Keep your resolve

It is UPA's responsibility in this moment to ensure that dialogue with Pakistan is not derailed.

The terrorist attacks at a police station and an army camp in Jammu have inflicted a terrible toll. They have also, as intended, roiled the public discourse ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's meeting with Pakistan's new leader Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meet on Sunday. The BJP has forcefully advised the prime minister to hold off all talks with Pakistan until "a more conducive environment" is guaranteed. And, as in the past, even the Congress may not unitedly rally behind the PM's initiative. The government's initial reactions have been level-headed. The prime minister has said the attack was carried out by the "enemies of peace" and emphasised that they will not deter the Indian government or derail the bilateral dialogue.

A peaceful equilibrium with Pakistan has been one of Manmohan Singh's avowed priorities, right from his first term. He made a brave overture at Sharm el-Sheikh, despite the Congress's disgruntlement, and kept a harmonious engagement going in Thimphu and Male later. Singh has stressed the need for economic integration and trade ties, for sporting and cultural exchanges, and above all, a running dialogue with Pakistan's political establishment, knowing that it is the one axis of authority India can realistically converse with.

Yet, if past experience is a guide, the UPA's will can dissolve dramatically in the face of a few belligerent opposition voices and angry TV anchors. Several times in the last year alone, the prime minister set aside his resolve after the opposition and parts of the media raised the pitch on Pakistan. In August, after an ambush on Indian soldiers at the Line of Control, the government did a miserable flip-flop on the nature of the aggression and who was responsible. In January, after another border incident, the government broke with the convention that the bilateral dialogue is kept separate from such events, with the prime minister himself saying that "business-as-usual" was untenable. Sports teams and business delegations were sent back to Pakistan a new low. Led by the same jingoistic din, the UPA bequeathed a state funeral on Sarabjit Singh after his death due to a brutal assault in a Pakistan prison, even though he had been convicted of espionage and terrorism there. This time, on his last visit to the UNGA, the PM must not pander to the irresponsible chorus. He must be mindful of the imprint he wants to leave on foreign policy, not the fleeting opinions of prime-time TV.

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