every mention of Pak sponsored terrorism directed against India in all future discourses between the two countries.

The apprehension in Indian circles that Pakistan would slide back to its old cunning ways came out to be true when its Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, delivered a body blow to India by ruling out the possibility of the arrest of the Jamaat-ud-Dawah head, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, for his involvement in the 26/11 attacks despite repeated promises of strong action against the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage. “We do not have any proof against Hafiz Saeed. We have demanded and we are demanding from India that if you have proof, give it to us but do not spread propaganda. I assure you we will take action. But just on hearsay we cannot arrest our citizen,” he is reported to have said. These unhelpful statements from Pakistan citing lack of evidence demonstrate that Islamabad is merely creating illusions about its commitments and is not intent on handing over the 26/11 culprits.

Gloating over laying its hands upon a new weapon against India, Islamabad is now exploiting the Balochistan terror issue to the hilt, accusing India of inciting Balochis against Pakistan. What is more surprising though, is the fact that the inclusion of the B word in the statement has provided Islamabad a handle to attack India at international forums, and doubts have already been created in the minds of the international community of India’s involvement. It needs no reiteration that the turmoil in Balochistan has its roots in the home grown insurgency. By no stretch of imagination can it be compared to the Pak sponsored terrorism in J&K and the rest of India. And yet, Pakistan has managed to deny us the right to raise our voice against terror abetted by it with its sleight-of-hand tactics. In an interview to a French television channel the Pak Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, has alleged that India was supplying weapons to terrorists in Balochistan. Pakistan Army officials have also indicated that they would consider taking action against the LeT if the US could stop India from “messing around in Balochistan”. The Pakistani response clearly suggests that Balochistan’s mention is likely to weigh down India in all future negotiations with Pakistan as the latter will leave no opportunity to internationalise the issue in order to shift focus from the 26/11 attacks. The recent developments, besides giving rise to apprehensions about Pakistan’s sincerity, leave no doubt that the Balochistan reference will continue to haunt the government. This recent flip-flop is indication enough that the PM, Dr Manmohan Singh, has turned India’s Pakistan policy on its head by compromising our position on terrorism.

NEEDLESS to say, the UPA’s handling of this sensitive issue speaks volumes about its poor under-standing of the stakes involved. The PM’s blow-hot blow-cold statements vis-a-vis bilateral relations with Pakistan do not make any diplomatic sense. Then why this pretension of a dialogue with a neighbor when the cross-border terrorism it sponsors refuses to cease?

Until now, India was accepted as a victim of terror and Pakistan a state sponsoring terror. At Havana the PM accepted that Pakistan, the epicentre of international terrorism, be equated with India as a co-victim. Then again at Sharm el-Sheikh he went more than an extra mile by portraying India as an aggressor. It is clear that no amount of talks with Pakistan will bring about peace unless Islamabad gives up cross-border terrorism as an instrument for its state policy and rolls back all jehadi factories flourishing there. A report in The New York Times a few days back commented that the LeT is still operating at least one training camp in the hills around Muzaffarabad in Pok. As revealed by sources, Lashker has a membership of about 150,000. Reports confirm that Lashker’s “jihadist and anti-India culture” has many sympathisers who stonewall any challenge to dismantle the network. In spite of solid evidence of Pakistan’s involvement in the Mumbai carnage, Islamabad continues to deny its role. Consequently, India has to learn to act from a position of strength, shunning its undue inhibition to assert itself. Instead of sending out entreaties to Pakistan to accept its charges, India would do better by concentrating on presenting a watertight case that does not leave loopholes for Pakistan to exploit.

Our Prime Minister’s commitment that the composite dialogue will run its course even if Pakistan continues to export terror must have come as a shocker for a nation that has been reeling under terrorism for more than six decades. This surely appears to be a climbdown from the earlier position when New Delhi had consistently maintained that no talks would take place till the culprits of 26/11 were brought to book. This clearly indicates that Dr Singh has ceded ground to Pakistan notwithstanding the fact that cross-border terrorism continues to be a key aspect of its state policy. We have been grappling with Pakistan sponsored overt and convert war in J&K and other places in India. All our big metros and cities have been attacked by Pakistani trained terrorists, our Parliament has been bombed and our national capital has borne many deadly strikes. The Lahore Pact scripted by former PM A.B. Vajpayee was rewarded with the Kargil intrusion. Then again, the Agra summit was aborted. And yet again, we are allowing Pakistan an opportunity to get away with murder. Can the PM justify himself for issuing the Joint Statement that smacks of betrayal?

Our soft approach has always been interpreted as a weakness. It is time for a reality check. Why does India appear desperate for a dialogue with Pakistan and how far will it take us on the path to peace? Indeed, words are not deeds.

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