Statesmanship and not
Much of the public debate over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s bad wager at Sharm-el-Sheikh as been framed wrongly. It is not about the need for India to diplomatically engage Pakistan (although presenting a binary choice between war and talks, and advocating talks suits the UPA government just fine).
It is about how. Shekhar Gupta’s op-ed today inadvertently demonstrates what exactly was wrong with Dr Singh’s approach:
“Everybody wants to go to war. The armed forces are so angry. But ek samasya hai (there is a problem). You can decide over when you start a war. But once started, when it will end, how it will end, nobody knows. That is a call leaders have to take,” (Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee) said (in December 2001, after the jihadi attack on the Indian parliament), focusing entirely on his soup. Once again it was a statesman speaking rather than an angry Indian.
After almost 16 months of stand-off on the borders and coercive diplomacy when, as disclosed by Brajesh Mishra in an interview with me on NDTV’s Walk the Talk, an all-out war nearly broke out on two occasions, Vajpayee again made a dramatic “turnaround”. Addressing a crowd in April 2003 in Srinagar, he made yet another unilateral peace offer, to his own Kashmiris as well as Pakistan, and it yielded the Islamabad Declaration after a summit with Musharraf in January 2004. [IE]
In a situation not unlike the present, Mr Vajpayee moved unilaterally. Doing so meant that he could do it on his own terms. Doing so meant that he didn’t have to agree to the ‘price’ his Pakistani counterpart would ask for in order a joint statement. In Dr Singh’s case, the price paid was not only high, it was paid unnecessarily.
Notwithstanding this blog’s criticism (see a representative post) of the content of the ‘peace process’ that followed the Islamabad summit in 2004, it is undeniable that Mr Vajpayee’s move was real statesmanship. For all its faults, the direction and pace of the 2004-2008 ‘peace process’ was in India’s hands. Dr Singh’s move, in comparison, was a poorly conceived, badly managed and dangerously risky gamble. His own fate is in Pakistan’s hands.