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Sonia caps dissent, Cong backs PM
NEW DELHI, JUL 30 (Agencies):
Published on 30 Jul. 2009 11:01 PM IST
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Congress president Sonia Gandhi Thursday backed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the India-Pakistan joint statement, indicating that the apparent gulf between the government and sections of the party had been bridged. The new stance was also backed in public by Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi who said the party and the government were “absolutely one” on the joint statement issued July 16 after Manmohan Singh met his Pakistan counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani in Egypt. Party sources said there were differences among senior ministers initially over the joint statement that sought to delink terrorism from the dialogue with Pakistan, but Sonia Gandhi overruled them at a core committee meeting Friday last and at the Congress Parliamentary Party meet Thursday. A senior minister said that “some ministers were particularly upset over inclusion of Balochistan in the joint statement, which the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) made the most of” during a two-day debate in parliament on the issue. “There may be some dissenting noises now but they are not very vocal,” the minister told IANS on condition of anonymity, and pointed to Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is a former external affairs minister, putting up a staunch defence of the prime minister in the Lok Sabha Thursday. Mukherjee even had intermittent heated exchanges with BJP leaders on the issue, saying that there was no dilution in the country’s foreign policy. For the Congress, it was quite a change from the situation a few days ago, when party spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi had told journalists to “go and ask the government” on being asked to react to the joint statement. The main opposition BJP, on its part, criticised the joint statement and attacked the prime minister, while its leader L.K. Advani led his party MPs out of the Lok Sabha in protest. The opposition also alleged in the house that the prime minister did not have the backing of his own party on the issue. At the parliamentary party meeting, Sonia Gandhi asserted that there was no dilution on India’s foreign policy vis-a-vis Pakistan because of the joint statement. “No one should be in any doubt on our party’s position vis-a-vis Pakistan. It remains unchanged,” Sonia Gandhi said. “We support the resumption of the dialogue process with Pakistan, but only after it has demonstrated its seriousness to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks to justice and to prevent its territory from being used to launch terror attacks on any part of our country.” She pointed out that this was imperative to restore confidence and build an environment conducive to any meaningful dialogue. Her son and party general secretary Rahul Gandhi dispelled speculations that there was a disquiet within the party. “The government and the party are absolutely one... You media have created such an impression (of differences),” Gandhi told reporters in the parliament house complex. PM’s stand shows strategic confusion Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was all set on Wednesday to answer to the Opposition on the Indo-Pakistan Joint Statement that he had undertaken with Pakistani PM Yousuf Raza Gilani at Sharm-el-Shaikh in Egypt. The opposition to the PM’s signing on the dossier with his Pak counterpart on the sidelines of the NAM Summit had been threatening to boil over. But when the PM spoke in Parliament, he was clearly on a sticky wicket. His performance on the Floor of Parliament left more questions in its wake. His answer on the volatile subject of Balochistan left none the wiser. BJP leader Yashwant Sinha had asked, “I will request the Prime Minister that whenever he intervenes in this debate, he may please take Parliament into confidence and tell us if he was given a certain dossier or wasn’t he?” To this, the Prime Minister replied in the negative. Manmohan Singh’s answers have left even experts groping for explanations. An expert on international relations, former Diplomat KC Singh said, “There is a degree of strategic confusion on his (Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s) approach. He says he must engage Pakistan. There is no option but to engage Pakistan. Now if you start a dialogue with a neighbouring country with this confession that I have no option but to engage you, it puts you at a negotiating disadvantage. What kind of a negotiation are you going to have?” The Prime Minister then claimed that there would be no dialogue with Islamabad until the infrastructure of terrorism on its soil was dismantled, but the joint statement makes no reference to that. In fact, it says the two foreign secretaries and foreign ministers will meet as often as needed. The Prime Minister claimed to have scored a major success in not getting Kashmir included in the joint statement but the reference to “all outstanding issues” left no one in any doubt that Pakistan had not let go of its core issue. He was on firmer ground though when he referred to Pakistani cooperation on the issue of November 2008 terror strikes in Mumbai. Manmohan Singh told the Parliament, “This is the first time that Pakistan has ever formally briefed us on the results of an investigation into a terrorist attack in India. It has never happened before. It is not just the Opposition that is demanding explanation on the Prime Minister’s stand. Reportedly, some members of Congress are ill at ease about the deal Manmohan Singh inked at Sharm-el-Sheikh.

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