No option to dialogue with Pakistan: Manmohan Singh

NEW DELHI: As the Indian government struggles to find a way forward in relations with its less than friendly western neighbour, India’s policy towards Pakistan is “consistent, cautious and realistic,” but with no alternative to dialogue, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Parliament on Friday, because “the chances of miscalculation can only increase in an environment of no contact.”

“Dialogue is the only way forward for civilized countries to resolve their problems,” Singh said during his reply to a debate on a motion of thanks to the President’s address. “But it is equally true that for any meaningful dialogue to proceed, the terror machine has to be controlled by Pakistan even if non-state actors are at work,” the PM said, turning down suggestions for any immediate resumption of the composite dialogue process with Pakistan, which Islamabad has sought.

The Indian President addresses Members of Parliament in the calendar year’s first session of Parliament, and that address outlines the government’s achievements and priorities.It is customary for the Prime Minister to respond to all concerns raised during the debate. Faced with criticism from opposition parties and strategic analysts for his government’s decision to resume the Foreign Secretary-level dialogue with Pakistan, suspended after the Mumbai terror attacks on November 26, 2008, the Prime Minister said, “The decision to resume talks at the Foreign Secretary level is not a sudden decision but a calculated one based on weighing all the costs and benefits. I have never believed that the channels of communication with Pakistan should break down. Even at the height of the Cold War, the Americans and the Soviets used to speak to each other,” he said, explaining the need to maintain contact with Pakistan, which most Indians feel is not doing enough to curb terrorist attacks against India.

“The fact of the matter is that the rest of the international community is talking to Pakistan,” Singh said. “So, our not talking to them is not going to isolate them. We have made our point strongly but we cannot wish away the problem by not talking to them,” he said as he urged support for his government’s initiative to stay engaged with Pakistan.

“We have left Pakistan in no doubt about our concerns and our expectations with regard to the actions Pakistan must take against the terrorist groups operating on Pakistani soil and targeting India. Pakistan must fulfill its assurances that it will not permit any territory under its control to be used to support terrorism in any manner,” Singh reiterated.

Singh also strongly refuted any suggestions that India had decided to talk to Pakistan under pressure from the United States, or that New Delhi had sought Saudi Arabia’s mediation in the India-Pakistan discourse. The Indian PM visited Saudi Arabia earlier this week.

“We do not need any mediation,” Singh clarified. “We are talking directly to Pakistan. Whatever our problems in South Asia, we must learn to talk to each other,” he said.”I mentioned to the Saudi leadership, as I have to other world leaders as well, that all problems between India and Pakistan can be resolved through meaningful bilateral dialogue, if only Pakistan could be urged to take a reasonable attitude in dealing with those terrorist elements who target our country,” the Prime Minister said.

Speaking on a day when the Indian National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon is visiting Kabul (the other major theatre of the Pakistan-India conflict) to review security for over 4,000 Indians working on infrastructure, health, education and humanitarian missions in Afghanistan, the PM said the “cowardly” terror attack in Kabul last week “will not bend India’s determination” to remain and assist Afghanistan’s rehabilitation process.

A suicide bomber attacked guest houses where Indians were staying in Kabul last Friday, killing seven Indians, in what Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan Jayant Prasad described as a “26/11-like operation”.

“The entire nation was outraged by the most brutal terror attack,” Singh said, but “this will not bend our determination to help Afghanistan.”

Pakistan has consistently sought to remove India’s presence out of Afghanistan, where New Delhi’s major reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts (worth over 1.3 billion dollars) have earned enormous goodwill among the non-Taliban Afghan population. Islamabad-supported terrorist outfits like the Sirajuddin Haqqani section of the Taliban have claimed responsibility for earlier attacks, in July 2008 and September 2009, on the Indian Embassy in Kabul.