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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 32, July 25, 2009

Respond to the MPs’ Legitimate Concerns


Monday 27 July 2009, by SC


While the sordid drama involving two women politicians—UPCM Mayawati and UPCC chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi—continues to animate the political scene of not only Lucknow but New Delhi as well once again focusing attention on the growing alienation of the BSP running UP from the Congress stewarding the shop of state as the head of the ruling UPA in South Block, Parliament, now in session, has been lately rocked by two events. One of these is the India-Pakistan agreement reflected in the Joint Statement issued after the talks between the two PMs, Manmohan Singh and Yusuf Raza Gilani, on the sidelines of the NAM Summit at Sharm el-Sheikh on July 16, and the other is the End-Use Monitoring Agreement (EUMA) finalised as an umbrella accord for the sale of American military hardware and US-sourced high tech equipment of dual use at the conclusion of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s discussions in New Delhi on July 20.

The India-Pakistan Joint Statement’s two formulations —“action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed” and “Pakistan has some information of threats in Balochistan and other areas”—have caused definite unease in different circles in the country (even if observers have not failed to note the absence of any mention of Kashmir in the document). This sense of unease has been heightened by the Pakistan PM’s interpretations of these formulations. In the first case it is being stated from the Pakistan side that it clearly indicates that the composite dialogue process should not be held hostage to incidents of terror as such; the Indian PM, however, categorically declared: “That’s not my interpretation.” Speaking to reporters after the talks Manmohan also made a frank disclosure: Gilani wanted to resume the composite dialogue “here and now”, but “I said that the dialogue cannot begin unless and until the terrorist acts of Mumbai are fully accounted for and the perpetrators are brought to book”, while also adding that unless that happened “I cannot agree and our public opinion will not agree”.

On the second point Gilani has told the media that he raised the issue of “terrorism” in Balochistan where Pakistan squarely accuses India of involvement. According to Manmohan, Gilani “raised the issue of Balochistan and said people say India is active (there). I said our conduct is an open book and that we are willing to discuss anything… If you have any evidence, we are willing to look at it. We are an open society.”

There is no reason to disbelieve the Prime Minister. However, Manmohan’s assertions do not find reflection in the Joint Statement—a point highlighted by veteran security experts as well. Placed on the defensive Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon conceded that “it was a case of bad drafting” but reiterated that as per India’s interpretation of the document Pakistan cannot stop action against terrorism whether or not there is dialogue with India; in his opinion, “the meaning (of the Joint Statement) is clear: we won’t re-start dialogue with Pakistan unless there is progress in Pakistan’s actions”. As for Balochistan, he pointed out that India’s position being that it had nothing to hide on the issue, it was quite prepared to discuss the matter.

Despite these clarifications, the Opposition has not been satisfied and members from different parties in Parliament have characterised the government’s stand at Sharm el-Sheikh as a “dramatic reversal” of its position on both terrorism and Balochistan and even “amateurish”. There is much strength in their contention that the July 16 Joint Statement in Sharm el-Sheikh was at “odds” with India’s original stand articulated soon after the Mumbai carnage last November: which is—no substantive talks with Pakistan till concrete action is taken against the perpetrators of that terror attack. Finally it has been decided to have a structured debate on the subject in the Lok Sabha on July 29 when the PM is expected to elaborate on the government’s approach to Pakistan. Significantly there is quite a turmoil on the issue in Congress circles with the party conspicuously refraining from extending full-throated support to the government in the matter.

Nonetheless, a dispassionate analysis of what has been agreed upon at Sharm el-Sheikh on July 16 makes it abundantly clear that the overall outcome of the Manmohan-Gilani talks has been positive. As the Indian PM himself explained, while the discussions there did not unveil any roadmap for the resumption of the composite dialogue, “we have an obligation to engage Pakistan” as only through engagement can one help push Islamabad in the desired direction of taking action against terror being perpetrated in India from Pakistani soil. Hence the two countries deciding that their Foreign Secretaries would meet “as often as necessary”.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to India, the first by a high ranking official of the Obama Administration, was replete with symbolism, including her staying at the Taj in Mumbai and sending a message against terrorism emanating from Pakistan. However, it was not devoid of substance. She held a 90-minute meeting with Congress President Sonia Gandhi and the PM broke protocol to meet with her (as he had done earlier in his capacity as the Finance Minister to discuss with visiting US Under Secretaries of State). But more significantly, three major agreements took shape during her stay in the Capital: the finalisation of the End-Use Monitoring Agreement (EUMA) for sale of US defence hardware to India, and the signing of the Technology Safeguards Agreement (TSA), a kind of end-user agreement in the space sector (that will result in use of US components in Indian satellites) and the Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement; the latter were signed by Clinton and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna.

The End-Use Monitoring Agreement (EUMA) generated considerable heat in both Houses of Parliament with the Opposition walking out charging the government with compromising national security and bartering the country’s sovereignty. Even as External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna explained that the government had to keep negotiating and “bargaining” if India wanted high-end defence technology and equipment from the US, the Opposition felt the members’ concerns on the issue were left unaddressed by the Minister with Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha L.K. Advani saying it was “unimaginable” that an “outsider would monitor” the use of defence equipment bought by India, and SP supremo and former Defence Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav blurting out: “I know you have forgotten Mahatma Gandhi. But with this agreement it appears that you have also forgotten Jawaharlal Nehru, who never compromised on sovereignty.” The MPs were incensed at the government’s decision to finalise the EUMA without taking the House into confidence.

In this context The Hindu editorial on the issue is noteworthy:

...there is no justification for allowing onerous end-use verification for American military hardware when other suppliers do not insist on the same. If the Manmohan Singh Government thought otherwise, it should have had a proper discussion in Parliament ahead of concluding any agreement on so sensitive a matter.

The intrusive nature of the EUMA cannot be overlooked at any cost.

Also important is the fact that Clinton was quite ambiguous while replying to the question relating to the ban on the sale of enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) items to India in view of the fact that this country is not a signatory to the NPT, despite the waiver at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). As mentioned in the same editorial,

...the United States cannot demand that India go ahead with placing orders for billions of dollars worth of American equipment while itself undermining the principle of full civil nuclear cooperation—by pushing for the exclusion of enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) items from India’s waiver at the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Although the Indian side raised the ENR question, it is far from clear how much of an impact it had on Ms Clinton.

At the same time the US-India differences on climate change cannot be glossed over either. These too were exposed once again during the Clinton visit even if Hillary used all her diplomatic skills to blunt their sharpness in the interest of ‘strategic partnership’.

Overall there is no denying the fact that the outcome of the Indo-Pak discussions at the summit level at Sharm el-Sheikh on July 16 and the results of the Hillary Clinton visit to India, specifically the accord on the EUMA finalised in New Delhi on July 20, have engendered legitimate apprehensions in the country as mirrored in the protests in Parliament. The government can ignore these only at its peril.

July 23 S.C.

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