Outrageous surrender at Sharm-el-Sheikh
by Virendra Parekh on 25 Jul 2009 3 Comments

The desperate attempts of the Congress party and the UPA government to wriggle out of the latest blunder of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh vis-à-vis Pakistan in Egypt only confirm the suspicion which many harboured but were too polite (or afraid) to voice publicly – that India’s national interests are not safe in the hands of Dr. Manmohan Singh and the UPA. He not only sells the country down the river recklessly, but has the cheek to assert that his actions are in India’s interest!

We saw this trait in the Indo-US nuclear deal. It was shown yet again by the craven manner in which he abjectly surrendered to American pressure and Pakistani perfidy at the recent conference of NAM at Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt where he met his Pakistani counterpart on the sidelines.

The outrageous joint statement issued after this meeting says “action on terrorism should not be linked to the Composite Dialogue process and these should not be bracketed,” and that “India was ready to discuss all issues with Pakistan, including all outstanding issues”. This is “zero tolerance of terrorism”, Manmohan style.

After the ghastly 26/11 fidayeen attack on Mumbai, there was a consensus in the country that we shall not resume peace talks with Pakistan till it takes effective action against those who were behind the Mumbai attack, and till it demonstrably dismantles the terrorist infrastructure set up for assaults on India. Pakistan has long been demanding, especially after the Mumbai terrorist attack, that notwithstanding its sponsorship of cross-border jihadi violence, India should continue with the composite dialogue process by delinking it from terrorism. Dr. Singh has lost little time in obliging Islamabad.

One need not be a diplomat to decipher its meaning. The separation of terrorism from dialogue absolves present and future Governments of Pakistan from any guilt in cross-border terrorism. It is a commitment that India would continue the process of dialogue with Pakistan, no matter how much havoc a terrorist group from Pakistan creates in India. With this, to take an extreme example, Pakistan can do another Mumbai on India and expect negotiations next week as if nothing has happened. No wonder Dr. Singh won handsome praise for his ‘statesmanship’ in his homeland across the border.

India has little to gain from the ‘composite dialogue’ or so-called peace process. These are all mechanisms to bring pressure on India for making concessions. Peace will reign if Pakistan stops killing Indian people and coveting Indian territory. India’s advantage lies in status quo; it has no reason to be keen on talks. 

Baluchistan: diplomatic blunder

As would befit his cavalier attitude to India’s national interests, Dr. Singh has compounded his servile surrender with a diplomatic blunder by allowing Pakistan to insert a reference to Baluchistan in the joint statement.

Pakistan has for years been accusing India of fomenting trouble in Baluchistan. This was always seen by India for what it was: a cheap tactical trick to try and get even. The joint statement reference to Baluchistan lends implicit credence to Pakistan’s accusation. Like the previous Joint Anti-Terror Mechanism, it will allow Pakistan to shift the focus to India.
The mention of Baluchistan, a first in the history of Indo-Pak negotiations, may tie India down as Pakistan is likely to raise the matter each time India brings up terrorist activity emanating from Pakistani soil. Pakistan has secured a handle it did not have earlier.

It is double advantage Pakistan: It can now delink cross-border terrorism from composite dialogue, and it can link it with India’s alleged role in Baluchistan.

Having so timidly surrendered India’s advantage, the prime minister now wants the country to believe that nothing has been surrendered, that the huge concessions made by him actually reflect his commitment and determination, and that the delinking of dialogue from terrorism does not dilute but strengthens his Government’s stand!

In a way, there is nothing surprising or even unexpected in the joint statement issued from Egypt. The past record of Dr. Singh and the government headed by him leave us in no doubt that this is in continuity with its well-established approach to terrorism and all other issues related to Pakistan.

Meek Manmohan

Recall the meek apology Dr. Singh issued to President Asif Ali Zardari for miscuing his rehearsed lines at Yekaterinburg in Russia last month. Recall his abject surrender in Havana where he hugged Gen. Pervez Musharraf and declared that both Pakistan and India are victims of terrorism, thus equating the perpetrator of terror with the victim. Recall that, at the meeting of Foreign Ministers in Delhi immediately after the UPA Government assumed power in the summer of 2004, it was stated that terrorism would not be allowed to derail the peace process.

