Siddharth Varadarajan

Journalist | Writer | Analyst

A confident Manmohan creates space for flexible response

The Prime Minister’s speech in Parliament on Wednesday on Pakistan and terrorism was one of the finest I’ve seen him make… I can’t say he has brought complete clarity to a policy that is still contradictory and confused but he has opened up room for the government to be more flexible and innovative in the months ahead. And given the hysterical response which greeted Sharm el-Sheikh, that is no mean achievement…

30 July 2009
The Hindu


A confident Manmohan opens space for flexible response

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: The Prime Minister’s authoritative statement in Parliament on relations with Pakistan accomplished the impossible: answering hardline critics in India fearful of the resumption of dialogue while not compromising the domestic credibility of his potential interlocutors across the border or hurting the prospects for peace between the two countries.

In being equally mindful of his Pakistani audience, Manmohan Singh was returning a favour to Yusuf Raza Gilani. Soon after his Sharm el-Sheikh meeting, the Indian Prime Minister had told Parliament the joint statement’s reference to delinking action on terror from the composite dialogue process did not mean talks would automatically be resumed. Rather than publicly join issue, the Pakistani Prime Minister had graciously told reporters — much to the consternation of hardliners there — that “whatever [Dr. Singh] said on the floor of the House … is what we agreed.”

That is why Dr. Singh was careful to emphasise on Wednesday the need for India to make sincere efforts to live in peace with Pakistan, to reach “an honourable settlement of the problems between us,” to keep channels open. “Unless we want to go to war with Pakistan, dialogue is the only way out,” he asserted at the end of his speech, “but we should do so on the basis of ‘trust but verify’.”

Despite feverish media speculation about the Congress having washed its hands of his latest initiative, Dr. Singh spoke with the full backing of the Treasury benches as he rebutted the Opposition’s charges and defended the joint statement of July 17. If proof was needed of how effective his intervention on Pakistan was, BJP MP Sushma Swaraj, who rose to question him as soon as he had finished speaking, provided it. Ms. Swaraj, who only last week had referred to the joint statement as “shameful”, kept quiet on the subject this time around, asking only for clarifications on the government’s stand on climate change and reprocessing.

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 direct talks with Pakistan would allow foreign powers to get involved in the region to India’s detriment, and his recognition of the need to strengthen Pakistan’s civilian leaders.

On all these points, the Prime Minister is far ahead of the “national mood” that retired diplomats and generals still fighting the battles of the past have created on our TV channels. Of course, as far as the here and now is concerned, Dr. Singh stressed that the only practical agreement in Sharm el-Sheikh had been for the two foreign secretaries and foreign ministers to meet. The composite dialogue, he said, would have to wait.

But if there is going to be no immediate change of policy, the Prime Minister was also keen to emphasise the significance of Pakistan admitting for the first time that its territory had been used for terrorist acts against India. This, he reminded the Opposition, was more than the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government had managed to achieve. Recounting the setbacks like Kargil, the Kandahar hijacking and the terrorist attack on Parliament which followed the NDA’s peace initiatives in Lahore and Agra, Dr. Singh nevertheless praised Atal Bihari Vajpayee for the courage he had shown as Prime Minister in not giving up the quest for “permanent peace.”

He was also generous enough to acknowledge that the Pakistani dossier on Mumbai, handed over before Sharm el- Sheikh, had allowed India to move forward because it showed Islamabad had begun to act against some of the terrorists involved. Of course, the dossier “showed progress, though not adequate progress” in addressing India’s concerns and he hoped Islamabad would do more.

It is clear that resumption of dialogue is very much on the horizon but India will calibrate the pace of engagement to the degree to which Islamabad moves ahead on its commitments to act against terror.

Through his intervention, however, the Prime Minister has steered the bilateral relationship away from the dead-end to which the Opposition’s arguments would have sent it and created room for the government to be more flexible in its approach.

7 comments on “A confident Manmohan creates space for flexible response

  1. Anonymous
    August 3, 2009

    For example, MM Singh is a member, “Club Of Rome”,a Globalist Body which strives for ONE WORLD GOVERNMENT,by making nations,LOSE their Sovereignty.Besides,these people may later join the Ruling Party,and thus further strenghthening the same.
    MM Singh a member of Rajya Sabja,which is undemocratic,for a PM.

  2. Anonymous
    July 31, 2009

    Is the Congress leadership so bankrupt that it cannot go beyond chanting the mantra that as bad as they are, the BJP and Vajpayee did even worst? I guess if the BJP loses a war with China next they can claim that the Congress had lost even more territory and thus everything they did is kosher.

    The reality is that the PM did not really understand what he agreed to in Egypt and is backfilling, or that he overpromised, and realised that he cannot deliver in the face of the disgust of the Indian people. Either way, an error was made in Egypt.

    The sad thing is that he is right that dialogue is the only way forward. But given how much Pakistan wants and needs it, it should start after there have been some irreversible actions that signify a decisive break with terrorism by the Pakistanis. Otherwise, he is setting himself for another post-Havana fiasco, where something he trumpeted as a foreign policy triumph was viewed by the Pakistanis as mere face saver that allowed the PM to overcome his very tiny hesitation in getting back to business as usual.

    Singh could just be the PM India has been waiting decades for. If the Pakistanis could just grow a brain, they would realize that nobody else in India is as committed to a mutually beneficial relationship as him.

  3. Anonymous
    July 31, 2009


    I'm not convinced of the back-pedaling on the joint statement from Congress party; especially on the Baluchistan bungle.

  4. Anonymous
    July 30, 2009

    MMS is not very smart, this will bite India in the a$$ . He must know J&K state cannot be altered. What else is there to talk about with pak? US may be tempted to reward pak with Indian land (soft loc etc). It will be historic blunder. To bite economy carrot is beyond dumb. Land for peace NEVER works , you just loose land , more and more .Hope he is not doing that.

  5. Anonymous
    July 30, 2009

    MMS indulged in a huge gamble. This is going to bite India in its a$$.

  6. K.Annamalai.
    July 30, 2009

    I could not agree with you more. Manmohan's speech was highly nuanced considering the circumstances he is making his speech. As usual, your analysis is brilliant!!!

  7. liberal
    July 30, 2009

    PM has been able to give new direction to IndoPak relationship. Sharm-el-Sheikh declaration would help weed out fundamentalists on both sides of the borders. The die is cast and let ISI understand that terrorism wouldn't hold up the talks. At the same time the Pakistan government would have to work hard towards exorcising the India ghost from the soul of Pakistan.

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This entry was posted on July 30, 2009 by in Indian Foreign Policy, Pakistan.



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