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India's 'concession' to Pakistan is no concession

July 17, 2009 17:52 IST
The joint statement issued after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his Pakistani counterpart, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt on July 16, reflected more of an intent rather than any real substance about holding talks. India made it clear that it was willing to talk if Pakistan was willing to walk the whole way in addressing its concerns about the Mumbai terror attack.

The need for issuing a joint statement, without really sitting down to clear the air after the Mumbai attacks of November 2008, could be a debating point but the contents, if it is to be read with what Prime Minister Singh said subsequently, set down certain clear rules for the resumption of the dialogue process.

Rule number one is that Pakistan "will do everything in its power" to bring the "perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice". This is what India has been pressing for. India has never discounted the possibility of resuming talks with Pakistan but has consistently asked Pakistan to deliver on its promise. The statement, in fact, is a step forward from the January 2004 statement which called upon Pakistan to act upon terrorist groups operating from its soil.

It is undeniable that the Pakistan government has not taken any decisive and visible action against Lashkar e Tayyeba, the terrorist group primarily responsible for the Mumbai (and other recent) terrorist attacks. Even under normal circumstances, and these are not normal at all, the civilian leadership in Pakistan has remained subservient to the military leadership in matters such as these. This fact may be unpalatable to many but is nevertheless a reality in today's Pakistan. This equation, it must be understood, cannot change for good if India refuses to talk to the civilian leadership and thereby, by default, allow the military to strengthen its hold even more.

What Dr Manmohan Singh has done is to open the conversation, once again. It was essential to break the deadlock which, after a point of time, could have been counter-productive. When you are dealing with complex situations like the one which the Mumbai attack created, there is a need to look beyond the responses which you have tried and failed. India wants Pakistan to take decisive and strong action against the terrorist groups like the LeT and prevent them from carrying out attacks. This is not the first time India has asked for such an action and the Pakistani reaction, till now, has been not been any different from the past.

It has been our experience that there are only two ways to deal with Pakistan's recalcitrant towards terrorist groups like the LeT -- take punitive military action or exert pressure through a multi-pronged approach which relies primarily on dialogue. The military action is not an option India has been looking at; even the most vocal critic of the joint statement has not made such a suggestion; the 'only way forward' is dialogue.

The statement nowhere mentions the resumption of the composite dialogue which was put on the freezer after the Mumbai attacks. The only indication is the direction that "both foreign secretaries should meet as often as necessary" and report to the two foreign ministers who will meet on the sidelines of the forthcoming UN General Assembly. In other words, there would be a series of 'talks about talks' before a decision is taken to resume the dialogue.

Was there US pressure on India to make such a 'concession'? It would be fair to presume that there was considerable international pressure on India to resume the process of dialogue with Pakistan. In a way, Dr Singh's s decision to agree for a joint statement just before the visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, perhaps, has checkmated the possibility of making such a statement after or during her visit. As for heeding the international pressure is concerned, India has always been keen to part of the global community and therefore is obliged to be more broadminded about global concerns unlike North Korea.

The challenge before the Manmohan Singh government is to persuade the Pakistani leadership to understand that there are no good or bad terrorists and all terrorists pose an existential threat to civilized societies.

Wilson John