Copenhagen, Oct. 10: India’s elation over the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections was shortlived. Instead of a pat on the back, it was peremptorily advised by the European Union (EU) to de-escalate tensions and start a direct dialogue with Pakistan on all contentious issues, including Kashmir.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee rejected the advice, saying: “De-escalation requires a congenial atmosphere.”
With this attitude of the EU, India’s hopes of gaining diplomatic strength from its success in holding free and fair elections have been dashed. “Equating an arsonist and a firefighter” was how Indian delegates here described the EU’s attitude to Pakistan and India.
This is a dramatic change in Europe’s position. In the past, the EU has publicly held Pakistan responsible for cross-border terrorism. But now it is refusing to do so. Such was the difference in positions at the India-EU summit that the two sides could not even agree on how to mention Kashmir in the joint statement issued at its conclusion.
(Even the US appeared to be suggesting that it would now turn up the pressure on India to start talking. US ambassador Robert Blackwill said in Hyderabad: “After Kashmir and Pakistan elections are behind us, we hope we can make assessments and we will be engaging both sides again.”)
The Prime Minister of Denmark, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, currently also the President of the European Union, tersely admitted at a news conference: “We did not agree on a text (on Kashmir).”
Rasmussen said the EU had sent “a clear signal to India to show restraint”. He urged New Delhi to de-escalate tension with Pakistan, while claiming that the EU condemned terrorist attacks on India.
“We urge India to engage in a direct dialogue with Pakistan and to establish confidence-building measures on security issues, including on nuclear arms and in relation to Kashmir,” he said.
To rub in the point about Kashmir further, he said: “Tensions in Kashmir should be lowered. We see a need for a dialogue between all stakeholders in Kashmir.” The suggestion was that elections in themselves were not enough.
The Danish Prime Minister said his advice to Vajpayee and General Pervez Musharraf when he met them separately in New York in September was the same as it was today. Clearly, the elections in the intervening period had made no impression on him or the EU.
Vajpayee ruled out any direct contact with Pakistan in the present context. “Let Pakistan first stop cross-border terrorism, and then we will resume our dialogue,” he said.
External affairs minister Yashwant Sinha said it was clear over the last two days that the EU was suddenly fighting shy of mentioning Pakistan’s role in cross-border terrorism while advocating a dialogue with it.
“Our position is that Pakistan has not let up on its anti-India attitude either in its rhetoric or action. General Pervez Musharraf has taken the anti-India pitch to a very high level through his speeches. By attempting to disrupt the polls in Jammu and Kashmir Pakistan had failed the litmus test of acceptable behaviour. Under these circumstances, how could India let terrorism become an instrument of negotiation'” he asked.
Sinha claimed that the EU’s attempt “to equate India and Pakistan and to advise them has failed. We have rejected their advice”. He said that though the political dialogue with the EU was a comprehensive one, including discussions on Iraq, Afghanistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, “it is unfortunate that the Danish Prime Minister has created the impression that it was only Pakistan-centric.”
Rasmussen, Sinha said, had made the same mistake as the European commissioner for external relations, Chris Patten, who charged India with viewing the world through “the narrow prism of Pakistan”. But it was the EU which was doing this while looking at India, an obviously riled Sinha said.
Patten himself clarified that his statement was not a general one, but made in the context of a question about concessions being given to Pakistan on textile quotas by the EU. “I have nothing but love for India. But in the wake of September 11 we could not have let Pakistan’s economy go down. A stable Pakistan is in everyone’s interest,” he said.
The EU, meanwhile, said it had agreed to enhance the political and economic dialogue with India. The co-operation on combating terrorism and in WTO on increasing access to developing countries would also be enhanced.