By B. Raman
Pakistani media reports on the meeting between our Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari in the margins of the NAM summit in Tehran on August 29, 2012, are tinged with ill-concealed disappointment over the perceived reluctance of our Prime Minister to make a definitive commitment over a possible visit by him to Pakistan.
A few weeks ago Mr. Zardari was reported to have written to Dr. Manmohan Singh inviting him to visit the Sikh holy shrines in and around Lahore coming November.
According to reliable Pakistani sources, no formal reply to the invitation has so far gone to Islamabad from New Delhi. Pakistani leaders were hoping that some positive indications of a likely acceptance of the invitation might be forthcoming during the meeting between the two leaders in Tehran.
The indications from New Delhi before our Prime Minister’s departure for Tehran that India would not be taking up with Pakistan the allegations of a possible Pakistani State role in the dissemination through the cyber space of exaggerated and false accounts of the recent anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar and India with the help of morphed images and creation of feelings of nervousness and panic among the people from India’s North-East living in South India and Pune added to the Pakistani hopes of a positive reply from our Prime Minister.
Before the Prime Minister’s departure for Tehran, sections of the Indian media had carried what appeared to be authoritative though unattributed reports that Dr. Manmohan Singh would not raise this issue with Mr. Zardari for want of evidence regarding any role of the Pakistani State in the dissemination.
This lowered the somewhat high temperature created following briefings that had earlier come from officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs of the Government of India insinuating a possible role of the Pakistani State agencies.
According to Pakistani journalists who had accompanied Mr. Zardari to Tehran, Dr. Manmohan Singh confined himself to reiterating the importance of early and satisfactory prosecution of the master conspirators of the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai now facing trial before a special anti-terrorism tribunal in Rawalpindi. He was reported to have stated that effective action by Pakistan to take the trial to its logical conclusion would be an important confidence-building measure.
While Pakistani sources describe the atmosphere during the discussions as good, there is a disappointment over the continuing reluctance of the Prime Minister to visit Pakistan. It is stated that while keeping open the possibility of a visit at an appropriate time, Dr. Manmohan Singh was disinclined to give definitive indications of dates.
According to reliable Pakistani sources, Dr. Manmohan Singh was a little more cautious than he was during the visit of Mr. Zardari to Delhi in April last on the question of a possible visit by him to Pakistan.
Despite the implication of Pakistani state agencies by Abu Jundal, the Indian terrorist belonging to the Lashkar-e-Toiba, who had played a role in the orchestration from Karachi of the 26/11 terrorist strikes, there has been no negative factors of a serious nature in the bilateral relations since Mr. Zardari’s visit.
If reports from my Pakistani sources of an extra-cautious Dr. Manmohan Singh on the question of a visit to Pakistan are correct, it is my assessment that this could not be due to any fresh negative factors in the bilateral relations. This could be more due to the fact that the Congress Party is toying with the idea of mid-term polls either this year-end or in the beginning of next year.
In the calculations of the Congress Party, simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and the Gujarat Assembly would keep Shri Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, bottled up in Gujarat and come in the way of his playing an active role in the campaign in the rest of India. Early mid-term polls would also prevent Anna Hazare and his followers from politically organising themselves.
If the Congress decides in favour of mid-term polls, any new initiative in Indo-Pakistan relations such as a visit to Pakistan by the Prime Minister could prove unwise and counter-productive.
Hence, the Prime Minister’s reported extra caution during his talks with Mr. Zardari in Tehran.