No matter what controversies engulf Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at home, his speech on Saturday at the 68th United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York has been a firm rejection of any soft approach on terror, while certainly not discarding the importance of dialogue and the peace negotiation with Pakistan. An address ranging over a bevy of crucial global issues, the PM speech made it transparent that while India is clear on its demand that Pakistan shuts down its ‘terrorist machinery’ that is behind most of the militant assault on Indian soil, posing a significant threat to the territorial integrity of India, it also reverberated the stance that mutual belligerence and reactionary politics could only create more grounds of animosity and therefore, what is required is a cautious but optimistic approach. Moreover, Singh’s insistence that the Jammu and Kashmir issue be resolved as per the Simla Agreement of 1972, which states that both countries would ‘settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations’, thereby rejecting third-party interference, including that of the United Nations, is a bold declaration of India’s position vis-à-vis the sensitive and extremely polarising Kashmir conundrum. Irrespective of the unsubstantiated rumour that the Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had branded the Indian PM a ‘village woman’, who had gone running to US president Barack Obama’s arms to whine about the escalated terrorist activities across the Line of Control, it was Manmohan Singh’s unequivocal emphasis on the Simla Agreement that stole the show and returned the ball into Sharif’s court, as it were, in the wake of their much-hyped and much-endangered meeting on Sunday, 29 September. This is a strong rejoinder to Sharif’s insinuation on Friday, 27 September, that the terrorism quagmire is the byproduct of the unresolved Kashmir problem and that the United Nations Security Council resolutions be invoked to reach a settlement, a position that India simply cannot defend.
Manmohan Singh’s attempt might be seen as squaring the circle, but it is bound to affect the Sunday symposium with the Pakistan premier, possibly propelling it in the right direction. Given the significantly raised levels of attacks along the LOC, targeting Indian soldiers and border patrol forces stationed at important outposts, PM’s stressing at a world gathering that ‘state-sponsored cross-border terrorism is of particular concern to India, on account of the fact that the epicentre of terrorism in our region in located in our neighbourhood in Pakistan’ bears enormous consequences for upping the geostrategic measures that India and Pakistan must take jointly to confront and combat terror in the subcontinent. This is in sharp contrast to the opposition’s uncritical negation of Nawaz Sharif’s stated intentions to take Indo-Pak relations to the next level and ending decades of comatose enmity and wasting of resources on an arms race. Hence, Singh’s remark that India was ‘committed sincerely’ to address the territorial question and his underscoring the wider issues of national security, sovereignty and communalisation, all connected, directly or indirectly, to cross-border terrorism, puts the spotlight on how the subcontinent, including Pakistan and Afghanistan, has been the victim of a self-replicating and vicious cycle of terrorism, which, in turn, is related to the larger questions of developments in Syria, Palestine and West Asia. Furthermore, what got eclipsed by the torrent of reactions on his statement on terrorism is Singh’s categorical insistence on multilateralism as the new world order and the demand that UN reflects that tectonic shift by incorporating structural changes and accepting members from the developing countries in the UNSC. Finally, along with his overtures to Pakistan and his commitment to a peaceful subcontinent, Singh’s putting his weight behind ‘efforts against nuclear proliferation’ and pursuing time-bound, universal, non-discriminatory, phased and verifiable nuclear disarmament’ should be seen as an endeavour to look beyond the contingencies of nuclear arms race of which even India is a full-throttle participant.