Journalist | Writer | Analyst
10 June 2009
Manmohan makes fresh pitch for Pakistan dialogue
Citing U.S. opening to Iran, offers to “try again to make peace”
New Delhi: In the clearest sign yet of India’s willingness to pick up the threads of the dialogue process with Pakistan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Parliament on Tuesday that it is in the country’s “vital interest” to “try again to make peace” with its turbulent neighbour.
Making a strong pitch for engagement with Pakistan, Dr. Singh cited the example of the United States, which, after 30 years of hostile relations with Iran, had realised it needed to re-evaluate its approach towards Tehran.
Although official interactions of a technical nature have continued between New Delhi and Islamabad — last week saw the meeting of the Permanent Indus Waters Commission, for example — the Indian side suspended the composite dialogue process in the wake of last Novembers terrorist attack in Mumbai. And until now, the government has publicly maintained there could be no resumption of dialogue till Pakistan moves to punish the conspirators of Mumbai and dismantles the infrastructure of terrorism on its territory.
Last week, highly-placed sources indicated to The Hindu that this stand was being re-examined with a view to finding ways of engaging Pakistan without diluting India’s call for action against terrorists across the border. And in a further testing of the political waters, Dr. Singh has now spoken of attempting a fresh start.
The Prime Minister did not abandon the pursuit of justice for Mumbai in his remarks to Parliament, even if the demand of “dismantling the infrastructure of terror” was recast as a more verifiable metric. “I expect the Government of Pakistan to take strong, effective and sustained action to prevent the use of their territory for the commission of acts of terrorism in India, or against Indian interests,” he said, “and use every means at their disposal to bring to justice those who have committed these crimes in the past, including the attack on Mumbai.”
These words sound familiar but there is a crucial difference: the demands are being reiterated as India’s reasonable expectations rather than as rigid preconditions for dialogue.
Setting the context, the Prime Minister outlined his vision of a “transformed South Asia” based on cooperation and lasting peace between all neighbours, without which India’s global aspirations would remain unfulfilled. It was, therefore, essential that India made a fresh effort to build peace with Pakistan but Islamabad had to do its bit. “I recognise it takes two hands to clap,” he said. “There are some disturbing trends, but I do hope the Government of Pakistan will create an atmosphere in which we can realise this vision.”
India, he added, would meet the leaders of Pakistan “more than half way” if they had the “courage, the determination and the statesmanship to take this road to peace.”
The Prime Minister spoke from a prepared script in the Lok Sabha but brought in the U.S.-Iran analogy extemporaneously in the upper House to more forcefully drive home his point.
Officials say it is too early to say whether Dr. Singh will meet Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Ekaterinburg next week, and if so, with what agenda. The next scheduled occasion when the two principals could meet is the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Sharm el-Shaikh, Egypt, in July.
New Delhi would first like to receive from Pakistan an official account of the legal steps taken so far against the Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders and others involved in the Mumbai attack before announcing any concrete opening.