I wondered how long parliament would function before the BJP found an excuse to walk out. The question was answered yesterday, when the India-Pakistan joint statement issued on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement’s conference in Sharm al Sheikh in Egypt became the focus of strong criticism in both houses.
The joint statement is peculiar in that it reads more like a news report about the meeting between the Pakistani and Indian Prime Ministers than a cogent declaration. The two sentences in it that have raised hackles are: “Prime Minister Gilani mentioned that Pakistan has some information on threats in Balochistan and other areas;” and, “Action on terrorism should not be linked to the Composite Dialogue process and these should not be bracketed”.
Pundits are apprehensive that Pakistan has been given the go-ahead to blame India for terror attacks in Balochistan. The question is: has India been involved in such assaults? If it has, those were reprehensible acts and deserve condemnation. If on the other hand, as Manmohan Singh insists, we have nothing to hide, it ought to make no difference if Pakistan points fingers at us. It has been doing so for years. The vague sentence in the joint declaration contains no hint of an allegation against India.
The kerfuffle over delinking terrorism from dialogue is even stranger. For years India insisted that bilateral negotiations carry on independent of progress in solving the Kashmir dispute which is at the core of differences between the two neighbours. Why should action on terror be essential to the dialogue process if steps toward a Kashmir solution are not?
Accusations in the media that Manmohan Singh has sold out are symptomatic of a wide consensus in India that we ought not to make any concessions whatsoever in any bilateral or multilateral negotiation, no matter how pressing. We must refuse to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty. We must hold up indefinitely any agreement at the World Trade Organisation. We must accept no responsibility for mitigating climate change. Finally, despite our intransigence, we must demand a permanent seat in the security council as our right.
I’m not suggesting we have no genuine grievances related to these international issues. There’s no doubt that Pakistan has sponsored a number of terrorist outrages within India; that the NPT is an asymmetric treaty; that the US itself has not ratified the CTBT and is therefore in no position to demand any other country’s signature; that rich nations pollute far more per capita than developing countries do, and ought to take most of the burden of reducing carbon emissions; that agricultural subsidies in the United States and Europe undermine free trade and hurt farmers in poor nations.
Even so, it is worrisome when the mulish stubbornness that former Commerce minister Kamal Nath displayed during WTO negotiations is praised while the current, more positive approach gets hammered in the press. Even worse are controversies over agreements which require no alteration of India’s stated objectives. The civil nuclear deal signed between India and the United States was an extraordinary step forward, ridding us of a slew of sanctions and opening the way for development of our uranium starved nuclear energy industry. Yet, the vehement reaction suggesting our sovereign rights had been compromised almost brought down the government.
I suggest we agree to sign the CTBT provided the United States, China and Pakistan ratify it; we commit to increasing the percentage of our energy requirements served by carbon neutral sources; and we stop holding up an accord at the WTO solely for fear it will hurt India if an unlikely scenario such as a sudden, massive increase in food prices comes to pass. Should an emergency occur, India always has the option of taking unusual unilateral measures, as nations have done during the current financial crisis.
As far as the composite dialogue is concerned, Pakistan, for all its backing of terrorists and reluctance to act against those within its borders who have targetted Indian civilians, has taken substantial steps to address outstanding problems between the two nations. General Musharraf made a series of radical suggestions to break the impasse over Kashmir; President Zardari has come clean about Pakistan’s past support for militancy, and promised to change direction. If we give absolutely nothing in return for such steps, it will only strengthen those within Pakistan who remain committed to a belligerent posture.