Thursday, June 18, 2009

Manmohan-Zardari Meeting: India Talks Tough on Terror

A significant meeting between Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari in Yekaterinburg (Russia), shortly after the conclusion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit, has sent out a clear message that India and Pakistan were edging towards the normalisation of bilateral relations, nearly seven months after the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

Primary Cause of Tension
Dr. told Zardari that the primary cause of the tension between their two countries was the terrorist attacks being launched against India from the Pakistani territory. Dr. Singh was quite forthright in conveying to Zardari, who he had last met in September 2008 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, the full extent of India’s expectations from Pakistan.

The three conditions laid by Manmohan Singh for the resumption of dialogue were: Pakistan must take strong and effective action against forces representing terrorism, act against the perpetrators of terror attacks in India and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. He also conveyed to Zardari India’s disappointment over the release of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, chief of the Jamat-ud-Dawa (Jud), one of the key plotters of the Mumbai carnage.

The beleaguered Pakistan president, who is facing the heat from the Pakistan Army, as well as the Inter- Services Intelligence (ISI) back home, explained to Manmohan Singh the steps being taken by Pakistan to tackle terrorism and the problems the country was facing to deal with the menace.

Stern Warning to Pakistan
Dr. Singh gave a stern warning to Zardari in the presence of media. He demanded that Pakistani soil must not be used for terrorist activities against India. The Indian Prime Minister should be congratulated for this bold stand. An unreliable country, expert at making excuses, does not deserve a better treatment. Dr. Singh has proved that he can be as firm as he is modest. He must maintain this firm attitude in the future also since Pakistan can never be depended upon.

The Prime Minister's strong stand leaves no scope for any doubt that he had made the decision for talks under US pressure. Whatever might be the US intention, the Prime Minister's sternness has proved that India would brook no indifference to its interests. Had the Indian leadership taken a similar stand against Pakistan in the past, matters would, perhaps, not come to this stage.

Agenda for Future Talks
Dr. Singh and Zardari directed their Foreign Secretaries to meet within the next one month and discuss the “primary issue of terrorism” before the two leaders meet again on the margins of the NAM Summit in Egypt on July 15-16.

However, it was necessary for India to spell out that any future talks with Pakistan would have the single agenda of terrorism. This is certainly an indication of a basic change in Indian diplomacy, which should yield positive results. However, Zardari's statement in context of use of Pakistan territory for anti-Indian activities alone cannot cause much satisfaction. His predecessors had given similar assurances. In fact, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had given a written assurance to India in 2004 to this effect. Yet, the experience of the past five years shows that Pakistan has knowingly gone back on this commitment. The terrible Mumbai attacks prove this fact.

There is no reason to believe in Pakistan's promises. It had pledged to punish the conspirators of the Mumbai attacks, but it did just the reverse. As a result, terrorist leader Saeed, believed to be the mastermind behind the plot, was set free for want of evidence. Since Pakistan will not easily shed off its anti-Indian attitude, it will be necessary to move cautiously in discussions on terrorism. There is also reason to believe that Pakistan will once again harp on the old irrelevant issue of solving the Kashmir problem immediately.

Opportunity for Pakistan
It is high time for India to stop being in the defensive on this issue; Kashmir has certainly been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan. But the party that has to take a defensive stand on it has to be Pakistan.

By shaking hands with Pakistani President Zardari, Prime Minister Dr. Singh has proved that despite committing so many crimes, India is ready to give it one more opportunity. Now, it depends on Pakistan whether it uses the opportunity to restore its credibility around the world, or lets its narrow selfish interests and deep-rooted enmity get the better of it.

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