31 July 2009

The CNN-IBN debate on the PM's Pakistan speech

I took part in a debate on Rajdeep Sardesai's show on CNN-IBN the night Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed Parliament on his Pakistan policy. The other participants were Arun Jaitley, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, and Nasim Zehra, the senior Pakistani journalist, on the phone from Islamabad...

8:30-9:00 PM - 30 July 2009

The video links are in seven parts: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7

And the summary as put out by the channel is below...

Keep talking but force Pak to act against terror

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday defended his government's foreign policy in after a prolonged attack by the Opposition in Parliament. Manmohan said that India had to carry on dialogue with Pakistan and severing talks with Pakistan was not an option.

He also gave out details of the 34-page dossier where Pakistan has agreed to the involvement of terror groups based on its soil in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack and has given details of its investigation including the arrest of those Lashkar-e-Toiba leaders Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi and Zarar Shah.

He also referred to Atal Bihari Vajpayee's efforts to make peace with Pakistan while defending the Indo-Pak joint statement and repeatedly stressed that zero tolerance policy on terror was still on.

He once again stressed no composite dialogue will take place unless Pakistan acted on terror but Pakistan's word must be trusted and the Opposition must allow the government to verify Islamabad's actions.

His answer to the contentious line on Balochistan was, however, far from convincing for the Opposition with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Lok Sabha MP Yashwant Sinha slamming the government and asking why was there such a difference in interpretation of the statement.

Sinha warned that Balochistan would return to haunt India in the future. Even Janata Dal (United) clamed that there was a divide between the government and the Congress party on the issue and said that India was under pressure from the US during talks with Pakistan at Sharm-el-Sheikh.

Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley, Associate Editor of The Hindu Siddharth Varadarajan, former diplomat KC Singh, Pakistani political analyst Naseem Zehra and Pakistan's Ambassador to the UN Abdullah Hussain Haroon joined CNN-IBN to discuss the Indo-Pak joint statement issued at Sharm-el-Sheikh.

Has Prime Minister successfully explained how terror is delinked from talks with Pakistan?

Prime Minister has said that meaningful talks with Pakistan can only take place when terror infrastructure is dismantled. It seems that the de-bracketing of terror talks from composite dialogue has been successfully answered.

Arun Jaitley claimed that there was no consistency in what the Prime Minister had said in Parliament and added that mere statements could not be the basis of foreign policy.

“I have no problem with what the Prime Minister said in Parliament but the problem is that what the Prime Minister said is completely inconsistent with the joint text which is the written word that the Government of India has signed. International relations are governed by joint text and not by unilateral statements made in your own country. The document says dialogue is the only way forward. It them goes on to say that action against terror cannot be linked to composite dialogue... the two have to be de-bracketed, which means that there is a change of policy. My problem is that you give emphasis to dialogue with terror contrary to the January 6, 2004 document that was dialogue without terror. The present document is dialogue irrespective of terror,” said Jaitley.

“According to me the Prime Minister has made a unilateral statement which is not connected to the document. The statement made today s runs counter to the written commitment of the Government of India. The joint text is loaded against us - be it Balochistan, be it terror,” he said.

Siddharth Varadarajan agreed with Jaitley’s assessment but pointed that that the joint statement served the interests of both India and Pakistan

“Jaitley is right in pointing to inelegant drafting of joint statement. But that inelegant drafting was deliberate because it allowed both India and Pakistan to walk away with interpretations which satisfies their domestic audiences. The Prime Minister has said that Pakistan does not have to wait for the composite dialogue to begin to act against terror. Pakistani Prime Minister Yousf Raza Gilani said last week that whatever Manmohan Singh has said on the floor of the House is what we agreed to at Sharm-el-Sheikh,” said Varadarajan.

So the problem seems to be in drafting and not with the interpretation.

Jaitley once again took potshots at the statement.

“I think a charitable explanation would be incompetence... a realistic interpretation would be that the policy has changed and that they are not bold enough to admit to the country that 'yes we did change the policy',” said Jaitley.

However, Varadarajan claimed that there would be no composite dialogue till Pakistan acted against terror.

