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Sharm-el-Sheikh like surrender in Thimphu

February 14, 2011 14:15 IST

The Indian people need to know what the Manmohan Singh government expects to achieve from the dialogue from Pakistan. This obsession of normalising of relations with Pakistan, even if this is at the cost of India's territorial unity and integrity, is acquiring dangerous dimensions, says Sushant Sareen.

Cut through the claptrap of diplomatese and it is clear that the Manmohan Singh government has accepted all of Pakistan's demands and put the Composite Dialogue back on the rails; only the word 'composite' will be replaced by words like 'comprehensive', 'continuous', and 'constructive' to put a positive spin on what is clearly a capitulation by India.

Given the track record of the Manmohan Singh-led dispensation's policy on Pakistan, the complete about turn made by the Indian government on the commitment and assurance given to the Indian people that it would not get back to the Composite Dialogue framework until the perpetrators and plotters of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai were brought to justice, should come as no surprise.

Within weeks of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, it had become apparent that the Indian prime minister was desperate to restart the dialogue with Pakistan and was willing to do anything and pay any price to this end. The Sharm-el-Sheikh joint statement, in which he pulled out all stops to appease the Pakistanis, stands as testimony to the Indian government's feckless approach to putting an end to cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan.

Even the insult heaped on the Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, by his Pakistani counterpart in Islamabad last July did not dissuade the Indian prime minister to stop committing the folly of pursuing what is clearly a desultory peace track with Pakistan. In Islamabad, Krishna had practically conceded on everything that the Pakistanis wanted; the only sticking point was that India wanted to save some face by not committing to any firm time line for resolving issues like Kashmir, Siachen etc.

Sensing the desperation in the Indian prime minister to start the dialogue, the Pakistanis decided to go for broke which led to the talks collapsing. But what the Pakistanis couldn't get in Islamabad has now been given to them on a platter in Thimphu.

Fearful of a fierce reaction from the Indian public opinion, the Indian external affairs ministry is chary of admitting that India has returned to the Composite Dialogue. It is therefore misleading the Indian public by peddling the nonsense of 'sequentially' discussing all issues that were part of the Composite Dialogue process, culminating in the visit of the Pakistani foreign minister.

Pray, what else was the Composite Dialogue process? In order to sweeten the bitter pill being administered to the Indian public, issues like Kashmir and Siachen will be come later in the 'sequencing' process, by which time it is hoped that a manufactured bonhomie will make Indian public opinion amenable to a return to the Composite Dialogue (sorry, the Indian foreign secretary doesn't like 'getting stuck in terminology' and prefers to call it a return to a 'constructive' dialogue in which 'no issue will be left out').

Regardless of the reasons for Manmohan Singh's obsessive quest for improving relations with Pakistan -- warding off American pressure (such 'pressure' is essentially only in the mind and one can take a lesson from how successfully a bankrupt Pakistan which is completely dependent on US aid shrugs it off), winning the Nobel Prize (isn't the prime ministership of India a big enough prize?), economic spin-off's of South Asian peace (it is not Pakistan that stops India's progress but the dysfunctional administration and horrendously corrupt and venal political system, epitomised by the Rajas, Radias and Kalmadis, over which he presides and protects?), to save Pakistan from its self-created jihadi monsters (if the Americans can't do this, India surely can't, nor for that matter, does Pakistan even want to be saved from them since they are Pakistan's biggest foreign exchange earner in the form of Western aid) -- the manner in which the so-called peace process is being pursued by the Indian PM is likely to reaffirm Pakistan's assessment of India as a country that just doesn't have the staying power to follow through with its stated policy.

The Pakistani perception of India had been once summed up by one of their Inter Services Intelligence chiefs -- Javed Nasir, the man was behind the Mumbai blasts in 1993 -- who said that 'you lick the Indians, they kick you; and if you kick the Indians, they lick you'. The government's Pakistan policy has only proved the Pakistani general correct.

After all, when after 26/11 the Pakistanis were begging India for a dialogue, the Indians refused; and now that the Pakistanis are kicking the Indians, the Manmohan Singh government is grovelling for a dialogue. No wonder, the Pakistanis never took Manmohan Singh seriously even after the 26/11 attacks.

