Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh travels to Tehran today to attend the NAM Summit, where he is likely to meet Pakistani President Zardari ‘on the sidelines of the summit’. During this meeting, Zardari is expected to renew his invitation to Dr. Singh to visit Pakistan during the Guru Nanak Jayanti celebrations in November. Extending a formal invitation last month, Zardari wrote that the visit could also provide Dr. Singh an opportunity to go to his ancestral place of Gah in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Dr. Singh was born in Gah and studied there from Class I to IV.
Dr. Singh was earlier invited by Pakistan’s then-military ruler Pervez Musharraf but those plans didn’t fructify due to the political turmoil in Pakistan in 2007. Gah, which had been declared a ‘model village’ under Musharraf, again joined the ranks of other impoverished villages in Pakistan.
Foreign minister, SM Krishna has described Zardari’s invitation to Dr. Singh as “a touching invitation”. Many Indian commentators — especially the regulars of India-Pakistan Track-2 jamborees — have joined the chorus that Dr. Singh should accept Zardari’s invitation. They vociferously argue that such a visit “will have huge symbolic value and provide political direction to the dialogue process”. Others have called upon Dr. Singh to leave his legacy by undertaking this visit to Pakistan.
Dr. Singh’s public stance on visiting Pakistan has been clear. While he would love to visit Pakistan, he has linked such a visit to a grand moment in bilateral ties. Pressed by Pakistani government and Indian commentators, Indian government, many fear, may announce at Tehran plans for Dr. Singh’s visit to Pakistan. With little progress on bilateral issues, it would mean a reversal of Prime Minister’s long-standing commitment of not undertaking a symbolic visit to Pakistan.
Pakistan remains unwilling to bring the perpetrators of 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks to justice. It tried its best to stop Saudi Arabia from handing over Abu Jundal, a 26/11 co-conspirator, to India. The Pakistani court conducting the trial of seven 26/11 suspects recently ruled that the evidence collected by the judicial commission was inadmissible because no cross-examination was allowed. The trial, which has already seen change of five judges, is being delayed on frivolous grounds. Meanwhile Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, continues to openly incite hatred against India.
Not only has Islamabad done little to rein in terrorism, it has violated the ceasefire on the Line of Control (LoC) in J&K with impunity in recent weeks. Moreover, the cyber-jehad from Pakistan continues unabated. India’s Home Secretary accused Pakistan of inciting communal strife in India by posting doctored images and hateful messages on the internet. Popular Pakistani TV anchors, analysts and columnists, especially in the Urdu media, openly spew venom on India.
The situation isn’t better in other fields. Despite India’s best efforts, the agreement on trade is yet to be implemented. India’s proposals for improving trade across the LoC — expansion of trade list and provision of banking facilities — have been stalled by Pakistan. Pakistan’s foreign ministry, as per media reports, has told its commerce ministry to not move further on any trade-related issue with India unless there is progress on other issues. Progress on other issues — whether it be Kashmir, Siachen or Sir Creek — is impossible when even a previously agreed upon signing of a visa liberalisation agreement was put off at the last moment due to Pakistan’s strange insistence that India’s Home Minister was needed to sign it.
While Pakistan’s civilian government is up for elections in 2013, there is political uncertainty after the Supreme Court disqualified Prime Minister Gilani from office and seems on course to oust his successor too. General Kayani’s extension as army chief also ends next year. NATO forces are amidst a pullout from Afghanistan. US presidential elections are due this November. With so much uncertainty around, November would be the worst time for the Indian Prime Minister to visit Pakistan.
It is not Manmohan Singh visiting Gah in a personal capacity. It is a visit by the head of the Indian government to Pakistan. An Indian Prime Minister visiting his birthplace in Pakistan may make for a great media story but it can’t be at the cost of India’s national interest. Dr. Singh, moreover, would be free to visit Gah once he relinquishes the office of the Prime Minister, whether in 2014 or earlier. Rather than fritter it away on a symbolic visit, Dr. Singh should instead use his rapidly depleting political capital to overcome the economic challenges at home.
Sushant K Singh is Fellow for National Security at the Takshashila Institution and editor of Pragati-The Indian National.......Interest Review