“This is not about the language of the statement. The practical consequence is embodied in its very last paragraph where it says that the foreign secretaries will meet and the foreign ministers will meet. It is very clear that there is no resumption of composite dialogue and the Prime Minister has clarified this. Gilani when he was asked in Sharm-el-Sheikh that does this mean that composite dialogue will resume essentially said that he hopes that it does,” he said.

Pakistani political analyst, however, harped on the fact that India and Pakistan had not stopped talking even in the aftermath of the war in Kargil.

“There are two things. One, in the last decade Pakistan and India's experience has been that dialogue is really the tool that helps us deal with most of the problems. Even terrorism is being dealt with this tool called dialogue. Your Prime Minister has made it clear that we are not going to abandon dialogue. On the other hand Pakistan-India relations cannot basically move towards any fruitful cooperation unless and until unless security related issue which is of terrorism is addressed whether we are talking about Kashmir, Mumbai or Balochistan. Within weeks of Kargil, Brajesh Mishra and Pakistan's senior Foreign Ministry official Tariq Fatmi met in Geneva, which means BJP too recognises that dialogue is crucial when there is a problem,” said Naseem.

Manmohan Singh said that when Vajpayee took peace initiatives the Congress then in Opposition supported the government. But now the foreign policy consensus seems to be breaking down.

“In principle dialogue is really the way forward. Engagement with Pakistan would be necessary but you have to decide at what level the engagement would go on. But the question is will this dialogue go on with the condition that Pakistan will bring down terror and not allow its territory to be used or irrespective of the Pakistani attitude the dialogue will go on. We want a dialogue without terror. The document that Manmohan Singh and Gilani have signed does not reflect the foreign policy consensus in India,” claimed Jaitley.

Will Balochistan haunt Manmohan Singh in dealing with Pakistan?

Varadarajan pooh-poohed the idea saying nothing of that sort will happen.

“It is much ado about nothing. The absence of Blaochistan before the joint statement did not prevent Gilani in raising it vociferously in Sharm-el-Sheikh. Tomorrow if Pakistan has evidence they will raise it and we will discuss it. If you are involved and foolish enough to leave evidence then it will be raised. If you are not involved and there is no evidence why worry about any discussion,” said the veteran journalist.

Jaitley was sceptical and said that Balochistan would be a sore point for India.

“That is too simplistic an explanation. The reference to Balochistan is not for nothing. Words are not put into joint text, which do not carry any meaning or purpose. When Prime Minister said Pakistan is also a victim of terror he brought Pakistan at parity with India. At Sharm-el-Shiekh the Prime Minister went as a victim of terror and came back virtually saying that India is the perpetrator of terror as far as Balochistan is concerned,” said Jaitley.

Has Manmohan Singh carried forward Vajpayee's legacy?

Singh said during the debate in Parliament that if "sworn enemies like Iran and US can think of starting to talk why not Pakistan and India". He also said that "it is time to trust Pakistan and that's what Vajpayee did and I am following that legacy".

Jaitley was once again quick to punch holes in the argument.

“There is not much of difference except one point. It is good to follow Vajpayee legacy and to work towards dialogue with Pakistan. But must you delink dialogue with terror? Must we have dialogue with terror or must we have dialogue without terror? To accept in writing that we can have dialogue with terror is not Vajpayee legacy,” said the erudite lawyer.

Varadarajan pointed out that Vajpayee has agreed to resume talks on mere verbal assurances by Pakistani leadership that its territory won’t be used for launching attacks against India.

”Let us set aside Sharm-el-Shekih and take the bull by the horn. At Islamabad on January 6, 2004 prime minister Vajpayee agreed to resumption of dialogue on nothing other that promise from president Prevez Musharraf that his territory would not be used for terrorist attacks against India. Musharraf said that his action against dialogue would be based on a sustained and productive dialogue. He was linking the two. This statement is an improvement on that. Secondly why do we forget that Pakistan has gone the farthest than it has ever gone in acknowledging that its territory has been used by terrorists. This is a major concession. Whether they follow through and successfully prosecute the big fish remains to be seen. But it would be churlish on our part not to recognise that and not to build a policy based on that reality,” he said.

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