By B. Raman
I have been a strong and consistent critic of the manner in which the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has been handling India-Pakistan relations.
Nobody has written more strongly on his agreement with then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf at Havana in September 2006 for a joint counter-terrorism machinery than I.
Nobody has written more strongly on his failure to deal effectively with Pakistan post-26/11 than I.
Nobody has hit out more vehemently at him post-Sharm-el-Sheikh (July 2009) than I for making a reference to Balochistan in his joint statement with Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani.I had also written an open letter to Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, the Congress (I) President, on this subject. (http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers34/paper3313.html)
I had criticised him on other occasions too for what I perceived was a lack of consistency in his policy towards Pakistan.
Yet, despite my past criticism of Dr. Manmohan Singh, I have refrained from deploring the initiative taken by him in inviting President Asif Ali Zardari and Gilani to watch the India-Pakistan World Cup cricket semi-final at Mohali on March 30 except on the ground that inviting both the Head of State and the Head of Government of Pakistan could impose a heavy responsibility on our intelligence and security agencies which would be called upon to protect them.
My decision to refrain from criticising our Prime Minister’s Mohali initiative could be attributed to two reasons. Firstly, I have been feeling for over a year now that Indo-Pakistan relations have got into a rut and that the time has come for the two countries to think of ways of giving it a forward push. Secondly, I saw the Prime Minister’s invitation to the two Pakistani leaders not as a diplomatic initiative to discuss substantive issues, but as an attempt to create a Feel-Good atmosphere between the two countries at a time when the atmosphere of suspicions and hostility towards Pakistan in India is very strong because of Pakistan’s perceived lack of interest in the investigation and prosecution of the Pakistan-based co-conspirators of the 26/11 terrorist strikes and due to reports on the ingress of a large number of Chinese troops into Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and China’s decision, with US complicity, to supply two more nuclear power stations to Pakistan. We The People of India are naturally more attentive to such issues than to trivial issues such as Pakistani Journalist Ejaz Haider’s beautiful green T-shirt.
The Prime Minister, as I could notice, had taken care to see that his invitation to the two Pakistani leaders is not viewed as “cricket diplomacy” or as yet another exercise at summitry. If he had wanted it to be another summit exercise, he would not have invited both the Head of State and the Head of Government, though ultimately only Gilani has accepted the invitation. If he had wanted to upstage the road map laid down for the resumption of formal talks with Pakistan at the level of senior officials, he would have most probably convened a meeting of either the National Security Council (NSC) or the Cabinet Committee on Security to prepare the groundwork for the initiative. There are no indications to show that he did either.
It seems to have been a decision taken by him on the spur of the moment after it became clear that India and Pakistan would be pitted against each other in one of the semi-finals. Because of the continuing cross-border terrorism from Pakistan, we could not have been generous in issuing visas to Pakistani spectators wanting to cross over into India to watch the match. The invitation to the two leaders of the Pakistani people is a gesture which could mitigate to some extent any disappontment in Pakistan over India’s reluctance to issue more visas.
It is an important, but risky gesture which could have political consequences –positive if the two Prime Ministers reach some understanding on bilateral relations in the margins of the match and negative if Mohali is followed by a serious act of terrorism somewhere. In an earlier article, I had stressed the importance of not projecting the cricket match as another Indo-Pak war to be won or lost. It is equally important not to project the Prime Minister’s invitation as a major diplomatic move, which it does not seem to be. We should avoid unnecessarily and unwisely creating either feelings of confrontation over the match or feelings of expectation over the meeting of the two Prime Ministers during the match .
We should also avoid Hyde Park style debates on this issue in our TV channels — as one saw in the “We The People” programme of NDTV on March 27. Indo-Pakistan relations are too serious a matter to be trivialised as they were in the programme.