Manmohan to meet Bush, Zardari

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Indian Ambassador in Germany Meera Shankar introduces Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to German officials on his arrival at the Frankfurt airport on Monday.
Indian Ambassador in Germany Meera Shankar introduces Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to German officials on his arrival at the Frankfurt airport on Monday.

Harish Khare

The Prime Minister is not going to sign anything in the U.S.: senior official

Frankfurt: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived here Monday evening, for overnight halt, on his way to the United States to meet President George Bush, even though his delegation is unsure whether the U.S. Congress will be able to complete its internal process on approving the 123 agreement during his American stay.

According to a senior official accompanying the Prime Minister, it makes “no difference” whether or not the Congress completes its process over the next few days. “We have waited for more than two years; it will happen; in any case, the Prime Minister is not going to sign anything [during the visit].”

The senior official told the media delegation that the Bush Administration had been particularly understanding of the Indian views, and there was sufficient bipartisan support for the India-U.S. civilian agreement. “It has not become a domestic political issue in the U.S.,” and India would like to keep it that way.

Scheduled interaction

Already, the Prime Minister has a scheduled interaction, on September 24, with the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain. Efforts are on to arrange a similar meeting with the Democratic nominee, Barrack Obama, according to the officials.

However, there is no plan to engage in any way with the congressional leadership. “We are not going to negotiate [with any Congressman],” noted the senior official unambiguously. About the immediate fate of the 123, he said. “It is their domestic process; why should we fret about it?”

Unconcernedly resigned to the angularities of the American legislative system and its time-table, the Prime Minister and his aides have their hands full with a number of bilateral interactions during Dr. Singh’s U.S. sojourn.

To wait and watch

On Wednesday morning, he is scheduled to meet the Chinese Prime Minister, as also the President of the World Bank. And, the same evening he is pencilled in to meet Pakistan’s new President Asif Ali Zardari for half hour.

And, on the eve of the meeting with Mr. Zardari, the Indian delegation appears to have decided to wait and watch how the various power players in Pakistan would arrange themselves and in what order.

According to the senior Indian official, the powerful ISI remains “a source of our troubles.” As far as the Pakistan Army was concerned, there was a “studied pattern” [of hostile intent], the official added. The ceasefire violations increased on the eve of the Manmohan Singh-Zardari meeting. And, then, there was no clarity on who was in charge of Pakistan.

The Indian view on the Pakistani Army is in a flux. “If it was so powerful, why was it not in control? Public opinion is no longer so favourable to it, and it feels it does not have the legitimacy. It needs to fix itself,” the official said.

And while the Indian view is that President Zardari is not in full control, the Indian government would still prefer to do business with him. “After all he is the President” is the refrain.

“He [Zardari] needs legitimacy at home he gets by shaking hands with Manmohan Singh,” the Indian official commented.

When the Prime Minister meets Mr. Zardari, the idea will be to hear what the new Pakistani constitutional functionary has to say. However, the official made it clear that the Indian side would expect him to express his understanding of the bombing of the Indian mission in Kabul, the repeated violation of the ceasefire along the India-Pakistan borders, and the cross-border terrorism.

Need to deliver

Notwithstanding the doubts about the totality of control Mr. Zardari exercises in Pakistan, the Indian view is that he would need to deliver. “We are not going to give any certificate of good conduct. In his self-interest, he will work with us,” the Indian official summed up.

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