He tried his best

Oct 01 2013, 16:22 IST
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SummaryBut Manmohan Singh will leave the Pakistan relationship in greater flux than he found it.

the international border and the Line of Control in Kashmir. As the BJP went in for early elections, Vajpayee was confident he would return to power and accelerate the peace process with Pakistan. That was not to be.

Singh, who inherited a positive dynamic with Pakistan, sought to advance the Vajpayee framework. As Musharraf brought cross-border militancy under some control, Singh opened a back channel on Kashmir. These were the first talks on the subject since the failed negotiations of 1962-63. The expansion of CBMs saw the steady growth in trade and people-to-people contact. Despite this good beginning and a strong conviction on pursuing peace in the subcontinent, Singh is leaving the Pakistan relationship in a state of greater flux than he found it in 2004.

Any diplomatic engagement involves some difficult internal negotiation. The PM has had his share of problems in talking to Pakistan. There is no doubt that the series of terror incidents over the last decade tended to break the momentum in the peace process. But it was the inability to dominate the domestic debate that eventually crippled Singh’s Pakistan policy.

If the BJP has been unwilling to cut much slack for the prime minister on Pakistan, the Left parties, obsessed as they are with opposing the US, have offered little encouragement to Singh’s regional peace initiatives. The most damaging factor, however, was the lack of enthusiasm in the Congress high command for Singh’s outreach to Pakistan. What made it worse was the prime minister’s reluctance to assert his authority over the different bureaucratic agencies that had a say in the making of Pakistan policy. His temptation to follow the line of least resistance meant a squandering of the fleeting moments of opportunity that presented themselves.

In mid-2005, for example, after Musharraf’s visit to India, agreements on the Siachen and Sir Creek disputes were within reach. But the PM was unwilling to either overrule the sceptical bureaucracy or persuade the conservative leadership of the Congress party to go ahead. By the time he was ready to go to Pakistan in early 2007, Musharraf’s power had begun to erode rapidly.

Singh’s persistent efforts to revive the peace process with Pakistan paid some important dividends again in 2012, when the two sides successfully negotiated a road map for the normalisation of trade relations and a liberalisation of the visa regime. Yet, when reports on the mutilation of Indian

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