They adopted a two pronged approach with the Indian PM: stonewall all demands for bringing the guilty of 26/11 attacks to justice and at the same time heap him with compliments -- visionary, statesman etc -- which will seduce him to forget the massacre of Indians by Pakistani terrorists and bring him scurrying back to the dialogue table.

But even the Pakistanis would have been surprised by the timing of the initiatives taken by India to get back to the talks table. The invitation to the Pakistan foreign secretary last year came against the backdrop of the London Conference on Afghanistan which had got the Pakistanis all excited and flush with misplaced triumphalism that their double game in Afghanistan had succeeded and that India's willingness to resume the dialogue was a sign of its weakness.

This year the talks took place a couple of days after the Pakistanis observed the Kashmir Solidarity day, a day on which jihadi terrorists like the Lashkar-e-Tayiba held rallies in the heart of every major city of Pakistan and openly threatening nuclear jihad on India.

For the Indian foreign secretary to call the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief, Hafiz Saeed, 'an inconsequential person' smacks of an unfortunate lack of understanding of the reality in Pakistan. The fact of the matter is that Hafiz Saeed is the most important man in Pakistan, and his power is comparable to that of the army chief. He has today become the symbol of that country and every institution of the Pakistani state -- the judiciary, the army, the political parties, and the media -- go out of their way to protect and defend him. His significance can be gauged by the fact that even the Pakistan army is afraid of acting against him.

But it is not just the actions of Hafiz Saeed which the Manmohan Singh government wishes to turn a blind eye; in order to create a conducive climate for the dialogue, the Indian foreign secretary has been desperately brushing under the carpet the stream of vitriol pouring out from the Pakistani foreign office over the last few months.

Surely, the Pakistani foreign office must be touched by the enormous understanding that the Indian foreign secretary has shown for their compulsion to bad-mouth India. Interestingly, even as the foreign secretary says that it would be unrealistic to expect her Pakistani counterpart to criticise his spokesman or his foreign minister, she was most ready to accept the Pakistani foreign secretary's assurance that "the Pakistan army was on board to take these talks forward".

Worse, this was offered to the Indian media as something that would lend weight to the dialogue between the two countries. Did she actually expect her Pakistani counterpart to say that the Pakistan army was not on board? Nor did she bother to explain why, if the Pakistan army is so keen on talks, the entire infrastructure of terrorism directed against India has been reactivated by them.

Even if we ignore all these inconvenient facts, surely the people of India need to know what action has been taken by the Pakistani authorities against the patrons of the 26/11 attacks. What has happened in the last six months that India feels that Pakistan has done enough to warrant a return to the Composite Dialogue?

If anything, reports in the Pakistani press have revealed that the Pakistanis have warned India that the accused standing trial in Pakistan for their involvement in the 26/11 attacks are going to be released by the Pakistani courts if permission is not given to the judicial commission formed by Pakistan to examine Indian officials who investigated the 26/11 attacks.

The Indian people also need to know what the Manmohan Singh government expects to achieve from the dialogue from Pakistan. Stories doing the rounds in New Delhi hint at a compromise on the issue of Siachen. If there is an iota of truth in these stories then this obsession of normalising of relations with Pakistan, even if this is at the cost of India's territorial unity and integrity, is acquiring dangerous dimensions.

While peace and friendship are entirely desirable objectives, they are not an end in themselves. The Indian people need to be informed as to what we hope to achieve from peace and normalisation with Pakistan and whether the price that is being demanded off India in terms of a compromise in its core national interest, self-respect and dignity is worth it.

As things stand, if the current dispensation doesn't give up its non-serious and cavalier approach to issues of vital national security, then it is only a matter of time that another 26/11 type of attack is repeated in India. And going by the namby-pamby approach of this government, it should be clear that all the talk of India being forced to retaliate in the event of another major terrorist attack is nothing but an empty boast.

As long as this government is in power, the terrorists and their sponsors know that India will retaliate only by threatening to retaliate.

Sushant Sareen