Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s aman ki asha with Pakistan appears to have taken a serious knock with the US hunting down and killing Osama bin Laden near Islamabad.
Congress sources say it will be difficult for Singh to pursue his objective of a breakthrough in dialogue with Pakistan so easily now.
So much so he may have to wait until the situation following Osama’s death has crystallized in the neighbouring country, and would be well advised to avoid any unilateral moves to prove his leadership.
The Prime Minister has always considered his Pakistan policy as the highpoint of the UPA II’s performance. He would like to demit office with a record that he brought a political solution to the troubles with Pakistan.
Also, the Prime Minister was driven by Washington’s pressure to improve ties with Islamabad. That pressure may ease now because the Americans will have to figure it out themselves first their equations with that country– in the wake of their discovery of how Osama was nurtured by the military establishment.
More than the Americans, Congress president Sonia Gandhi is less likely to allow a free hand to the PM than hitherto. With a number of state elections including UP due next year and thereafter, she may prefer caution to any bold move with Pakistan to prevent adverse political fallout, party sources said.
In fact, the PM was taken by surprise by the developments. His reaction to the killing didn’t reach the media for many hours.On the other hand, Home Minister P Chidambaram responded early– by reminding all concerned that India’s case for handing over those behind Mumbai’s 26/11 attack had been strengthened.
The first casualty of Osama’s killing already is the Prime Minister’s trip to Afghanistan, which was to take place around May 6. It may be deferred by at least a few weeks.
The buzz is that Washington had warned that the Prime Minister should not travel to Kabul even before the al Qaida chief was hunted down.
Top BJP leaders have reviewed the situation and urged Singh to review his decision to restore peace talks with Pakistan when Osama’s death proved it had harbored the world’s most wanted terrorist.
A BJP statement after a meeting of the party’s core group on Wednesday said: “The BJP considers the elimination of Osama Bin Laden – the global face of terrorism as a high point of the global war on terror. The fact that Osama was housed in a mansion close to a Pakistani Military academy establishes that Pakistan is the epicenter of global terrorism, which was harboring the most wanted global terrorist.
“India’s legitimate concern that those who have perpetrated terror in India are also housed comfortably in Pakistan is no longer in doubt. Pakistan can no longer claim that it is a victim of terror. Those who use terrorism as an instrument of state policy will always suffer due to their duplicity.
“The Prime Minister and the UPA government need to introspect upon their policy towards Pakistan. Talks and Terror cannot co-exist. Pakistan is a sponsor and user of terror and not its victim. Pakistan has not been honest in its commitment that its territory will not be/ is not being used for terror. The world has realized this reality. We urge the government of India also sees reason in it,” the BJP statement said.
But Siddharth Varadarajan, Associate Editor of The Hindu, who supports the PM’s olive branch approach towards Pakistan, says, “The fact that Osama bin Laden found refuge in a Pakistani cantonment town may add more rhetorical punch to India’s charge that Pakistan has become a safe haven for violent extremism but the first-order effect of his killing on bilateral relationship is likely to be negligible.”
After all, he said, India’s recent decision to rekindle the dialogue process was taken in full knowledge of the fact that Islamabad remains unwilling or unable to act decisively against the different jihad groups that form part of the “syndicate of terror.”
These include, of course, the Lashkar-e-Taiba and its leadership, who were responsible for the November 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai.
For two years, the Manmohan Singh government kept the dialogue process suspended in the hope that this would help force Pakistan to act.
Varadarajan thinks that the strategy worked at first but turned out to be a weak instrument the longer India persisted with it. Worse, the blanket refusal to talk meant India was unable to push for gains in other areas such as trade and commerce and confidence-building measures.
Even though the Prime Minister and some of his advisers understood that a change of tack was needed, they remained wary of how the Opposition and the wider body of public opinion would react.
Varadaraj writes that “The contrived outcry which followed the abortive Sharm el-Sheikh initiative of July 2009 delayed the much-needed reset for another year.”
Ironically, when Dr. Singh’s government finally indicated — after the Thimphu meetings this February — that it was ready to move forward on the full spectrum of issues, there was hardly any political criticism.
Perhaps the Opposition had better issues to target the Prime Minister on, like the 2G scam, or realised, in the wake of Governor Salman Taseer’s assassination, that the dysfunctionality of the Pakistani state was not necessarily India-specific.
Either way, Varadarajan is sure that “the dialogue is back and there is hardly any public controversy about this despite Pakistan not fulfilling all of India’s oft-repeated pre-conditions on 26/11 and terrorism.”