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Joint statement is against India's national interests

By Satish Chandra
July 24, 2009 19:11 IST
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Constituting a 180-degree turnabout from the position hitherto taken by India, that there would be no talks with Pakistan until it brings to book the perpetrators of 26/11 and dismantles the infrastructure of terror, the India-Pakistan joint statement of July 16 is a sellout.

This should not, however, come as a surprise as the government's ineptitude has long been on display most notably in its handling of 26/11, its conclusion of a seriously flawed nuclear deal, its sudden discovery, after over five years in office, that it had "underestimated" the menace of left wing extremism, and its taking a "gamble" on the nation's economy in going in for a massive fiscal deficit.

Oozing a lack of professionalism, the joint statement is against our national interests. The fact that it was, therefore, best avoided as evident from the textual analysis given below:

  • The prime ministers 'considered the entire gamut of bilateral relations with a view to charting the way forward in India-Pakistan relations' and agreed that the foreign secretaries should 'meet as often as necessary and report to the two foreign ministers' who would meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

(Comment: This, coupled with the two hour long prime ministers' meeting,  indicates that the India-Pakistan dialogue is already  underway and contradicts our assertion that the dialogue would begin only after the perpetrators of 26/11 are brought to book and that there is no road map for resumption of talks).

  • 'Both leaders agreed that that terrorism is the main threat to both countries.'

(Comment: This equates India and Pakistan in respect of terrorism, glossing over the fact that the latter is involved with terrorist activities directed against the former. It constitutes a flashback to 2006 when we made out that Pakistan like India is a victim of terror. Is it any surprise, therefore, that we have failed to galvanize the international community to pressurize Pakistan to dismantle the infrastructure of terror?)

  • In response to the PM's call to bring the perpetrators of 26/11 to justice Pakistan Prime Minister Gilani stated that they would 'do everything in its power in this regard', that it had given an updated status dossier on investigations into 26/11, and that it sought additional information/evidence. PM said that the dossier was under review.

(Comment: The PM's demand was, unfortunately, minimalist. It was restricted only to seeking satisfaction on 26/11 with no call for dismantling the infrastructure of terror or even an assurance, as given by Pakistan in January 2004, that the territory under its control would not be used for terrorist attacks against India. Pakistan's response was also minimalist and not even in the nature of a cast iron guarantee that those responsible for 26/11 would be brought to justice. Moreover, the ball is now in India's court, in respect of 26/11, as we are yet to respond to the dossier given to us).

  • Both prime ministers agreed that they 'will share in real time credible information on any future terrorist threats'.

(Comment: In the absence of trust between the two countries and  Pakistan's continued intransigence on terrorism, as  exemplified by increased infiltration and the existence of over 40 terrorist training camps in that country, this proposition is absurd. It is akin to suggesting that one sleep with one's rapist. In practical terms, the sharing of such intelligence by us with Pakistan would be most imprudent and doing so would jeopardize our security. It may, moreover, be recalled that the joint anti terror mechanism set up by us with Pakistan in 2006 has proved to be useless).

  • Prime Minister Gilani mentioned that 'Pakistan has some information on threats in Baluchistan and other areas'.

(Comment: This is the first time that an India-Pakistan joint statement hints at Indian involvement in Baluchistan and in 'other areas'. It is myopic to see no harm in this as it equates India with Pakistan as a perpetrator of terror. The international community, which hitherto was convinced of our bona fides on this account will now begin to have doubts. Finally, this will be used to discredit the Baluchistan freedom struggle and harsher measures against it by the Pakistani authorities are on the cards.

  • Both the prime ministers recognised that 'dialogue is the only way forward. Action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed'. The PM added that India was ready to discuss with Pakistan all issues 'including all outstanding issues'.

(Comment: Firstly, it is a cardinal error to renounce all one's options for dealing with any country. In the instant case, it relieves all pressure on Pakistan to eschew the use of terror as an instrument of foreign policy against us.  Secondly, it demonstrates that India is a paper tiger unwilling to stand up for its critical national interests even in South Asia. Thirdly, the sentence read in its entirety, together with the indepth PM-level  discussions in Sharm El Sheikh and the programme of talks detailed in the joint statement, debunks the Indian assertion that  Pakistan is required to give us satisfaction on 26/11 before the composite dialogue can begin.

In this context, as a pointer to the PM's mindset and in a startling similarity to what he has committed himself to in the aforesaid statement, it is germane to recall that in April 2005 in a joint statement he along with Musharraf  declared that the peace process was 'irreversible' and 'pledged that they would not allow terrorism to impede the peace process'. In any case, the differing interpretations by Pakistan and India on this issue before the ink was even dry on the joint statement does not reflect well on the principals involved.

Finally, it is puerile to contend, as some have, that the K word does not figure in the statement as the phrase 'outstanding issues' is shorthand for the same).

  • 'Prime Minister Singh reiterated India's interest in a stable, democratic, Islamic Republic of Pakistan'.

(Comment: It ill behoves the prime minister of a secular country to espouse an interest in the religious labelling of any State. What would be his position if tomorrow the democratic forces in Pakistan decide that it should be a secular state?

The joint statement is badly worded and will have adverse consequences for India as it will encourage Pakistan in its involvement with terrorist activities against us and will undermine our international and regional standing. This is all the more so as it comes at a time when Pakistan has given us little satisfaction on 26/11.

Had the PM wanted a dialogue with Pakistan only on terrorism this could have been held at the official level without the drama of a long PM-level meeting and an elaborate joint statement. Obviously, US pressure is at work here and the conclusion of the joint statement on the eve of Hillary Clinton's visit gives the game away.

If our vote against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency marked the beginning of the erosion of India's independent foreign policy, the India-Pakistan joint statement represents the culmination of the process. We now enjoy the dubious privilege of having become a subsidiary state of the US.  

The author is a former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan and former deputy national security advisor 

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Satish Chandra