UPA’s Kashmir tangle

Iftikhar Gilani

As the exit polls and an internal survey of Congress predicted a close shave with rival National Democratic Alliance (NDA) on May 13, the last day of polling, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh summoned Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrashekhar and his close aides in his South Block office. Apprehending his exit in case results did not favour, he asked officers to prepare an agenda for the next government listing progress on sensitive issues like Jammu and Kashmir and bilateral relations with Pakistan, China and the United States, besides details on the some sensitive defence procurement.
Sources told Kashmir Life that the prime minister’s idea was that the next government, whichever it would be, should be informed about these core issues that required urgent action. Also, information about institutional mechanisms that had been put in place, but still needed action and implementation had to be given to the new government.
Exactly five years ago, then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, after an unexpected defeat, had spent a day in his office scribbling in his own hand an agenda for Manmohan Singh. He pleaded Singh to continue two ambitious projects of his government – interlinking of rivers and construction of a road network, Golden Quadrilateral. Prime Minister Singh’s government not only froze the river-linking project, but also went slow on the road projects.
Since Dr Singh returned to start second innings of his government with a thumping majority, he is expected to get a free hand in deciding foreign policy issues and progress on Kashmir. His only anxiety seems Sri Lanka as the resurgence of his pre-poll southern ally Dravida Munitra Khazgam (DMK) is expected to seek a pro-active stand on the issue of Sri Lankan Tamils.
On the resumption of peace process with Pakistan, both the Congress party leadership and the strategic experts here are divided. While a section led by Congress party’s Kashmir unit as well as some allies like National Conference (NC) are pressing for an early resumption of dialogue process to ease out tensions in J&K, others want to continue pressure on Pakistan the American way to force it to act against anti-India forces in that country.
Amongst experts, G Parthasarathy, a former ambassador to Pakistan and a former aide to late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, asked the government not to resume bilateral dialogue so soon unless there is perceptible movement on bringing the Mumbai attackers to justice. However, former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh called on showing a “statesman like approach” and urged starting peace process as soon as possible.
Analysts here say Dr Singh will now have large room to decide on enhancing cooperation with the US with left humbled at the hustings. Not only at the external front, Communists had also blocked various economic policies like opening up of insurance sector.
Americans have also expressed a desire to enhance military-to-military relations, sell fighter aircrafts and to conclude a Logistics Supply Agreement allowing US forces in the region easier access to Indian facilities. The Left parties were opposed to such agreement tooth and nail.
With Dr. Singh having free hand and the BJP also humbled, it is believed there will be easing of tensions with Pakistan. Prime Minister Singh while talking to editors informally during his poll campaign had sought creative ways of resuming the dialogue process while maintaining bilateral and international pressure on Islamabad on terrorism.
His only worry is that the resurgence of the DMK in Tamil Nadu which will force him to take a tough stance against Sri Lanka. Elimination of  LTTE will only increase the pressure on New Delhi to be more proactive in safeguarding the legitimate rights and aspirations of the Sri Lankan Tamils.
Lalit Mansingh believes that Dr. Singh will be able to assert a more positive and pro-active role for India on the global stage.
“There will be broad continuity in policy. The major initiatives taken by the government will continue,” he underlined. He, however, maintained that there would be hiccups in the India-US relations. “The India-US relationship will be strong and robust, but there are still major differences on issues like Pakistan, Afghanistan, protectionism and CTBT. Managing the relationship will require delicate handling,” stressed Mansingh, a former envoy to the US.

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