India’s Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has been frequently accused of being soft towards Pakistan and being overly eager to talk with Islamabad without obtaining reciprocal gains particularly on the counter terrorism front. In the wake of Bin Laden killing and terrorist attacks on Pakistan Naval air base in Karachi for the first time there are indications that Dr Man Mohan Singh may be shifting tack and demanding more proof of Pakistan’s sincerity in dismantling terrorism infrastructure in that country. This may be bad news for those who had been cultivating hopes of a rapprochement for the diehard commitment of Dr Man Mohan Singh was their strongest strand.
|The tensions between India and Pakistan in the recent past after the killing of Osama and statements by some Indian military leaders being taken amiss in Rawalpindi and the need to ensure adequate security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal may therefore prevent agreement involving the militaries in the near future.
It is evident that the safety and concerns of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons after the Mehran base attack may be one of the reasons for the shift, for the reality of an imploding Pakistan may have dawned on Dr Manmohan Singh. Replying to a question on his return air trip from Africa framed by the Prime Minister’s media managers as, “On recent attack in Pakistan and need to re-calibrate our Pakistan policy”, he is said to have stated, “And I hope that Pakistan will also recognise that this monster of terrorism which they unleashed at one time, is hurting them as much as it can hurt our country. And it is in this background that we have to look at our relations with Pakistan”.
With reference to the approach towards Pakistan post revelations of David Headley he added, “As Pakistan’s neighbour, we have great worries about the terror machine that is still intact in Pakistan. We would like Pakistan to take much more effective action to curb the activities of those Jehadi groups which particularly target a country, like India”.
These responses are a far cry from earlier statements which talked of both India and Pakistan being victims of terrorism and that India’s role in Balochistan as claimed by Pakistan should be investigated. In the light of these and other statements it is possible that India may adopt a firm approach towards Pakistan in the forthcoming series of talks with that country.
For instance India has recently flagged concerns over safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. "Naturally, it is a concern not only for us but for everybody," Defence minister AK Antony told reporters after addressing the naval commanders at their biannual conference. "Developments in Pakistan, especially in Karachi, are a matter of serious concern to us. We are closely monitoring and we are taking precautions also. But at the same time, we don't want to overreact. We are also concerned about the developments," Antony said.
In addition the defence minister AK Antony also identified that dismantling of 42 terror camps in Pakistan was key to complete normalization of relations between the two countries. "The government would continue the dialogue with its neighbour. The scheduled resumption of talks between defence secretaries of both the countries in New Delhi on May 30 and 31 was to carry on the dialogue. But dismantling of the 42 terror camps in Pakistan was key to a permanent resolution of problems between the two countries," Mr Antony said after the foundation stone laying ceremony for the first ever Indian Coast Guard Academy (ICGA) in Kannur on 28 May.
For the Indian foreign office the discovery of Bin Laden and his killing in Abottabad, Pakistan posed a dilemma as it was following a course of reconciliation with the Pakistani establishment with the initiative led by the Prime Minister but lacked larger support of the strategic community. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) initial statement on the death of Osama was to denote it as a historical event. “It is a historic development and victorious milestone in the global war against the forces of terrorism,” said the MEA.
Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram on the other hand issued a statement on the killing of terrorist Osama Bin Laden, he stated, “We take note with grave concern that part of the statement in which President Obama said that the fire fight in which Osama Bin Laden was killed took place in Abbotabad “deep inside Pakistan”. This fact underlines our concern that terrorists belonging to different organisations find sanctuary in Pakistan”. He also added, “that the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attack, including the controllers and handlers of the terrorists who actually carried out the attack, continue to be sheltered in Pakistan. We once again call upon the Government of Pakistan to arrest the persons whose names have been handed over to the Interior Minister of Pakistan as well as provide voice samples of certain persons who are suspected to be among the controllers and handlers of the terrorists.” [Based on MHA India Press Release].
The statement by the Minister of Home Affairs on support by Pakistan to terrorist groups who are operating in that country underlined India’s initial position on Bin Laden killing in Abottabad. The Indian Prime Minister was far more circumspect and focused on talks despite the same on hopes that this would veer Pakistani side to dismantle the terror infrastructure against India.
The debate in New Delhi on the continuance of talks with the Pakistani government after the Osama incident has engaged the strategic space over a period. While the PM and his supporters want to continue, the main opposition party the BJP asked Dr Manmohan Singh to have a rethink on the government’s policy of continuing dialogue with Pakistan in view of the killing of Osama bin Laden. The BJP however only cautioned the Prime Minister and not directly stated that it wants to stop engagement per se. The Congress on the other hand is supporting the Prime Minister despite some of the key ministers including the Home Minister targeting Pakistan for not doing enough. Indo Pakistan talks would therefore go slow as the momentum that was gained after Mohali may come down.
The government could have taken a softer stand and like the Chinese attempted to sympathise with Pakistan. This would have no doubt paid rich dividends in improving relations but domestically would not be acceptable particularly so with the Indian media highlighting the trial of David Coleman Headley, the American citizen who provided reconnaissance inputs on various terror sites in Mumbai to the ISI.
The tensions between India and Pakistan in the recent past after the killing of Osama and statements by some Indian military leaders being taken amiss in Rawalpindi and the need to ensure adequate security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal may therefore prevent agreement involving the militaries in the near future. The Prime Minister is also likely to be more cautious in sponsoring Pakistan’s case in the days ahead, for the reality of an unstable if not failing Pakistan may have dawned on Dr Manmohan Singh as well.