Siddharth Varadarajan

Manmohan guarded on future Pakistan policy

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may have got away with “running into” his Pakistani counterpart twice during the Nuclear Security Summit, which ended here on Tuesday, but Indian officials know a more substantial encounter between the two men during the SAARC summit in Bhutan at the end of the month is inevitable.

Their problem: stumbling into each other at a large venue requires little planning or effort; but avoiding each other at a small venue calls for a lot of both.

“I did run into [Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani] twice and we exchanged pleasantries,” Dr. Singh told reporters of his Washington experience. “In fact, I complimented [him] on the passage of the Constitution Amendment which makes the Prime Minister a more powerful personality in Pakistan's political system,” he said, adding that beyond that there was no serious discussion on any other issue.

In Bhutan, the Indian side knows such limited contact won't suffice but that there is also little time or circumstance for going much further either. Asked at a press conference what he hoped to achieve in Thimphu when he met Mr. Gilani, the Prime Minister refused to take the bait. “Well [there] is still time to think about meeting in Bhutan. I think when we reach there, we will cross that bridge,” he said in an attempt at keeping expectations in check.

Speaking to The Hindu on background, a senior Indian official summed up the dilemma. For the two principals to go beyond pleasantries, some mutual consultation by their foreign offices is essential so that a basic agenda is worked out and the encounter does not rebound on either. But with Islamabad insisting on the acceptance of its ‘road map' for the resumption of composite dialogue, such coordination did not seem possible, the official said.

In his answers to questions on Pakistan during his press conference, Dr. Singh combined tact with a firmness of resolve and even truculence on the terrorism issue.

On the prospect of a civil nuclear agreement between the U.S. and Pakistan, he struck a different tone from his External Affairs Ministry, which recently came out against such a deal. “Who am I to interfere with what goes on between the United States and Pakistan? That's a matter for these two countries to consider,” he replied.

But on terror, the Prime Minister didn't mince his words. “I don't see there is any need for further evidence about the role of the Lashkar-e-Taiba,” he said, when asked about Mr. Gilani's statement here at a roundtable that “more effective” evidence was needed against the Lashkar-e-Taiba. “I would hate to enter into an argument with him in a press conference,” said Dr. Singh. “The American intelligence and American forces have themselves pointed out the role of the LeT and their links to Al-Qaeda. So, I do not think there is any need for me to produce additional evidence to Prime Minister Gilani about the role the Lashkar, Hafiz Sayeed, Ilyas Kashmiri and Zaki-ur-Rahman are playing in fanning terrorist acts directed against India.”

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2020 9:05:00 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/siddharth-varadarajan/Manmohan-guarded-on-future-Pakistan-policy/article16242633.ece

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