Nor is it any secret where the wink, the nudge, the push comes from. It is not at all a coincidence that the joint statement came on the eve of the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to India. The Obama administration has been exceptionally generous in funding and arming Pakistan, knowing fully well that a large part of the aid and arms it gives Pakistan are used against India.

The US is bent upon keeping Pakistan in good humour, if necessary, at India’s expense. Recall the testimony that was given by Hillary Clinton herself on April 23, 2009, before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programmes. While discussing the attacks in Mumbai, she said, “We worked very hard, as did the prior Administration, to prevent India from reacting. But we know that the insurgents and al Qaeda and their syndicate partners are pretty smart. They are not going to cease their attacks inside India because they are looking for exactly the kind of reaction that we all hope to prevent. So we do have a lot of work to do with the Indian government to make sure that they continue to exercise the kind of restraint they showed after Mumbai…”

She added  “There have been a number of high-level discussions, including between the US President and the Indian Prime Minister on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in London, ‘raising the issue of how India can do more to tamp down any reaction on any front, like Mumbai could have provoked’.”

Why should it be so? For reasons that have nothing to do with India’s security or prosperity. By now, the US has concluded that it is stuck in Afghanistan. It no longer has the stomach to continue the fight. For it to get out with some shred of honour intact, Pakistan is central. The US wants an assurance from Pakistan that Pakistan will not fill the vacuum after its exit with ‘bad’ Taliban—those that regard US and West as their prime target. ‘Good’ Taliban are those who focus on India.

In Pakistan, the Army and ISI call the shots. Hence, so runs the US thinking, the US just has to make available what the Pakistan Army and ISI want. If the Army of Pakistan and the ISI want the arms that they can eventually use against India, such arms and aircraft, etc. just have got to be given. If the Army of Pakistan and the ISI will not be placated till concessions – in regard to Siachin today, Kashmir tomorrow – are wrested from India, well, they just have to be wrested. So, money and arms for Pakistan; advice for India.

India will thus be making a grave mistake if it relies on the US for dealing with Pakistan. True, the US enjoys leverage with Pakistan that no other country does; it can make Pakistan do what it would not usually do (attacking Taliban, for instance). But the US leverage is meant to serve American interests, not Indian.

Pakistan fully understands its advantage. That is why, protected and pampered by the US, it has been cocking a snook at India and daring it to take punitive action. Instead of standing up to Mr. Gilani and his benefactors in Washington, Dr. Singh has compromised national interest by agreeing to the outrageous Pakistani demand to delink the issue of terrorism from composite dialogue. Was he asked by the US to raise Pakistan’s comfort level by doing so?

Supine surrenders

It is legitimate to raise this question because in the last two months, India has taken a number of steps to placate the US. First, Kamal Nath was replaced as commerce minister for his ‘intransigence’ at WTO negotiations amid indications that New Delhi was ready to adopt a “give-and-take” approach instead of being “frozen in pre-negotiating positions”.

Second, in signing the G-8 declaration, Dr. Singh indicated a retreat from India’s existing policy on Climate Change and agreed to go along with the developed countries on the imposition of a cap on emissions. Finally, by adding his signature to the G-8 proclamation on non-proliferation, he may have taken the first covert step in accommodating the Obama Administration’s determination to rollback India’s gains from the agreements with the IAEA and NSG.

And, for all his timidity and spinelessness, Dr. Singh is not a fool. Remember the stealth, the cunning, and the tenacity with which he pursued and inflicted the nuclear deal on the country. Only that his government has different priorities. Its policies seem to be guided by a penchant for engagement and accommodation of the puppet masters in Washington rather than no-nonsense pursuit of national interests. Is India safe in its hands?

The author is Executive Editor, Corporate India, and lives in Mumbai

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