If the Congress decides in favour of mid-term polls, a visit to Pakistan by the prime minister could prove unwise and counter-productive, says B Raman
Pakistani media reports on the meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, on the margins of the Non Aligned Movement Summit in Tehran on August 29, are tinged with ill-concealed disappointment over the perceived reluctance of our PM to make a definitive commitment over a possible visit by him to Pakistan.
A few weeks ago, Zardari was reported to have written to Dr Singh, inviting him to visit the Sikh holy shrines in and around Lahore in November.
According to reliable Pakistani sources, no formal reply to the invitation has so far gone to Islamabad from New Delhi. Pakistani leaders were hoping that some positive indications of a likely acceptance of the invitation might be forthcoming during the meeting between the two leaders in Tehran.
The indications from New Delhi before our PM's departure for Tehran -- that India would not be taking up with Pakistan the allegations of the Pakistani State's role in dissemination of exaggerated and false accounts of the recent anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar and India through cyber space with the help of morphed images to create panic among the people from North-East living in south India and Pune -- added to the Pakistani hopes of a positive reply from our prime minister.
Before the PM's departure for Tehran, sections of the Indian media had carried what appeared to be authoritative though unattributed reports that Dr Singh would not raise this issue with Zardari for want of evidence regarding any role of the Pakistani State in its dissemination.
This lowered the somewhat high temperature created following earlier briefings from officials of the Union home ministry insinuating a possible role of the Pakistani State agencies.
According to Pakistani journalists who had accompanied Zardari to Tehran, Dr Singh confined himself to reiterating the importance of early and satisfactory prosecution of the master conspirators of the 26/11 terror strike in Mumbai, who are now facing a trial before a special anti-terrorism tribunal in Rawalpindi. He was reported to have stated that effective action by Pakistan to take the trial to its logical conclusion would be an important confidence-building measure.
While Pakistani sources describe the atmosphere during the discussions as good, there is disappointment over the continuing reluctance of the prime minister to visit Pakistan. It is stated that while keeping open the possibility of a visit at an appropriate time, Dr Singh was disinclined to give definitive indications of dates.
According to reliable Pakistani sources, Dr Singh was a little more cautious on the question of a possible visit by him to Pakistan than he was during the visit of Zardari to Delhi in April.
Despite the implication of Pakistani agencies by Abu Jundal, the Indian terrorist belonging to the Lashkar-e-Tayiba who had played a major role in the orchestration from Karachi of the 26/11 terrorist strikes, there have been no negative factors of a serious nature in the bilateral relations since Zardari's visit.
If reports from my Pakistani sources -- of an extra-cautious Dr Singh on the question of a visit to Pakistan -- are correct, it is my assessment that this could not be due to any fresh negative factors in the bilateral relations. This could be more due to the fact that the Congress party is toying with the idea of mid-term polls either this year-end or in the beginning of next year.
In the calculations of the Congress party, simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and the Gujarat assembly would keep Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, bottled up in his own state and come in the way of his playing an active role in the campaign in the rest of India. Early polls would also prevent activist Anna Hazare and his followers from politically organising themselves.
If the Congress decides in favour of mid-term polls, any new initiative in Indo-Pakistan relations -- such as a visit to Pakistan by the prime minister -- could prove unwise and counter-productive.
Hence, the prime minister's reported extra caution during his talks with Zardari in Tehran.